sustainability

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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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On Sunday, I baked the bread ground from the wheat berries from the previous week, described in the last post.  While I am a perfectionist (regarding taste and aesthetic and artistic appearance) with my bread experiments, everyone is always pleased with the results.  The recipe is basic and a modification of a standard Southern Italian Pugliese country peasant loaf.  The recipe that I use will undergo a slight modification so I will only post the recipe that I will use in the future rather than the one I used.  In fact, this will also end up as the modified Spelt recipe that I experimented with weeks ago and have experimented with for the last few years.

On Thursday, I created the build, the mixture of already growing rye sourdough starter and wheat flour.  I use sourdough starter rather than commercial yeast because it is more natural, healthier, ancient, and challenging.  For this recipe, I use a 20% mixture where 20% of the flour equals 100 grams and 20 % of the water is 60 grams.  This is for a total loaf size of 500 grams flour bread loaf. Two rough tablespoons of starter are enough and may be more than is needed but it is my standard and it works fine.  For reference, I use the metric system grams rather than the English pounds and ounces because the metric system is much easier to multiply and divide.  Additionally, weighing ingredients is much more accurate than the volume measurements of measuring cups.  So now you know.  It takes anywhere from 4-6 to 12 hours and sometimes more (depending upon altitude and weather) for the build to grow where it is ready to add to begin making dough and bread.

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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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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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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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In this article as I interpret it, Bronfenbrenner argues that science, at least the sciences that relate to human development in theory, method, and substance, are generally caught and placed in a box to verify stringent ideas of what science defines as evolving and developing as a human.  When studies do not allow for variation and exception, when studies attempt to find and prove rules and ignore exceptions and other conditions, I believe Bronfenbrenner is correct in pointing out the limited significance of such a study.  I also see this when I am faced with statistics, but my bias at the moment is that statistics can be made to prove anything, however slim.  She calls it being caught between the rigor of science and its relevance in the real world.

However, the science is still relevant if applied correctly.  It isn’t rejected outright.  The science has validity if applied to the wider public properly.  As the article title states,  a scientific perspective of the ecology of human development is proposed.  In the first definition, studying the human being as s/he relates to his/her environments is proposed.  In the immediate past, I would have described sociology simplistically in much the same way.  However, I don’t believe that definition is accurate any longer.  I do believe this definition comes close to explaining social psychology that I have a particular interest in learning much more about.  In fact, the article cites the varied systems of microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem that relate to human development and environmental interaction as it relates to Kurt Lewin’s psychological and sociological substance.

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“What does wellness, security, and happiness mean to you?”  Thus, my first Community Psychology class ended with a question and an introduction to the first reading.  My first reaction was, this is Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.  On page 198 of the reading, Maslow’s third tier of needs is introduced as community and belongingness.  But wellness, security, and happiness condensed this into the hierarchy of needs up to and including self-actualization.

Community is introduced as something with a perceived common characteristic among individuals, while larger communities are geographically larger with more cultural diversity and little in common. In my outside readings in anarchism and temporary autonomous zones (TAZ), this idea of community in wellness, security, and happiness is particularly intriguing as it promotes the common interests of small groups.  Community beyond the spatial unit of geography through electronic communications expands the idea of a “small group” into a much larger unit with close ties of a small group, but one that may be the size of a mid-sized geographic area or larger. This is particularly interesting from the aspect of values, obligations, and expectations and the influence of groupthink.

The authors also discuss the sustainability of a community and reference the 2005 UK government’s largest sustainability conference where it was defined as  “a place where people want to live and work now and in the future” (p. 199). I would also include TAZ, planned communities, such as the anarchist collectives based on mutual benefit, support, and interests.  Unfortunately, as the UK government states that it is interested in community sustainability, it demolished one of the largest Romani/Traveler camps a few years ago without even considering the needs of the residents.

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