Meet Joel Kienle and Merrissa Karmark, a young married couple who met in Nicaragua while they were both involved in humanitarian activities. Joel had been working on building projects and Merrissa had come to Nicaragua after studying in Mexico.
They were able to step into Joel’s parents’ property back at Kuroki and with their ideas and their previous involvement in agriculture, they started setting out plans to live a sustainable life using what was around them and native to their habitat.
Their first hurdle was what to do with the nine acres of land available. A detailed plan was drawn up and the most suitable places on the property were selected to produce what they wanted and to house the livestock. Most of their first attempts were experimentation; a lot of the knowledge of how to plant seeds and make and harvest a garden has not been passed down. “It seems to have skipped a generation or two,” says Merrissa.
Their garden is split into two areas, one with rows of saskatoons and the other with raised beds and crops such as corn and potatoes.
“You can buy $300 of groceries or $300 of seeds, and $300 of seeds goes a long way,” Merrissa comments, which goes some way toward explaining the overabundance of potatoes. “We produced enough potatoes for a family of eight!”
They admit they had no concept of how to grow and store food. But as their knowledge grew, so did their expertise. All the work Joel does is by hand, digging down into the soil, creating raised beds and mixing in fertilizer, ensuring crop rotation and developing walkways between crops. But it’s not just your everyday local vegetable that they have grown. Joel sourced mycelium from Regina, prepared the soil, scattered straw and grew a crop of mushrooms. Their garden also produces raspberries, apples, plums, saskatoons, corn, potatoes and everything from corn to zucchini.
Raising livestock is always a major undertaking, which they have taken in their stride. Joel sourced pigs, chickens and goats from breeders and local people. The small herd of pigs consists of three sows, eight gilts, two boars and five barrows made up from two breeds, Tamworth and Berkshire. Having pigs means nothing is wasted; their diet includes table scraps as well as forage from the wooded area of the property, and grain and hay.
The goat herd consists of 13 does, one buck and three six-week-old kids. Joel has experimented with different breeds and has one line for milk and one line for meat. The goats are milked once and sometimes twice daily, supplying the household with milk from which cheese is also made.
Lastly, free-range chickens provide eggs and the occasional Sunday roast.
As each season goes by, more knowledge is picked up along the way.
As with all generations, there are those who follow, and those who break new ground by turning away — sometimes only slightly, sometimes completely — from the lifestyle in which they were raised. More twenty-somethings than ever before are choosing for environmental reasons not to drive or own a vehicle, and more people from all walks of life and generations are turning their hands to a completely different way of life, or maybe it’s a return to a certain long-ago way of life, somewhat like the one Joel and Merrissa are replicating.
By Andy Labdon