Bell Farm: Where Good Food Grows

My name is Ellen Bell and I am a wife, mother, and farmer. Two years ago, I moved my family from our suburban home to a 10 acre farm just outside of Des Moines, and I started Bell Farm. I’m following a dream of mine, and I haven’t looked back.

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Bell Farm began with a large garden and a small flock of laying chickens. We sold a little bit of produce through our Facebook page ​and a few dozen eggs a week to friends and family. As word of mouth grew, we slowly expanded and branched out, trying new things.

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For example, we brought home a few dozen chicks from the state fair one year, and lo and behold, our meat chicken business was born! Now we raise 100+ meat chickens a year. They are free­range and pastured on our property, and we humanely butcher and process them ourselves here at the farm. We’ve also found markets for some of the other by­-products of the meat chickens, such as hearts, livers, gizzards, and necks/backbones for making homemade chicken broth and stock.

Our laying flock of hens has grown, as well. We currently have 28 laying chickens with plans to increase to 50 this year. We sell approximately 10 dozen eggs each week. Our customers seem to appreciate the fact that our hens live happy, healthy lives outdoors, and that they can come visit their egg producers anytime they want!

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Our first summer at the farm, we planted a medium sized garden, primarily for our family. Like other things, that expanded quickly as well. Last summer we cultivated roughly a half acre and sold 40+ varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs through a CSA. For those who are unfamiliar with this farm model, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and refers to a program where customers (also called members) can pre­pay for a portion of the farm’s harvest (also called a share). Shares are typically distributed to the farm’s members on a weekly basis throughout the growing season. Last year, Bell Farm’s CSA ran for 5 months and included 10 member families. This summer, we will continue our CSA program and expand it to 12 full shares, which we will sell in either full or half share increments. We’ll be cultivating over an acre this year, and we have plans to sell our excess produce at area farmer’s markets, through our Facebook page, and to other outlets like grocery stores and restaurants.

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An interesting side­shoot of our farming business is teaching classes. In the last decade, there has been a resurgence of interest in homesteading topics like gardening, food preservation, raising backyard chickens, etc. For several years, friends would casually inquire if I had ever thought about teaching classes on any of these topics. I always dismissed the idea, but once we moved to the farm, I decided to give it a try. The first class I taught was a Garden Planning Workshop. The two hour course, taught here at the farm, instructs beginners and seasoned gardeners alike in how to plan out and execute a low maintenance, productive vegetable garden. This class continues to be one of our most popular courses. Since then, we have added almost a dozen other class offerings such as Pressure Canning, Raising Chickens 101, and Making Homemade Yogurt.

This spring we will embark on yet another new farming adventure: pastured pork. We are currently in the process of prepping about 2 acres of heavily wooded land on our property for 4 piglets that will be coming to the farm in April. We will be raising a heritage hog breed that is well adapted to forest life and foraging. The pigs will be rotated through the woods in paddocks. This means that they can root up one area of the woods, eating lots of plants, shrubs, nuts, and roots. When that area is showing signs of wear, we will move them to a fresh patch of land, which will allow the previous area to re­grow and repair itself. This is unique method of sustainable grazing in a wooded area is also known as Silvopasture. We are excited to dive into this new project and learn more as we go.

For more information about our farm, please feel free to contact me through our Facebook farm page here! ​We also welcome visits to the farm, and we gladly accept offers of help during planting season. We love to show others how they can get up close and personal with their food!

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Written by Ellen Bell

Vision Board: Why EVERYONE Needs One!

It’s 2016! How did you spend your New Year’s Eve? The kids and I hung out at home and I worked on creating my goals for 2016.

I am super excited for 2016. I know it’s going to be a great year all around! To help keep me focused and committed to a great year, I updated my vision board.

Vision Board

I HIGHLY recommend a vision board for everyone and they are so much fun to make! I made one about 6 months before Amelia was born and hung it right by my bed side. After almost 2 years, I have new goals, so I wanted to update.

It’s pretty simple creating a vision board. You can use a bulletin board, poster board, etc. Check out Pinterest for some awesome ideas here!

1. Grab magazines that inspire you!

Everyone’s inspirational magazines differ. It depends on what your goals are and what you like. If you want to focus on remodeling your home, you may have a bunch of DIY magazines. If you want to focus on health, you may have fitness and health magazines. So, the first step is to gather the magazines you want to use, to create your vision board.

2. Grab some scissors, wine and start cutting!

This is my favorite part, because there is no right or wrong way. You can dream as big as you want. If you want to travel to Europe this year, cut that picture out of Europe and put it on your board! The more you look at it, the more you will focus on how to achieve that goal!

3. Place cut outs on your board.

I like to use a bulletin board, because I can change it up in the future. Your visions do change over time, because you accomplish these goals, so you create more. Using a bulletin board and push pins allows you to change things easily. Organize how you want all of your cut-outs to lay on your board. Do you want sections that focus on each topic? Do you want your most important visions on top?

4. Hang your vision board. 

You want to hang your board some place where you see it EVERY DAY. The more you see this board, the more you are reminded what your goals and visions are for yourself. Mine is hanging right beside my bed. Every morning, I wake up and it’s the first thing I see. Every night, before I go to bed, it’s the last thing I see.

What goals do you want to focus on this year?!

Colored Rice & Noodles

I love sensory play! There are so many different ideas on Pinterest. There is no right or wrong way creating a sensory activity. The best part is, you usually have everything in your home OR it’s super cheap to pick up the few items you may need.

One of our favorite sensory activities is playing with colored rice.

This is normally an outdoor activity for us. We did the rice sensory play inside once and well … it was a mess! I was still vacuuming rice up a month later! I know some lay down a large towel or tablecloth to “catch” the rice and that works for them. My son likes to get a little wild, so we keep it as an outdoor activity 🙂

Noodles are great to dye also. You can use them for sorting, making necklaces, throw in a large bin, and more. It is SUPER easy to dye everything at once. You could also dye oats and sand, but I chose to just stick to rice and noodles today. This entire process was about 30 minutes long and it could even take less time, if you have kiddos to help!

30

  1. Place your noodles and rice into gallon bags. Just eyeball a good amount. I put about 3 cups of rice into each bag and about 2 cups of noodles in each bag. 
  2. Place about 2-3 Tablespoons of alcohol into the bags.
  3. Squirt 2-3 drops of food coloring. You may want to add more in a bit.
  4. Seal the bags. Make sure they are sealed well or it will be a mess!
  5. Begin shaking! This is where the kids can help.
  6. If the colors are not bright enough for you, add more food coloring.
  7. You can now open the bags and let them dry out, or spread onto parchment paper. I keep them sealed overnight, then let them dry out the next morning. This allows the color to sit a bit longer.
  8. HAVE FUN!

Check out my other fun sensory activities and ideas!

  1. Red Activity Box
  2. Fall Sensory Bin
  3. Sensory Board

PBS for Kids

I recently just discovered what all PBS Kids has to offer! There are so many resources, besides the regular programming. I was able to create a Curious George themed day for the kiddos, using all of these resources!

Curious George & PBS Kids Resources

Here are few links to help you extend the lessons your kids learn from the shows …

  1. PBS Kids – Lots of videos, games and apps!
  2. PBS Learning Media – My favorite! Free! You can sort by grade and subject. This will filter all videos, activities and more to help your child learn.
  3. PBS Kids Play – Educational games. There is a free trial, but after trial costs $9.95 a month
  4. Pinterest – You can always find something on Pinterest 🙂

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We started off reading, one of the several Curious George books we have, Curious George Learns the Alphabet.

Pinterest, of course, also has some great print-outs and resources. I found some matching number cards, I printed and laminated. I also printed off some coloring pages for the kids to learn colors and shapes. You can find them here.

We also learned our shapes and colors by playing with some bean bags I already had. Monte and the other kids love to toss them and it is another great way to learn shapes and colors! You can purchase them here!

After all of our activities we watched an episode of Curious George, ate some bananas and peanut butter and the best part … they played with their Curious George masks!

We chose to have a Curious George day because we went and visited Curious George at IPTV on Monday. The kids had a blast! They were able to meet Curious George, had snacks, did a craft, and they were given a tour of IPTV from Dan Wardell.

My favorite thing about PBS Kids is the fact they use characters like super heros, monkeys, and trains, that entice the kiddos to learn. Every show and every episode the kids learn something. It may be words, letters, manners, or numbers. I highly recommend adding PBS Kids to your daily routine and not just the programming! Hop on to any of the sites listed above and pick out an activity to extend your kids learning.

A Robot Party!

My baby boy turned three years old this past weekend! Oh my gosh, I cannot believe he is already three!! Where has the time gone?!

Monte has recently become attached to the movie Robots. I actually had not heard of it until recently, but Monte wants to watch it ALL THE TIME. It’s okay though, because it’s a pretty cute movie. Travis and I decided we would have a themed robot party and he loved it!

We decided to have his party at the Grimes Community Center. We rented out a large room and rented the tumbling equipment to go along. It ended up working out perfectly! The kids really enjoyed burning off some energy.

I ordered special invitations from, of course, Etsy 🙂 Unfortunately, I do no have a picture of the invite, but you can take a look to see what they looked like and purchase yours from here!

I also ordered him a special t-shirt with a robot, his name and age on it. This has become a tradition. I usually order a t-shirt with his birthday theme, name and age every year. It’s something fun and something we can keep forever 🙂 I ordered his robot t-shirt from here.

We also got the idea to build robots as decorations from Pinterest. They were very easy to put together. We just wrapped old boxes with solid color wrapping paper, added googly eyes, glued pipe cleaners on the top for antenna’s, and used construction paper for the rest! They turned out really cute and Monte knew exactly what they were, “Robots!”

We had small snacks, cake and drinks. I found this fun idea on Etsy also! It was easy to print out the labels, fold them, and staple to snack baggies of chex mix. You can purchase these labels here.

I also offered a small craft … “Build a Bot”! I had foam shapes, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pom-pom balls, popsicle sticks, and glue sticks sitting out. The kids were able to create their own robots. This was perfect for some of the bigger kids that attended and the little ones loved it also!

Of course, there was cake! We ordered our cake from Kissner Cakery and I highly recommend her! She did such a fantastic job and everyone loved the cake. Not just the appearance, but it was tasty also.

Overall, Monte had a great time celebrating his birthday. The robot theme came together very nicely and it was super easy! There are so many ideas out there!

What birthday themes have you done? 

 

Mary’s Berries

You may have seen my post about elderberries and elderberry syrup. It’s been one of my must have items when cold and flu symptoms start showing, or even better, to prevent them! I was introduced to a new superfood this summer, aronia berries. Aronia berries are also known as choke berries and are about the size of a blueberry, but more bitter.

Aronia berries are different then any other super berry such as acai berries, blueberries, elderberries, and so on. Aronia berries have the highest dose of anthocyanins! HUH?! I had no idea what that was either. Anthocyanins is the dark purple pigment color of the berry. This is the part that carries the greatest benefits such as:

  1. Strong antioxidant properties
  2. High levels of vitamin C
  3. Protect against colon cancer, diabetes, & heart disease
  4. Slow down aging
  5. Protect skin from environmental pollutants, tobacco smoke & UV radiation

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Now that I’ve told you all about these wonderful, super powerful berries, let me tell you where you can find them!

Marys’ Berries, located in Leon, Iowa is ran by Mary Johnston and her husband. In October of 2010 they planted 1100 plants and in 2013 they had harvested about 1200 pounds! Aronia berries start producing on their third year. Last season, they picked about 3000 pounds! That is a lot of aronia berries! Mary’s Berries are organically certified and they only use water.

Mary explained that they are a lot of work, including: weed eating, watering, mowing, and crawling around on the ground pulling weeds. They are ready for picking towards the end of August, beginning of September. She knows when they are ready by measuring the sugar content of the berries.

Each year they sell most of their berries to Sawmill Missouri Valley, but do offer for people to come pick their own for $3 per pound, which sounds like an awesome deal. Mary’s daughter, Sarah Norman, also sells them for $6 a pound if you are not wanting to make the trip to pick your own.

Sarah, Mary and her husband have had tremendous results taking aronia berries daily including the removal of inflammation, it also has helped protect them from viruses, flus, and colds.

Now that you know about aronia berries, you know where and how to get them, let’s talk about how you can consume them. The best part! 🙂

There are three different ways you can consume aronia berries:

  1. Whole, blended in smoothies
  2. Baked into yummy treats
  3. Made into a concentrated syrup

Sarah Norman, daughter of Mary, regularly makes a concentrated syrup. Here is her awesome recipe you can try at home!

Aronia Berry Syrup by Mary’s Berries

1 pound aronia berries fresh or frozen

Water to cover

1-1.5 cups raw honey

1/2-1 teaspoon cinnamon

Stock pot

Immersion blender

Mesh Strainer or Cheese Cloth

Put berries in a small stock pot and add water until berries are covered. Bring to a simmer for at least 30 minutes and mash/immersion blend them as the berries begin to pop open. After simmering for at least 30 minutes pour through a fine mesh strainer or through cheese cloth, over a bowl and press the berries to get all the juice. Get 2 pint jars and fill about 1/3 full with raw honey (1/2 – 3/4cups depending on sweetness preference). Add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and then pour in still warm juice leaving plenty of headspace to blend. Blend the juice, honey, and cinnamon until completely combined, then top off with more warm juice and shake to combine all.

Makes 2 pints.

Important: clean up any spills or splatters immediately! Aronia berries stain!

 It is recommended to consume about an ounce a day which is about 25 berries OR 1/4 cup!

If you are taking the syrup 1 Tablespoon or less is recommended for adults!

So drink up!

 

References

Bellbrook Berry Farm

Health Benefits of Aronia Berries (Chokeberries)

Mary Johnston from Mary’s Berries

Sarah Norman

Superberries

DIY Sensory Board

This Christmas we struggled with ideas on what to get Amelia as a gift. She was only 4 1/2 months old, so there wasn’t anything she needed or wanted. I came across this idea for a Sensory Board from someone else and searched them on Pinterest. I had no idea how popular they were! When you search for them, so many different types popped up! I was so excited to do this for Amelia. It was inexpensive and creative.

We purchased everything from Menards, besides a few items we purchased at Michaels. Here is what we used for our sensory board:

  1. You need a board – Ours is 2 feet by 2 feet. You can get much larger or smaller. We thought this would be the perfect size to pull out and store away when it is not being used.
  2. Spray paint – I decided to spray paint ours pink. There are a lot of people who just leave it the natural wood color also. It’s whatever YOU want to do!
  3. Chain door guard
  4. 3 inch spring door stop
  5. Switch & plate
  6. Red paracord bracelet
  7. 3 carabeeners, different colors
  8. 3 carpet samples
  9. Sandpaper
  10. Door chain
  11. Sash lift
  12. Spiky wood chain – Michaels
  13. Colored glass rocks – Michaels
  14. Super Glue
  15. Wood Glue
  16. Screws & Drill
  17. Wooden letters & numbers – Michaels
  18. Various paints for letters & numbers – Michaels
  19. Wooden square sample

Total at Michaels – $25.86

Total at Menards – $38.50

Total = $64.36

I love how this turned out. I also love that you can do anything to create it your own. Travis and I enjoyed creating this together too!

I Love Busy Bags!

Have you heard of Busy Bags? They are amazing! I was introduced to this whole concept last summer. One of the many Facebook groups I belong to, created a small group of mothers and we all took part in the Busy Bag project.

Pretty much, if there are say eight mothers in your group, you choose one activity and make eight of the same activity. You then all come together, swap activities, and you end up with eight different activities for your Busy Bag! It’s very similar to a freezer meal swap, but you get fun toddler activities instead!

Not only will these activities keep your kiddos busy, but they are awesome to use for a learning tool too! A lot of these activities incorporate matching colors, practicing numbers, fine motor skills, matching, and more.

Here is a snap shot of just a few activities I received from the swap. Sorry this isn’t the best picture! 🙁

These are also awesome to place into activity stations during the day, to keep the kiddos busy!

I just participated in another one a couple of weeks ago, but instead of just swapping we made a night of it. We came together with all of our activities we chose and decorated a small bag to keep all of the activities in. Of course, there was food and wine! It was so nice to get out, without kids!

I love keeping all the activities in a bag. You can throw this in your car, if you are going out to eat, going to a friends house, or anywhere you may need to keep your kiddo busy. This is a much better solution then handing then a smart phone, tablet, etc.!

There are ideas for Busy Bags all over Pinterest. Literally, probably hundreds. Here are some links to ones I like and some that I have in my Busy Bag!

  1. The Princess and the Tot – Toddler Busy Bags – Family memory game, finger puppets, lacing cards, matching colors, and more!
  2. Busy Bags for Teaching Colors
  3. Clothes Pin Number Match 
  4. Pattern Matching
  5. Popsicle Stick Puzzles
  6. The Rigneys – Toddler Busy Bag Swap – Velcro Mr.Potato Head, Button Turkey, Brown Bear Head and Tail matching, upper and lower case matching, and more!

Have you participated in a Busy Bag Swap? What activity did you make?

Holiday Pinterest Crafts

This past weekend one of my good friends came to town with her kids and we did some FUN Holiday Pinterest crafts! Every year we get together before Christmas to have a gift exchange and do fun crafts. Here are a few things we did, that I highly recommend checking out!

Fleece Christmas Tree

I came across this idea, last year, but never got around to doing it, because I was so nauseous with baby Amelia 🙁 But I finally got it done and Monte loves it! The daycare kiddos also enjoy it so it’s a win-win!

Canvas Snowflakes

This was a perfect project for the older kids. They got to choose what colors to use and had fun painting! Monte always loves painting and the hardest part is to tear him away from the paints when we are done. All you need is paint, canvas, and masking tape. Place the masking tape on the canvas so it looks like a snowflake. Then let the kids paint …

After they are done painting and the paint is completely dry, slowly remove the paint …

You end up with a pretty snowflake! An awesome decoration for the home that can be used all winter long!

Mistletoes

I absolutely loved this project and it turned out great. It is very easy to do with a baby and even easier if you have a helper to help place the painted feet on the canvas. We made one on a canvas for a decoration and made more prints on card stock for the Grandparents.

What holiday crafts are you doing this season?

Playdough Mats

We LOVE playdough in our house and it’s another great activity to keep the kiddos busy during the blustery months!

Of course, I was spending my time on Pinterest and came across some great links for playdough mats! I could not believe I never thought of this! With how much we play with playdough, this is another thing they can use besides all of the cookie cutters and other toys we use.

There are so many different ones available for FREE to print off. All you have to do is print and then laminate! They have some where you decorate, like the gingerbread man below. I also printed off a snowman, Christmas tree, and Santa hat that could be decorated too.

They also have playdough mats that help with counting. Such as a tree and it asks to place three apples on the branches. This is great for the kids to work on counting and what color an apple is!

Here are some of the sites I used to print off playdough mats …

  1. Fall Playdough Mats
  2. Christmas Playdough Mats
  3. Christmas & Winter Playdough Mats 
  4. Alphabet Playdough Mats
  5. 100 Free Playdough Mats
  6. Turkey Playdough Mats
  7. ABC Tracing & Playdough Mat  
  8. Princess Playdough Mat 

There are so much more too! Make sure to check out Pinterest.

Also, do not forget my Easy Peasy Playdough to play with all these fun mats!

What fun things do you do with your playdough?