Cover – DIY virtuoso

Cover – DIY virtuoso



Reno blogger Jessica Locke incorporates homemade foods into daily life.


Being dedicated to homegrown and homemade food means knowing what’s in every bite. It means an explosion of taste. And it means saving money. What’s not to love?

But does growing your own food, making your own cleaning products, and harvesting eggs from your own chickens require rural living? Not necessarily. For instance, regulations in the City of Reno and Washoe County both allow residents to keep chickens, and a plot of ground turned miniature vegetable garden doesn’t require breaking the bank. Besides, it’s fun to experiment.

Doing it as a self-sustaining lifestyle choice? That takes commitment. Reno’s Jessica Locke — creator of the blog and a contributor to the Reno Moms Blog — has been making and growing food for her family of six for the last four years. She started the pursuit when she quit her job at a preschool to homeschool her children. Her goal was to feed her family inexpensive, natural meals.

DIY life

One of Locke’s favorite foods to make is yogurt. The process sounds simple, using a slow cooker and organic whole milk; the amount of milk used is the amount of yogurt produced. (The recipe is found on Locke’s blog and in this issue.)

She also makes her own granola and granola bars. Oats are inexpensive, she says; granola bars are not. Making them herself means she’s aware of every ingredient her kids are eating. She uses local, raw, organic honey as sweetener, and anything from dried fruit to coconut to flavor the bars.

In February 2014, Locke bought four chickens.

“I didn’t expect them to have personalities,” Locke says. “They’re sweet.”

The chickens have the run of her suburban backyard by day and a good-sized coop by night. Locke’s husband, Ben, lets them out at dawn, because one of their neighbors works nights, and even without a rooster on hand, chickens aren’t quiet about laying eggs or greeting the dawn. Above all, Locke treasures the gifts her chickens give her each day. And it’s been a year since she bought eggs.

Feeding chickens is easy — they’ll eat anything, and local retailers sell inexpensive, organic (non-GMO) feed (for instance, you’ll find it at the Great Basin Community Food Co-op and Sierra Feed in Reno). Locke saves scraps, such as watermelon rinds, for the hens. Anything they don’t want is composted — the goal is to throw nothing away.

Locke also makes her own flavorings. Vanilla beans steeped in bourbon produce vanilla flavoring at a much better price than that at grocery stores. Peppermint from her garden is steeped for tea. In the fall, Locke harvests and dries the mint for loose-leaf tea. Simple syrups combined with coffee beans create coffee syrups. When there’s heavy whipping cream on hand, she makes butter, letting the children shake a capped jar of cream until it thickens and using the buttermilk that’s left over for pancakes.

To clean up after her culinary adventures, Locke soaks orange peels in vinegar to create a less-astringent-smelling cleaner. She also makes liquid hand soap and a wonderfully inexpensive, simple laundry soap comprised of Borax, Super Washing Soda, and a bar of inexpensive soap. (The directions are on )

The good life

Between homeschooling four children (the eldest is 8) and making everything from yogurt to vanilla, her life sounds frantically busy, but Locke’s home is cool and clean, her kitchen stocked, her children entertained by their own projects, the chickens soft and sweet, and her blog filled with intriguing recipes. It’s a tempting lifestyle choice.

Jennifer R. Baumer is a freelance writer who’s been making her own bread, candied peels, soaps, and candles for years. Now she’s considering paying a little more attention to her DIY projects — including definitely making yogurt.



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