Family and friends: DAY 51

06/09 (Day 51)

I woke up in my comfortable bed after 12 hours of sleeping, sweating under the warm blankets, and vividly dreaming. Both my body and mind felt well rested. The basement bedroom was dimly lit and I walked up the stairs to start my day off with a hug from Patti, which I hadn’t had in nearly three years.

We sat around the kitchen table catching up on the last few years of life. Before long, Tom walked in and I assumed he was outside keeping busy as he usually is fixing something or working on a project. It was such a bright way to start my day spending time with family. We sat around in the kitchen and I explained the premise of the journey I was on. It was an extremely pleasant morning and it was so enjoyable to relax in a midwestern fashion with good people. A few hours later Mike and Allison showed up with their two children, as did Katie. We just hung out as Wisconsinites know how to do as good as anyone else on a Sunday. Mike and Tom had a beer in hand as usual and as did probably a majority of men in the state of Wisconsin this afternoon. They own Carroll’s Plumbing and Heating, so I took this opportunity to learn about water efficiency and plumbing.

Modern toilets use between 1.2 and 1.6 gallons per flush and 1.6 is the maximum a toilet can use as per federal regulation. Toilets use to use 3 gallons/ flush and before that 5 gallons/ flush. So we have improved a lot in the last few decades but we still have much need for improvement. The best way to save water from flushing is to not flush when not needed. If it’s yellow let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down. Also you can put something in the tank such as a brick or a bottle filled with water to displace water, which saves you an equivalent volume of water with each flush.

Faucets have a maximum flow rate of 1.5 gallons per minute. Restrictors are built inside the plumbing to keep water from being able to flow above that rate. The kitchen faucet is the most commonly used faucet in the house. Make sure that you have faucets that meet these standards as older faucets may use substantially more water. Always turn off your faucet when not in use for example while brushing your teeth. In general just pay attention to water usage and try to cut back. 

Showers have a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. Restrictors are in the showerhead to keep flow from exceeding this. However many older showers use 3 to 4 gallons/ minute. You can pick up a water efficient showerhead for under $20 and you will make your investment back in a short time. They estimated that 30% of the homes they service still have old showerheads. So make sure your showerhead is an efficient one. The average American is in the shower for 8.2 minutes and has a shower that puts out 2.1 gallons/ minute. This means they use 17.2 gallons per day to clean their body. That is 34 days worth of drinking water down the drain in one shower. Most of us are not that dirty that we actually need to shower every single day. We can also spend less time in the shower. Put a timer on your showerhead if you’d like to gain awareness of how long your showers are and then make a goal to shorten them if you’d like. 

I also learned about the different types of water heaters and the efficiencies of the different types. When you are using hot water you are using electricity. Try to minimize your hot water usage when possible. It was awesome to be able to catch up with people that I love but at the same time increase my knowledge on consumption and this family is very knowledgeable on plumbing. 

Mike and Allison brought over a whole bunch of local organic food from their CSA including spinach, lettuce, radishes, and asparagus and they brought a gallon of Organic Valley milk. The Ihm family farm was right on the front of the jug, which was a funny coincidence as I was going to visit their farm today. I easily could have stayed for days, just hanging out, taking it easy, and living the small town Wisconsin laid back life, but I knew I had to get going. I stretched out the morning as long as I possibly could and headed off around 2:00 after the morning rains had subsided. Any feelings I had yesterday of loneliness or of being an outsider as I biked into Lancaster were completely washed away when I woke up in the Carroll’s house this morning. My heart was warmed by how so welcoming and generous the Carroll’s are. This seems to be a common trait among the Midwest people, however I feel they exceed the status quo of goodness in the Midwest. 

The Ihm farm was just fifteen minutes north and since I had a fishing day with Grant planned I set the intention of spending just a half hour there so that I would not extend my lateness. John Ihm greeted me at the front door to the chicken house that held 3,500 chickens inside. I spent two hours with the man who lived on the farm with his wife and five children. His brother’s family and his mom also lived on the farm and they all worked on the land to produce food for themselves and for the American consumers. They are an Organic Valley farm and produce free-range eggs as well as organic milk. It was quite the experience to be in a barn amongst 3,500 chickens that were all popping out eggs. Here is some of the information that I learned and I will focus on the sustainability practices as well how they produce the eggs on our shelves at the grocery store.

Here is the lifecycle of a chicken that is raised for this farm. The chicks are raised on another local Organic Valley and come in at 18 weeks (4.5 months). They then lay eggs on the farm for 11 months. After this at the age of nearly 1.5 years they are sold locally. Last year 2,700 of the 3,500 were sold to local farmers who used them to lay eggs for another 3-6 months and then butchered for meat. The other 800 were butchered immediately and used to make chicken soup. So many of the chickens have a two-year lifespan compared to factory-farmed chickens that usually live less than 2 months from what I’ve learned. Also a factory farm might squeeze 60,000 chickens into the same sized enclosed that this farm had 3,500 chickens. Chickens can lay eggs at a good rate for 3 to 4 years and can live around 7 or 8 years if not being raised for meat. 

At their peak the chickens here have an 88-95% laying rate. This means that each chicken lays an egg 9 days out of 10 days and the 3,500 chickens lay about 3,150 eggs per day. With age the chickens slow down and produce less eggs. The size of the eggs also increases which for some reason is not as desirable for the market. 

These chickens are free range. During the summer they spend about seven hours outside each day. The doors are opened at 11:00 and the chickens rush out to peck away at the ground for the day. At nightfall the doors are opened again and the chickens rush inside to roost for the night. The first month on the farm they are kept inside to train them to lay inside and in the winter they stay inside as well.

The chickens are feed a combination of corn, alfalfa, wheat, barley, oats, soybeans, lime, grit, B complex, oyster shells, and a premix with 25 minerals. All of the grains are grown on the farm and the soybeans are grown at another farm nearby in Wisconsin. This practice of growing the food source on the farm saves a lot of fuel, packaging, and time. 6,000 pounds of food lasts 7 or 8 days for the 3,500 chickens, which means each chicken eats about a quarter pound of food per day (4 ounces). The eggs here typically weigh 1.75 to 3 ounces. 

All the chicken poop is scooped out once per year and used as fertilizer on the crops that are then used to feed the chickens.

The craziest egg that Joe and his children ever found was 5 ounces! That is almost 3 times larger than some of the average eggs. They took it home and cracked it to find another whole egg inside and 2 yolks. They cracked that egg and that had 2 developing yolks in it. Boy would I have loved to have found that egg. Crazy stuff like this happens in nature sometimes. In nature irregularities are regular. We have this desire to consistency and regularity but that is not the way the planet necessarily works. Part of Permaculture is the act of embracing nature’s unpredictability and enjoying all the odd shaped things that come from it. 

The Ihms sell all the eggs locally that are not the right shape and size for the supermarket. A dozen small eggs sell locally for $1.50 and regular sized eggs for $2.50. The greatest thing about this is they have never used a new egg carton and they get all of them used from customers and local grocery stores. The Ihms also donate over 400 dozen eggs per year to the food pantry. Organic Valley picks up the eggs about once a week and they are transported in reusable crates that create no waste. The eggs come out of the chicken very clean and with a few exceptions they don’t have to clean the eggs at the farm. This is done at the processing facilities, which are right in the area.

I was excited when his brother Joe came by with his daughter and I talked to him about a lot more of his life here in southwestern Wisconsin. They grow potatoes, apples, peppers, onions, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, melons, strawberries and much more. They can beans and jar foods such as jams, applesauce, and tomatoes, and make juices and pies. They of course eat eggs for breakfast almost every day and eat their own beef as well. Typically they get their meat when a cow gets injured and can no longer be milked. One cow produces about 800 pounds of beef, which the three families eat for about a year. Joe quoted his father and said, “We’re farmers so we’re going to eat like farmers.” About 75% of the food they eat they produce themselves. Another thing Joe said that stuck out to me was “Most factory farmers don’t eat a thing they produce because they know what’s in it.” Organic Valley farmers eat the same food that they sell to the American consumer and they are proud of it. These farmers practice what they preach.

Two hours of learning about chicken farming in the driftless region was all I had time for so at 4:00 I pedaled north to Boscobel to stay at my friend Grants house. He had invited a bunch of friends over for an evening of fun. Some of my best friends from college were coming over and I was excited to see them. The twenty miles to Boscobel was very easy and enjoyable and I did it in about an hour and a half. A few hills slowed me down but I had about twice as many downhills to make the pedaling easy. As of yesterday my knees have started to be quite sore but it has not been unbearable. I got to the house at 5:30 and was greeted by Kyle, Grant, and Miranda who have been some of my best friends since 2005. Grants sister Maggie and his fiancé Vanessa were there too and it was great to spend time with them. I cooked venison that his dad gave me over the fire that Grant had prepared along with the fresh asparagus and radishes that Mike and Allison had given me. Wow that’s a lot of giving. I cooked it in tinfoil that I had found in the garbage (unused) and found that experience to be very convenient. I understand why people use tinfoil but the only way I’ll use it is if it doesn’t involve creating waste. The convenience is nice but it is not worth putting my burden on the earth by mining it and then sending waste to a landfill to sit for 100’s of years. 

I also cooked a big pot of wheat and quinoa and even after this massive meal my body was still craving calories so the whole group of us took a walk down to the grocery store together and I took a peak in the old treasure chest out back. Here I found a perfectly good Green Bay Packers birthday cake. We headed back to the house and I think everyone had a piece of the fresh trash cake. I was surprised that they all took part and it was really fun doing that together. We hung out in the living room for a while and they asked me all sorts of questions and I told all sorts of stories. Around 11:00 everyone went home to their beds and around midnight I retired to my bedroom for a wonderful night of sleep.

This adventure is now a book! Dude Making a Difference is the exciting and inspirational story of my bike ride across the USA on a bamboo bike. Go to to get a copy or learn more about it. 100% of my proceeds are donated to environmental grassroots nonprofits!