Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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DIY Advent Tea Set

Last summer I shared with you that I love tea. I grew up drinking at least a cup a day, guided by my mother who throws down a pot or so in the same time frame. One of the things I treasure most about get togethers with my mom, brother and sister-in-law is enjoying a pot (or two) of tea together, especially since I’m usually the only one in our little nuclear family who gets excited about brewing a cup.

Since my relatives enjoy tea so much I decided last year to make them handmade herbal tea bags. I found some recipes online and used this tutorial as a guide to creating my own tea bags. It was a super cute idea (and I was super excited about it!) but alas, I completely underestimated how much time it would take. The bags weren’t nearly as pretty as I wanted them to be. And I cut my time so close to Christmas that I didn’t really have time to taste-test and adjust my recipes. Ultimately some of the bags turned out well but most of them were forgettable (if not bad).

Such a bummer…

So I promised myself that I’d try again this year – and that I’d start much, much sooner. So the week of Thanksgiving I paid a visit to our local health food store and picked up a couple dozen bags of various herbs and spices. Ever since I’ve been experimenting with and adjusting herbal tea recipes. My goal was to develop at least a dozen unique flavors. I didn’t quite make it there, but I’m really pleased with the six recipes that are ready.

Something Beautiful

diy handmade advent tea setI know that sometimes we make homemade gifts because they’re inexpensive, quick or simple to make. (And there’s nothing wrong with that.) Although they hold potential for the exact opposite, I feel like sometimes today’s homemade gifts are a little impersonal. I really wanted these teas to be the antithesis to all of these things, both to make them a sweet gift and simply for the joy of creating something beautiful.

That’s how I stumbled into the idea of making an advent tea set. I wanted to make something pretty to look at, meaningful and enjoyable to use. I guess I won’t know for sure if I hit the mark until my not-to-be-mentioned-till-they-receive-this relative provides a review. Meanwhile, I’m excited to share the results with you.

I’ve included all of the information and printouts you need to make an advent tea set for the tea lover on your Christmas list. Here’s how it works: Every day has a handmade tea bag. The tea bags are stored in a pre-made container. I wanted to use a Christmas tin but none of the stores I visited had quite what I was looking for. Instead I settled for this super cute box from the holiday section of Wal-Mart. (If you hurry you might be able to buy the same one!)

bakers twine for diy handmade tea bagsEach day’s tea bag has a tag with the date on it. Each bag is also preceeded by a divider card. The divider has the date on the face and a Christmas-oriented scripture on the backside. The idea is that every December morning before work (or perhaps every evening as you unwind) the recipient can read and reflect on an inspirational card while enjoying a cup of tea. There are 25 cards (and 25 tea bags) to last you all the way until Christmas Day. The divider cards are printed on heavy-duty photo paper and should be sturdy enough to last for several years. That means next year I’ll be able to supply a stash of 25 handmade teas to be ready for the following Advent season.

A few more details… the tea tags are attached to bakers twine because it comes in pretty colors but won’t leach color into hot tea. I bought some Christmas-y twine in the dollar section of Target and found even more colorful varieties in the party section (near the plates and cups). The bags themselves are made from regular (cheap!) coffee filters. My sewing machine broke down just as I was beginning to sew these so I had to improvise. I ended up figuring out a no-sew folding technique that looks just as cute and actually saved me a ton of time. I’m excited that anyone – even crafty folks with no sewing machine – can make these.

Advent Tea Set Tutorial

Supplies & Equipment Needed

  • 25 coffee filters
  • bakers twine
  • 9 sheets of photo paper
  • 3 sheets of cardstock
  • scissors
  • assorted herbs and spices (click here for recipes which list amounts for a single serving)
  • measuring spoons
  • stapler
  • mono-adhesive
  • craft glue
  • tea container (mine came from the holiday section at Wal-Mart)
  • Tea Dividers printout (click here to download)
  • Tea Tags printout (click here to download)

Make the Tea Bags

1. Cut a piece of bakers twine into a 6? length.

2. Fold a coffee filter in half.

diy handmade advent tea set

3. Fold the filter in half again. Reopen to previous half-fold position.

diy handmade advent tea set

diy handmade advent tea set

3. Fold each side into the center line created by step 2.

diy handmade advent tea set

4. Fold each side in again to meet the center line.

diy handmade advent tea set

diy handmade advent tea set

5. Staple the bottom of the bag to help it retain it’s form.

diy handmade advent tea set

6. Mix a single-serving of the tea recipe in a small container.

7. Use your fingers to pry the opening of the bag open as wide as possible without completely unfolding it.

diy handmade advent tea set

8. Transfer the mixed herbs into the bag. Using a 1/2 teaspoon may help.

diy handmade advent tea set

9. Carefully tap or shake the bag down so that the tea is compacted to the bottom. This will make it easier to close the top. You can later disperse the tea more evenly throughout the bag.

diy handmade advent tea set

10. Laying the bag flat on a hard surface, fold down the top-right corner of the bag.

diy handmade advent tea set

11. Place the bakers twine onto the bag and fold the top-left corner down over it. This will create a point at the top of the bag.

diy handmade advent tea set

diy handmade advent tea set

12. Fold the point down toward the bottom of the bag being careful to keep the twine secure under the flaps. Fold the twine up straight across the point (now pointing down) and up past the top of the bag. Secure both the top of the bag and the twine by stapling across it.

diy handmade advent tea set

13. Create tea tags by cutting out two of each number. Place one tag face down and add a few small dots of glue to the center and the corners. Place the top end of the twine on the center glue dot then cover the entire thing with the second tag (face up).

diy handmade advent tea set

diy handmade advent tea set


diy handmade advent tea set

Make the Divider Cards

1. Print the Tea Dividers, preferably on photo paper or card stock.

2. Cut each divider along the dashed line (top, bottom and sides) and fold along the dotted line. Once folded, the number should be on one side and the scripture should be on the back.

diy handmade advent tea set

diy handmade advent tea set

3. Line the three open sides of the divider with mono adhesive and press it together.

diy handmade advent tea set

4. Repeat for all divider cards. For Christmas Day (Day 25) there are three options to choose from.

diy handmade advent tea set

Assemble the Advent Tea Set

1. Place the #25 tea bag in the bottom of the container.

diy handmade advent tea set

2. Place the #25 divider card over the #25 tea bag.

diy handmade advent tea set

3. Place the #24 tea bag on top of the #25 divider, followed by the #24 divider.

diy handmade advent tea set

diy handmade advent tea set

4. Repeat this process until all tea bags and dividers have been added.

diy handmade advent tea set

5. If you haven’t already, print the Advent Tea Recipes card. Cut it to fit into the container. Slide the card inside the container flush with the back side (behind the tea bags and dividers).

Print the Advent Tea Recipes card. Cut it to fit into the container. Place the card inside the container flush with the back side.

6. Close. Give. Smile.

I really enjoyed making this, and I can’t wait to give it!

diy handmade advent tea set diy handmade advent tea set diy handmade advent tea set diy handmade advent tea set

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Win a set of reusable produce bags!

produce bags

Farmer’s market season is here! If you’re participating in Locavore90, you’ll probably be making a handful of trips to your local farmers market or farmstand. Many farmers market frequent-flyers bring their own reusable grocery bags to the market to bring food home, but have you ever thought about using reusable produce bags as well? Whether you’re shopping at the farmers market or the produce section of Meijer, you can do your part to reduce use of plastic produce bags by bringing your own reusables from home.

In last year’s Farmer’s Report I shared that I wanted to focus on using more reusable packaging in 2013. As a key part of that commitment, Arcadia Farms is now using re-usable produce bags which have been handmade in the USA specifically for our farm by Kara from Love for Earth. Want to get your hands on your own set of reusable bags? Lucky you – we’re giving some away! (You can enter once per day!)

Click here to enter the giveaway!

I’m so impressed by the quality, selection and customization options offered by Love for Earth that I asked Kara if I could share a little bit about the work she does and products she offers. Here’s the scoop on what she does, why she loves it, and why you should check out her Etsy site for reusable produce bags and so much more!

What inspired you to start Love for Earth and begin selling reusable produce bags?

I was inspired by self interest, I suppose. I had wanted something to use for produce, but the grocery bags that were available were too heavy, not see through, and just difficult to use. I would get skeeved out at the thought of putting my produce on the conveyor belt on top of whatever germs or raw meat drippings or any other contaminants may have found their way to the grocery store conveyor belt, so the first set was for my own use. I couldn’t get out of the produce section without being stopped and asked ‘Where did you find those?’ and if I told people I made them, they would offer me money on the spot! I had just discovered a new website called “Etsy” and figured, what the heck, I’ll make some and see how they sell. Before I knew it, I was making produce bags 7 days a week and the store grew bigger than I ever imagined it would… and I love every minute of it!

How long has Love for Earth been making reusable produce bags?

I have been making and selling produce bags for a little over 5 years in some capacity, whether it was at a craft fair or to a stranger at the grocery store. The Etsy store has been open since 2009, although the name changed in 2010.

Your Etsy site talks about the industrial quality of your products. Can you share a little more about the steps you take to create high quality products?

I really want to provide the best quality I can. No one wants to spend their hard-earned money on something that will fall apart after a few uses. While even the best of us can run into problems out of our control (bad thread and a dull needle, for example) if there ever is an issue with anything from my store, customers can just send me a quick email or Etsy convo and I will replace it and honor the standard that I set for what I make. I try to source the best materials I can and have gravitated over the last few years to USA mills. I have sourced a few things from Canada or Europe, but I am steering away from places where I believe the quality might not up to my standards. Putting a bag or garment together is sort of like a recipe, you want to put the freshest and best ingredients in it so the taste is better. I think every little thing makes a difference when sewing, the needles, the thread, the ribbon, the zippers… the better parts you work with, the better the outcome will be.

Note from Katie: Although we’ve only started using our produce bags, I can tell by looking at them and working with them that the quality is great! Each one is slightly (only slightly!) different, which is part of the charm of buying something handmade by an artisan.

zip sandwich bag lunch zipper bags reusable napkins towells

What other products do you make that you’d like us to know about?

I make reusable produce bags, snack bags, storage bags, freezer bags, unpaper napkins and towels. I can custom make just about ANY reusable item one can think of. I make reusable puppy pads, I’ve made bread bags for bakers and bags for knitters to store their yarns. Anything is possible and customizing your bags or towels is easy to do… you can even choose the color or size.

What’s your favorite part about what you do?

I really love what I do! I love the things I make and I love that in some small way I am making a difference as far as pollution and waste is concerned. Every time someone chooses a reusable product over a disposable, that is one less disposable bag or paper napkin that is ending up in our landfills, our oceans and cluttering our otherwise beautiful Earth. I am happy that more and more people are jumping on the reusable wave, and they are doing it for various reasons, but the end result is less trash our children and grandchildren are stuck with decades from now. Not to mention, you can save a small fortune going to reusables. Every time I go to the wholesale club for groceries, I cringe at the jumbo pack of paper towels for $30 and I am so glad I no longer have to throw money away like that. Every one of those paper towels will be used for a few seconds and tossed in the trash, and I love being part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Where to Get It

Interested in getting your hands on some reusable products from Love for Earth’s Esty store? You can check them out – or make a custom order – at I’m personally hoping to pick up a Lunch Zipper Bag set for Owen’s school lunches next year.


10 Ways to Save Money on Food

pie chart

If your household is similar to ours, the grocery slice of the budget pie is sizable enough to get your attention. Most “experts” recommend budgeting 14-20% of your take home pay for food (groceries, lattes, eating at restaurants, etc.). A recent study shows however that Americans are spending less on average than ever before on groceries – 11% of income. That might sound like good news, but consider the story behind the numbers.

A separate study from 2012 shows that while prices – for meat in particular – have gone down, American consumption has in fact gone up or remained the same. What happened? The advent of the factory-farm has succeeded in pushing the price of meat way down. A 2012 article by Tom Philpott (The American Diet in 1 Chart) explains the phenomenon well:

“American eaters have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in the early ’80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap, subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter weight with daily doses of antibiotics. Regulators looked the other way as these gigantic facilities created messes they didn’t have to pay to clean up. Meanwhile, as Mother Jones’ Ted Genoways showed in his blockbuster piece last year on Hormel, corporate meatpackers managed to bust unions, speed up kill lines, and drive down employee wages. It all added up to bargain-priced meat.”

What America Spends On Groceries

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

Consequently, our consumption of processed (read: cheap) food has skyrocketed. In 1982, 11.6% of a family’s budget was spent on processed food and sweets. Today processed food tops the budget break down at 22.9% of the budget, followed by meat (21.5%), fruits and veggies (14.6%), Grains and Baked goods (14.4%), beverages (11.1%) and dairy products (10.6%). So in layman’s terms, we spend less money on food now because the bulk of our diet is ‘food’ processed and engineered with more regard to its cost than its quality.

Save Money, Eat Healthy

So what do you do if you’re interested in saving money AND eating healthy? Don’t despair  – here are some tips.

Cook at Home

When you buy pre-packaged food or eat at a restaurant, you’re paying for more than just the ingredients you consume. (Someone has to pay to keep the lights on, right?) With practice, cooking at home can be just as delicious (sometimes more delicious!) than eating out. Eating at home can save you up to $2,600 a year! And with some savvy, budget-friendly tips (like the tips you’re about to read) you can save even more money! If you’ve never been much of a cook, don’t let that stop you. (Everyone has to start somewhere, right?) I recommend beginning your journey into homemade meals by using a crock pot. It’s so easy – I promise – and the great-tasting meals you produce will give you a boost of confidence to try something new!

Make a Plan

Like a lot of things in life, it’s hard to win without a plan. Your grocery plan starts long before you jump in the car to head to Meijer. Here are some tips. First, keep a pad of paper in an accessible area (on the side of the fridge?) so that you can keep track of grocery needs on an ongoing basis. Did you use the last of the olive oil? Write it down now so you don’t forget it later. The next two tips go hand-in-hand – make a menu and check for sales. Making a menu (meal planning) helps you make purchases that will form complete meals rather than buying a bunch of things that sound good but don’t add up to a complete meal. Having a pre-made meal plan saves time as well because you don’t have to figure out what to make each night. Planning a menu around what’s on sale will naturally save you money. The next tip is to take stock of what you already have so you don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. All of this should be complete by the night before you’re going shopping: Menu created (check!); Inventory taken (check!); List created (check!). Now when you get to the store, you’ll be able to stick to your list without worrying that you’ve forgotten something, and perhaps with a little more resolve to skip over impulse buys! (You can also decrease impulse purchases – like a candy bar at the checkout aisle – by having a small snack before you go shopping).

grocery bag

Buy (and Preserve) Produce In-Season

There are lots of great reasons to buy produce when it is in-season. First of all, the taste is so much better than out-of-season veggies that you may never want to go back! Second, buying in-season, local produce (check out your local farmers market) is great for your community and area farmers. And third of all, it costs less to buy food in-season than it does to buy it when it has to be grown hundreds of miles away and shipped to you through the snow. And if you team up with tip #9 below, you could save even more money at the farmer’s market; Many sellers are willing to give you a discount for buying large amounts of produce if you ask politely. Worried about what you’ll do with all those [fill in the blank here]? If you can’t eat it all now, preserve some of it! Can it, freeze it, dry it. Don’t be intimidated – you can find tons of how-to help on the web (or by asking your Grandma). Then in January when you want wholesome [fill in the blank here] you can skip the trucked-in-from-California produce section of your grocery store and turn to your pantry instead.

Use Sales and Coupons

I confess – I missed the Extreme Couponing movement. I’m not coupon-wielding expert, but I do know that the Sunday paper is full of coupons. As long as those coupons are for things you will actually use, you can save money by using them. Consider taking advantage of frequency type clubs for items you usually buy or places you usually shop (i.e. “buy 10 get the 11th free”). Meijer has a great website (and a great app for your mobile device) for looking up sales. Planning meals around what’s on sale can save you big bucks. If you can swing it, try keeping a “Sale Fund” set aside (perhaps $50 or $100) so that when a great sale comes up, you can stock up and fill your freezer. (Earlier this year we scored some unbelievable Buy One, Get Two type deals at Harding’s… our freezer has never been so full of meat!) Just remember – using a coupon to buy something you otherwise wouldn’t buy doesn’t save you money, even if you get 10% off.

Buy in Bulk

Our favorite place to buy in bulk is from Country Life Natural Foods in Pullman, MI. It’s quite a drive (about an hour) from our home in South Portage, but if you buy several things at once, the trip is worthwhile. We’ve saved money on organic Quinoa (a year’s supply for $30), a year’s worth of honey (1 gallon for $38.50) and 7 pounds of coconut oil ($12.90). They have practically everything you can think of and some of it is Michigan-made. Check out their catalog here. To save even more money, carpool with a friend (thanks Darci!) or take orders from each other and take turns doing the pick up. I’ve never tried it but apparently they also deliver for certain order sizes. We also now save money by buying our herbs and spices in bulk at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo.

Leftovers? What Leftovers?

A great way to save on food is to avoid wasting it. Plan your meals to make the most of leftovers. Here’s an example from our life: Every other Sunday we have a roasted chicken for dinner with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, onions or other in-season veggies. Monday I use the leftover chicken and veggies in a meal like chicken salad over spinach or a chicken pot pie. After that, I turn the chicken carcass into stock and make soup with it (sometimes using remaining veggies from Sunday’s roast). Even sour milk can be saved from going to waste! You can’t stretch everything that far, but there are lots of leftovers that would go great in an omelet, a salad or soup. If all else fails, send unwanted leftovers to the compost bin rather than the garbage can.

Brown Bag Lunch

lunch bag

A great way to bloat your food budget is to eat out for lunch every day. When my day job involved working from an office instead of working from my living room I discovered some tips to making the brown bag lunch work. I don’t know about you, but there were typically three reasons why I ate lunch at a restaurant instead of from a lunch bag. The biggest hurdle to jump is just remembering to bring a lunch. If you’re serious about saving money, taking a few minutes the night before to pack tomorrow’s lunch is key. Another issue: What’s in the bag just doesn’t sound appetizing. The simplest way to avoid that conundrum is to bring food you’ll look forward to eating! My main way of addressing this was to make fabulous dinners and make sure there were always leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.  The other reason I skipped a bagged lunch was because I just needed to get out of the office! In warm weather, you can accomplish the same thing by taking your lunch to a nearby park. In yucky weather, sometimes just sitting in your car provides enough peace and quiet to count as “getting away.” I also made sure to bring or keep healthy snacks at work to curb my desire to buy a little something in the afternoon. I always had something sweet (yogurt, a cucumber, dried fruit, etc.) and something salty (crackers, mixed nuts, etc.) on hand to keep my snacking healthy and cheap.You could save more money by stashing homemade snacks like granola.

Frozen and Dried

Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh and in some cases contain the same amount of nutrients. Resealable packaging helps you avoid waste. For tips on how to store frozen vegetables so they keep as long as possible, click here.

Use Cheaper Protein

Meat is expensive. If beef and chicken are choking your budget, try getting your protein in other ways such as beans, eggs, quinoa or legumes. If you grow your own (including raising backyard chickens for eggs) think of all the money you could save by opting for non-meat alternatives. For fabulous egg recipes, click here.

Shop at Home

Overhead of Gardening Woman

Starting this spring, we hope to transition to a family that produces more of our food rather than buying it elsewhere. What if you could remove vegetables, fruit and herbs from your grocery list because you’re shopping in the backyard? Now think about what a difference it would make to take eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and maybe even meat off the list? We may not all be able to raise our own meat birds or raise goats for milk, but almost everyone (even apartment dwellers) can grow fresh herbs and vegetables. By using an intensive planting method (like Square Foot Gardening) you can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. Start small with a garden size you’ll be able to easily manage. I think you’ll be amazed at how much you get – and how much you’ll save!

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