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News From Razor Family Farms

DIY Grocery Bags from a Tote Bag Activist

morsbagsPlastic grocery bags are a real thorn in my side. They just burn me up. According to Morsbags, over 1 million plastic bags are consumed per minute globally. Disgusting, isn’t it? I was so sickened by the whole thing that I decided to join Morsbags online after I made my own grocery bags. Now I am a grocery bag activist. That’s right. My inner teenager is digging this new gig. No long trips to Washington, D.C., sunburned shoulders, or picket lines for this girl. Instead, I simply sit behind my sewing machine with a few stacks of fabric, a tall glass of sweet tea, and some classic rock blasting.

Morsbags is on a mission to get the general public using reusable bags and I want on that bandwagon, folks. Their pattern (available on Morsbags) is easy to follow and makes a great grocery bag. I added a little fabric hook on the tote to make loading the bags at self-checkout much easier. Thus, the cloth grocery bag hangs in the plastic bag rack while you load it up with goodies.  Now just make a few extra bags and give them out to friends or perfect strangers.  Whatever floats your boat.  Get your material from sale bins, consignment shops, and remnant tables from fabric stores. This keeps costs low and means that there is even less waste. It’s double the recycling with some mighty fine gift-giving included!

If you want a bag with a little more room for large items, you can follow my own design which I based around a brown paper bag. Here’s what you need:

  • 1 yard of durable fabric (machine washable denim, canvas, or some other wonderful stuff)
  • Scissors (fabric scissors will make your life easier, trust me)
  • Pins (I like the kind with colorful little heads on them because I'm often in need of a nap when I start sewing and can't find the little boogers... flashing lights and pointed arrows would sure help)
  • Thread 
  • Iron (You know, that thing to press your clothes with)
  • cardboard

First measure and cut out the following:

(1) 37 inch x 14 inch rectangle (the body of the bag)
(2) 8 inch x 15 inch rectangles (the sides)
(2) 4 inch x 39 inch rectangles (the handles)
A little scrap of fabric to fold, sew, and make into a hook

Pin the sides to the body of the bag so that the bag is inside out and sew around the seams. Now fold down the top of the bag about ½ inch. Sew that down, turn it right-side-out and get ready for the handles. How easy was that? If you didn’t have to carry the thing, you could stop right now!

Pinned Bag

Now fold the 4 inch x 39 inch strips in half lengthwise, press them with your iron, and sew a seam finish to enclose the raw edges. Fold the ends of each strap over about 1/2 inch and sew. Now you are ready to attach the silly things!

Measure 1-1/2 inch from the sides of the bag and pin the straps in place. Be sure that the straps aren’t twisted and sew them into place. Sew a square with an X in each strap end where it attaches to the lower portion of the bag and the upper portion.

Bag Loop

Now, take a little scrap of fabric. Choose your own adventure here. Roll it and sew it lengthwise. Now sew it onto one side of the lip of the bag so that it creates a little loop that sticks out of the top of the bag.

Top of Bag

Cut a piece of cardboard to fit the bottom panel.  It won't last forever but it will help your bag maintain a sturdy base.

Finished Bag

Voila! You are finished. Feeling just groovy? Well, you should because you totally rock.  Now just remember to bring these babies with you when you go to the grocery store.  My advice?  After you've unpacked your groceries, put the bags in the trunk of your car.  Trust this voice of experience... you feel very silly after spending all that time and effort making the dadgum things only to leave them at home on shopping day. 

I included a picture of the shopping bag I made for my husband, an Army Ranger, who is WAY to manly to carry those flowery pastel grocery bags.  I used some green denim and then found some of his old name tapes to sew on.  He loves them.  I got MAJOR brownie points for those, let me tell you.

Manly Bag

Don't forget to stop in and visit the Razor Family Farms.

Build a PVC Chicken Tractor

News From Razor Family FarmsNeed a chicken tractor that's light-weight, inexpensive, and easy to disassemble and reassemble? Look no further. Now you can start your own backyard grass-fed poultry operation as we did on a small-scale farm in Georgia. Here are instructions and plenty of photographs so that you can make them, too.

finished chicken tractor

a good view

After reading every book Joel Salatin wrote and following countless blogs detailing the joys of raising meat birds, we were ready to wave goodbye to the military, buy a bigger farm, and set up camp as full-time grass-fed poultry farmers. Of course, we came back to our senses and realized that Josh was only a few years shy of reaching retirement (20 years). That retirement would set us up with a steady paycheck and health care, which Josh had already spent more than a decade working toward. We could still make and use a chicken tractor though.

feed and water

Having viewed countless chicken tractors (click here to see a gallery of chicken tractors), we concluded that none of them were quite right for our purposes. They were either too heavy and bulky or ridiculously flimsy. Some of them failed to offer the birds covered perches, others failed to provide protection from the elements, and most were not easy on the budget or the eye.

a better view

Josh started sketching and then haunted the plumbing aisles at Lowe's. Finally, he started piling PVC pipes, fittings, and tarps in a cart. We were officially in business.

the PVC pipe 

For the construction:

1. Cut 34 20-inch pieces: 22 pieces for the base and 12 for the top & door. That's 56.5 feet of 3/4-inch PVC pipe total.

2. Assemble base and apply cement. Note: Corners are also cut at 20-inch because of the adapters for the 3-way corner T’s.

3. Cut 14 22-inch pieces for the the base supports (vertical pieces).

4. Assemble the eight 20-inch pieces for the top.

5. Cut two 1 3/4-inch pieces and two 17 1/2-inch pieces for the first cross support.

6. Assemble the last six 20-inch pieces: two for the upper support, two for the cross support, and two for the door. NOTE: Do not put cement on both ends of the T’s for the door. It needs to be able to move freely.

7. Cut two 21-inch pieces to complete the door. NOTE: You should be getting down to the last couple of pieces of 3/4-inch PVC pipe. Plan your cuts carefully so you still have two pieces that are 62 1/2-inches long for your upper cross supports/perches.

8. Cut more 1 3/4-inch pieces so you can add the T’s for your upper cross support/perches and the over head cover. You are going to use the 3/4”-1/2”-3/4” T’s for the roof.

9. Cut two 16-inch pieces for the mid-section of the roof and two 14 1/2-inch pieces for the rear of the roof and 2 12 1/2-inch pieces for the front of the roof base. NOTE: Again make sure you plan your cuts ahead of time so you don’t end up with a bunch of pieces that are too short for anything. The more of these we build the more detailed these plans will get.

10. Cut the 1/2-inch PVC pipe to fit the tarp that you choose. In our case we used a 5 1/2-by7 1/2-foot tarp so we cut our 1/2-inch PVC pipe 7 1/2 feet long

11. Use zip-ties to attach chicken wire to the outside of the chicken tractor. We used leftover wire mesh fence on the top because it is sturdy and will prevent the hawks from harming the chickens. Do not use chicken wire or wire mesh on the bottom because the birds need to be able to scratch in the grass and forcing them to stand on wire is cruel.

12. Cut the wire around the door carefully so that the door sits on top of the wire when closed. Smooth any jagged edges so that you don't hurt yourself or your birds when using the door. Use a fence chain for a latch, if needed.

pipe cut to needed lengths



cement designed to hold PVC pipes together

the beginning


construction continues


frame finished, now for a door

tractor frame now includes a door frame

now for support beams that double as perches

closer look at perches

closeup of cross support pipes

the tarp

Josh adds the supports for the tarp

it takes effort to bend the PVC pipe

the roof supports are in place

the frame is ready for the tarp

We certainly hope these instructions are helpful. Josh built two chicken tractors and we loved them. Our birds were able to feast on bugs, seeds and grasses, then hop up on the roosts to play/nap in the shade. I could easily lift and move the tractors, yet they were sturdy enough not to be disturbed by rain or breezes. Of course, if you're expecting a massive storm system to rip through your farm, please move your birds into more permanent shelters (coops, barns, sheds, garages, etc.). Feeders and waterers can hang from the supports but you will need to remove them before you move the coop if they are full and heavy.

Questions? Have you built a chicken tractor? If so, please share!

Magic Potato Soup Recipe

Magic potato soup

Good and simple meals rarely involve exotic sauces, costly ingredients, or snobbery. The magic is that you can make Magic Potato Soup when your cupboards are nearly bare. When anyone else would walk into your pantry and declare that a meal could not be procured, you can just grab a saucepan and smile. In just moments (and with seemingly nothing at all), you can produce a soup which is so flavorful and lovely that your guests will beg for the recipe. Upon receiving the recipe, they will insist that you have left out an ingredient. Magic, I tell you.

Meet Magic Potato Soup:*

  • 4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, sliced as thinly as possible (the onion will “dissolve” and be absorbed by the liquid almost completely by the time the potatoes are cooked if sliced very, very thinly!)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (and an optional dash of pepper)
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  1. Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and cook until potatoes are tender. Drain, reserving liquid. In the empty saucepan, heat butter and flour until flour is browned.
  2. Add the reserved liquid. Stir and cook until smooth (use a whisk or fork). Add potatoes and onion, then heat through.
  3. Sprinkle with chives or parsley, if desired or if such items are available.

Enjoying magic potato soup

This soup was first served to me by Becky Matheny, who graciously shared the recipe and agreed that all of GRIT-dom should be able to partake in a little bit of edible history. She, like so many master cooks, believes that simple and fresh ingredients make for good and clean food. Becky lives in a 220 year old farmhouse in the Shenandoah Valley and hosts Soundquilt, a non-for-profit grassroots music festival. Her husband Mark, a talented musician, can often be found with his band (the Walnut Grove Band) in their pre-Civil war era barn.

Recipes like the one above were common during the Great Depression when a few potatoes had to feed a large family. While most of us are able to purchase or grow a wide variety of vegetables in this century, we may not always be so fortunate. It is wise to learn, appreciate, and preserve the art of frugality.

One of my favorite cookbook authors, Xavier Marcel Boulestin,** once said, “Do not be afraid of simplicity. If you have a cold chicken for supper, why cover it with a tasteless white sauce which makes it look like a pretentious dish on the buffet table at some fancy dress ball?” Food does not have to be dressed up to be delicious. So, do not be ashamed of “humble” eats and serve this soup (and others like it) with pride.

*Recipe is similar to one found in the More-With-Less cookbook, by Doris Janzen Longacre, published by the Herald Press, in Scottdale, PA, copyright 1976.

**Xavier Marcel Boulestin wrote several cookbooks, my favorite being: Simple French Cooking for English Homes (1923). He was a respected chef, successful restaurateur, and the very first televised chef.

The (Almost) Recycled Hoop House

Josh and Lacy RazorBecause I have never been one to keep a good idea to myself... I wanted to share what my friend, Andrew Odom, recently wrote and the photos he took of the process.  Should you find yourself wanting to read more of Andrew's adventures in homesteading and simple living then please check out his site (I am a frequent visitor):   While there, be certain to check out his Photoshop tutorial on making custom canning labels! 

The finished hoop house

After reading about the $50 greenhouse, I quickly decided I needed to make one of my own. The summer season was winding down, and I knew I wasn't over my newly found lettuce addiction. I need to grow well into the autumn and even winter. Time for a simple hoop house.

Part of all my homestead construction is an element of recycling and reusing. In fact, I insist on it. So, I need to assess my materials quickly and start planning. I had about 195 square feet to work with in my garden. My budget, as my wife told me, was little more than $40. If I had bought everything I probably would not have topped $100. Luckily though, I only needed to purchase plastic and some PVC connectors. All said, I spent about $29.

After looking at two local greenhouses/hoop houses and a few online I opted to use 20 feet runs of 1-inch PVC pipe. They were affordable and – more importantly – readily available in town at the local hardware. I figured that if I needed to create joints or add structural support I could hacksaw the piping and use connectors to rejoin. (You will read later where I did, in fact, have to do this.)

NOTE: Getting the 20-foot PVC home took little more than patience, a couple of feet of string and a standard 6-foot truck bed. I just put the pipes in the back of the truck, tucked them behind the side mirror of the passenger side door, tied them at both ends and drove really slowly.

When I got the pipe home I began to layout the basic design. My garden spot already had “hitching posts” in the ground so I determined that I could bore out 1-inch holes in the wood and insert an end of the PVC to create the main skeleton of the house.

Beginnings of hoop house.

Once I saw the pipes spanning from post to post I quickly realized that I was going to need some mid-support. I scrapped together four (4) 1-by-2-inch wood scraps I had that were each about 8 feet tall. I cut them to create a cradle in which the PVC could rest securely in and be supported by. This step is probably optional and mid-supports could be made out of more PVC or any other material you may have lying around. Just be careful not to have too many pointed areas which may rip the plastic or cause punctures.

The 1-by-2s  also had to be put into the ground so I ended up using post hole diggers to dig about an 18-inch hole I could bury the sticks in. This might have been the most labor-intensive part of the whole project.

Working in the hoop house frame.

Creating a notch for the PVC to sit in.

At this point I moved on to making some cross-supports for the hoop house skeleton. I measured the distance between each “hoop” and decided 12 PVC “T” connectors would easily do the job. Back to the hardware where I spent about 28 cents on each connector.

PVC T connectors

Back at the garden I cut my remaining PVC to allow for the connectors and to give final support for the structure before draping the plastic. When completed I was quite please that the slope of the hoop house was quite even and would hold the 4 mil. plastic securely and allow complete drainage in case of major rains.

NOTE: Because I live in middle Georgia snow is not really a concern so I am not sure if this design would hold up well under pounds of snow.

And now, for the plastic....

The plastic is the most important part of this whole project. Because of it we are able to amplify the fall/winter sun and grow our plants in an ideal temperature throughout the in-climate weather seasons.

The plastic sheeting I chose was plain non-UV stabilized 4 mil clear plastic. I was able to get a great deal on the plastic by asking the hardware if they had any scraps or were willing to cut a much larger roll. They were willing to (perhaps a benefit of a struggling economy?) and went about cutting a 20-foot piece from a 100-by-20-foot roll. Cost? $17.50.

If you do have the resources I now recommend spending a few extra dollars and purchasing greenhouse plastic that has a much higher thermal and light transmittance rating. This will certainly be a consideration on a future (and larger) greenhouse or hoop house.

I will admit that while draping plastic sounds remarkably easy, it is anything but. Several times the wind got under the sheet and I nearly went around the world in 80 days. I quickly enlisted a few extra hands and began the effort of securing the plastic. Once it was draped I determined that staples would not only rip the plastic but just wouldn’t hold up. It was time to improvise.

Draping the plastic on the hoop house.

I ended up using scrap plywood and a pneumatic nail gun to sandwich the plastic, so to speak. It worked beautifully and allowed for greater tightening/securing of the plastic as well.

Plastic secured with scrap plywood and a nail gunn on the hoop house

My last real step to this point was to add some cinderblock and gravel to the bottom of the structure in case of water puddling and/or varmints.

This weekend I will be adding the door as right now I am simply slipping under the side to water and check on the lettuce I already have planted. Be sure to check back for more of this hoop house DIY!

All project images can be found on this flickr page.

Andrew Odom
Skype: andrewodom
IM: dodomCHAT

Next post (written by me, Lacy): Inexpensive and durable PVC Chicken Tractor!  A full how-to with photos and hand holding. :)

Behind the Egg Labels: What Do They Really Mean?

As we worked to teach our foster children simple living skills and boost their level of awareness, we found ourselves stumbling upon frightening tidbits of information that sent us first shivering, weeping, and thumb-sucking in the corners but then angrily protesting like marchers in a PETA parade (except we are clothed and omnivorous).

The following video contains disturbing footage and facts.  It may not be suitable for all audiences.  Please keep that in mind before watching.

Modern egg production practices seemed very Brave New World to me ... only less humane. At least in Brave New World the lower castes were periodically hosed with soma-gas to get high and thus forget how horrible their lives really were. No such luck for the factory-farmed egg laying hens.

But how do we keep from supporting these industries?  Labels?

Healthy chicken

Labels are so comforting, you know?  I feel instantly validated when I’m pushing a cart full of products plastered with labels declaring my support of free-range and organic animal products.  Labels are my friend, and I am guilty of trusting them.  Oh, and I should feel guilty because behind those labels lies a sad truth.

The only way to ensure that you are not actively supporting horrifying industrialized farming is to look for a local supplier.  Search for “pasture-raised” chicken eggs.  If you find eggs sold locally, ask to see the chickens and facility – they should welcome you with open arms.  Here’s the scoop:

  • Cage free. No legal meaning, but some egg farmers think the term is less misleading than “free range” (see below), which suggests happy hens pecking for grubs in the barnyard. If the barnyard is in Minnesota and it’s January, that ain’t gonna happen.
  • Free range, free roaming. Here’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture definition of these terms in its entirety: “Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” In other words, there has to be a door, and it has to be open at least part of the time. The chickens don’t necessarily have to take advantage, and they often don’t. UK researchers studying commercial poultry farms say only 15 percent of chickens who have the opportunity ever leave the henhouse. The secret, they say, is to plant shade trees in the barnyard, under which the chickens can shelter. (Supposedly this reminds them of their ancestral forests. Whatever.) Others say, let’s not make this too complicated–if you want the chickens to go outside the henhouse, put their food outside the henhouse. Not that “outside” is necessarily any Garden of Eden. In January 2003, Consumer Reports noted, “When we visited one free-range chicken farm a few years ago, we found a penned, 10-by-30-foot patch of dirt topped with chicken manure and grass.” The USDA hasn’t established criteria for the size of the “range” or the amount of space per bird, so things can get nearly as crowded outside as inside. Free-range chickens are typically debeaked, just like the caged kind, and the males are killed as chicks, since they don’t lay eggs.
  • Nutrient-enhanced. Claim to have higher levels of an omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin E, or protein because of ingredients added to feed. (Omega-3 content is boosted by adding flax, marine algae, or fish oils.)
  • Pasteurized. Eggs are placed in warm water to kill bacteria, then shells are waxed to prevent cross-contamination.  Such eggs are sometimes used in hospitals and nursing homes and are suitable for recipes that call for raw eggs.
  • White vs. brown. Color comes from the hen’s breed. In general, white hens with white earlobes lay white eggs, while hens with darker feathers and red earlobes lay brown eggs. Brown hens tend to be larger and need more feed, which can mean a slightly higher egg price. There’s no difference in flavor.
  • Organic. Laid by hens whose feed is made with minimal use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and commercial fertilizers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets the standards. All eggs, organic or not, are free of hormones, and there’s no nutritional edge to organic.  This in no way implies that the chickens were not kept in concentrated confinement (read: battery cages).
  • Vegetarian. The laying hens were not given food containing animal proteins.  This also has nothing to do with the humane treatment of these beautiful animals (who are, naturally, omnivorous).
  • Pasture-raised. Hens eat feed from pastures but don’t always roam free.  They may be kept in pens that are moved around pastures or are free to roam the pasture within the fenced areas.  Backyard chickens often fall into this category (like our chickens, who roam around our back yard freely but are owned by non-commercial folks who won’t pay to have them certified as “free farmed” though they certainly qualify).
  • Free farmed. This term, which has been trademarked by the American Humane Association, means that a farm complies with AHA standards to ensure that its animals are free of hunger, unnecessary fear and pain, etc. Earning the “free farmed” label involves an initial inspection and annual recertification. It’s the most rigorous program I’ve found, but unless you visit the farms yourself you’re still basically taking things on faith.

Eggs in an egg carton

Labels to look for when searching for eggs from pasture-raised or "Free Farmed" poultry:

  • Certified Humane – This label is not easily obtained and by watching this video you will see why I am such a great fan of this certification.
  • American Humane Certified – “Free Farmed” label – with the understanding that all animals should be treated with care and respect… one of the first organizations to become an advocate for the rights of those who have no voice
  • Locally raised, farm fresh, beyond organic, chemical-free – Write down the information and contact them.  Request a tour and ask for their website.  If they don’t offer tours (which they may not do because they are swamped with work), conduct a drive-by investigation during the day.  Are there chickens hopping around an open field?  Do the chickens appear to be healthy and fluffy?  Is there adequate shelter, shade, and water provided

Chickens on Razor Family Farms

A recent article in Mother Earth News revealed the benefits of eating pasture-raised chicken eggs.  The numbers are staggering.  This is not the label on an overpriced GNC supplement — these are nutrition facts comparing eggs from pasture-roaming, bug-eating, dust-bathing, happy chickens to eggs from factory-farmed chickens.  Get ready:

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • Two times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • Three times more vitamin E
  • Seven times more beta carotene
  • Three-to-six times more vitamin D

This is HUGE.  HUGE, I tell you!  If this is not the “ah-ha” moment where you thunk yourself in the head and go… “I have a yard, perhaps I should keep my own chickens” or “I should find me some pasture-raised chicken eggs” then I don’t know what else to say except to reach through the computer screen and thunk you on the head myself.  Don’t think I wouldn’t do it, too.  :)

Or if we lived closer to one another, I would force you to take a dozen eggs home to simply taste the difference.  It’s truly remarkable.  The eggs our chickens produce are phenomenal.  The flavor, texture, and color of the yolks… *sigh* I want to write a love poem just thinking about it.

Of course, as a GRIT reader, you have joined a rare and wonderful network of people who genuinely care about animals and land.  A quick scan through the reader blogs on this site and it is blaringly obvious that GRIT readers and staff wish to be good stewards of the earth.  We are the caretakers of creation... not simply farmers, hobbyists, gardeners, growers, or enthusiasts.

Decorating Tips for the Country Home and Garden

Chickens on the front porch

When creating trendy outdoor living spaces... don't forget to give the chair rungs some flare.

Ducks and poults on the lawn

Break up the monotony of green grass with tasteful lawn ornaments.

Guinea eggs

Adding accents to flowerbeds keeps spaces interesting and also serve as a great places to hide your spare keys. Dual purpose landscape-design details are always a plus.

Ducks in the trough

A classic country item like a barrel or trough can easily be converted into a fountain. To keep water from becoming stagnant, it is a good idea to install a windmill water pump.

Bird on faucet

When updating your country kitchen, keep in mind that faucets are one of the most important components of your kitchen area. Select a faucet that is not only functional but also gives your kitchen a customized look especially when matched with a unique and stylish spout.

Lgan the dog on the carpet

If you choose to carpet the bedrooms of the house, be sure to select shades to compliment any color or style of furniture.

Chicken in the garage

The garage should be outfitted with workbench and storage. Artwork may be added to define the space. Remember to bring the outdoors in with elements of nature in every room.

Be sure to also visit Lacy over at Razor Family Farms.

Garden Planning with Lacy

Gardening in a mason jar

Josh and Lacy RazorWe love gardening but I wouldn't say that we are pros.  I'm fascinated by the term "expert gardener" since I think it is an oxymoron similar to the classics: government organization, adult male, affordable housing, cable service, and decaffeinated coffee.  The simple fact that we, as gardeners, are always learning makes even the best gardener an amateur in the face of dramatic weather changes, invasive insect pests, and blights.  When gardening: expect the unexpected.

I love oxymorons.

Each year, we must pull a Tiger Woods and rethink our strategy.  We spend the off-season studying up, aching over plant placement, sunlight, drainage, soil composition, and potential hazards.  We draw from the lessons learned in years past as well.  Let me waltz you through our basic garden start-up pictorally (and with steady commentary from yours truly, after all it is my soapbox):

Making a garden plan

We plan out where and when we are planting each vegetable (I painted it with watercolors because I have entirely too much time on my hands) and then set up a table in the driveway to fill the minigreenhouses with seed starting soil and seeds.

Waiting to sprout

We start our seeds in minigreenhouses.  These often grace the shelves of large hardware and gardening stores.  We love them.  I use them year after year in my kitchen window.

Mini greenhouses in the kitchen window

Shouldn't every window look like this?  Why doesn't Southern Living or Better Homes and Gardens show this stuff?

Plants protected with mason jars

When we can no longer keep the lids on the minigreeenhouses without bending the seedlings, we transfer them out to the garden and cover them with wide mouth canning jars.  These work as makeshift gardening cloches (which can be read about in the GRIT article, "Get Your Garden Growing Early").  It only makes sense to use canning jars because the produce will ultimately end up in those jars anyway.  Why not?

As the garden grows, I'll be showing you some of our tricks to getting more plants in less space.  In the meantime, I'm offering one lucky commenter a copy of Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.  How about that?

Want more Lacy? Check out Razor Family Farms!

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