One step at a time: Small acreage yields bounty

For the Capital Press


Aimee Sparling considers the family’s registered Milking Shorthorn cow to be one of their best small-acreage investments.

ADDY, Wash. – When Aimee and Jim Sparling moved from their home in Wenatchee to 20 acres an hour-and-a-half north of Spokane, they took on an overgrown, neglected yard.

Growing amid the tangle were Comfrey, St. John’s Wort, nettles and Oregon grape, among others. Many people would have just reached for the weed spray. But Aimee, who had experimented with making a few products from natural ingredients, knew she had discovered a treasure.

What she didn’t know was that within five years, their little piece of the Earth would yield a very high percentage of the products her family relies on for day-to-day living. They make or raise everything from garden produce, eggs, meat, milk, cheese and other dairy products to soaps, shampoos, skin-care products, some medicinal salves and cleaning solutions.

“I’m a believer that you can find whatever you need to heal yourself in the area that you are,” she said, rattling off a list of medicinal plants that grow in abundance nearby.

Opening a tub of her lavender-scented laundry soap, which she custom-scents to suit the tastes of customers, Aimee said, “You can make everything.” Paradoxically, the almost infinite number of possibilities presented the biggest stumbling block because it was hard to know where to start. “Pick one thing,” she advised – then make it.

Aimee keeps a detailed journal of her successes and failures. She said Jim once jokingly told her, “Aimee, if you could have notes plastered everywhere, you would.” But the note-keeping is an important part of the process, she said, and since she experiments with a variety of recipes, it helps her keep track of what works.

“I write down what my favorite is and why,” she said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes a few times and I’m sure we will again.”

As extensive as her line of products is, Aimee said, she’s still learning. “I feel like I’m trying to do it,” she said. “It’s a process. I’m really good at envisioning.” But to transform the vision into reality, you have to “take one step at a time.”

For example, while she one day hopes to make lye herself from wood ash, she’s “not there yet,” and uses purchased lye in the wide variety of homemade soaps that she gives as gifts and occasionally sells.

Aimee credits much of her success to her husband, a dry-wall installer blessed with practical problem-solving ability. When they decided to try making cheese, Jim fashioned a cheese press – “which he may market one day” – out of a set of garage-sale gym weights.

All their ingenuity saves money, and Aimee has started keeping closer track of exactly what goes into each concoction. Every batch of laundry is recorded with a tally mark to determine precisely how many loads each bucket of soap will do.

She estimates that their biggest savings comes from dairy products, and she anxiously awaits the April freshening date of her registered Milking Shorthorn cow. “It only cost $300 to $400 a year to raise her,” she said. But that one animal provides milk, butter, buttermilk and yogurt, in addition to a wide variety of cheeses including cream and cottage, mozzarella, gouda, pepper jack and Cheddar. The cow also provides milk for pets, and occasionally there’s some left to augment the feeding of a couple of pigs – one to eat and one to sell at hanging weight.

So great is the use for milk Aimee said she can foresee buying another cow. “Our goal is to make a year’s supply of cheese.” She said Jim recently bought a used refrigerator to hold the aging Cheddar at a constant 45 to 50 degrees.

“It’s fun,” said Aimee. “But it’s a lot of work, and it hasn’t all been great.” Country life, she said, took some getting used to. In town there was a convenience store just down the road. But a trip to the store now means a long drive. Aimee said they usually decide “we don’t need it.”

Even though Jim and Aimee home-school their five children, they still spend plenty of time driving them to and from a variety of activities, and Aimee admits that they have felt the temptation to move closer to town. But it’s always a fleeting thought, and they don’t lose sight of the reasons they moved here – “a desire for horses and a wish for a simpler lifestyle in a smaller town.

“I don’t know if it’s really simpler, but I would never, ever move back,” she said. “I can walk out there and it smells so good. And it’s beautiful.”

True to Aimee’s word, her family seems to have found what they need to heal body – and soul – right where they are.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site