Friday, March 19, 2010

The Journey Continues- History of D Acres

In general, annual garden productivity of 1999 was limited by the ongoing construction, the gradual growth of gardening area available through no-tillage methods, and the lack of seasoned personnel to work diligently, efficiently, and independently. We accepted a dozen interns that summer as we intensified the recruitment on the local college campuses of Plymouth State and Dartmouth. Micki and I attempted to offer managerial expertise in the garden, woods and building site. Our limited experience hampered our abilities to assert prioritization of tasks and we were impatient with the authority issues that arose within the hierarchy that was forming. A percentage of interns were not prepared for the actual work of the farm and preferred the time spent socializing without accomplishment. The cultural adjustment that can transition idealist US college students into rural subsistence, agriculturalists can be a difficult birth. This scenario would continue to limit our summer productivity in terms of work accomplished throughout the years. While our farming efficiency was low in the initial years, the monumental growth amongst staff and interns was immeasurable in regards to life skills including agriculture, culinary arts, construction and community living.
During the spring the drywall was installed and the painting began. Throughout the summer siding was put up and by winter the tile and wood floors were in place. As the winter approached we began the finish woodworking. Micki left for a farming experience in South Africa. George and Mike from Rumney supplied cabinets and built in railings to highlight the beauty of wood. Davy, his brother and myself hung doors and trimmed the details of a diminishing punch list of tasks at the community building. Although we continued working on the siding and the deck that summer, by May the building was occupied.
Will, Kim and Sage were a local family who expressed an interest in being the first residents of the community building. Along with Josh N and Katie, who had recently moved to the area, we formed a trifecta couple combination with the addition of Sage who was a newborn. The situation evolved so that Katie and Micki worked the garden, Will cut firewood and Josh N worked a full time carpentry job and helped weekends fulfilling his negotiated 26 hour commitment. The summer stewed as we evaluated our futures as couples. Eventually Kim, Will Josh, Sage and Katie moved back with Kim’s mother and sister in Wentworth. Micki and I were left with novice though enthusiastic interns to close down the gardens. The metal deck was accomplished through the efforts of the Dyer family who at the time were residents of Dorchester on the end of Hearse House Rd. Bill Dyer had been a steady enterprising local welder since he had quit the work at Dartmouth College. He had constructed solar dehydrators, chicken tractors and garden carts to our specifications through the initial years. The back deck was necessary as a second floor fire escape and we constructed the project from steel due to the marginal dollar cost compared to a treated lumber wood assembly construction costs.
Late that summer a local man, Steve, presented us with a unique opportunity. He had raised and trained two Jersey cows as an oxen team. These yoked workers are the traditional beasts of burden in New England. Steve had limited space and energy to continue working the team and offered them to us if we promised not to eat them. Seizing this opportunity Jacob, an intern from Connecticut, and I constructed a building for the oxen shelter. Along this time Joy joined us as the cob crusader. Her interest in cob initiated the earthen construction program at the farm.

As the summer petered out I decided to vacate the premises to discover how other ecocommunities were confronting the issues of sustainable community living. That fall of 2001 I enrolled in a two week permaculture immersion class at Gaia Ecovillage in Argentina. My intention was to discover and emulate a system of collaboration that would enable the d Acres project to grow in a positive trajectory. The trip was a realization on many levels. I acknowledge that my expectations to travel to Argentina over 3000 miles for a two week course in SustainAbility were extremely high. My imagination and expectations led me to believe that the ecovillage would be a self sufficient, thriving community.

I have been rewarded in the revelations of this trip as I learned a commonality through this experience. I realized that we were all participants in the journey of discovery geared towards a future of mutualistic sustainability. The movement is a work in progress and internationally we are grasping at the pieces of a complex puzzle.
The ecovillage is an oasis amidst the endless plains of the pampas approximately 100 km from the megalopolis of Buenos Aires. Situated between the culture of gaucho cowboys and millions of acres of GMO soybeans the 60 acre property hosts diversity and sustainability infrastructure in abundance. Silvia and Gustavo are the couple that form the backbone and spearhead the Gaia project. Gustavo is a bearded man similar in appearance to Osama Bin Laden who is the charismatic, dominant authority onsite. Silvia, who is more of the public relations specialist, still exerts leadership and direction for the Gaia voyage. The property was once a dry milk factory and the remaining buildings house dormitories, classrooms, kitchen and garage. Birds of prey swooped between giant eucalyptus trees and the insects sang to the starry skies through the night. The electricity is supplied by windpower and dry toilets process the human waste. There is effective use of cob ovens and solar cookers for food preparation. Local partners raise bees onsite, there is a greywater system and the hot water system is integrated to use solar and wood as the heat source. They host interns from around the world and the two week course in which I was enrolled had participants from seven countries including several from Argentina. The multinational participants joined together for highly anticipated two week course geared towards solving the problems of the world.
By the end of the two weeks mutiny had occurred. Many of the participants were unhappy with the course and the Gaia project. Several had been offended by separate personal interactions with Silvia and Gustavo. The youthful Spanish WWOOFer who was a resident expressed a negative perspective on his time at the farm. The basis of the complaints were complex and multidimensional. I expressed concern about the lack of annual garden production and the limited onsite food production. I also noted the cottage industry presented by the ecovillage was marketing of essential oils such as lavender produced conventionally and repackaged for resale. Ultimately the participants focused on the sanitary kitchen facilities as the qualm that distressed them the most. During a meeting set up to express our gripes, Silvia responded to our hostility about cleanliness by inviting us stay at the farm and maintain the kitchen to our standards. Her resonating response was that if we had a problem with kitchen hygiene we should remain at Gaia and clean. No one chose that option.
Gaia was experiencing what is commonly known in the non-profit and communities movement as founder’s syndrome. The diagnosis of this non medical ailment is found through similar symptoms. The founders are charismatic visionaries with where with all to initiate and lay the groundwork for innovative projects of a personally passionate nature. Founders focus their passion to achieve immense tasks to undertake and persevere the conception of a project. This strength can be the Achilles heel of the organization through unrecognized burnout, personal ownership and attachments, and reluctance to evolve. Founders find it difficult to work with others who have less commitment and passion for the project; Co-workers are unable to devote the time and energy to maintain the pace and intensity of the founders ideal and feel disenfranchised.
While prolonging my stay at Gaia did have appeal to me, I chose another more adventurous option. During the course Alejandra, Silvia’s sister, had arrived to present information about a project to which she was shortly to return. Arcoiris por la Paz (Rainbow Caravan for Peace) is a self described mobile ecovillage that is traveling the Americas since 1996. The project was initiated by members of the Rainbow family who set out from HueHuecoyotyl ecovillage on a mission south to the furthest tip of Tierra del Fuego in an effort to rebuild the bridges between the peoples of the America. The group uses theater, workshops and educational materials to challenge the corporate paradigms and rekindle our relationship to Mother Earth. Alejandra had shown a finely crafted documentary HBO special that sparked my interest in the group. I was intrigued by the how this nomadic group could function with various language and cultures on this intense mission of service.

Alejandra was intent on joining the Caravan by New Years in Ecuador after an Argentina Christmas with her family. I wandered west into the Andes to explore the mountain agricultural scene, do some hiking and seek some solace. Things were brewing in Argentina and I decided to head for the hills. On Dec 22nd as I boarded a bus from several days alone in the mountains I was greeted by an astounding circumstance. The populace of the entire bus was dead quiet listening to the events broadcast via radio from the capital. After weeks financial strife the people had taken to the streets in a vocal and destructive assault on the government and corporate institutions. Frustrations with the International Monetary Funds stipulations and lending practices had driven the people to demand the government overthrow. As a gringo on a bus with concerned, connected citizens we spent the rest of the afternoon dodging the roadblocks of burning tires set in the roadways by enterprising disenfranchised Argentians. When I arrived back in the resort town of El Bariloche, the TV in the hostel portrayed the video footage of the day, including several demonstrators shooting death. The actually footage was compiled in a cutting edge new format reminiscent of MTV News.

I retreated via commercial bus lines to Chile where I met Alejandra on Christmas Day. From that rendezvous we traveled North. Over the next five days we spent over 100 hours in bus. We traveled North through the Atacama dessert the worlds driest region. After a days journey we arrived at the Peruvian border to catch a lowbudget holiday busfull across the border. The busload of peoples carried the tourist lore chickens and goats strapped to the roof and also electric drills and chainsaws. From Arequipa we traveled first class north in bus, as the full moon glowed on the Pacific on my west, boulders tumbled into the road from the Andes on my right. From the lounge on the second floor on the bus I watched the beauty of the ocean and the dismay of a road partially hinged on the edge of mountains still in movement. When we arrived at the border of Ecuador we entered a zone of dispute between the two countries. It is a frontier without decided ownership. The people in the 30 km zone between the countries lived in a surreal Wild West Mad Max Tijuana bizarre.
As we crossed the dunes into Olon I caught my first glimpse of the Rainbow Caravan. A cirus tent and several school buses set ocean side amongst a fishing village resort town along the coast of Ecuador. As we drew closer via foot I encountered the stilt walkers, magicians and clowns of the caravan frolicking. Our first night was the last day of the year and we celebrated the holidays with the fireworks and dancing of the occasion. When I awoke in the sandy tent on the first day of 2002 I anticipated an adventure that I soon received.
The caravanistas were a motley mix of people from the Americas and Europe ranging in age from 8 to over 60. We were rehearsing a theaterical performance with a folkloric theme of peace and love for the mother earth that we were performing in the plazas and schools along the coast. Our numbers swelled to nearly forty as an influx of vagabond street performers joined us from the local surf resort party town Montanita. As we considered our next move, we were approached by an indigenous community called Aguas Blancas, who invited us to reside in their village as a way to exchange ideas and culture.
Aguas Blancas was a village that could be compared to the reservations of indigenous peoples in the US. The land was marginal for agriculture and the people were dealing with weather extremes of flooding and drought produced by the El Nino. Many of the houses had dirt floors and indoor wood cooking arrangements. Alcoholism was prevalent among the adult males. Pigs and goats ranged freely denuding the landscape of vegetation. Equatorial maladies such as worms and skin lesions flourished. The reservation had several archaeological sites that predated Columbus. They had an extremely advanced system of sustainable fruit vegetable production which produced an abundance of fruits such as bananas and papayas. With formal community meetings they were organized to make cooperative decisions and developed sophisticated ventures such as running water for irrigation and household usage as well as a reforestation project.
Our first night we were invited individually to the households and served a fresh chicken soup. It was the first meat I had eaten in over ten years.
In our time at Aguas Blancas we taught informal lessons of English and shared our sustainable skills in dance, yoga, instrument making, gardening and theater. We developed a theaterical performance performed as a procession through the reservation. The procession told the history of the village from the pre Columbus era through the conquest and resettlement of the village. After the culmination of the procession performed by the villagers we moved on to our next destination in the urban environment of Cuenca.
In Cuenca we experienced the urban version of the Caravana. We initially were housed in a refugee for victims of domestic abuse. With thirty plus people sharing a single room and bathroom facilities, the diesel stench and concrete of the environment became a sensory overload. For work, we were primarily focused on repairing the school buses and developing a show for the unveiling of the renovated World Heritage site in the center plaza of the town. After two weeks we shifted the basecamp to an abandoned building besides a school closer to the downtown district. From this camp we were afforded access to the town market where we supplied street performance in exchange for food. After three weeks in Cuenca the caravanistas dissolved through dischord.
The lack of harmony had many factors. Cultural differences between North and South were heightened by the economic differences amongst the many participants. The leadership was split between two partisan factions, one of which was led by Alejandra. Her perspective accentuated the fluidity, art and hippie culture of the caravan and the street people participants. This group were advocates of a decentralized power structure, disassociated from conventional government organizations, accepting of marijuana use and while more frugal also less insistent of individuals contributing financially to the caravana. The other group were stewards from the North with more concern for the benefits of collaboration with local government, more structure and planning of rehearsals and performance, greater emphasis on budgeting and financial sustainability and adherence the zero tolerance of marijuana. These two groups met for a meeting that was explosive and challenging for the bilingual organization. While the meeting served to vent the frustrations the difficulties in agreement remained unresolved and the caravana shrunk by over half its members at this juncture. For me the time had come to return to the North and meet Micki in Seattle for a trip across the country in a 1967 split window Volkswagon van.

As we slowly made our way back east I encountered a culture shock similar to what I experienced upon returning from Spain. The fields of moncultured corn and the corrupt law enforcement officials created an alien atmosphere in my homeland. I was relieved to finally be back at the farm in New Hampshire. Monika is a graphic designer taking a career break and living at the farm with Micki and Joy, who had volunteered to develop a website. We also agreed on a logo design and the utility of branding in this capacity. Both these decisions were crucial components in developing the outreach capacity of the D Acres organization to the general public.

At this point Micki began her studies at Sage Mt Herbal School. Her intuition and experience provided a gateway into the blossoming herbal medicine community of New England. These experiences would provide the opportunities that ultimately freed her from her role at the farm.

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