intentional communities

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This may be my final retrospective of Full Life Farm for 2014, but life and adventures, the academic and homesteading ones, will continue as I work towards an MSc in social psychology, a PhD in community psychology, and the co-creation of an intentional community eco-village while I also learn of life and the uses of herbal medicine. Hopefully, you have read my other experiences in previous entries so this won’t be a difficult to follow. Rather, this will be a reflection of what I have experienced and learned from the end of April to the end of September.

I explored the possibility of an internship over nine months ago when I when I began research and visited Paul, Terra, and Zinnia at the farm in December. The day we met to interview each other, Zinnia was barely four months old, tiny, and bundled up warmly from the cold. It’s now over a month after her first birthday, and she’s walking, laughing, talking, and energizing everyone she encounters. I am eager to visit all of them soon to update them on my adventures and hear them tell their tales.

After nine months of living less than a mile from Full Life and assisting where I was needed, everything became a routine of one sort or another. Paul always generously asked me where I would like to work and assist to occasionally break that routine, but the routines became such a joyous routines in the end. Yes, I am romanticizing but not by much. My destiny is my own collective farming spacer with others. Ultimately, there is much on a farm that generally remains the same, as you read in previous entries, but there was always something to learn, even if it was a tiny but important detail. Full Life was, and is, a wonderful place to learn while communing with nature and warm, intelligent human beings that care about the future of sustainability. I do miss the farm.

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It is challenging to summarize the end of the beginning of what has become a lifetime of learning food sustainability. For me, it did not begin in Carrollton, GA at Full Life Farm (http://www.full-life-farm.com); it began in the backyard of my father’s house in the California suburbs where I reluctantly mowed lawns and performed other chores that children never appreciate in the moment. However, I always noticed the very obvious care my Italian farm-raised father put into apricots, plums, peaches, oranges, avocados and a variety of other plants that never seemed to grow in abundance. His small scale grafting sparked what has become my lifelong interest. Full Life Farm allowed me to immerse myself in and reignite this lifelong interest. While it is difficult to summarize months of food sustainability experience into a short essay or even a longer one, there are a few ideas that are important here. Learning has always been important to my growth and I will never really stop. Prior knowledge is valuable and should never be discounted, even in unfamiliar situations. I will always ask questions, even if since childhood that has placed me in a variety of trouble but not with the wise that always encouraged it. I will return to these points as needed throughout the following essay.

Full Life Farm is a sustainable farm. Sustainable signifies that the farm lives and thrives upon what it grows. Anything extra goes for sale to local restaurants and the local farmers’ market. It isn’t a factory farm that uses machinery to plow the land, plant seed, weed, or harvest the food crops. It is a small sustainable farm that relies upon its residents, volunteers, and occasional interns to do all of these things. Frequently sustainable farms are also called intentional communities. From research and what I have learned over the last several months, an intentional community, whether a house with a large garden inside the city limits or outside of the city limits on a small farm, is an enclosed community shared between several individuals (and possibly families). If anyone is interested in a more in-depth explanation of intentional communities (ICs), please consult http://www.ic.org. I began my quest for an IC months before this internship began, and my education will continue long after the formal education of this internship ends when I leave the farm and I leave the country. It began as and always was more than just an internship.

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This week was filled of what I am primarily interested in from many levels:  seeds, planting, and composting.  My interest is, of course, sans animal wastes, but for now, this is the process I am learning and there are applications for every element of knowledge.  I have found an Intentional Community (http://www.ic.org) that is entirely raw and vegan that utilizes another form of creating organic compost, which I am anxious to eventually put to use.  At this point in my apprenticeship/internship, I am a bit more comfortable around the farm and feel as though I am fitting in better than I had at the beginning, and I feel as though I belong there and can contribute a little some piece of knowledge when an opportunity arises.  This is more of me acclimatizing myself to my surroundings rather than the energy surrounding the farm.  And this is probably the case with most people in new surroundings.

On Monday, I began planting Pok Choy (a Chinese and East Asian short, but oblong leafy green cabbage-like vegetable) and Swiss chard seeds in 50 row nursery seed pots. The Pok Choy was a few years old so it received approximately six seeds to each seed pot to insure against non-germination of the older seeds.  The Swiss chard received two seeds to a seed pot, given that they were not so old.  Once the seeds were labeled, dated, covered with previously mixed compost potting soil, and lightly watered, they were placed outside in the sun or in the hoop house.  Later in the week, additional seeds were planted in seed pots but for now there were seeds to be planted in plant beds.  Before that, the plant beds near the half hoop house attached to the greenhouse/library and the whole Hoop House greenhouse had to be prepped.  It was a small bed but it needed to be weeded, shoveled, aired, and raked to prepare the bed.  And three rows needed to be furrowed to plant rutabagas, turnips, and radish seeds.  Later in the morning, Paul and I visited the Haven where I room to prepare part of another row bed to plant beet seeds.  Paul also added posts to the adjacent bed and haphazardly strung string to slow down the bird or birds’ (possibly a cardinal) attempts to get at the seeds.  Paul also planted Kohlrabi seeds in an adjacent bed after I left.  The seedbeds were covered lightly by hand or hoe and watered.  The previously planted potatoes were also covered with hay to insulate against the next few days’ night and mornings’ drop in temperature.

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Given my openly admission to a vegan lifestyle and my tempered discussion of it under the circumstances, everyone that I have encountered at Full Life has been remarkably understanding towards my position.  This doesn’t change my attitude of animals being raised, suffering needlessly just to be killed later. All of this seems extremely Dadaist and absurdist.  Please understand that this is not how I began life as a vegan, this time or the first time I began as a vegan.  Though I became a vegan for the same reasons, living on a farm, seeing and encountering living and breathing animals daily and contemplating their ultimate end has codified my position even more.  I am still grateful for the understanding I have received and will always be grateful, but my next move will definitely be to a vegetarian or vegan intentional community or one that is vegan or vegetarian friendly.

Late Friday afternoon, Pal asked me what my learning intention was as his latest intern.  I took for granted that Paul is doing this actively as a sustainable farmer for he and his family.  I was surprised and impressed to hear that he is doing what he is doing to primarily educate.  My feeling and my philosophy is that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student, though most do not have a piece of paper that authorizes them to be one or the other or both.  How I feel about the social construction of certified education systems is another discussion entirely, but given my interest in permaculture, teaching, and anarchism, my views would not be hard to deduce. I found his question an intriguing one, given that I had considered it so often over the last several weeks and months but never voiced it to many at the University of West Georgia and certainly to no one on the farm.  It has always been my intention to learn as much as I can to maintain myself and my future family but it has also been to teach others in some way to maintain themselves as well, combining my interests in permaculture (small-scale agriculture that sustains a small community or family group that is environmentally sustainable), herbalism, anarchistic community building, and propaganda, all within the scale of an intentional community, rather than a single family farm.  The latter would obviously include participatory action research with community groups in various national and international locales to actively change and eliminate destructive sexist propaganda used in their community to sell mass-marketed products.  Anything is possible and while this is ambitious, this is what I want to accomplish. I want to actively be the change that I want to see on this planet.

Monday morning began with moving lumber from a makeshift temporary temporary shelter (more or less a temporary but solid covering placed over lumber laid outside of a regular temporary shelter) to the tool shed (above the pantry that is here called “the tool shed”.  Additionally, lumber exposed to weather and rain was moved to under this makeshift temporary temporary shelter.  For the first time I utilized an angle grinder to lightly grind off the sides of slightly weathered lumber exposed to the rainy weather to prevent further mold or temporary decay since this is viable lumber that can be used to build the house later when the spring weather warms enough to begin. Later that morning, I mixed seed planting compost from composted manure, gifted peat moss, and remnants of composted rotting wood.  This was mixed as two parts (two five-gallon buckets) of manure and decomposing composting wood and a few shovelfuls of the peat moss.  Apparently, to maximize the nutrients in these composting elements they have to be rationed properly.  I mention this because most of us are used to purchasing composting soil from the nursery. Once properly mixed, the compost was added to seedling pots, and year old Black Seeded Simpson lettuce seeds were sprinkled into pots six at a time (to insure against any “dead” seeds.  These were placed into the greenhouse for germination.

Wednesday and Friday, besides the standard egg cleaning for the farmers market and the CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture—a community distribution network that distributes local agricultural goods to the local regional community for a modest exchange rate) there was cutting of seed potatoes to be done for planting later on Friday when it warmed up and the rain stopped.  Any potato larger than a tennis ball was to be cut at least in half for planting, but potatoes had to have at least one live potato eye.  Potatoes used included Red Pontiacs (most did not need to be cut), White Kennebecs (developed by the USDA in Maine several decades ago — some had to be cut), and Yukon Golds (very large but delicious potatoes – all but one had to be cut).  The cut potatoes had to have at least 24 hours to dry out before planting.  The last part of Wednesday morning was spent transplanting Brassica Family (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brassica) seedlings ready for larger pots (because some didn’t grow) and for the garden bed.  Fertilizer was added to plantlings in sectional seed pots to stimulate growth.

On Friday, the Brassica transplanting was completed.  These and other plants were moved into sun in the hoop house to take advantage of the warm weather.  Plantlings in sectional seed pots were watered depending upon size.  The sunny day obviously warranted water, and smaller sectional seed pots required more water, given that such pots dry out faster than larger pots.  When the afternoon arrived, it was warm enough to visit the Haven to prepare plant beds by removing protective hay (rotting hay is good for potato growing, apparently).  Plant beds were furrowed and all but a few of the previously prepared potatoes were planted about three feet apart and properly spaced apart from row to tow to allow for proper growth.  Seasoned cow manure was lightly placed over the planted potatoes.  The hay was left to the side in the walkways to give the newly planted potatoes a little air to breathe prior to being covered in hay. The hay will be placed over the potatoes in a few days to stimulate further growth.

After nine weeks of this, I am awed that I have become more accustomed to helping this farm to function on some level and I am amazed that the little that I am learning each day is adding up to something substantial.  I am even furthering my knowledge, a little at a time, about the herbs that grow round Carrollton as “weeds” on the farm.

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To catch you up, I want to clarify certain terms that I have been using terms in previous weeks and will continue to use in my writing but with short definitions on the side.  Most are obviously not familiar with these terms so I will include links here and short definitions in later posts.  All of these subjects are of interest, but obviously, I will put my own spin on it all and travel part time to teach others in residence and work and learn in the process.

Cob is a form of earth building (http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-homes/cob-building-basics-zm0z13onzrob.aspx) made of clay, sand, straw.  The most common variety of Cob to most in the United States may be the Pueblo housing in New Mexico and the Missions in California made of adobe bricks.  Cob does not consist of single brick, however.  It is a wholly designed lump that can be very insulated if enough straw is used.  Cob ovens are something I would love to learn to build and use in the near future to determine how to create one to bake artisan sourdough bread.  A pizza-enthusiast friend of mine may even be interested in the viability of cob-oven pizza baking.  Permaculture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture) is small-scale, ecological, organic agriculture used by individuals and small farms to use the land ecologically (with few large tools that uproot the earth in destruction as with large-scale factory farms.  If all of us are to survive and thrive, creating a future for the future, this is vitally necessary.

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