permaculture

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While the semester and my official learning experience through a farming internship are almost technically over, I am far from finished, and I don’t plan to stop learning for quite some time.  That’s counterproductive to my nature.  As life breathes through my veins, learning will continue wherever I am in the world, whether at another university, another country, or another farm and intentional community.  All of the above is about to happen.  As I have grown and learned from everything and everyone, this is my destiny.

For the first time in a while, Monday was too wet to work on the farm.  It rained most of the night and the previous weekend so the solution in times like this is to take my previous skills that relate to farming and food sustainability and use them to benefit the farm.  Back when I began interning at Full Life Farm, I mentioned my love of fermentation and home made bread using sourdough starter, and Paul mentioned the excess wheat berries that he has.  So I took those skills and the experience from the previous bread I made a few weeks ago and improved on the recipe and the baking. It came out beautifully and Paul loved it.  He also received another big bag of wheat berries so there will be more bread to make soon and there may even be a regular supply of wheat berries for the farmers’ market.

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The week began on Sunday with a few friends visiting for a short tour of Full Life farm.  I continue to invite everyone that I encounter, especially close friends who are obviously interested in food sustainability.   If you live close, I will be honored if you are able to come. The warmer weather will offer more and more opportunities for visits, especially with the Carroll County farm tour the week before the local farmers’ market opens.  Later in May and June, there will be House Building Days.  There may even be a day set aside to build a Cob oven.  I am looking forward to these coming work days because these are skills that are vital to the future of sustainability locally and internationally where I intend to take these ideas.

Monday began with prepping, weeding, and the leveling of soil as well as creating a pathway between two plant beds while avoiding the mixture of wood chips that are filled with carbon (which would eat the energy in the compost-manure and take it away from plants that need it most. This time the plant bed just outside of the Hoop House was selected for transplanting the Brassica Dinosaur Kale from small pots.  After a search to determine what constitutes Dinosaur Kale exactly, I am leaving this to the observer and for later growth.  There are several varieties of Kale, including the common grocery store Scotts kale (with frilly leaves that usually becomes stuck in one’s throat however small you cut it), Lacinato (usually narrow with slight indentations), and the plain leaf, which has also been commonly called Dinosaur. The plant beds were weeded thoroughly and the weeds’ soil was left for the bed as much as possible.  The removed weeds were fed to the chickens that eagerly devoured the weeds in short order. The seedlings were removed from the pots as delicately as possible and placed in the plant bed that was wide enough with room for four rows.  These were planted as close to the surface as possible to keep them from drowning or burial by water.  Prior to the transplanting, compost was taken from the compost pile at the front of the farm to replenish the plant bed soil that was removed by the removal of the weeds.

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While the rest of the University of West Georgia is on a Spring Break, I am boarding on a farm, and work continues as well as the learning and teaching.  House building was to have begun this week, but the weather was ether too wet or too overcast to dry out to begin.  I have not planted many seedbeds at this point, but I learned from Paul’s observations after taking what I thought was an excessive amount of time. Sometimes things that you do, do not need to be perfect.  When I have my own piece of land or a shared piece of land and few extra hands and much work to do, sometimes close enough is good enough.  In this case it was the spacing between the pea pods.  Paul had additional work to do Friday afternoon so there was little time to linger.

On Monday the rain came down pretty steady for an hour or two, sometimes hard, even during the work that needed to be done on the chicken hoop house.   The chicken hoop house plastic was at least two or more years old, possibly five and has received quite a few pecks from the chickens, which is what they naturally do.  The plastic also deters predator animals as well so there may have been some scars from a few of those encounters.  Prior to the removal, given that the rain had made some of the ground a little muddy, Paul asked me to collect and liberally spread wood chips around the hoop house where Paul, Terra, and I would be working (Unfortunately, I missed one muddy corner, but then there were bigger concerns that day.).  Given the trees that were cut down a few months ago were chipped inside the yard, there were still piles left in the chicken yard that the chickens had generously and unknowingly spread around.  After the worn out and weathered wood strips that secured the plastic to the hoop house were removed and thrown on one of the wood piles, the plastic was finally removed and folded up to be reused elsewhere later.  The hoop house was now ready for a new covering, new wood strips, and reused screws.  The new plastic covering purchased for this purpose is a mesh netting plastic that protects against the rain and is chicken peck resistant as well as raccoon resistant.  There were two pieces so both needed to be secured on all sides to efficiently use the new mesh and keep the chickens securely inside and the predators out.  Between the rain and the assembly, it was after 12 noon when that was finished.

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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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Monday began with another raccoon caught overnight in the Haven’s trap near the chicken coop.  At the time, I considered how this may be part of a raccoon family doing what raccoons do to survive. At the same time, there are the lives of the chickens to be considered as well as the consideration of the Haven’s owners who are raising chickens for egg consumption and chicken meat.  I am still challenged by all of these feelings, but I am certain that if I start a farm with my family or if I join an intentional community, I will be more interested in contributing to the welfare of the community if that community is more vegetarian and more mindful of animal humanity.  To be fair, yes, I know and understand that plants have feelings and they feel and suffer pain.  I also realize that mushrooms scientifically are part animal as well as part plant.  But at the moment, I have not mastered the extraction of nutrients from the air.  I need food to live and to thrive.  Vegan is the food I choose to eat to minimize the suffering that already exists in abundance in the world.  I am here to learn, to teach, and to alleviate as much of that suffering as possible.

Later in the week, I discussed the concept of clipping roosters’ wings.  It’s something I have heard of and may even have discussed with my Nonno, my Italian grandfather many years ago, but this was a good refreshers.  Roosters can sometimes get out of their pens by “flying” up to reach a higher roost. They don’t necessarily fly, but they use the air under their wings to push themselves up and coast.  Given that roosters need their wings as well as clawed feet to fight off any predators, clipping their wings is a challenging decision.  Some farmers clip both wings and some just clip both.  With one or both clipped, it can make the rooster both defenseless and safe.  But leaving the wings intact, can also lead to a rooster’s escape and susceptible to a predator outside the pen.  Like the dilemmas I face daily as a vegan on the farm, Paul has equal challenges to balance his and his farm’s best interests.

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This was a challenging week on the farm, given the extreme cold and especially my views on animals, animal rights, and my vegan diet. Monday arrived and Paul, one of the farm’s owners, knowing my vegan lifestyle (I obviously had to make him aware of this before I signed on to the internship that we both agreed upon), announced the day’s first activity: the slaughter and cleaning of a few roosters. I was asked as a polite courtesy if I wanted to participate, but they all understood when I declined. Friday began at the Haven down the street from Full Life where I stay, and it was announced that a rather large raccoon, who was stealing and killing the chickens because that’s one of the things that raccoons do, had been caught in the trap.

The intellectual and emotional processing I had to perform ata the beginning and end of this week still continues. When I literally had to walk around the animal cleaning station, it had me thinking seriously on the next intentional community I move to. I have been looking through www.ic.org, the intentional community database, for vegan and vegetarian communities, because I do not think it would be physically or emotionally healthy for me to commune and live with animal eaters for any extended length of time. There was a time in the past that I believed I could handle it well. That time has past. At the moment, there is an element of necessity to stay where I am. In spite of these challenges, or because of them, I am learning more than I can possibly include in these reflective diaries.

Instead of participating as I mentioned earlier, I was asked to clear brush and remove fencing and fence posts from a section of back fencing that was formally used as a chicken grazing tail. Weeds seem to run rampant here in spite of everything. It’s rich soil, it’s been raining and snowing and there hasn’t been time to think about controlling weeds and wild plants that need to be tamed when there is so much that needs to be done otherwise.

Given my interest in permaculture, I have asked and expressed curiosity in sustainable methods to minimize the growth of rampant weeds and plants that act as weeds (though I am reluctant to refer to weeds as such at all, given the medicinal herbal value of everything). There are ways that incorporate walkways around plants and plant beds as well as cover crops that work in combination with the walkways that slow down the appearance of weeds. The day ended with the digging of trunk-sized postholes for a grape trellis. Given that it is still winter here and everyone is anticipating spring, much of what I do is out of practical necessity in preparation of the spring that will arrive soon.

Wednesday arrived; it’s been frozen for a day already. The air seems almost frozen, the rain is frozen, and there are icicles on trees and ground everywhere. It’s a winter wonderland but working on the farm, it’s painfully cold. Frozen. I use Buddhist principles as much as possible to create the reality that separates and joins my spirit from this temporary feeling of discomfort. I need to practice more. Midway through the morning, I was offered the opportunity to leave without guilt. I stayed. The Wwoofer stays, the owners stay, because this is life lived daily.

There is no excuse for me to leave so I don’t, but after dealing with wet gloved hands shoving branches into a wood chipper, I ask for the opportunity to do something else. The wood chipper is interesting because it creates woodchips used as mulch in the plant beds. Collecting brush and wood for the wood chipper to clear the farm of brush and clear more land for planting beds for raspberries is obviously more environmentally practical than buying wood chips and throwing away excess debris. It is also cheaper when every resource is needed to be as efficient as possible. While there has been practical discussion of what plants and vegetables, tubers, and other plants are necessary for a working farm, there is also a practical consideration of favorites as well, which are spread throughout fro grown seeds (plums, pears, persimmon), and plant cuttings (brown turkey figs and wine berry).

Friday at Full Life was finally relatively warmer. It is my hope that the groundhog will see his shadow soon. At this point, I am contemplating a final or semifinal place to settle down and grow food and travelling to teach. I don’t want to be near any manner of cold weather any more than I have to. I am also considering the practicalities of starting my own farm with a family or moving to an intentional community where each person’s strengths are utilized to benefit all and increase the quality of life of each member. I continued clearing more composted trees from the recently cleared brush near the pond across from the storage shed and dug a two foot wide path to control more weed growth with a cement brick terrace. Another plant bed was created on the side of the terrace for the raspberries ready for transplant after I left later in the afternoon. Wwoofer Paul continued to install the bricks as well as create the plant bed and readied the area for the transplanting of the raspberries.

Every job is necessary and every body is needed as I am discovering. When you are unable to perform one task there is always another that you can do.

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This week at Full Life Farm began with cut logs already mounted to the concrete floor posts.  The work continues before and after I arrive.  It’s a working farm.  While there are not enough hours in the day, and I would like to be present more often, I realize that life happens, and I have other commitments.  I have learned and I continue to learn.  The learning happens in it’s own time.

This structure is being built to protect newly cut logs and timber from damaging elements, mostly the rains that occasionally happen in this part of Georgia.  It’s not an overly “permanent” structure, but it is something that is built to last a while. It is obviously and certainly not like a finished building that would take time to erect, to live in.  It is more like an open garage. It is essentially an open storage wood shed.

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When you’re homesteading, which I hope to do one day soon, materials must be used, reused, repurposed as needed, and even donated if possible.  If you look into the right corners and ask, there is always someone who has a piece of equipment or material lying around that they no longer need. This is all about creativity and when necessity is paramount to thrive (also known as necessity is the mother of invention), everything is all about creativity and efficiency.  Learning for me, is by any means necessary, and the farm is patient, willing to teach, and answer my inquisitive, curious questions.

In spite of the freezing winter weather that shut down many areas in North Georgia for half of the week, work continued on the farm to prepare for the coming spring.  Monday was spent preparing plant beds for winter planting (and a spring and summer harvest).  Plant beds were cleared of rocks and built up to decrease erosion and increase water conservation and watering efficiency.  Paths were dug for walkways to reach inside plant beds.  Paul explained that the wideness of the walkways would help in the control of weeds through constant foot traffic.  However, a much wider walkway that would increase yield and profit would also increase the need for a tractor and the cost to maintain that tractor.    At the field end, Jerusalem artichokes or other root foods will be planted to decrease weed growth from growing in from unfurrowed ground beyond the plant beds.  The method used at Full Life farm efficiently decreases weeds, increases the quality of life.  This is similar to the methods employed in efficient use of already enriched soil described in One Straw Revolution that I have discussed with a few friends but have not had a chance to yet read.

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I began my internship at the Full Life Farm in Carrollton, GA three weeks ago with a tour of the farm and what the owners (Paul and Terra) wanted to accomplish in the winter, preparing for house-building before spring arrived.  I received an overview of the chickens and goats and the proper procedures to feed each if the other interns were unable to attend to the feedings and care while the owners were away on a winter vacation.

They returned earlier this week and settled in.  My first day is today, and the day begins bitingly cold, what I usually refer to as “New York cold.”  It is indeed that cold, near 6 or 9 degrees Fahrenheit, with or without a wind chill.  I walked from the farm where I am staying a half-mile away, leaving mid morning dressed in work clothes but not nearly enough to prevent my fingers and toes from growing colder and colder. The walk to the farm felt like I had stepped back in time.  There was no sound but for people working on adjacent farms and dogs barking to let the world know they were protecting goats, chickens and other farm animals.

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