Sheree Commerford found us on instagram and asked if she could come meet and interview us. We were already fans of her inspiring family blog "Captain and the Gypsy Kid" so of course we were excited to meet her... and when we did we knew we were all long lost soul sisters! She spent the day making tea with Ashley, cooking with Emma and helping with Lauren's animals. We talked about everything from family to style to chores to travel. How we wish she didn't live so far away, but we'll have to do a Women's Heritage tour down under... Thank you again to Sheree for reaching out and writing such a great story on us. Here it is!
I was so excited when I stumbled onto Women’s Heritage through Instagram. Here were these three women sharing and teaching life skills. Real life skills. Skills that allow you to live from the land and be self-sufficient. You! As in me, a woman. Their workshops won’t show you how to create a vignette for Instagram or give you fashionable tips for the season but they will share with you how to weld metal, care for a jersey cow and milk it making kefir and kefir cheese. How to master the art of fermentation or how to forage for nutritious weeds and flowers in your own garden. How to master horse grooming and saddling with the addition of my favourite part of any female gathering, wine and food tasting. Of late I have been feeling restless with my intention, my purpose. What skills do I really have? What am I contributing to the world and what am I teaching my children that will keep their feet firmly grounded in the soil…
Tell us how you all met? How did the idea of Women’s Heritage come to life?
We met at our children’s preschool. We went on a family trip to the mountains together and began talking about how we wanted to learn one another’s skills and from there Women’s Heritage was born. We held our first class on sourdough bread baking and it sold out within minutes of posting it! The day was so magical, we knew we were onto something. From there we began a blog to share our how to’s, recipes and inspirations. We are also so excited to announce we are opening a homesteading supply store this fall in Carpinteria, California.
Define homestead and what it means in relation to Women’s Heritage?
Homesteading has different meanings to different people. To us in this modern age, homesteading means self-sufficiency, and learning how to make things from scratch like generations before us did. Connecting to the land, food, animals, community and learning where things come from is empowering for ourselves and for our families. We strive to bring women together to resurrect the traditions and crafts of the past while encouraging a feeling of sisterhood and support.
What was the moment when you realised that this was something worth sharing, that there was a growing need for this type of support and circle of learning for women?
We ourselves wished to have more time to be with other women and learn from one another. Each class leaves us with a feeling of fulfillment and knowledge. We’ve created traditions within our classes to connect and learn more about each person. There is no feeling better than learning something among supportive women and everyone leaves with something they created in their hands.
Perhaps there might have been a time say in the 80’s and 90’s were these skills were socially given little value, and if anything, dismissed as being “domestic”. Why is it now you think women are gravitating back to these more traditional skills and giving them the respect and platform they deserve?
It’s a pushback! We feel that over the decades, modern conveniences have been helpful, but because of them we’ve forgotten we can actually hand make much of what we need if we so choose. There is a big movement of wanting to reconnect to the natural world around us and the things we are putting in and on our bodies, possibly because we are becoming more aware of the impact food and preservatives in skincare have on our health and well being. The skills we teach are part of our heritage, and were passed down for generations until relatively recently. We want to reestablish that connection, bring women together in learning, and empower people through independence and interdependence.
I know I cannot survive as a healthy human, a generous partner or sane mother without my immediate community of women. How important is community is to WH?
Community is at the heart of Women’s Heritage! Teaching and learning, sharing and growing in friendship are all pillars of why we started our business. We together are more than the sum of our parts!
Have you been surprised by the response and interest to what you are all doing?
We have been very pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic response! We have made so many good friends and learned so much, having lots of fun along the way.
What role has motherhood played, if any, in the decision to seek out and nurture these forgotten skills and crafts?
Motherhood has ignited a passion for learning new skills that we can bring home and use to create a wholesome and fun environment for our families. Baking bread, planting the garden, making herbal medicines – these things are even more enjoyable when shared with our children! Becoming mothers encouraged each of us to really start living healthy lifestyles.
I feel definitely that I have made no room in my life at present to discover new passions, new skills outside of my career and this makes me sad. What would you say to the sisterhood out there who feel overwhelmed or intimated by making such changes in their everyday life or might not feel so confident seeking out such a community?
It takes much less time than you might think! One afternoon of learning can offer years of inspiration. And even if you don’t continue a newly learned skill right away, it is made forever accessible and you can include the aspects that work for you in your home.
What do you look for when deciding on a skill share workshop?
We hold workshops on subjects we are passionate about, or new skills that we are dying to learn ourselves.
What does the future hold for WH?
We are really excited to announce the opening of a retail store – “Heritage Goods & Supply” in Carpinteria, CA, coming this August. Our store will feature a curated assortment of apparel, goods, and supplies for the urban homesteader – man, woman and child, and we will also have a teaching and learning space where we will host workshops.
Ashley Moore | FOLK HERBALIST
Describe the difference between a straight up herbalist and a folk herbalist?
There are so many different types of herbalists – folk herbalists, clinical herbalists, community herbalists, professional herbalists, wise-woman herbalists… I like the title “folk herbalist” for what I do. I do not have a practice, and I rarely sell my medicines. It feels good to me to be able to offer healing help as a gift, to share what I’ve learned and to learn from others through classes or meeting for tea, and to keep myself and my family feeling healthy and happy with the earth’s medicine.
I am so baffled at how much you know. You’re like a modern day wizard; a good witch making potions and spells that improve our health and wellbeing. Is this something you studied or was it self-taught?
Thank you – I do like to think of myself as a good witch! Herbalism is something I have been really interested in, even before I knew what the name of it was. I began reading books on plant medicine, herbal remedies and homemade beauty products when I was around six years old, and the idea that we could use the plants around us for our health and wellbeing has always been fascinating to me. I am grateful for the online and correspondence courses available in herbalism, and I’ve taken as many as time and mothering allow. I have enjoyed studying with master herbalists like Susun Weed and Rosemary Gladstar, and also at The Herbal Academy. My dad is a doctor, and he has been a big inspiration to me to spend a lot of time on what you might consider the “medical” side of herbalism – the systems of the body, the herb-drug reactions and side effects, the chemistry and active constituents. But I would say most of my herbal education has been self-driven just out of pleasure – I try to read every book on the subject I can get my hands on, take classes offered by local plant experts, and spend as much time as possible out in nature, making medicines and working with the plants. It’s very rewarding! My children love to help me make tinctures and elixirs, salves and creams, and they especially enjoy helping me wildcraft the herbs. It’s such a fun way to spend time with them!
Lets talk about the little shed in the back of your house where you keep all your herbs and dried ingredients; walk us through what it takes to collect and house these wonderful and mysterious plants.
Oh, the little shed my children lovingly call “The Witch Hut”, and they each have their own space under the eaves to whip up their own concoctions! The herbs that you see are nearly all from our garden and the foothills and mountains near our home. We collect what we need (never more!), hang it in bundles to dry, or dry it in the outdoor dehydrator, and then store it in glass jars for later use. We usually use up whatever we have within 6 months so we are in a constant state of replenishment. Because we mostly grow or wildcraft our herbs, my children and I get to know each plant in a really lovely way. I adore the entire process – growing, harvesting, hiking, wildcrafting, drying, storing, medicine-making and taking! The herbs in here we use to make teas, herbal candies, cough drops, syrups, salves and ointments, tinctures and oxymels. I love having on hand the things I will need to care for my family and friends, and the process of making medicine from start to finish is really as beautiful as it is empowering, as good for the soul as it is for the body.
DIY Herbal Tea
Making tea is a beautiful ritual at our house. Herbal teas (tisanes) are so healing and nourishing to the mind, body and soul. When I make a tea blend, I think about what my body and mind are craving. Am I feeling tired or stressed? Am I coming down with a cold? Do I feel like I need some cleansing for my skin? I also always think about how the tea will taste, and even how it will look. I want my teas to be delicious and also delightful to look at. So, for example, I might be thinking of a tea that is both good for my skin and nourishing for my whole body.
I could use some nettle and calendula, then maybe I add rose petals and a sprinkle of blue cornflowers. Not all of the teas I make are specifically medicinal. Sitting in a cosy chair sipping a delicious cup of tea on a foggy day is great medicine on it’s own! Sometimes I wildcraft herbs along the way when I am on a hike. When I get home I like to make tea from what I gathered, and it reminds me of the hike. I dry and store the herbs and can have a tangible reminder of my day on the mountain whenever I like.
To make your own tea blend:
1. Start with a few different (edible) leaves. Some of my favorites are nettle, peppermint, and red raspberry.
2. Next, add some (edible) flowers – rose, chamomile, calendula, cornflower are all delicious and look lovely in the blend.
3. Start with a small scoop or handful of two types of leaves.
4. Mix them together and see how they smell. Then, smell your flowers.
5. Use your intuition, add a few and smell again.
6. Keep adding some of this and some of that until your blend looks and smells just right.
A little practice and you will be a pro.
Lauren Malloy | ANIMAL SPECIALIST
What is an animal specialist?
I have my degree in “Animal Science”, which was a four year program at University. The program was wonderful and I learned such a wide array everything ranging from animal anatomy to animal feed to animal behaviour. I have worked in many different ways with animals from helping with cattle ranch work to working with cheetahs in Africa.
Have you always been this person, connected to the earth, to animals? Has ranch life always been a part of you or was there a moment or an experience that made it clear that this was the way you wanted to live?
I have always loved animals and felt an incredible connection to these beings I can only communicate with through body language. I grew up with lots of animals and even worked on dairy farm since an early age. I would come home cover in manure but so happy! I think those early days working on the dairy ( I worked there from age 8-18) it was clear there was no place I’d rather be and nothing I’d rather be doing. I now have a family milk cow and sometimes I just sit with her and enjoy her company, being near my animals always been my happy place and still is!
I know more and more people who reside closer to cities and suburbia who want to house chickens and bee’s, ourselves included. Do you have any advice for people wanting to farm animals in non rural areas?
Yes, do it!!! But realize the commitment to the animals when you do! Chickens and bees are such a great place to start. When planning a chicken coop, make sure you have automatic water and a big feeder (makes life easier) and an appropriate coop and space for the chickens. I got bees a year ago and have been learning so much from a mentor, so I would recommend finding a beekeeper so you can pick their brain! My advice when considering getting any animal is do lots of research on what the animals needs before hand and also ask people who have those animals you are interested in lots and lots of questions. And then just go for it, learn by doing!
Tips for Keeping Chickens
Chickens are perhaps some of the easiest animals to keep, and with one of the biggest rewards! There is nothing like fresh eggs in the morning or sharing our eggs, and I love knowing I’ll always have eggs for my recipes!
There are many different ways to keep chickens, but here are a few things that I do to ensure that chicken keeping is easy for my family and my hens are happy and healthy.
The first thing you need, of course, is a secure chicken coop that wildlife and dogs cannot break into. That means having it set up so animals can’t tunnel into the coop, so there has to be wire underneath or wire dug deep into the perimeter. Chickens need shelter in their coop, a nesting box, roosting poles and a run where they can be outside, but still protected. The rule of thumb is 4 square feet in the coop for every chicken and 10 square feet in the run per chicken. If you really want chickens and see yourself having them for a long time I would say invest in a nice solid, large coop. You can build it yourself, buy a kit or, like I did, hire a local carpenter to build a coop.
Something I discovered along the way is that having an automatic waterer makes chicken keeping a lot easier. They are inexpensive and really easy to install, so build your chicken coop near where a hose bib is located. The other thing I do is I have a very large feeder that I only have to fill about once a week. We also feed our chickens fruit, vegetables and grain scraps daily. They love it and we reduce our food waste.
Lots of people let their chickens out daily and then when they return to roost they close them in for the night. I prefer to keep my chickens in the coop most of the time and if I do let them out, it is just before dark and roosting. We have lost several chickens by letting them out and they make a mess in my yard and eat my garden. We made sure in designing our coop they’d have enough room to stay in most of the time. Another option is having a coop that can be moved around, but I haven’t tried that yet.
Chickens lay according to the amount of sun light, so remember they lay less in the winter and start to lay more as the days get longer. Chickens slow down their laying as they get older, so I like to get new chicks every other year to ensure we have plenty of eggs.
I don’t have a specific breed of chicken I like best. When I get chicks I usually do a variety because I like the look of having all different types, and then the eggs are different colors too.
Chickens are fun and easy, my kids love them and we get the best tasting, healthiest eggs around. We reduce our food waste, use their manure as fertilizer and just enjoy having them around. Even after years of raising chickens I am still learning new things, but the only way to really learn is to do it!
Happy chicken keeping!
Emma Moore | COOK EXTRAORDINAIRE
Just being around you I wanted to start cooking differently. Actually let’s be honest, it made me want to start cooking period!! You actually sounded more like a doctor who was creating the most delicious medicine. There’s a whole other layer to this than just cooking…how do I describe what you do?
I try to provide myself and my family the healthiest lifestyle possible. After all, they are the ones that have inspired me to cook the way I do. I believe my quality of life, health and environment are related to the foods that we put in our bodies. As such, I do treat food as a medicine. It can be preventative, healing and restorative.
To do this, I try to find the freshest and purest ingredients possible. This means growing what I can in my small backyard urban garden, foraging local seasonal edible plants from the trails and sourcing other ingredients from the local farmers market when possible. In essence, I like to know where my food comes from.
Part of my approach to cooking this way includes fermentation that not only adds flavor but creates an array of health benefits for our gut.
What are the basics you need in the pantry to build a foundation for this medicinal type of cooking?
I like to know where my food comes from and start with the purest and freshest ingredients possible.
If cooking with meat, I like to know where the animal has come from too.
When using sweeteners, I tend to try to minimize cooking with refined sugars. So I use what nature makes instead: Honey and maple syrup.
As for having healthy fats on hand, grassfed butter, unrefined extra virgin coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil are my favorites. Again, source matters.
After that, much of what I do is already available in the kitchen, it just might take an extra step or two. For example, I could just buy a can of coconut milk to make coconut milk kefir but when I buy a fresh coconut and start from scratch the flavor and health benefits are that much greater.
Do you have any advice for parents on ways to include their children so they are inspired to make healthy and sustainable choices in their own lives regardless of age?
Yes! Practice what you preach. Grow food together, forage together, cook together, and even shop together at your local farmers market. I have found with our two children that they are more willing to try vegetables that we have grown ourselves and are more enticed with dinners that they have helped prepare (even if it’s just chopping veggies for a soup). We also talk openly about the food choices we make as a family and why we eat what we eat. For example, just recently I purchased hard white wheat berries at the farmers markets. Our daughter who is eight was thrilled with the idea of turning the wheat berries into flour and then making sourdough bread. So we did it together and along the way we talked about the farmer that we purchased the wheat berries from, what the process for making sourdough bread entails and so on. These moments teach our children how to connect back to the earth and provide nourishment for their own bodies no matter how old they are.
Rhubarb Strawberry Pie with Sourdough Pie Crust
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (or flour of choice)
1 tsp salt
1 TBSP sugar
2 sticks butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes and chilled*
1 cup sourdough starter
7 cups rhubarb (1 ¾ lbs) when chopped into 1 inch / 2.5 cm pieces
3 cups strawberries washed and hulled
2 apples (peeled, cored and chopped)
1 ½ cups unrefined sugar
1 orange juiced and zest
1 to 2 inches grated ginger
¼ cup tapioca granules, ground
1. Using 2 pastry blenders blend together the flours, salt and sugar.
2. Cut in the butter until it resembles a coarse meal, with some chunks of butter remaining.
3. Gradually stir in the starter and fold in with a spatula until it starts to come together.
4. Gather the dough into two equal balls, wrap with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the fridge for 7 hours or overnight.
5. When ready, roll out 1 piece of dough to make a bottom crust. Place into a pie dish.
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Put all ingredients in a large pot except strawberries and tapioca.
3. Cover and bring to a boil; then remove the cover and reduce to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the rhubarb pieces are soft.
4. Stir frequently and deeply, to avoid scorching.
5. Stir in prepared strawberries and tapioca, bring back to a boil, then turn heat off and let sit for 10 minutes.
6. Pour filling into prepared pie crust. Roll out the other piece of dough and place over filling. 7. Crimp to seal edges. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.
8. Decrease temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for an additional 30 to 45 minutes, or until the filling starts bubbling. Let cool before serving.
Photographed by the always awesome and very clever Scott Soens on location in California
Lauren, Ashley and Emma wear Ulla Johnson
Visit Women’s Heritage | Follow @womens_heritage