Category Archives: Really Important Stuff

The Farewell Storm

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We’ve stayed in Michigan through this time in June to celebrate a few events, including my middle daughter’s birthday yesterday, with friends and family. This last week has become kind of a farewell storm of gearing up for the big trip and meet-ups with friends and family. And the last few days have been especially fun.

Thursday eve was graduation. My girls have had the good fortune of attending a wonderful school in northern Michigan with a heavy focus on outdoor education. The educators are like family, and the girls so closely bonded with friends there. I think of the Greenspire School as a junior high where the difficult years are met with support and respect between students and among students and teachers. It was the one thing that held us here until the very last proverbial bell of the semester rang.

Yesterday, my daughter turned 14 right where I turned 14 (I’m suffer from a condition known as extreme sentimentality), on the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay, braving the chilly water to escape the thick June air. I could barely keep my toes in the water, but these kids stayed in the water for upwards of an hour swimming! My little fishies.

The evening prior, a dear friend I’ve known since high school, and the son of my farming
mentor, invited us to his farm for a send-off gathering. Following one of the best potluck dinners ever, we were met by a wall of wind and water in one of the most wicked storms I’ve seen since last August. We took shelter in the old greenhouse, seated on old wooden benches lit by candlelight. There, we told ghost stories and ate pie to pass the evening until the rain subsided enough for us to partake in the cannibal hot-tub. (Chris is now convinced we need one of these).

This cannibal hot-tub is made like an over-sized barrel with a submerged aluminum wood-fired stove. The water was a consistent and comfortable 98 degrees. Whenever we got too warm, we simply laid our heads back and let the cool rain wash over our faces. Lightning flickered in the distance and the low rumble of thunder shuddered over the churning waters of West Bay. I couldn’t have imagined a better send-off than that.

In the next few days, we’ll be loading the trucks, prepping for the long haul, and by Tuesday eve, arriving back home in New York. Having weathered the storm of this past eight months, it is finally time to put down our roots. Home awaits.

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Things to do when not farming…

The seed catalogs are piling up and it’s a constant reminder of how in flux we’ll be as of

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Identifying cool mushrooms…

June. It’s been a long time since I’ve not put in a large seed order, and frankly, I’m feeling a bit antsy about it this season. So, to take my mind off of what I won’t be doing, I’m thinking ahead to the things this extra time will provide in terms of opportunities for learning. An ever-growing, ever-bearing, zone 1-10 list of things to learn while not farming:

  • Tend to the travelling orchard
  • Improve spinning technique
  • Improve fiber processing set-up and technique
  • Experiment with natural dyes
  • Learn about medicinal herbs
  • Practice grafting techniques
  • Volunteer at school or public garden
  • Help a fellow farmer with farm chores, butchering, shearing, etc.
  • Learn old-fashioned candy-making
  • Focus on food preservation techniques:
    • Pressure canning
    • Smoking meats
    • Drying
    • Fermentation
  • Take a class in business planning for the fiber mill
  • Maybe, just maybe, learn a new knitting skill
  • Explore niche or value added markets
  • Take a botany class
  • Spend some time with growers using methods outside of your own, including conventional, biodynamic, and other permaculture or organic farmers and gardeners
  • Cut up seed catalogs to make art with the kids
  • Cut up seed catalogs to do some companion planting planning
  • Re-read Edible Forest Gardens

The list continues to grow and hope blooms eternal, so… suggestions are always welcome and may spring shine warm sunlight upon your gardens!

Hobbits, Unicorns, and a Cow Goddess

I just returned from another trip out to New York, this time to explore the Schoharie valley and Delaware County. This trip, thanks to the farmers who housed me, really invigorated me.  I think I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from farming, despite the daily regimen because we’re currently partially uprooted. Being on a farm started by a woman and witnessing the incredible foundation she has built, along with the connectivity she fosters with neighboring farms, has really inspired me not to “begin again,” but to continue with this mission forward to build a farm and fiber business.

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Isadora, the Adorable

The farm where I stayed (had to make this trip out alone so Chris could tend to the alpacas), is technically East Branch Farm, but most of the locals know it as Straight Out of the Ground, a beautiful property with a goddess of a guernsey cow, who is the apple of Farmer Madalyn’s eye, for sure. And it’s easy to see why. Look at that adorable face!

In addition to farming, Madalyn also co-produces a radio show called the Farm Hour Radio.

The mountains are nothing short of magical. The roadways and farmland trace their contours, and in the mornings, mist hovers over the valleys, leading me to look for hobbits and unicorns as much as farmland.

Madalyn connected us with some good folks and resources for farmers and reinforced the awareness that New York is a good state for agriculture. Beneath every county sign I passed, the words “Right to Farm” appeared prominently. The soil in the valleys appears good and the prospect of a fiber mill feels welcomed.

photo 1 (2)Moreover, the locals are fiercely loyal to their agricultural roots and at one stop, in a village where we had been told we could not house our alpacas, a local business owner stormed down to the local village office and demanded to see the ordinance. When the village couldn’t provide any specific wording ruling against alpacas, she called me and said, “You can have your livestock here.” Can’t help but love these folks.

I would like to say we have figured this whole thing out, but after an inspection revealed some significant issues on the house we were under contract to buy, we are once again looking for the farm. However, despite this setback, I feel more confident than ever that we’ll find the right place, because more significant than where we will land is that feeling of where we belong. And it’s there, among the mountains and the hard-working farmers of the Schoharie, where we feel most at home. Looking forward to calling this place home.

Last trip out, we traversed Sharon Springs, where an inspiring couple revitalized a farm into an enterprising business. Madalyn told us it’s not only a thriving business, but they even had a television show. Check it out below. Also, living in the region, a woman I look forward to meeting at some point in the near future, Shannon Hayes, the Radical Homemaker. And so much more I would like to share, save for the time to write it all down…

If you don’t know them already, the Beekman Boys are fabulous.

Begin again with the Beekman Boys:

Let’s take a look at those UN goals, shall we?

Now that we know the UN goals for world prosperity, it’s time to take action. As a permaculturalist, I was thrilled to see so many goals aligned with the core ethics of permaculture (aka, being good to the earth, your family, others) and feel like this is one more way for the philosophy to spill over into positive action on a global scale – by starting locally.

An important item to note is that these goals are not independent of one another; they are dynamic. Feeding the world without addressing the methodology of farming would ignore the second goal straight off. Instead, with the end of the growing season approaching, we’ll take a graduated look at all of the goals and set some goals of our own in pursuance of the broader objective: To create a better world for all who live here, whether plant, bird, insect, or mammal.

  • People We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

This is a sweeping goal that addresses not only access to food, affordable housing, and health care, but one could argue access to education, whole-system wellness (applied to where we live, how we live and interact within our environment, and what we eat), and ending violence against women and minorities. This is the first goal for an obvious reason – it’s our Utopian vision. And while some would argue it’s an impossible goal, I would suggest that it recognizes human potential for powerful change as long as we take action.

One thing to remember with this and any of these goals is that bringing about change will vary regionally, and might begin in areas of conflict, severe poverty, staggering inequality, etc. How these goals are addressed must follow an assessment of a region. Combing a few of the permaculture principles: Observe and interact, Value resources, and Slow and steady.

  • Planet We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

For the permaculture folks and bio-dynamicists out there, this one is straight-forward. However, I think this is where our Utopian vision is clouded by ego and greed. Remember when the United States government protected the asbestos producers over the workers because shutting down the industry would devastate the economic well-being of the country? Yeah, that. I’m summing it up a bit rough, but it’s the most obvious barrier to reducing CO2 levels, reducing our eliminating the destruction of sensitive ecosystems, or stopping corporate giants from ravaging resources at will.

So the real question, is how can we overcome that barrier? This question can feel overwhelming. Start locally. Individuals on a local scale can promote big change, even if these changes seem small in the scheme of the larger issues. It’s a domino effect. You might inspire change through action or demonstration, or education on a local level. Or you might be the support person for someone else taking fervent action toward change. Remember the humming bird and the forest fire?

Consider the sharing of resources. Could one area that has a deficit share resources in a way that reduces waste or ecological devastation?

  • Prosperity We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

This is one where we may need to alter our concept of prosperity. In America, we seem obsessed with this notion of prosperity as it applies to our perceived success – getting the bigger house, the bigger yard, the bigger flat screen television – even the phones are starting to get bigger again.

When people ask us about how we make any money farming, I first explain that we’ve changed our concept of prosperity. We do not consider the amount of money made as an indicator toward our happiness, but instead look at the lives we live and how we spend our time together as true markers for progress and success. I think the same must happen on a global level. What does it mean to be successful, happy, prosperous? Having enough within a world where others also have what they need and suffering is hugely reduced?

What’s the obstacle in changing the mindset of success to reduce greed and consumption? Commercial media. We are bombarded with messages of what we “need” and “want” constantly, whether walking to the bus stop, on social media, even in schools, where corporate sponsors are now advertised. (UUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH – whew, nearly gave up!)

I don’t pretend to have the answers on how we’re going to initiate all of this change, but there are some simple practices that might inspire change. You can be the change and choose to live simply. In many cases, this can empower others to take similar steps forward. You can get behind or promote those organizations or media entities that share similar values. You can write a book or make a video that inspires many. Another effective strategy is to stop the madness and reduce consumption. They won’t be able to compete if we’re not feeding them cash-flow.

Of course cash-flow means jobs and jobs mean security. So job creation or a total overhaul of our monetary system is a subject that must be on the table. Personally, the dollar holds a little too much power in my mind. What about an economic system that looks at our gross national happiness, instead of our gross national product? Or a barter system? Or a hybrid of all three measures?

In the end, the UN is asking countries to get behind some core beliefs in order to effect real change. Waiting for those governments to enforce the change is not enough. We must individually work, whether on a small project or large, to initiate real world change. This doesn’t have to be a dream; the dream of a better world can become our reality. One small step at a time.

What’s the next step? Consider the following:

  • Organize a regular meeting in your community that examines the goals and makes an assessment based on regional needs, obvious areas that need improvement, and set local glas in alignment with the UN goals outlined.
  • Think of one way you, as an individual, could enact change in your own life that would be in alignment with these goals. This might mean getting help for an addiction to alcohol or drugs, helping someone who has no opportunity for college get a scholarship, or starting a food pantry for those in need of food in your area. You could even start a pay it forward, with random acts of kindness or generosity. There are many ways you can initiate positive change and they all matter.
  • Share the UN goals with others – even if it’s at the dinner table with your spouse or family. Getting people to think talk about these goals is one way to initiate change.
  • Become a leader in your community.
  • Ask your local government to enact a similar list of goals or to adopt the core principles of the goals outlined by the UN for their master plan.

Or maybe your contribution to world prosperity will involve spreading more ways to get the word out.

For the full report released by the UN, please visit: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld