Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Break Activities

So, what do homeschooled boys do on their Christmas break? Butcher pigs!

A couple of weeks ago Jim placed an ad in our local weekly paper, advertising two pigs for sale. I think the Bartletts are known in the area for dominating the want ad section, and through that is how we've purchased a lot of things.

Well, the two week period went by, and there wasn't even one call to express interest in the pigs. Today is butchering day. On a whim, Jim called the paper to see what happened, since we have yet to receive the bill for placing the ad, and discovered it never ran! We'll know better next year. Jim still has the leftovers of being a university professor in his brain, and likes to use email. Around here, physically doing things seems to be the norm, such as driving to town, walking in to the paper's office and handing them the ads. Apparently that is the only way you can be sure things go smoothly. I count it up to Providence, as now I will be able to pressure can some pork along with having more in the freezer. And fresh pork chops for supper!

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

But I Haven't Finished with our Last Storm!

Ice on my kitchen window during the cold snap.

I have more photos to share, we haven't been plowed out yet, and looks like another storm is brewing:
From the National Weather Service:

Peter, the goat milker.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not Frozen Yet

We are all doing okay, in spite of the frigid weather. Our outdoor faucet (which is made for winter weather) did freeze up, so the boys have to come inside and haul buckets of water from the laundry tub to the animals. We did purchase a heater for the waterer down by the barn, but they still have to haul water down to fill it up. We just got the heater as the cold weather was beginning, and it sure draws electricity. It's a blessing, though, since the boys don't have to haul water down quite as many times a day as they used to.

Last night one of us neglected to get up during the night to refill the wood stove, so it was probably about 50 degrees in here when morning arrived. We won't do that again! I'm setting my alarm for 3:00 a.m. to keep the fire going. I did turn on the floor heat this morning, because the concrete was very cold to walk on. I'm not sure the boiler has even brought the floor heat up to the lower setting I had it turned to yet, but I can tell the difference when we use both the boiler and wood stove on these exceptionally cold nights. Unfortunately we'll pay for it when the electric bill arrives.

Jim signed up for off-peak heat with our electric company. That means they have the ability to shut off power to our water heater whenever extra electricity is needed, and we receive a cheaper rate on our electrical usage. Since this cold has started, we've hardly been able to use the water heater. Tonight I noticed the red light wasn't on which meant we did have use of the heater, so I finally got the boys to take quick showers before it went off again.

There are two things I want to show you in this photo ... One is how we dry clothes in the winter: around the wood stove. I place everything on hangers, and use clothespins to hang up socks and other items that could fall off the hangers. It certainly saves on dryer time.

The other item to notice is the old water heater on top of the wood stove. This is what is giving us hot water, in spite of having our regular water heater turned off by the power company.

We brought our wood stove from Fargo when we moved up here. Originally it was purchased for use during Y2K, but if I remember correctly, all we did was burn paper in it. A friend up here was getting rid of an old water heater and asked if we wanted it, and Jim thought he could rig up a system to have pipes running through the wood stove which would heat water, with the old water heater used as a holding tank. I don't know all the details, but it works pretty slick. The water is heated and piped to our "real" water heater in pipes running by the ceiling. I was more than a bit wary when we first started using this operation, but it does a good job and sure beats heating water on the stove. We do have to be careful about how much of the hot water we use at a time, since the old water heater only holds 30 gallons and it takes a while to heat more water. In the summertime the water still circulates through the pipes in the wood stove, but since the wood stove isn't operating the water isn't heated.

We ended up having to insulate the pipes that run to the "real" water heater, as the they would sweat from the very cold water that comes from our well and then drip on whoever was under them. We also had trouble at first when we didn't use enough of the hot water before everyone went to bed at night; we would suddenly awaken to the sound of running water. The PTR valve would open and send hot water through a hose into a bucket, but if the bucket filled and no one woke up, the water would be all over the floor and was a real mess to clean up. We haven't had that happen for quite a while now, and I'm wondering if the innards are coated with hard water deposits and affecting how warm the water is heated. We also had to be careful when using the shower, because the water was VERY hot.

I'll have to post some time about the love/hate relationship I've had with our wood stove. There definitely is a lot to learn about using them, and we had to learn a lot of it through the school of hard knocks.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Do You Do When There's a Blizzard Outside?

The Weather Service wasn't kidding when it predicted frigid cold, snow, and fierce winds. We battened down the hatches, and prayed for the safety of our farm animals. Our dog Samson has found refuge in the house, and loves to lay by my feet as I work in the kitchen. I have to be careful not to trip over him, but I must admit that I enjoy having a dog in the house.

Jim checked up on the main floor this morning for signs of the temperature getting too close to freezing, and everything seemed okay. We are storing our potatoes, pumpkin and squash up there until they are consumed. We have a small hole cut in the floor just above the wood stove, so apparently that heat source is enough to keep the area where the produce is located above freezing.
Jonathan took another look right after lunch, and discovered the water bottle we keep up there as a makeshift thermometer was now frozen. We moved into high gear, and brought everything down. And the photo below is what took place all afternoon:
David was in the back, washing more pumpkins in the laundry tub.

I usually bake the cut up pumpkin pieces in the oven, but that would have taken forever. So, we also chunked pieces and boiled them on top of the stove. We must have a hundred pumpkins to process! I then mashed the pulp and placed it in bags that will go into the freezer.

There's more to do tomorrow!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What's in Store for Us

This just arrived in my inbox:




Our winter has been rather snowy lately. In fact, our driveway was snowed in yesterday, due to a small amount of snow and lots of blowing. Jonathan needed to get to his vacuuming job this afternoon, so Jim tried using the station wagon. No go. Jonathan walked back up our quarter mile driveway and got the pick up truck (in need of repair of the rear brakes; we keep losing brake fluid) to pull out the car and then continue on to the retreat center. Even the gravel road going past our land has yet to be plowed, which is unusual for our township. In previous winters the township plow has come in to clean out our driveway without us even asking, so it makes me think they are starting cost saving measures. We tried to call them all day today, but no one is around to take messages.

Last night I had allowed our German Shepherd to come into the house for a visit. The younger boys were in bed, and Jonathan had just gotten there as well. All of a sudden Samson let me know he wanted to go outside -- highly unusual. I let him out, and saw him look to the right and stare. I took a look, and there was one of our pigs! She had climbed on the frozen hay in their pen and gotten out. Andrew had said the two remaining pigs have been a bit restless since the other two were butchered, but I hope this doesn't happen on a regular basis. Jim was still working on his computer, so I let him know and also got Jonathan up. I had just finished cooking up a bunch of pumpkins, so gave them the scrap bucket with the peelings, and away they went. Unfortunately, "Nancy" wasn't interested in the scraps. Jonathan ended up pushing her all the way down the hill and into the pen. At least she sort of cooperated! They did some bracing of the pen, and were back in by 11:15. So far so good -- "Nancy" hasn't been up to visit us since.

We discovered something else this morning that we are not happy with: Somewhere during the night we had visitors on snowmobiles. Many times people on those machines would follow the power lines and cut through our fields, but this time they must have taken a nearby snowmobile trail and then veered into our big field, right down to the barns. They then rode their snowmobiles in between the barns and onto the lake. It would have been easy for them to hit a fence or two, and I just hope it doesn't happen again.

We were told once by a local snowmobile enthusiast that NO HUNTING OR TRESPASSING signs do not apply to snowmobilers, but landowners have to post NO SNOWMOBILING signs to let people know not to use the land for their recreation. To us, NO TRESPASSING means just that, but I guess we learned something new. There are plenty of trails up here for snowmobiles and even a state park that is noted for their trails. I hope it doesn't happen again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Leaf Lard vs. Regular Lard

Somewhere I had read there was a difference between leaf lard and regular lard. Just before we butchered our pigs this week I read again that leaf lard was superior to the other lard, and was what was used to make pie crusts, biscuits, etc. My source came from a tutorial I found on Granny Miller's blog .

When we processed the second pig I asked the boys to keep the leaf lard fat separate from the other, and yesterday rendered them in separate pans on the stove. I was very surprised to see how much quicker the leaf lard fat melted, compared to the other type. Last year I rendered lard and never really understood what the cracklings were, but with the leaf lard they were very easy to see as the fat was almost done rendering. The regular fat seems to stay rubbery much longer, and the leftovers in the pan weren't as crisp as the other cracklings. Maybe I didn't render them long enough, but it seemed like I was working with that fat all afternoon and into the evening and they weren't turning out quite like the other one.

I have more lard to render before I'm done with these pigs, and then it's time to do the tallow from the deer we butchered a few weeks ago. Then I can check that job off of my "to do" list -- which seems to be as long as my summer lists!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pig Butchering

Time to take care of those pigs.

Last night we reviewed the DVD that John and Lisa Mesko of Lighthouse Farm produced, entitled, "Hog Butchering". You can find details of the DVD here. The information was very helpful for today as we got started on processing a pig.

This is what you do when you need some help!

Notice the computer screen in the background is still on Mesko's hog butchering DVD for reference.

Even the refrigerator has been taken over by pig information!

Peter and Jim are working on pork chops (and they tasted very good at suppertime).

Jonathan working on the chops as well.

Andrew was helping with cutting fat to render into lard. We went from the odor of dehydrating onions to lard being rendered. Good thing we aren't expecting company. I neglected to take a photo of David as he helped me package meat.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Winter Days

Yesterday a squirrel came out for some sunshine. We also have bluejays all over the place this year, especially when the boys set out corn on the bird feeder.
The boys are practicing their instruments as I write this post. These long winter evenings are perfect for catching up on activities that are placed on the shelf during the other three seasons. Peter usually goes to the barn to milk the goats about 5:30, and then we have supper. That gives us plenty of time afterward to relax and read a good book -- or play music.

I am still plugging away at dehydrating our onions and cooking up pumpkins for freezing. We had good crops of both this year, and I am thankful for that. A couple of days ago one of the boys came in to tell me that someone had left the extension ladder up to the 2nd floor from the main floor; this meant that all the cold air from the top floor had free access to the main floor where the pumpkins, potatoes and onions were being stored. During cooler weather we keep insulation boards as a covering between floors to keep out the cold air that comes in from the still open soffit area by the roof. The extension ladder is kept down unless someone needs to get into the next level. The boys hauled in the onions and we discovered our white onions had probably gotten too cold somewhere along the line and were mostly mushy, but thankfully the yellow onions were still okay. We got busy and filled the dehydrator with another load of chopped onions, and have yet more to go. We have quite the scent of onion when we start the drying process! The dehydrator sits on a table in the living room area.

This afternoon while I was baking bread the guys butchered two of our four pigs. They decided to take the bossy one first; she was also the largest. When they went into the pen to get her body, the other one they planned to butcher managed to escape from the fence. All that is needed to catch a pig is the bucket used to feed them scraps! Ours happened to be empty, so placing a pumpkin in the bucket was all that was needed to catch her. Their bodies are hanging in the woods near the house, and tomorrow afternoon we will probably begin processing the meat. I feel like I'm still recovering from processing venison, but we'll sure be thankful for the meat in the freezer.
Butchering animals has never been -- and probably will never be -- my favorite event on the farm. The gun shot brought tears to my eyes, but I rise to the occasion when the meat is brought in and we get started in the process. Our pigs have always seemed like dogs: friendly and curious animals. It is important to put their lives into perspective, and be thankful for how their life provides life for ours.
This is JP, one of our barn cats.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Enjoying Winter

Thanksgiving was a double celebration for us; we also celebrated Jim's birthday. The boys are masters at making the birthday person feel loved, and Jim's day was no exception. While Jim was working on something in the house, the boys were busy decorating their skating area with balloons and "danger" tape. If you look closely, you can see the balloons and tape down on the lake. We keep our four pigs down the hill in the valley between us and the lake.

Andrew has taken over the job of making cut out cakes, so he decided to make a cake for Jim that highlighted Jim's favorite berries -- raspberries and blueberries. We grew a lot of raspberries this past summer, and Jim is working on a domestic blueberry patch as well.

I asked David this afternoon if he wanted to walk with me the quarter mile down our driveway to get the mail with me. I guess boys don't really care for just walking. He needed a mode of transportation, and had Peter help him get Calliope ready for a ride.
As you can see, we had more snow yesterday. The township plow has not come in since it really isn't enough to keep us from getting out of the driveway.

David does a good job of getting Calliope to tow the mark -- unless she wants to do something else. We got down to the mailbox at the end of the driveway, and Calliope decided she wanted to take a run on the gravel road. Needless to say, we need a saddle! David slid off. I was glad to see that as soon as Calliope felt David falling off she stopped and patiently waited for him. We had to tie her to the mailbox post so I could help him get back on.

Peter then decided to take Calliope for a ride in the field, and allowed her to run. She loves running through the field, and I have heard she loves to run through water as well. I guess we'll find out for ourselves in the spring.
This isn't a great photo, but above is a picture of our one and only snowmobile. It was given to us the first winter we were here, by someone that probably wanted to unload some junk from their yard. I'm not sure how old it is, but we think it was built in the 1970's. Andrew found something on it that stated the machine was built in Twin Valley, MN, and it came with a Minnesota Vikings logo on the side. The machine was "updated" a bit, and a Canadian Motoski engine was installed in the thing. They don't even make snowmobiles like that any more! It's currently sitting in the middle of the field because it quit for the umpteenth time, and the boys are having trouble figuring out how to get it started again.

I had to include some photos of my flowers. The violet is doing well this time of year, and blooming like crazy. I dug the geranium out of the garden before the frost hit, and it's doing great!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Venison Processing

The older boys did very well this year, and we have four deer to process. Yesterday we finished one deer before heading to a friend's birthday party, and today finished another one. I am very thankful to have an electric meat grinder, or the process would take a lot longer. We aren't very fussy about our cuts of meat, and use more ground venison than roasts, steaks or stew meat.
Peter and Jonathan did more of the cutting off the bones,

and David and Andrew ground the meat. I took the job of packaging the venison for storing in the freezer. We are very thankful to have purchased a large chest freezer with profits from our summer raspberry business.
Occasionally we sneak our oldest cat into the house, but today she quickly became a pest, due to begging for scraps.
We also had a couple more visitors, watching us from the window over the kitchen sink.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Recent Happenings

Once again, I'm behind. I am getting ready for a craft/bake sale in town tomorrow (selling, raspberry jam, bread and buns), so I will send you to Jonathan's blog to read the latest.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

What a Shot!

Yesterday was the 2nd day of the regular deer hunting season in North Dakota. Jonathan and Peter are both hunting this time, and they took different positions from each other last night before sunset. Later, both arrived home at the same time, and when David asked Jonathan if he got anything, the reply was no. No one asked Peter, so he piped up, "Don't you want to help me get my buck home?" He shot a large four by four buck, even bigger than the one Jonathan shot last year! We are thrilled! It is currently gutted and hanging up in the woods near the house. Coyotes must have found the entrails out in the woods, as our dog was barking furiously all night.

This poses a good problem. We are expecting company from Fargo for a few days this week, and between finishing up tomatoes, squash, pumpkin and onions, we have to figure out when to process this buck, as well as the deer Peter shot in Sept. and still remains in the freezer.

Now for Jonathan to shoot his deer!

Photos hopefully soon to follow.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Off the Campaign Trail

It's been a busy week. Come to think of it, it's been a very busy year. I'm thankful that the season of Jim's campaigning is over.

Jim, Peter and Jonathan spent the day Monday traveling all over District 6, picking up campaign signs. We were thankful the ground wasn't frozen, so the stakes weren't embedded in the ground. There also was a banquet to attend toward the western part of the District in the evening, and after that was over they still had more signs to take down. North Dakota has a law that states all campaign signs must be removed before midnight the day before election day. Peter told me they had to fill the truck's gas tank three times before they arrived home at 1 a.m.; that gives you an idea of how large of an area our District covers.

Meanwhile, back at the farm we were still processing carrots for canning. Peter called and left a message on our voice mail about 7:30 to ask us to milk the goats since they would not be home on time. I should have thought about that earlier, since they are usually milked about 5:30 every evening. Needless to say, we milked by flashlight. I had only attempted to milk twice before this, and was a bit apprehensive. Andrew had not done much milking in the past, and it was only David that had watched Peter as he did his chores. The boys recently built a new barn for the goats, horse and cow and had yet to install doors, so we milked also by starlight. The Big Dipper sure was bright, as it was a fairly crisp night.

I was amazed at what I witnessed. When we walked down to the barn in the valley, the goats were lined up at the fence, complaining that we were late. Andrew opened a gate, and out ran Leah, who promptly jumped up on the milking stand and waited for her grain to eat while milking. I tried my hand at milking her, and was very surprised and pleased that I finally had gotten the knack of milking. She is our best goat, and very friendly and patient. I've struggled with carpal tunnel syndrome off and on for the past 20 years and canning didn't help matters. Just milking one goat was all it took for my right hand to cramp, so I had to quit after doing Leah. I am hoping some day to be a two handed milker, but at this point I was thrilled that I did what I did.

When Leah was done, we sent her back into the fence -- and then Ebony ran out as Leah was going in. It's amazing to me that goats are such creatures of habit that once a routine is established they don't want to change. Ebony is harder to milk as her teats are very small. She also has bad front knees, so we had to help her up onto the milking stand. One of us would hold the flashlight, and another milked. Ebony wasn't as patient as Leah, and as soon as she ran out of grain she stepped into the milking dish and the milk was all over the stand. Oh well, our dog Samson was right there to lick it up! We finished with Ebony, and as she was going back into the fence another goat came running out and jumped onto the stand. I guess we didn't have to know Peter's routine for milking -- the goats all knew what to do and when to do it. We milked six goats, and three of them knocked over the milking dish. I had already decided all this milk was going to Samson and the cats, so it was okay.

Tuesday was election day. We went to town in the afternoon to do our voting, and then came home and made homemade pizza and breadsticks for supper, with ice cream for dessert. That meal is our celebration menu for just about any occasion. We were all thankful we made it through all the challenges of campaigning. Jim was not elected to the state Senate, but he gave it his all and we knew we had done what the Lord had called our family to do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I can't tell if it's fall or winter:

Mostly cloudy early in the evening then clearing. Windy...colder. Lows around 10. Northwest winds 25 to 35 mph with gusts to around 45 mph decreasing to 15 to 20 mph this evening.

Sunny. Highs in the upper 30s. Northwest winds 5 to 15 mph.

Monday Night
Mostly clear. Lows 15 to 20. Southwest winds around 10 mph.

Sunny. Highs in the lower 50s. Southwest winds 5 to 10 mph.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


It didn't take long this year for the leave to fall off the trees. Our family has been working diligently to get the homestead ready for winter, but it seems the more we do, the more we need to do! My herb garden is covered with hay, my annual flowers are pulled from my rock garden, and my time is spent in canning. Currently I am working on carrots, of which we had a bountiful crop. I still need to take care of my onions, squash and pumpkin.

Jonathan and Peter are working hard to complete a new barn for the goats, horse and cow. I'm sure our cats will enjoy getting out of the wind in there as well. The work came to a halt later today, as the winds picked up to 20-30 mph, with gusts as high as 40 mph. I guess we will have more of the same tomorrow, when the high temperature is forecasted to reach the low 30's. As I am writing this, snow is falling.

This is the new view from the walk out part of our basement where we are living. Jim cut down quite a few trees from around the shore line of our lake, and with the leaves down we have quite a nice view. Some day after we move upstairs we will evaluate whether or not to take down the trees that are still standing between us and the lake.

Mom's Birthday Party

Jonathan posted this photo of our family that was taken at our friend Paulette's house. This was my 5th birthday spent in the Turtle Mountains! The boys sure have changed since moving to the country.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What's Happening

I am sorry that I haven't had time lately to blog, but if you go to my son Andrew's blog, you will see some photos of the newest happenings over here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Big Game Hunter

I am thrilled that our second son, Peter, shot a large doe tonight. North Dakota has a youth season in September for 14-15 year olds. This was Peter's first hunt.

This was quite different from our older son Jonathan's first hunt. My husband Jim is not a hunter, and was not able to to coach Jonathan on how to take care of the deer after it was shot.

Our younger son Andrew reminded me tonight that Jonathan took much longer to dress his first deer since he had to read each step from a book. This time Jonathan was able to coach his younger brother on how to do things. What a blessing he was to Peter.

The deer had to be quartered and stored in our freezer, as tonight will be in the 50's and tomorrow the lower 80's.

I love watching the interactions of our four boys. They are definitely best friends, and our desire is for them to settle down and have families close by to each other, so they could continue to foster their close relationships.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Andrew's Jeep

Today is Andrew's 12th birthday! He was visiting with both Grandfathers on the phone today, and told them about his jeep that he made from two garden tractors. This is his creation:

Andrew also used parts from a very old snowmobile (lights and switches). I am constantly amazed at the boys' creativity when given time and junk to make something useful.

We haven't downloaded any photos of the big day yet, and hopefully I can post something about Andrew tomorrow.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Our Newest Addition

There's been a lot happening on our farmstead, but I first wanted to introduce you to our newest addition:

We haven't come up with a name yet, but she is a purebred Jersey cow. She is 11 months old, so it will be a while before we enjoy milk from her.

On Friday we received a call from her owner (friends of ours) to let us know they had just gotten a bull and wanted us to pick up our cow as soon as possible, since she is too young to be bred. Another family that had a stock trailer we could use didn't get home until early Sat. morning, so by the time details were worked out it was close to 3:00 p.m. Jim, Jonathan and David drove the hour and a half down to get her, arriving back home close to midnight. While they were gone, Peter and Andrew diligently worked to install a makeshift fence for her until our fencing materials arrive this week. Needless to say, the fence didn't hold, and we were all afraid she would disappear into the state land adjacent to our property. One of the guys took the truck and stock trailer into the field where she was headed, and thankfully she made a beeline for the trailer. The first thing we need to do tomorrow is purchase a halter!

We are all working on making our cow feel comfortable around us, and hopefully she will soon adjust to her new home. She already likes our German Shepherd; the friends we purchased her from have one of our puppies, and she must be used to dogs.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

In the News

I've been having trouble lately finding the time to post something about the goings on of our family. Last week a reporter and photographer came for a visit from our old city of Fargo, and the following is how they saw our life.

[David Samson / The Forum David Bartlett cuts a yarrow plant while gathering them for use as a medicinal remedy at the family’s property near Bottineau.]

Nature lights way for farmers of faith
Mila Koumpilova
The Forum - 08/10/2008

Bottineau, N.D.

The Bartletts started out with 150 weed-covered acres, a pop-up camper and a thatched-roof outhouse where, to the sound of coyote howls her first night, Lynn Bartlett wept with fear and qualms about abandoning city life.

Lynn, her husband, Jim, and their four home-schooled sons moved from Fargo to a remote homestead in the Turtle Mountains four years ago. They didn’t make the transition easy on themselves: They plucked weeds by hand. They squished pesky potato bugs with their fingers. They let some chickens roam free.

[Jonathan Bartlett feeds chickens as part of his morning chores on the family homestead near Bottineau. David Samson / The Forum]

Jim Bartlett, who heads the North Dakota Home School Association, half-jokingly calls his breed of Christian home-schooler “the new hippies” – a growing group of converts to organic farming and the simple life that defies political labels.

[Jim Bartlett works in one of the gardens on his property near Bottineau. David Samson / The Forum]

They put up solar panels, choose home births and concoct herbal remedies. But rubbing shoulders with new agers at farmers markets doesn’t diminish their conservative credentials. They embrace environmentally friendly farming in a bid to become better stewards of God’s creation, to keep their families together and to follow a quintessentially right-wing ideal of self-reliance.

“The hippies live like this because they’re trying to protect Mother Earth,” says the Bartletts’ friend Sid Hughes. “We live like this because it gives us an opportunity to be in communion with God in nature.”

The Barletts moved west with two Fargo chickens named Lewis and Cluck. Expanding their operation was a humbling experience.

“We knew exactly why we were doing this; as far as knowing how to butcher a chicken or a pig, that’s a different story,” says Jim Bartlett, a former North Dakota State University engineering professor, adding, “I took engineering so I wouldn’t have to deal with blood.”

[Andrew Bartlett, 11, gives pigs a morning feeding on the family homestead. David Samson / The Forum]

They use sheep manure and crop rotation instead of chemical fertilizer. They avoid pesticides, spraying their potatoes with rhubarb juice instead. They keep their goats and chickens in movable pens so they can nibble on fresh grass every day. They add goat’s milk to the chickens’ water instead of pumping them with hormones.

[Peter, Jonathan, David and Andrew Bartlett move a goat pen to a new location with fresh grass on their family farmstead. The pens are moved daily to provide the animals with clean living spaces. David Samson / The Forum]

[Jonathan, David, Peter and Andrew Bartlett close a goat pen after moving it to a location with fresh grass for the animals. The pens are moved daily to give the animals clean living spaces. David Samson / The Forum]

“We learned by trial and mostly error,” says Bartlett’s son Jonathan, 17.

Like other fledgling organic farmers, the Bartletts, who have cut out processed food almost completely, believe commercial farming methods make Americans sick.

Two years ago, John Mesko moved to his family farm near Princeton, Minn., where he raises grass-fed beef and lamb and pastured pigs. A one-time field agronomist for Dow Chemical, the pesticide-making giant, Mesko came to believe companies such as his employer contribute to Americans’ declining health.

Also, Mesko says, his family is farming “the God-honoring way.”

“God didn’t create pesticides,” he says. “He created all plants – including weeds – for a purpose.”

The God-honoring way, of course, is more work, and temptation can set in.

In the winter of 2005, Sid and Twilla Hughes moved to the 52-acre Valley Vegetables farm outside Minot with their 10 home-schooled children. When the snow melted, they found waist-high weeds and a scrap-metal dumping ground. The family tackled the weeds with bare hands.

[Sid Hughes chops lettuce while family members, from left, Twyla, Lexi, Josiah, Alicia and Joshua take a break from picking crops on their farmstead near Minot, N.D. David Samson / The Forum]

[Joshua Hughes carries an armful of fresh picked broccoli on the family farmstead near Minot, N.D. David Samson / The Forum]

Last year, cockleburs exploded in their pumpkin patch. Carson, the Hughes’ 17-old-son, reasoned with his dad to resort to chemicals this one time. Sid bought some, but then he thought about his kids running barefoot in the field and munching on freshly picked carrots. He couldn’t bring himself to spray.

Lure of the land

Home-schoolers say it’s no coincidence they’re fueling what some call a Christian agrarian movement – a hands-on, back-to-the-land extension of the wider push for environmental stewardship within evangelicalism.

“The public school system is so omnipresent in our society that once as a home-schooling family you decide you don’t want to go down this road, all of a sudden you see all these other roads you don’t have to follow,” Mesko says. “If I can teach your own kids, maybe I can grow my own food.”

Farming allows dads such as Bartlett, who once plodded through traffic for two hours to his General Motors office in Detroit, to be more involved in raising their kids. It allows children to stay close rather than scattering off to college and corporate jobs.

The Bartletts appear to be in growing company. They’ve met about 30 North Dakota Christian agrarian families since moving west. Mesko, whose Lighthouse Farm offers workshops on anything from how to butcher a hog to how to make hay, says he fields inquiries each month from several religious families contemplating farm life.

Christian agrarians were the subject of a recent story in Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine. The trend spawned books from 2004’s “The Maker’s Diet” (on healing through organic food and prayer) to 2006’s “Crunchy Cons” (on the challenge to conventional-wisdom conservatism from “gun-loving organic gardeners” and “evangelical free-range farmers,” to quote its subtitle.)

“I know a lot of organic farmers who see that as part of their faith,” says Britt Jacobson, project coordinator at the Medina-based Foundation for Agricultural and Rural Resources Management and Sustainability. “Independent thinkers is the best way I can think to classify them.”

Beyond the labels

Two years ago, Linda and Dick Grotberg, longtime owners of a large confinement hog operation in Wimbledon, went organic. They now raise free-range antibiotic- and hormone-free cattle, and press sunflower seeds into biodiesel for their tractors.

The Grotbergs are devout Christians who once battled their school district in court over the right to home-school their now-grown children. They had an epiphany that organic farming helps them fit more seamlessly in God’s intricate design.

The changes have baffled some conservative neighbors.

“It’s amazing how many of my peers have a problem with my saying I am green,” says Linda, who sometimes jokes she’s “just barely chartreuse.” “You’re something that doesn’t fit your group at all.”

Jim Bartlett can relate. He is running for the state Senate as a Republican, a label he wears with a measure of ambivalence. He calls for a ban on abortion and blames environmental regulation for high gas prices. But he’s also uncomfortable with this administration’s sometimes cushy relationship with big business and the scale-down of civil liberties post-Sept. 11.

“The Republicans endorsed me, but I didn’t endorse them,” he says.

Flouting neat ideological boxes, agrarians share contempt for the suburban rat race and reverence for the scriptural principles of simplicity and frugality.

[Lynn Bartlett collects plants from one of the family gardens to use for medicinal purposes. David Samson / The Forum]

The Bartletts grow lavender for headaches and pick wild yarrow for upset stomachs, happy to boycott big drug makers. Several of the Hughes’ younger children were born at home; Sid delivered one when the midwife ran late. They exchange handmade gifts for Christmas.

Says Twilla Hughes, “We want our kids to recognize that there’s more to life than the view that whoever dies with the most toys is the winner.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529

[Jim Bartlett, along with sons, Peter, Jonathan and Andrew practice bluegrass music during an afternoon break from gardening and caring for the animals on their farm near Bottineau, N.D. David Samson / The Forum]