The animals around the yard of the rural Port Washington home of Anthony James and Jeanne Kasza and their daughters Emma and Reese aren’t pets—they’re food for the table, as are the vegetables grown by this family trying to lead a truly green life.
At the Town of Port Washington home of Jeanne Kasza and Anthony James and their young daughters Emma and Reese Kasza-James, few paper products are used, chemicals are banned and most of their food comes from the animals and plants they raise or buy from local farmers.
“I used to go to the grocery store weekly, but I realized I haven’t been to a store in more than two weeks,” Kasza said.
Her husband, she said, is a farmer at heart who has become passionate about the venture that began with a compost pile and an organic garden five years ago when they purchased the property.
“Before we started all this craziness, we were just normal recyclers,” Kasza said.
After learning more about the commercial chicken, egg and meat business, James, who owns a concrete countertop business, decided to raise chickens for eggs and meat and built a small coop in the back yard for the 15 hens to lay multi-colored eggs.
This year, he is raising 120 chickens plus rabbits, quail and turkeys and the enclosures take up most of the back yard.
Seventy small, speckled quail eggs, which are expected to hatch next week, are in an incubator in the kitchen. Baby bunnies that were born last week are still hidden beneath fluffs of their mothers’ fur.
When the weather gets warmer and the grass greener, the rabbits will be allowed to roam and nibble in a fenced area.
More than 100 naked-neck chicks, prized for their meat, scamper between a warming light and a grassy enclosure. The free-range hens peck for food around the fenced back yard, popping in and out of the rabbit enclosure to lay eggs in nesting boxes.
Thousands of worms gobble up organic table scraps, yielding three to four pounds of fertile castings every 30 days for the family’s gardens. Six barrels hooked to downspouts collect rain to water the gardens.
The girls are learning at a young age that they must be grateful for what they have and for the animals and plants that provide most of their food.
While holding a tiny bunny that hadn’t been named yet, Emma, 5, said, “We’re raising rabbits for meat.”
When their father butchered a rooster named Lindy last year, Emma and her 3-yer-old sister helped. Before eating a chicken pot pie their mother made from the rooster, Emma said, “Thank you for giving us energy, Lindy.”
In the winter, James grew lettuce, radishes and herbs under lights in the basement so they ate fresh greens all winter.
The family uses washcloths in place of paper napkins and paper towels. Vinegar and water is used for the majority of cleaning.
“I use baking soda when I need an abrasive,” Kasza said.
“I buy earth-friendly laundry detergent and try to hang clothes on the line. We have a dryer, but we also hang up some clothes in the basement during winter.”
They tried cloth diapers when Emma was born, Kasza said, but gave in and switched to disposable ones.
“I guess I’m not as green as I would like,” she said. “I’m glad Reese doesn’t need diapers anymore.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables that they don’t grow are purchased at farmers’ markets and frozen for the winter.
They usually buy a side of beef from an area farmer and freeze the cuts of meat. With the rabbit meat, that may not be necessary this year.
When the back yard garden is finished for the year, James plans to move the chickens to that area and install a hoop house for them.
James has promised 80 of the naked-neck chickens to friends. Twelve of the turkeys have also been sold.
In addition to his own endeavor, James works at the Family Farm in Grafton, where families and school groups visit. He plans to start an organic garden there and teach people how to compost with worms and raise their own food.
“A 4-foot-square garden can yield enough food to feed a family of four for one month,” James said.
Kasza, a Spanish teacher who taught at University School in Milwaukee until Reese was born, speaks Spanish to her daughters at home.
She used to bike to her job.
For the last three years, Kasza has taken about a dozen high-school and college students for a two-week service project to Penonome, Panama, where they work and play with children who are recuperating from malnutrition at the Nutre Hogar center.
Emma and Reese go with her and play with the children, speaking their language.
“I want them to know that not everybody has food like we do,” Kasza said. “Not everybody has a house, a car and people who love and take care of them. I want them to realize how fortunate they are and that they have to share with others less fortunate.”
More information on the Panama Service Project is on the Web sites www.panamaserviceproject.org and www.friendsofnutrehogar.org.
Photo by Sam Arendt