Friday, September 24, 2010

Rafters of garlic and puppets

Another summer has quickly passed at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead in a blur of expanded gardens, prolific vegetables, pond construction, twelve new piglets, nine young ducklings, a community river clean-up event, a host of camp groups and community volunteers, a Local Food Guide Launch, Beehive Collective presentation, and continuation of our Permaculture through the Seasons course.

With autmun upon us, we are quickly bringing our colorful harvest – a bounty of potatoes, squash, carrots, beets, turnips, and cabbage – into our root cellar. The last treats of summer – tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, apples, grapes – are preserved on shelves, while our array of brassicas are testing themselves against the dropping temperatures. The tasks of weeding, mulching, and sheet mulching are filling our days as we race against ourselves to finish before the snow flies.

The top floor of our barn, used to dry herbs during the hottest months, is emptying out as the cool weather and short days descend. It is a unique place, filled with antique farming tools, larger-than-life papier mache puppets, second-hand skis, dishware, & old clothes. And, for much of August and September, garlic.

Yes, garlic. Tied in bunches with baling twine, strands upon strands of garlic heads were hung in three tiers across the top-floor room. The highest strands required an 8’ladder, the bottom willing knees and lots of crawling. Warm days and the passage of time dried it well, and the dedication of many hands over many hours have accounted for the roots being trimmed, the stalks cut off, and the heads sorted by size and quality.

This season’s cloves passed through the hands of a summer leadership camp group, a high school service class, international travelers, local volunteers, and of course, your usual D Acres folks. Our garlic heads have heard talk of the next school dance, plans for dinner, hopes for a nap, demands for lunch, Guatemalan massacres, Angolan politics, city trends, art museums, post-colonial religiosity, and plenty more to fill in the spectrum. World peace has yet to be achieved, and the meaning of everything is not quite answered once and for all…but then again, we do have next year’s garlic to figure out the big questions.

In the meantime, we have scores upon scores of pounds of garlic on our hands: some for planting, some for eatin’, some for selling. By Columbus Day we’ll have planted clove after clove into the ground in preparation for early spring growth. Through the winter, though, it will be our task to eat, share, and sell the rest of this year’s bounty. Which is significant. To buy ourselves some time, we’ll store it in sacks hidden in the dark corners of bedroom closets – warding off vampires is an accidental attribute to our indoor accommodations. Garlic is a natural flavoring, aeoli is a favorite spread; mashed cloves serve as a poultice and garlic tea as a remedy for whatever ails us. Garlic with your eggs, garlic with your greens, garlic with your squash, garlic with your potatoes, garlic with your soup, garlic with your pizza, garlic with your meat, garlic with your bread, garlic garlic garlic.

Please, come on over and lend us a hand…or more appropriately, your appetite.

as published in North Country News

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Humbling Hum

It has been roughly three and a half weeks since my arrival here at D Acres Organic Farm and Educational Homestead... and it's been quite a ride. The duties of farm life are nonstop and never-ending; predictable and at once unpredictable. The amount of learning that takes place every minute of every day in every mind is staggering. The whiz of thirty different simultaneous projects- water, harvest, preserve, can, prune, mulch, clean, dehydrate, plant - is enough to make one's head spin; yet as you begin to settle into life here at D Acres, it begins to form a cohesive hum in your mind.

Which, considering the necessary amount of work to feed and sustain ourselves here, is also a humbling element. Your connection from your work to your plate to your body and soul and then back again is palpable; so much so that at times it seems hard to fathom that elsewhere in the world, people are lunching on Big Mac's and whatever else I don't miss about the "real" world. Every time we share a meal here, I appreciate more about just what it takes to feed us human creatures. The REAL amount of work: not finding time on a weeknight to grocery-shop...then going home and preparing a meal. Feed/Water/Clean (daily, early) of pigs/chickens/ducks...quickly exposes one to the harsh realities of our foodstuffs, and the care and cognizance necessary to maintain such as a viable system for now and for future.

How many people can say that they went to bed last night tired, sweaty, and sore from exactly the labors that would feed them in the morning? As I emptied my pockets last night, I found a baby potato and a couple of mashed grapes. Sure, there is money to be had, glitz to be glimmered, and fast life to be lived out there in the "real" world. But if going to bed dirty and sore is wrong, I'm not sure I want to be right. The tangible connection between hands and contented belly is too valuable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Woods to Waterfowl

It’s been a quick transition, really. A few weeks with the sights and sounds of heavy equipment gracing the D Acres grounds in early summer and voilá, what was once a wooded swamp has given way to some oversized puddles. On which shall I comment first – the sudden presence of bodies of water here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead, or the unique experience of pulling weeds by hand while an excavator overhauled our landscape with the flick of a joystick?

It’s fair to say that the excavator is already a footnote in the summer’s stock of memories, while the ponds and aquatic niches we are creating are just beginning to take root. With our brand-new watering holes we are beginning to capture available water to a much greater extent. We are also cultivating a sweet cannonball spot.

It’s been a process of seeding in rye, alfalfa, and clover, watching the water level gradually rise, welcoming the increased sunshine on that zone of the property, and growing accustomed to the changed path of sound. (Though we will pretend not to hear it, the ring of the telephone can now reach us in the lower garden.) The homestead’s acoustics have also been revamped, with the bullfrogs, peepers, and crickets blasting their cacophonous symphony from their all-natural amphitheater. We have VIP seating whether we want it our not.

Nine ducks arrived in July: their house was built in an evening, their fence cobbled together from bedsprings and scraps of fencing the following afternoon. They took well to the water, their inaugural swim filled with full-on dives, head bobs, and wing flaps. (They have this back-scratching maneuver that is particularly entertaining.) Nine piglets – the numbers being mere coincidence – are the most recent addition, again with a fixed-up suite and re-used fencing. Next year’s bacon is growing fast while rooting and fertilizing oh so effectively. They are the consummate garden bed preparers.

So these are the most visible signs of the area’s transition. But there’s more. We hold the next steps in our heads, ready to bring each to fruition as the seasons allow. Irrigation (and fire suppression), graywater filtration, cultivated aquaculture, terraced gardens & orchards, hydropower, wind power, swimming spots & backyard skating….

For now, though, these earthen swimming pools have seen their first summer come and go. We’re watching the clover grow, wondering when we’ll share our first duck-egg breakfast, and hoping the pigs don’t best our fencing system. It’s a cool autumn wind that ripples across the young vegetation, and there are already fall colors reflecting on the water’s surface…proof, at least, that the ponds are not too murky. And aesthetics, I should mention, still count for something. All seems right, when, farm-fresh tea in hand, you can stand on the bank, witness the enthusiastic antics of the ducks, nod in agreement with the bull-frog, and watch the clouds blow over your own reflection.

as published in North Country News