Melissa Norris, author of Pioneering Today, regularly shares homesteading tips and the need to preserve the traditional skills or past eras with her readers and podcast listeners. In addition to being a homesteading expert and radio show host, Melissa is also a Christian fiction historical romance novelist. She enjoys melding her love of “olden days” customs with the modern world which surrounds her Cascade Mountains home. Norris’ desire to provide healthy food for her family while enhancing her faith in God through daily tasks is both informative and inspiring.
Pioneering Today author’s bio: I found my own little house in the big woods, where I live with my husband and two children in the Cascade Mountains. I write a monthly column for the local newspaper that bridges my love of the past with its usefulness in modern life. My books and articles are inspired by my family’s small herd of beef cattle, my amateur barrel racing days, and my forays into quilting and canning-without always reading the directions first. I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder and my love of books has never stopped.
Some of your books and multiple blog posts focus on reviving our pioneer heritage. Why is preserving the traditions of the past such a labor of love for you and why are such skills important for the common American?
Melissa: I noticed that when I was outside in the garden, I felt a closeness to God. Watching a seed sprout to maturity, to harvest, and then back to seed form is such an amazing example of the way God takes care of us. There’s a reason Jesus used so many parables, including plants and farming. I truly believe that we feel connected to God when we’re gardening because our souls remember the Garden of Eden, the original place God intended for us.
If we don’t preserve the traditions of the past, they’ll be lost. I don’t want my children to grow up ignorant of how to take of themselves and the land. Our health, debt, and families can be redeemed by many of the skills and traditions of the past. Food grown at home has more nutritional value than fruit and vegetables from the store and even local farmer markets, though farmer markets are an excellent choice if you can’t grow anything at home. For those living in the city, container gardening can still be a way to grow some of your own food.
When we take the time to cook a meal from scratch, we’re less likely to eat it standing up. My kids love to help in the kitchen and they take pride in eating what they’ve helped prepare. We engage over the meal preparation and eating at the dinner table. Plus, kids will eat vegetables they’ve helped grow, when I can’t get them to touch it when they’re from the grocery store.
In addition to being a pioneer living expert, you are also a Christian writer and public speaker. How has your faith influenced your lifestyles and homesteading habits? What is the focus of your Pioneering Today column?
Melissa: My faith influences everything I do. I believe that taking care of the land God gifted us with is very important. We practice all organic farming on our homestead, including how we raise our natural grass-fed beef. The focus of Pioneering Today is taking the best of the pioneer lifestyle and applying it to our modern lives. I share how to do this in easy, practical ways for everyone, no matter where they live.
There has been a resurgence of canning in recent years. Folks living off grid, on a homestead, organic fans, and preppers are rekindling the habits of our ancestors for a multitude of reasons. How important do you think canning is to the “locavore” or fresh food movement and for disaster preparedness?
Melissa: Canning is a huge part of it. The beauty of canned food is you’re not dependent on power (like a deep freezer), to keep your food. We live in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains and frequently lose power in the winter, and sometimes summer. Plus, freezers sometimes fail and I’d hate to come home to see all my food supply had thawed and ruined. When you can food as soon as it’s picked, you retain more of the health benefits than canned food from the store. Canning is really quite easy. I do lots of tutorials and posts.
I still work outside the home, run my website, write for the newspaper, and will have my own radio show, details and podcasts coming soon on www.melissaknorris.com, and I still can almost all of our food. It doesn’t have to take up all of your time, though there is some time investment at the peak of harvest time. Did I mention canned food tastes better? My children won’t touch green beans canned from the store.
The Monsanto Protection Act and the unwillingness of the government to label GMO foods is causing alarm for Americans concerned about the safety of our food supply. How do you feel about GMO crops and what pioneering tips can you offer for gardening/farming beginners who want to grow or raise the bulk of the food served to their families?
Melissa: GMO crops are very dangerous. We have no implications of how they’ll affect nature. Plus, I firmly believe they go against the Bible. I have an article backing up that belief on my website.
One of the ways to stay away from GMO crops completely is to raise heirloom crops. These are plants exactly how God made them, untouched by science. They’re the seeds our pioneer forefathers used. In fact, we have a strain of bean seed that’s been saved for over a 100 years in my family. You can’t purchase it anywhere. I’ve never seen it in any seed catalog, even though I only purchase from heirloom catalogs. The benefits of heirloom crops is huge. There is greater variety, taste, color, and often more nutrients in heirloom crops. For instance, we grow an heirloom purple potato that has 10 times more antioxidants than a regular potato. Plus, the kids love the color of purple mashed potatoes.
You have a small herd of beef cattle at your Cascade Mountains home. How did you become a small rancher and what do others need to know about preparing for a similar endeavor? What are the pros and cons of raising your own grass fed beef cattle?
Melissa: I grew up on a small beef ranch. When my husband and I started our own home, we decided to continue the tradition. You need acreage, depending upon where you live. It’s about an acre per animal here. It’s a year-round operation, but completely worth it. I cannot cook or eat store bought beef. It has an off odor and there’s so much stuff to drain off, even the lean beef. If you ever have homegrown beef, you’ll never go back. Click to read Melissa’s full article on all beef cattle pros and cons.
How can an urban or perhaps even a suburban residnt incorporate some pioneering traditions into their lives?
Melissa: Anyone can use pioneer traditions in their lives. If you can’t grow a large garden, anyone can grow a kitchen window herb garden. Often times, you can find a community garden in the city. Or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) at a nearby farm. You pay a certain amount and every week the farm delivers fresh, in season vegetables.
One of the easiest ways is by starting in your kitchen. Everyone can cook from scratch. I recommend starting by replacing one processed food in your kitchen at a time. Start with the item you eat the most on a regular basis. For us this was bread.
You have not purchased bread from a store in more than a year. Is bread making a difficult or time consuming process?
Melissa: Bread making is really pretty easy. I have one recipe that is a 5 minute no knead recipe. It’s the one I started with. You make a large batch of dough that lasts in the fridge for two weeks. Whenever you want bread, you scoop out a chunk of dough and bake it. I also bake our own hamburger buns and tortillas.
Why do you advocate for grinding your flour?
Melissa: I’m always on the lookout to replace processed ingredients in my families diet and our kitchen. When I read the ingredients list on store bought bread, I cringe. I can’t even pronounce half of them, let alone know what the implications of all those chemicals will do to our bodies. The beauty of making things yourself is knowing exactly what goes in to your food and the cost savings are enormous, not to mention the taste. I ground my flour the morning we left so it’d be nice and fresh. My husband was skeptical about trying out a new recipe while camping, but after he tasted the first tortilla, he said, “These are the best tortilla’s I’ve ever had. You could sell these!”
You are also an avid mushroom forager. How did you learn how to forest forage and what tips would you offer to beginners?
Melissa: I grew up morel mushroom hunting. If you’re just starting out, go with an experienced hunter. You don’t want to take chances in getting a poisonous mushroom. Also, invest in a good field guide.
Planting season is now upon us. Strawberries are a perfect small space crop. What are some of the planting tips you have shared with your readers/listeners?
Melissa: Nothing says summer to me quite like a fresh ripe strawberry. They’re as good fresh if they are baked into desserts. One of the great things about strawberries is they lend themselves nicely to small spaces. Even if you only have a porch or patio, you can have a great strawberry patch. Most common are June-bearing and Everbearing. June-bearing plants have one crop that ripens in June. You harvest all the berries at one time, which is preferable for preserving. Everbearing varieties set fruit for the entire growing season and are great if you like to eat berries fresh and don’t care so much about preserving. We put in a bed of each. Strawberries require at least 6+ hours of full sun. They also prefer well-draining soil, which makes raised beds a perfect option. We use cedar beds for our berries.
The homesteading, and prepping lifestyle involves more than just sound gardening and ranching habits. What non-food skills would you recommend for others embarking on a similar style existence?
Melissa: Don’t feel you have to do it perfectly. Make a commitment from the get-go to see it through. It’s not a one-time thing, or a race, it’s a journey. You’ll constantly be learning new things and trying different techniques. Also, don’t compare yourself to others. It’s about doing the best you can at the time.