"Do Not Mortgage The Farm"

Dateline: 30 April 2006

My grandfather, Percy O. Philbrick's old farm in
Fort Fairfield, Maine, is shown in the distance.
(click picture to see an enlarged view)

One of the agrarian treasures we have discovered and salvaged from the old Moravia Grange hall is a tattered, yellowed, and musty songbook titled “Grange Melodies.” The book is copyrighted 1891 and was printed in 1921. We also have the next, newer volume of the Grange songbook which is also old and musty. I do not have, and have not seen, the current Grange songbook because the remaining Moravia Grangers (all 12 of them) removed the copies from the building and will continue to use them as they hold their meetings at Millstream Court, the senior citizen’s apartment building in Moravia.

The 1891 songbook has some remarkable songs, a few of which I am going to share with you in the days ahead. What is remarkable about them is that they reflect a wisdom and understanding that was once dominant in the agricultural communities of this nation, but which is, in these modern times, largely ignored, if not completely forgotton.

A perfect case in point is the song titled, "Do Not Mortgage The Farm."  Keep in mind as you read the words of this song that the Grangers were singing this in the 1920’s, when the economy was booming and it seemed that it always would. Then, in 1929 the stock market crashed and the Great Depression settled in. Those who mortgaged their farms and homesteads, lost them.

Do Not Mortgage The Farm
By: E. R. Latta

Fortune may sometimes forsake you,
Useless the struggle may seem;
Be not tempted to hazard
That which you may not redeem;
Do not imperil the homestead,
And bansih the thought in alarm,
Make it your strong resolution,
Never mortgage the farm.

Do not mortgage, not mortgage the farm.
Do not mortgage, not mortgage the farm;
For sorrow will soon overtake you
If ever you mortgage the farm.

Think of the time it has taken,
Think of the toil it has cost,
That you and your children might own it,
Now do not let it be lost;
Think of the hearts that enshrine you,
And trust you to shield them from harm,
Make it your strong resolution,
Never mortgage the farm.

Do not mortgage, not mortgage the farm.
Do not mortgage, not mortgage the farm;
For sorrow will soon overtake you
If ever you mortgage the farm.

If you would peacefully slumber,
Knowing no waking regret,
See that your right to the homestead,
Is not encumbered by debt;
Strictest economy practice,
And toil with a vigorous arm,
Make it your strong resolution,
Never mortgage the farm.

Do not mortgage, not mortgage the farm.
Do not mortgage, not mortgage the farm;
For sorrow will soon overtake you
If ever you mortgage the farm.

Atrazine Anger

Dateline: 26 April 2006

I heard on the radio a couple days ago that the European Union has recently banned the use of atrazine in E.U. countries. That got my attention.

The report stated that atrazine is the #1 selling herbicide in the world. 70 million pounds of the chemical killer are used by farmers in the U.S. each year. It is used primarily by corn growers to suppress weeds.

The E.U has banned atrazine because it recently came to light that the toxin has a significant “adverse biological effect.” What that means, in part, is that atrazine was found to destroy the reproductive ability of frogs. That understanding led to further research where it was found that atrazine causes breast and prostate cancer in mammals. Not coincidentally, people who work closely with the chemical have significantly higher rates of those cancers.

Atrazine runs off the fields, into streams and lakes, and finds its way into the drinking water supply. The acceptable U.S. drinking water standard for atrazine is 3 parts per billion. But new studies have found that as little as .1 part per billion (that is 1/30th of the standard) is enough to do harm. According to the news report, atrazine has been found in groundwater as far as 600 miles from where it was applied.

In light of the new findings, the Environmental Protection Agency here in the United States has NO intention of eliminating or even limiting the use of atrazine. Why would an agency of the government, charged with protecting the environment (which includes the people who live in the environment), NOT ban a widely-used synthetic poison that is making people sick?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because the EPA is a government bureaucracy, and like every government bureaucracy the EPA is subject to political influence. And the chemical companies have a lot of political influence because they rake in a whole lot of MONEY when American farmers slather 70 million pounds of atrazine over the earth each year. Atrazine is a cash cow. Safety is really beside the point. MONEY is what it’s all about. And keep in mind that we are discussing just one of many such chemicals.

Atrazine is yet another example of how corporate-industrialized agriculture is a sham and a failure. The monster proudly boasts that it “feeds the world” but, in the process, it poisons the environment, causes innocent people suffer and, in many instances, kills them with impunity. Such lives are sacrificed on the altar of profit and success.

When technology kills innocent people as a “side effect” it is inherently wrong. I dare say it is evil. It is the result of sin and rebellion against God. He created the earth and all that is in it and when He was done He said, “It is good.” God made it good and sinful man destroys it. In the book of Romans, Paul says that creation longs to be set free from the bondage of sin. Creation longs to be set free from things like atrazine.

I don’t believe the average modern Christian really cares much about atrazine. Most modern Christians do not really believe in exercising responsible stewardship of the earth. The concept of sustainability is foreign to them. They see the earth as expendable—something to be exploited and used up in the process of supporting the ease and comfort that come with their high standard of living.

This is, I believe, the natural extension of modern evangelical thinking that Christians are going to be raptured out of this world at any moment. That being the case, so the thinking goes, why should Christians give much concern for husbanding the earth? Few Christians will outright admit to that way of thinking, but actions (or lack of actions) speak louder than words.

And, by the way, doesn’t the Bible say that God is going to replace the earth with a new one someday? If that’s true, then we can exploit and destroy to our heart’s content, right? Let us eat, drink, be merry, and ravage the earth, for tomorrow we get a new one. Such thinking is also a sham and a failure.

That God will one day create a new earth does not give His people license to destroy the one He has placed us in now. I do not think God winks at the pillaging of creation for vainglory achievement and personal profit. How presumptive and prideful and evil it is to assume such an attitude.

Any government that protects the corporate-industrial destroyers has forsaken it’s God-given mandate to protect the innocent. And Christians who buy into the technological destruction should be ashamed of themselves.

Last Weekend in Review

Dateline: 24 April 2006

After last week’s delightfully warm and sunny taste of spring, the weekend turned overcast and cold with intermittent rain. We had to fire the wood stove up again. Daffodils and forsythia are in blossom. Forsythia is a prosaic shrub of a plant most of the year. But every spring it bursts into a beautiful bright yellow mass of flower-clad branches. You can’t miss it as you travel around the countryside. Trees hereabouts are just starting to leaf out. The drab-looking, winter-weathered tops on my garlic plants are greening up. That makes me happy.


My son Robert went turkey hunting with a friend Saturday and Sunday morning. So I was up at the crack of 4:00 am (long before dawn) to wake him, make sure he had some food in his stomach, and drive him to the friend’s house.

The young hunters saw some gobblers but didn’t have a good shot. Robert says calling them in is the hardest part. I’ve been told that turkeys have such incredible eyesight that they can spot you if you blink your eyes.

Robert and his friend (who is old enough to drive) were supposed to meet us at church yesterday after hunting. They made it, though a bit late. Robert told me he could barely keep his eyes open during the service. He took a nap afterwards. He never takes a nap so he must have been really beat.


For Sunday dinner Marlene cooked pot roast with potatoes and gravy and homemade applesauce. I like pot roast. It’s good down-home food. The meat came from a neighbor’s cow. The potatoes came from the basement. No, I did not grow them but we stocked up last fall. I plan to grow some this year.

I don’t recall my family eating pot roast when I was a kid. But Marlene says her family had it all the time. Her mom made it at least once a week. I've had Marlene's mother's pot roast many times and and it's good. Marlene learned how to cook a pot roast from her mother. That’s the way girls are supposed to learn to cook.

I’ve added my own twist to the family pot roast “tradition.” I like to shake some of my homemade stiffneck garlic powder on the meat, and the gravy, and, truth be told, I shake it on the applesauce too.


Another sign of spring... I shaved my winter beard off. The mustache remains.


Speaking of hunting, woodchucks are out in abundance now, after their winter hibernation. They are relatively easy targets until the fields and weeds along the hedgerows grow taller. Then you have to wait until after the hay is cut off to get a clear shot. All my boys have been out stalking the varmints. And they’ve managed to bag a few.


Last year I reported here with disappointment that our elderly neighbor lady with the well-stocked pond on her farm did not want our children fishing there any more. Robert went to her the other day, by himself, and asked permission to fish this year.

I was very pleased to find out that he had done that, and he did get permission. So my two youngest boys are now able to fish close to home again. And they tell me they are catching some nice bass. Robert says he caught a 15-incher. They catch & release so I have to take his word for it. ;-)


My 11-year-old son, James, did some mountain climbing over the weekend. Well, it wasn’t exactly a mountain. It was a steep section of bank in the gully behind our house. It might be 30-feet high, with a tree at the top, angled out over the gully.

James used my rock climbing harness (which I bought years ago and used, not for rock climbing, but for working on steep roofs) and a 50-foot length of cheap polypropylene rope (about the diameter of clothesline). He climbed up the bank, tied the rope to the overhanging tree, hitched himself to it with a couple of carabiners, and rappelled down the bank. The descent was not all that smooth because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but it was exciting for him to hang in mid air and drop and push off and drop again. James occupied himself for a few hours doing that.


Things are progressing with the Grange Hall purchase. Marlene and I stopped in last weekend as a couple of Grange ladies were cleaning and getting stuff ready for a tag sale. The rumor around here is that we are going to open up a bakery. It’s not a bad idea.

I’ll have more to say about the Grange in future posts.


Our batch of eggs in the incubator did not hatch well. Most chicks developed part way in the shell. Only three made it all the way. One of the three met an untimely death when something fell on it (I’ll not relate the sorry details of the accident).

We have had our successes and our failures when it comes to incubating chicken eggs. And we’ve had broody hens hatch out clutches of chicks. I can tell you that hatching eggs is a whole lot easier, cheaper, and consistently successful when a mother hen does the job!


Marlene continues to make batches of soap. The shelves in our “soap closet” are full. There are now trays of fragrant bars curing all over our little house. And two chicks are under a heat lamp in the back room. We could really use a big ol’ Grange Hall about now.


And speaking of things not working out, we attempted to make a batch of kefir from some starter that Christian Fuller sent us. The directions she sent us made it sound so easy to do, and it was, but it did not work for us. :-(


I guess this blog entry illustrates how things often do not succeed the way you would like them to when you live an industrious agrarian lifestyle. Sometimes you sit for hours in the cold and rain and see a turkey but don’t get a good shot at it. Sometimes you try to hatch a bunch of eggs in the incubator and end up with gruesome-looking, partially-developed dead baby birds. Sometimes the kefir doesn’t culture.

But you don’t let it get you down because it all balances out— Forsythias are blossoming all over the place. The garlic tops are greening and growing. The children are experiencing wonderful adventures in God’s creation. And the home-cooked pot roast is downright good!

Very Important People
Are Reading My Book

Dateline: 23 April 2006

I want to assure you that it is not my intention to blather on endlessly here about my new book, Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. But I will mention it some, especially now that I’ve just released it to the world. That is, after all, the big story around here this weekend. I’ve even sold some copies. Better yet, very important people are now reading the book. These people I am speaking of are my three sons, Chaz (18), Robert (15), and James (11).

My boys did read a few portions of the book as I was putting it together, and I did read parts of the manuscript to them. But they did not really read it much at all and, though they took an interest in the process and progress of producing the book, they did not take much of an interest in what it said, until now.

Yesterday, Marlene told me she happened upon Chaz reading the book and chuckling to himself. He actually took it to bed with him last night to read. James asked if there was another copy that he could read in bed too.

Robert, leafing through the book, exclaimed to me, “You put some of my journal entries in here?” I replied, “Yes, I paid you for them so I own the rights to publication. Read the story and tell me what you think.” So he read it. He could have read the entire manuscript any time before it was published but wasn’t interested. He spent awhile quietly reading and when he was done he told me “That’s pretty neat.” Then he informed me that I owed him for the past four months of journaling (you’ll have to read the story to understand the paying part).

The fact of the matter is that one of my primary reasons for blogging here was to create a record of my thoughts and our family’s life for my children and grandchildren to have. And though Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian is dedicated to my grandfather, I really wrote it for my children. They do not see their life and our family as anything remarkable now but one day they will see it more clearly. And I knew that, though they showed little interest in it now, they would one day appreciate this book. Praise the Lord, that one day has come sooner than I expected.

Speaking of my grandfather, he is the old man pictured with me (at two years old) on the cover of the book. The photograph used for the cover is one I’ve carefully kept for many years inside the pages of my grandfather’s 1967 daily journal. The last story in my book tells all about the picture, so I’ll not tell you about it here. But I do want to tell you this little story...

When I took that old photograph to my graphic designer and asked her if she thought she could make it work for the cover, she held it and studied it, and I watched her. I saw her expression change for just a moment; I thought I saw a small wave of emotion sweep over her. She said she loved the picture and later, she told me that it reminded her of her grandfather and she felt like crying when she first saw it. That was confirmation to me that the photo would make a good cover. It tells a story. I was blessed that Kansas Milkmaid saw something within the picture and wrote about it in her blog. I have to say that the cover is clearer to see and more compelling when it’s in your hands, as opposed to a pixilated image on the internet.

There are, of course, other happenings hereabouts and I’ll be writing about them soon.

I Have Published a New Book

Dateline: 21 April 2006

Dear Friends,

I have published a new book. This book is the “agrarian project” I’ve alluded to here over the past months. I’m going to tell you about the book, but first I want to tell you about how the book came to be— I guess you could say this is the story behind the story.

As many of you already know, I have, in the past few years, written several books—eight of them to be exact. The last five were self-published. All of my books have been basic how-to books. For example, one tells how to build a “Whizbang” chicken plucking machine. Last year’s book (I am trying to publish a book a year) tells how to build a nifty chicken scalder out of a propane water heater.

Explaining, espousing, and teaching through my books is something I feel like I was “wired” to do. I see it as a God-given desire and, to some degree, a talent.

With that in mind, last year around this time, with another book behind me, I was feeling very strongly that I needed to write a different kind of book than what I had been writing. I wanted to write something that would bless others, bring glory to God, and help (even if in a small way) to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. I specifically prayed that the Lord would provide me with inspiration, opportunity, and direction regarding my next book project. I had absolutely no idea what such a book would be but I was willing and asked the Lord show me the way. A short while later I stopped praying about the subject and kind of forgot about it— once springtime really hit, I had other projects to occupy my mind.

A couple months later, I happened upon Scott Terry’s blog, Homesteader Life. I think I found my way there via Dry Creek Chronicles and House of Degenhart. I was inspired by Scott’s blog and it occurred to me that I could start a blog of my own. It was, after all, free, and Blogger.com made it easy to do.

So, before long, I had this blog you are now reading up and running. I named it The Deliberate Agrarian because that is what I am. The word “deliberate” was in my mind after listening to R.C. Sproul, Jr. and Rick Saenz and others on some early “Basement Tapes” from Highlands Study Center.

My objective was to write about my family and my Christian-agrarian beliefs. The stories flowed out of my mind onto the pages of my blog with a passion and conviction that surprised me. I could have written much more than I did. As it was, I ended up spending time writing when I probably should have been doing other things—but that’s what writers do.

As more and more people wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed what I had to say and, more than that, were convicted to live a more Christian-agrarian lifestyle, the thought occurred to me that perhaps I should compile my writings into a book—my next book. To the best of my knowledge there is no book in or out of print that specifically celebrates and promotes the Christian-agrarian worldview.

But would anyone buy such a book? That was the thought that first entered my mind. After all, I am not flush with money and it costs a few bucks to self-publish a book. Besides that, I’m a practical person. My intention had always been to publish how-to books because they are, generally speaking, books that sell steady and relatively well over a period of many years. Would it be foolish of me to put the hard-earned profits from previous book sales into a book of stories? I really did not think it made economic sense.

But the Lord brought to my mind the prayer I had prayed months earlier. I then looked back over those months and realized that He had been guiding me into the area of Christian agrarian writing. And He reminded me that everything I have is His, including the hard earned profits He blessed me with from previous book sales. When Kansas Milkmaid told me I should write a book, it seemed like confirmation. Still, I struggled with the money issue—”Lord, will this book at least pay for itself?”

Well, I finally came to the conclusion that it did not matter if the book made money, or even if it paid for itself. That was not to be my concern. The important thing was not profitability. The important thing was obedience. I have been through this sort of thing before.

In January of this year (four months ago) I selected some of my blog writings to put into the book. I reworked them as needed and God blessed me with an exceptional editor in Carmon Friedrich. I hired a professional graphic designer to put the cover together. Rick Saenz agreed to carry the book at Cumberland Books even before he saw it.

If you’ve ever written and published a book, you know it requires a lot of effort and “sticktoitiveness.” It is surprising, really, how much work must go into such a project. But it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing. This book came together remarkably well. I saw the hand of Providence in it. I have been truly blessed by the experience of producing this book—like never before in any book I’ve put together.

Well, anyway, like I said, my book is done, and that’s always a good feeling. The book is titled Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian. You can see the book and read all about it by going to the web site I had made. But before I give you the link, I want to publicly praise the Lord Most High for His guidance and provision in the creation of this book.

I know not what will happen as my book is released and I begin to market it. But I am praying that a spirit of favor will be with it, that many people will read it, that it will find its way into the hands of those among His people whose hearts are ripe for the message of Christian agrarian revival and, in the end, that lives will be changed. That is, I realize, a big prayer for a humble little book of stories. Whatever the case, it is in God’s hands, as it has always been, and that's something else I feel good about.

God bless you all,

Herrick Kimball

P.S. I almost forgot to tell you how to get to my exciting new Christian-agrarian web site. Here it is: www.TheDeliberateAgrarian.com

P.P.S. I have mailed out complimentary review copies of Writings of a Deliberate Agrarian to the first 16 agrarian bloggers listed on the right side of this page. I wish I could afford to send it to everyone else.

Christian Agrarianism Gets Noticed at Chalcedon

Dateline: 14 April 2006

I believe God is actively working in the hearts of more and more of His people to convict them of their “industrial” sins. As a result, He is bringing about a modern day Exodus. We who feel this calling (and it is a calling) desire to leave the bondage of corporate-industrial “Egypt.” We are leading the way for our families, for the generations that follow, and for other believers who will, in God’s time, come to the realization that agrarianism is not an option, it is a mandate from our Soverign Lord. He has always intended for His people to live within the agrarian paradigm, and for good reason. It is inevitable that Christian agrarianism will become more of a movement that gets noticed by more and more people within the community of Believers. In fact, it already is.

One case in point is a recent Chalcedon Foundation Blog article titled, Babylon, Agrarianism, and the Military-Industrial Complex. My thanks to Carmon Friedrich who recently mentioned this article at her blog

The article is well worth your reading, as is just about everything that Chalcedon puts out. I think the following excerpt is not only pithy, it’s downright exciting!


“I find it interesting that when Isaiah prophesied (chapter 2) of the glorious kingdom he described it in terms of a repentance in technology: swords are made into plowshares, and spears are converted into pruninghooks. Converted hearts lead to converted technology. This is ably demonstrated by the present emphasis upon agrarianism. The movement is emblematic of a righteous "restraint" upon the abuses of technology and the sin it inspires. All to say, the fulfilled kingdom may appear more Amish than the steel and stone of Huxley's Brave New World.

The same has often been said about hunting -- old-school rocker Ted Nugent is one of the most outspoken advocates of this idea. Christians are rediscovering a lost world, by discarding much of the plastic society and the cultural control grid of corporate advertising. By removing their children from public schools, and by disengaging from certain social tentacles, today's Christian can better taste the potency of God's creation.

The issue here is not isolationism -- far from it. It is a counter-revolution to an exclusively institutional and industrial existence. It is a self-imposed restraint upon the use of certain technology, and the adoption of older technology that is pure and God-sanctioned.

The new Tower of Babel is a vast system contrived and built by humanistic man, and is intended to have dominion over every area of life. We, as modern Christians, are plugged into this system. We should always be looking for ways to "unplug" so as to circumvent its control in our lives. Educating our children is the first step. Removing ourselves from the neo-babylonian churches is next. These mega-wonders of institutional worship are drenched in technology, and serve as faithful ambassadors of the state.

I find other movements, such as agrarianism, as helpful to the cause of Christ. I also see a helpful trend within the family-based churches, despite the shrills of patriarchy. My goodness, so long as sinful people are involved any system can be abused! But centering on the family helps to de-tox Christians from their slavish adherence to institutions. We can only rejoice then as faithful Christians work to decentralize a one-world order. Bureaucracy is a great opponent to the expedient application of Biblical law.”


If you go to the Chalcedon site, make note of the quote from R. J. Rushdoony:

"History has never been dominated by majorities, but only by dedicated minorities who stand unconditionally on their faith."

Little Happenings Hereabouts

Dateline: 12 April 2006

The maple syrup season is over for another year here in central New York. The sap was getting cloudy and last weekend’s boil was very dark. We ended up with only 4-1/2 gallons of syrup this year. We’ve had much more productive years with our little backyard setup.

My two youngest sons worked to disassemble and put away the sugar shack last week. Today I pulled the taps, cleaned & dried the sap buckets, and put them away for next season.


I planted some peas and spinach last weekend. it was chilly but the ground worked up nice. The best part of planting was the bluebirds. I heard a ruckus, looked up, and there were four bluebirds not ten feet away from me. They seemed to be quarreling.

The boys and I made Peterson bluebird houses a few years ago. I have four of them on poles around my garden. We usually get at least one bluebird family in them. Swallows will fill the others. Both birds are fun to have around and good insect eaters.


Last year we grew a small bed of popcorn. For some reason it did not yield well. We harvested about 10 small ears. They were supposed to be small, I think. They have red kernels. I tied the ears together and hung them outside, under cover. They were there all winter. Day before yesterday I took them down and worked the kernels off the cobs. I ended up with a quart canning jar full.

Later that night, Marlene tried popping them. Wow, the kernels popped fast. They were smaller than the storebought popcorn and they were “denser” but the popcorn was much more flavorful. I think I’ll grow popcorn again now that I know it works.


My 15-year-old, Robert, will probably be doing even more farm work this summer. With that in mind, we are having him take a farm safety course through the extension service. It starts tomorrow night and runs for one night a week for the next several weeks. It’s for kids under 16, but I’ll sit in on it and learn something too!


Marlene is making soap, soap, and more soap. She bought a 50 pound bag of lye. Only serious soap makers buy 50 pound bags of lye! She is gearing up for the farm market sales. I do not make soap but I slice it. First, I cut it out of the “brick” molds. Then I hand slice each individual bar off the brick. Last year I used a small band saw to cut the bars. A band saw works very well for the job but it does make a mess of the inside of the tool. The saw is something I bought the kids to use for their little projects. They were not happy with all the soap residue and said I ruined their saw. I did NOT ruin it, but I did make a mess of it. So I decided to go back to hand slicing with a large drywall knife. I know how discouraging it is when someone messes with your tools.


The lady from the Grange called a couple days ago to tell us that they have accepted our purchase offer for the old Grange Hall out on Jugg Street. My tax preparer called me last night to let me know he was done with my taxes and I told him we were buying the Grange Hall and he told me he knew about it already. My mother in law also knew about it before we told her. I think everyone in town knows. And I'll bet most of them knew before we did! I guess 12 remaining Grange members is more than enough to get the word around in this small town. I’ll have more to say about the Grange hall and hope to post a few pictures of the place here soon.


I have made mention here in the past few months of an agrarian project that I’ve been working on. It looks like it will come to fruition early next week. I will have much more to say about it then.

Stay tuned....

My Cider Vinegar Experiment:
The Remarkable Final Report

Dateline: 2 April 2006

Last October (about five months ago) I posted a story here about how my family made our own fresh-squeezed apple cider. And I’ve posted more recently about how, when I made the cider, I filled two widemouth gallon jars with the sweet elixir, tied some cheesecloth over the tops and set them up on a shelf in the back entryway of our house. Steve Lonsky, a homesteading friend of mine told me that was all you have to do to make vinegar.

Steve has made his own vinegar for years in a large crock. Back when my mom was sick with cancer, and she was trying natural methods of healing, she needed some “real” cider vinegar and Steve gave us a gallon jug of his “home-brew” vinegar. That was a real blessing.

Unlike the typical store-bought stuff, “real” apple cider vinegar has the “mother” in it. Mother is defined in my dictionary as ‘a stringy, gummy, slimy substance formed by bacteria in vinegar, or on the surface of fermenting liquids.” That’s a pretty good description. You could also describe it as “gelatinous.”

The way I understand it, a naturally-occurring bacteria in the air settles through the cheesecloth and turns the sugars in the cider into alcohol. Then another naturally-occurring bacteria works on the alcohol to make vinegar and, in the process, the mother forms.

We watched all of this take place on the top shelf over the last few months. It’s not a pretty sight—but it is fascinating. In time, the contents of each jar separated into a bottom layer of sediment about an inch deep, a gelatinous layer of mother around 1/4” thick on the top, and a clarified, golden-yellow liquid in between.

I asked my friend, Steve, how I would know when the vinegar was done? He told me to taste it. That mother stuff was a real turnoff so I just let the jars set awhile longer. But the longer it set, the more liquid evaporated away. I had originally filled the jars a little more than 3/4 full and, last weekend, they were only a little bit more than half full. Marlene was encouraging me to take the jars down and see what we had. She even volunteered to taste it.

And so it was last weekend that I carefully took the jars down off their shelf and set them on the kitchen table. I figured that the best way to get the vinegar out of each jar was to use a small syphon hose, and I had determined that I would filter the liquid too.

We had some unbleached coffee filters left over from one of my past “experiments” and they proved to be an excellent filter material. I used a few clothespins to hold a double layer of filters in a wide-mouth canning funnel, which I set into the top of a 1/2 gallon canning jar. I put the canning jar on a chair that was below the table.

I thought we had a small-diameter hose for syphoning but could not find it. I did, however, find a hard plastic “crazy straw” in one of the kitchen drawers. With the help of a heat gun, I was able to soften, unbend, and reshape the straw into a simple U-bend.

I put one end of the U-bend down into the vinegar jar, past the scummy mother, so it rested near-but-not-in the bottom layer of sediment. The other end of the U-bend hung outside the jar, below the edge of the table. I positioned the filter and empty jar underneath, put my mouth on the straw, and sucked in.

It’s a real trick to suck on one end of a syphon tube and not get a taste. Years ago I syphoned gasoline out of my car’s gas tank and got a mouthful. That was bad. Real bad. So, of course, I got the first taste of the vinegar experiment, but it wasn’t bad. Fact is, it tasted just like vinegar.

The vinegar flowed slowly but steadily out of the straw and dripped, nicely filtered, into the canning jar. The liquid was not brownish-colored, as is store-bought apple cider vinegar. It was a beautiful golden-yellow color. It was the same color as Steve Lonsky’s homemade vinegar.

Marlene filled a teaspoon under the stream and sampled it. With great delight, she declared it to be wonderfully smooth and flavorful. Then she offered me a spoonful (far more than the little syphon taste) and I swallowed it down. After the obligatory facial distortion and involuntary full-body spasm, I gasped out that it was, indeed, good vinegar. We filtered out a gallon of the beautiful liquid.

As soon as one jar was empty. Marlene reached in, pulled out the gelatinous mother, and started to examine it. That was disgusting. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Marlene is something of a vinegar enthusiast. She buys Braggs organic apple cider vinegar with the mother in it at the organic food store. Hardly a day goes by that she doesn’t put a couple tablespoons of Bragg’s vinegar in a tall glass of cold water and drink it. I think she actually does this two or three times a day. It is supposed to help balance your body’s ph. Because the vinegar contains live active cultures, it is also a probiotic. Marlene gives this vinegar-water to my son Robert to keep him healthy. He calls it miracle juice and chugs it down. And he is very healthy.

Yesterday morning I was feeling lousy. I was in the grip of a flu bug. My body ached. I felt chilled. I felt feverish. I was sitting at the kitchen table lamenting the fact that I had planned to do so much that day but all I wanted to do was take a hot bath and go to bed. Marlene filled a tall glass of cold water, added some of our homemade vinegar to it, and set it in front of me. “Here drink this,” she said. I asked her in my slow, feeble, sickly voice, “Tell me again what this is supposed to do for me.” She replied, “It just makes you feel good.”

So I drank it down. And it did make me feel good. In fact, that old James Brown song started playing in my head. I jumped up, gave a screeching yowl and launched into the song....”I feel good, I knew that I would, now. I feel good, I knew that I would, now. So good, so good.....”

I was gyrating around the kitchen floor (miraculously, I had rhythm too).... I felt strong. I felt healthy. I felt virile. Watch out Marlene.... “Whoa! I feel nice, like sugar and spice. I feel nice, like sugar and spice. So nice, so nice, I got you....”

It was an amazing sight to behold, especially from a quiet, mild-mannered, agrarian guy like me. But raw organic apple cider vinegar with the mother in it can do amazing things... “Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now. I feel good, I knew that I would. So good, so good, I got you. So good, so good, I got you. HEY!!

Okay, I confess, that isn’t the way it went. Actually, I drank it (and took some herbal tinctures and some oil of oregano) and took a hot bath and went to bed.


All kidding aside, I really do believe that “real” apple cider vinegar is good for a body. Before the advent of “industrialized” store-bought vinegar (which is nothing like the “real” stuff) people used to use the real stuff. And I think they tended to use it more often. A cruet of vinegar was as common as salt and pepper at the dinner table. The old Yankee haymaker’s drink, switchel, was, essentially, vinegar water with molasses and ginger. I think those old timers were on to something.


In the end, my apple cider vinegar experiment was a resounding success! The beauty of it all was that I really didn’t have to do anything to make the vinegar. I just filled the jars with apple cider and let them set. The bacteria did all the work.

That said, we intend to make vinegar again this year. We’re enthused about this new homestead skill we’ve discovered.

Now I’m really looking forward to summer salads from the garden with oil & vinegar (our own homemade vinegar) dressing. And my mouth is watering at the thought of steamed beet greens with vinegar drizzled over them.

I think making apple cider vinegar is just another small example of what it means to live the good life.


Since this essay was written I have continued to make apple cider and apple cider vinegar. I've also written the book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder And Cider Press. You can learn more at THIS LINK