Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Food Corps Visit the CFSA Sustainable Ag Conference

A Plate of Rainbows

    Imagine trying to put together a puzzle with dozens of pieces missing. The only pieces you have are at opposite edges and it is nearly impossible to tell what the whole picture is supposed to look like.  Some people, however, possess the gift of vision, the ability to see how everything should fit together, and also the gift of inspiring that vision in others. Debra Eschmeyer, co-founder of FoodCorps and keynote speaker at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Sustainable Agriculture conference in Greenville, SC, is one such seer.  She recognized the need for school children to have access to healthy food, and as an organic farmer, also saw the need to restore locally grown food markets. (And she saw me come into the conference room with my son, Jude, in the ergo and hurried to offer me a chair. The room was packed with people standing in the back!) 
   A farmer, a teacher, a classroom, a cafeteria, thousands struggling with childhood obesity and hunger, both results of malnutrition and often in company with each other. And hundreds of young adults, eager to make a difference in the world, who need training, mentoring and sending out into the battlefield of world hunger, now a domestic reality. How could these all fit together?

   I saw a few of the "pieces" Saturday at the FoodCorp's workshop at the conference. Not only did I see them, but I got to meet, talk to and hug them. A young woman named Florita told of how she visits classrooms in North Carolina and teaches nutrition through fun charts, a plate of rainbow colors, songs and hands on activities. Another demonstrated fun exercises to get the whole body moving. Yet another team plans and sets up "taste testing" tables at school events.  We got to experience one successful experiment with collard greens. No, they weren't sauteed and slopped onto our plates, making everything around it soggy (bear with me, I like them just about any way, but I'm trying to think like a kid). We were handed a BIG LEAF and sent along a buffet line to assemble our collard wrap. Colorful sliced peppers, shredded carrots, hummus, just a touch of lemon juice...My taste buds were cheering in bold capitals! And what? We just ate all the plant parts we learned in our science lesson yesterday? Leaf, fruit, root, and mashed up garbanzos- the seed! We are eating our homework!

   But no less than the visible, colorful, engaging activities are the behind-the-scenes negotiating, bridge building and trust earning. The hard, long, patient process that addresses every concern, dispels every fear and breaks down those hard to see walls that often get in the way of something good. Like getting good, fresh food from a local farm into school lunches and kids' bellies. The FoodCorps (drum roll, please) does this, too. That day, his name was Sebastian.
   Next, we heard more moving stories from Lydia, Allison, Sarah, (I wish I could remember all the names, but I remember their faces). These soldiers have learned to adapt to the moment. They may grab a carrot from the school garden, see it pilfered by a bold youngster, and during the course of the fun food talk, watch it float to every corner of the room, handled and, yes, tried on in a hundred ways... and you can then imagine the magic of countless, tiny neurons connecting those small, orange dice on the menu with this beautiful, feathery topped, earth smelling taproot that makes a crazy wig!
   My favorite story was how they arranged for a class group to enter the Forbidden Portal, the Room of Mysterious Smells, where boxes are loaded into the back and somehow transformed into Today's Menu. But this time, they are no longer mere students. Today they are the Fantastic Five-and-a-Half's, the Veggie Heroes, the Super Chefs. And the hot, tired, often under appreciated kitchen staff welcome them in, help them cut things, roll things, mix things until the special School Snack is ready. And oh, the envy of the chosen few who get to stand with the crew behind the counter to serve. When I grow up, maybe I'll be just like you, and serve in the lunch line, helping kids make healthy choices.
   The audience, at this point, had their own stories to share. Jill is a farmer who teaches (or is she a teacher who farms?) and had her science class plant seeds as part of her lesson. A clamoring crew, some soil, pots, the allure of scarcity (only one seed each, please) and her spring starts are done for her. Another had the class bring apples, which are all different and can be sorted, grouped and charted many different ways before they are eaten.
   Thus, the pieces fall into place and mold themselves to the shape that is most needed to connect the scattered fragments. A picture begins to emerge. It is a picture of a village reborn, a community that realizes itself. A taproot that grows into many branching fronds and draws life and health, light and laughter into itself. A feast waiting for a world to wake up and gather around it.
    But there is so much to be done. There are still hungry people. And there are still people eating alone. Let's keep passing the Rainbow Plate, and not ever, ever let it stop. FoodCorps has shown us the way. They have shown that it can be done, and that there is a task for all of us.

-Sara Harding, October, 2012

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Final Design Part 1

It's the final stretch after months of study to complete my Permaculture Design Certification course. I have to come up with a final design that meets the standards set by the International Permaculture Institute in Australia.

To help me remember everything, I've made a sort of flow chart, breaking down each task into doable sized chunks. It really gave my brain a rest, so I didn't have to continually roll through the process every waking moment (and lots of sleeping ones, too). The orange and green outlines indicate what is done already. Details below.

The design starts with lots and lots of notes, on both sides of the paper, a printout of Permaculture principles (to guide the process), and a map. The mapping process consists of making a rough sketch of the area, then taking a baseline measurement along two or more convenient points (like two corners of a building or fence line). From this line, two measurements are taken for each additional point at the site and then converted to a scale that would fit on a piece of paper. I found that for my site, if every inch was eight feet, it fit almost perfectly onto an 8 x 11 sheet. (It's just slightly off. You'll have to imagine a quarter inch wrinkle somewhere on it, which comes out to two feet in real life. Better an extra two than two short!)
The mapping process started off with more than one frustration, but when I decided to round to the nearest foot, thing got a whole lot simpler. I used a piece of string and tiny pieces of tape to find the points from the baseline (and other points from those points). Mapping a point works quite well when measurements are taken from two known points at as close to right angles from each other as possible. The end of the string is taped to the first known point. Then a second piece is placed along the string at the scaled down measurement from the known point to the point being located. A third piece of tape is placed at the correct distance from the point being mapped to the second known point. This is then taped to that point on the map. The correctly mapped point is found when both legs of the string are pulled taut at the place where the middle piece of tape is. Most of the time, a compass is used to make arcs on the paper from both known points, and the correct point is where the arcs intersect, but I didn't have a compass so I improvised.

Here, at last, is the completed base map, including the permanent elements to remain in the design.

After the base map is completed, and copies made, an overlay (using clear sheet protectors and permanent markers) is made to show the directions of seasonal sun, shade and prevailing winds. This sector map helps to analyze the site so that these energies can either be put to best use (such as planting a sun trap- a u-shaped shelter belt to create a microclimate for cold sensitive plants) or blocked (such as planting a windbreak).

The next energy path to map is water. Water is life, and there are lots of tricks in permaculture to make the water stay around longer, eliminating the need for irrigation, especially when it depletes deep aquifers. But first, we have to map the contours. Here is simple device, called an A-frame level, that can be made for almost nothing. Two poles of equal length are cut (mine are 6 ft.) and lashed at the top. A cross piece is lashed at the exact distance from each end. My cross piece is about 3 ft. long and lashed three feet from the bottom of each leg. A rock tied to a string hangs below the cross piece to indicate the center. To find the exact center, the level is placed on as flat a surface as possible and a mark is made where the string comes to rest. Then it is turned around, placing each leg in the exact spot that the other one rested on, and again marked. The true center is right between the two marks. Once calibrated, the level is ready to be used. It is walked across one edge of the site to another, keeping one leg in one place while the other leg is moved around until the string rests on the center mark. Flagged sticks are driven into the ground to mark the points where the legs rest, and then the first leg is swung around to the other side, keeping the second leg in place this time, to find the next spot along the contour.

Here is a marked out contour line across the site. I tried to embolden the blue flags a bit to make them easier to see.

Time to map the contour lines. This method does not give the differences in elevation between the contour lines (another homemade level, called a bunyip, works for this), but an A- frame suits my purposes here. I just need to map the direction of the water flow. I also included an estimated location for the buried water line that goes to the spigot, and the buried drainage tile we put in several years ago under the two raised beds. The area used to be quite soggy, but it has dried out a bit over the last few years as topsoil has been built up and drainage improved (one of probably several factors). After mapping these, I traced them onto another overlay.

 Below is the base map with both overlays showing sun, wind and water sectors.

 Next up, soil test results. If you can see the contour map close enough, I marked three locations where soil samples were taken. They were placed in quart jars, topped with water, and shaken. Heavier particles fall to the bottom while lighter ones settle towards the top. When it finally settles out, I'll be able to get a good idea of the texture of my soil. I am also waiting for an inexpensive ph tester to arrive. Then I'll document the results. Until then, I'll keep studying what I've got and hopefully it will not be long until the new design is born.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Soil Speaks

I am temporarily using this blog as a repository of notes for my permaculture journal keeping.

I think the soil talks to me. In my old raised beds, the spent cornstalks still stood after harvesting, but beneath was a thick carpet of weeds. A closer look revealed that there were certain types of weeds thriving. Nature abhors a vacuum, so every spot of soil that does not have something planted or a thick mulch will grow something. And those somethings are what the soil is trying to say. I noticed a couple kinds of grasses, some horse nettles (nightshade family), a little jewelweed, wood sorrel, dandelion and this other moisture loving summer weed that is common around here.

So I am thinking that what I should have done was sow a late summer maturing cereal that doesn't mind moisture and a summer nightshade, when I planted the corn. I am thinking perhaps hulless oats and ground cherries would have been good choices. If wild cereals and nightshades wanted to grow there, perhaps the soil would have accepted edible varieties. Perhaps I can sow some over wintering types. Hardy potatoes? Winter rye?

The wood sorrel- there was not much of it- indicates that the soil is slightly acid. The relatively low number of dandelions indicates that the soil is fertile. There would be more of them if it was poor. Jewelweed and that other weed tell me what I already know from all the rain we've had. The soil is wet. So what else likes wettish, slightly acid, fertile soil?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Permaculture Design Certification Course Homework

 Zone 0:
The house
to shelter humans
is shaded in summer to east and west
 by deciduous trees
that are bare in winter letting in sun.
Inside, a wood burning stove
to warm and cheer the winter evenings.
In summer, vents draw cool air from earth wells dug beneath the floor
that are insulated in winter
while warm air is drawn out by chimneys in the roof
pulling cool air up from the floor.
One well and chimney draws air for an insulated food pantry year round.

Zone 1:
The south wall warm for tender fruit trees
the roof slanted to collect rain in a barrel
to water the tender trees
and the vegetable beds
that feed the humans of the house
the animals of the farm
the leftovers going to worms
dried leaves for bedding, scraps for food
their rich waste feeding the tender fruit trees
and layered vegetable beds.

The greenhouse
to keep tools from rust
start seedlings and root cuttings
shelter the ducks
the roof slanted to collect rain in a barrel
to water the pond or berry bush  guilds
acid loving blueberries, groundnut and pine mulch from the Christmas trees.

On the north side, the chicken enclosure
inside, a shelter for them at night
the roof slanted to catch rain in a barrel
to water the chickens
the moist mulched shrubs
fed by their droppings
drop fruits and berries
for humans and animals
drop bedding for chickens and worms
that mulch and fertilize and moisten the shrubs
that give shelter from hawks
also nearby hardwoods
drop limbs for edible fungal innoculations
in the moist mulched shrubs
collecting bugs and grubs and worms beneath
that are turned to eggs
by greedy beaks
the feathered pest control for moist mulched shrubs
egg insides eaten by humans
outsides eaten by worms, turned to compost, taken up by shrubs and bugs
back to greedy beaks.

The fence, protecting chickens
hung with creeping vines
honeysuckle, to be woven into baskets to collect eggs
and all the fruits of the farm.

Human waste
collected from toilet building
(with slanting roof to collect rain in a barrel
to supply compost moisture or water shade shrubs)
combined with tree waste
composted to feed trees
producing nuts and fruits and fire for warmth
or composted to heat water
or rotted for methane, burning just enough
no more carbon than the trees breathe in
and return to biomass
for the dishes, washing, cooking, bathing, freezer and Sunday and market day trips to town.

Zone 2:
The orchard
on the sunny south slope
under a carpet of nitrogen fixing clover
for ducks to munch on
bugs to hide in
for greedy beaks to eat
and turn to eggs
to be eaten by humans
the shells by worms
their compost fed to the garden plants and trees
seeping slowly southward into the clover carpet
where bugs hide from greedy beaks.

In summer
orchard grasses grow high
to be cut for mulch
first the seed heads fed to ducks
the rest to tuck the trees in for winter
and keep their beds moist in summer.

In summer the duckweed greens the pond
fed by duck and fish droppings
eaten by ducks and fish,
the solar powered cascade
mixing oxygen
cycling ammonia ridden water
through gravel edge
where nitrifying bacteria reside
and filtering plant roots
mini cattails, watercress, arrowhead
edibles for humans and ducks,
and beneath the surface
fish and their fry weave through the hornwort
between rocks and branches to hide in,
poking up through the edgespace where surface meets sky
growing nitrifying bacteria
giving frogs and dragonflies a place  to climb out on
while fish feed on weeds and water bugs
growing fat for the harvest.

In fall orchard fruits harvested
dried, frozen, canned, fermented
leftovers fed to poultry and worms
then leaves fall
bedding for poultry and worms
their compost fed back to the trees and plants.

Gray water from the house
filters through a gravel bed
and feeds bamboo growing there
harvested for poles, dried, sold and shared, leaves used for animal bedding
water flowing through their roots to the tree nursery below
where rooted cuttings from the greenhouse
are tended, replanted, sold or shared
fruits, nuts, woody shrubs, hardwoods,
and conifers for the Christmas tree patch
with pines shedding needles for acid loving plants.

Zone 3:
Bessie's pasture
like Trantham's Twelve Aprils
grazed one patch at a time
eaten halfway down
then she moves to the next
under dotted hardwood shades
that drop leaves for her bedding
in the barn
where she is milked
and a calf born every other spring
after an earlier tryst with a neighbor's bull
and her babe grows up beside her, then is sold or shared
when the maternal bond lets it go.

The barn roof slanted to collect rain in many barrels
supplying water for cow and calf.

Every spring a patch of pasture is sown with wheat
allowed to mature for a harvest
supplying a family with bread
and straw for animal bedding and mulch and compost for fertilizer, heat and methane harvest
then moved the next year to another patch
fertilized by Bessie and her babe.

At pasture's edge a few goats feed (not shown in picture, but a necessary component)
supplying dairy during Bessie's dry season of rest
kids sold or shared
when the maternal bond lets them go
feeding to keep woodlands at bay
as they are moved from patch to patch
two years go by before returning to the same place
enough time for wild blackberries to fruit
in the fertile droppings they leave behind
picked every summer by purple mouthed children
for jams, frozen treats, pies, pancake toppings and wine.

At night
the barn is warm and alive
with creature breath and dreams of green pastures beside still waters.

Zone 4:
A hardwood forest
self mulching, keeps itself
supplying nuts and winter fuel
bedding and compost reserves if needed
and logs for growing edible mushrooms in the cool, wet spring
occasionally thinned for lumber harvest
a buck or two hunted by neighbors in the fall
a creek near the pasture and woodland edgeland
supplying water for grazers
occasional sand and clay taken
for pottery, cob building, soil drainage management

Zone 5:
a sacred temple to explore
to enjoy just for being there
a place to learn Wisdom
and instruction from the Creator
for managing inhabited spaces
for the wellbeing of all living things
to listen to the groaning, the waiting
for the new world to be born
for the nations to beat their swords into plowshares
spears to pruning hooks
to be used for one day to plant permanant and selfseeding polycultures
then passed along, with wisdom gathered, produce shared, to a neighbor
until, neighbor by neighbor, crop mobbing together
the world becomes known
as one connected, permanently cultured neighborhood.
Wisdom covering lands
as waters cover seas.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Trip to Kid Senses Science Museum

After a rough week, having lost two of our dogs within days of each other, the kids and I decided to celebrate Epiphany (or Three Kings Day) with a getaway to Kids Senses Science Museum in Rutherfordton, NC. It is about a thirty minute drive from our place, not as far as the wise men traveled to Bethlehem, of course. And we rode in the station wagon, since camels are rather rare in these parts.

The first spectacle after paying admission is the fire truck room. There are buttons to make a siren sound and a spinning light.

Jude enjoys a cloth book in the Alphabet Trail playroom.

The silo beside the kid sized barn makes a great reading hideaway.

Jude can hold himself pretty high, and can roll over now, both ways.

Seth is holding a toy onion, which can be planted or harvested from the "garden". But of course, it's not an onion, it's a sword. And not just any sword, but the "He-man-Power-of-Grayskull!" Lately, many random objects have undergone this incredible transformation.

More of the Alphabet Trail playroom.

Metal objects defy gravity as they leap upwards from Virginia's hands while Seth turns up the magnet's power.

Three mirrors form the Kaleidoscope!

The lower level of the museum can be reached by climbing through this platform maze.

The Little Pueblito Cafe

Virginia takes orders from some fellow museum visitors.

Check out those teeth!

Reuben lifts a soapy wall around himself in the bubble room.

Miriam pulls one all the way to the top!

The little grocery store is very popular, and the kids shopped and checked out many times during our visit.

The art room has lots of supplies for creative crafters.

A model of a hot air balloon rises to the ceiling after being heated.

View of Rutherfordton's main street, still with Christmas decorations up.

Reuben reluctantly leaves the museum behind. Until next time!

Around the House and Garden

Jude is full of new expressions

Seth enjoys Lego of all sizes

The kids like to be creative with their food. Reuben's style is to slice his carrots and then stack them.

Seth prefers to dunk his in water first.

A good pose for a split second.

Continuing to document the progress in the garden.