Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keeping Tradition Alive

Music is a funny thing. We categorize it by station and artist, the instruments we like, the beat we prefer. It provides us with our preferred complaints and our choice head bops; it is our welcome distraction, our conversation, and our background filler as the circumstance dictates. But I suppose that what I’m describing is the music fed to us by radio waves and satellites, wired to our ears and pumped through speakers.

Isn’t there something different about music that is created right in front of us? Sure, the same likes and dislikes insist on stating themselves, and good skill is more pleasant than the lack thereof. But to create music, to experience it before us…well, it makes for a pretty good time. There is a purpose to this thought, and here it comes. What I’ve got in mind is a good ole barn dance.

Some call it contra dancing, some call it traditional folk dancing, some call it New England barn dancing. You know what I mean? Fiddle players flying along with their bows and strings, calling out steps and sequences as the muddled groups before them sort themselves into an organized dance. There are lines, and circles, swing-your-partners and do-si-dos.

And the music is remarkable. Lively and up-tempo, with all the history of this northcountry life seemingly stuffed right in to each tune. The notes burst out and guide the dancers; dancers smile, laugh, (attempt coordination), and encourage the musicians.

Of course, this is all being said for a reason. Saturday, April 10 D Acres and the Cardigan Mountain Arts Association are hosting a family barn dance at the Enfield Community Center. And not just any dance…New Hampshire’s renowned folk artists Dudley & Jacqueline Laufman – the “Two Fiddles” – will be calling the steps.

You don’t want to miss this. Dudley has been calling barn dances for over fifty years, while he and Jacqueline have been touring as “Two Fiddles” since 1986. In 2009 Dudley was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, our nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, for his tireless efforts to promote and preserve New England barn dancing.

So consider this evening a must. The event will get started at 5pm with a potluck dinner – please bring a dish to share! Dancing will begin at 7pm. The event is free and open to the public, though donations are certainly welcome. Again, it’s at the Enfield Community Center along Rt.4.

That should be all the details, but please give the farm a call or an email if you have more questions. 603-786-2366 or Join us in preserving a piece of traditional New England. You’ll get a delectable meal, exquisite music, and some dance moves that just don’t jive with rock-n-roll. Saturday, April10 at the Enfield Community Center, dinner at 5pm, dancing at 7pm. See you then!

(as published in the North Country News)

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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Boiling down the sap...

...for three days

Sweetness in the Air

The smoke stings my eyes…tears-down-my-cheeks type of sting. My throat burns, nose is dry, eyes hot, and – the telling clue – my hands sticky and black with soot.

Yes, it’s sugaring season.

Which also means a sweet smell to the air, warm days, crackling wood. As I write this, the sun is just rising over Stinson and Carr to begin the day here at D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead. The fire that I started by candlelight is now roaring, three pans and a warming pot hidden in the evaporating steam.

We began boiling March 8, but the process really started the week before, putting in taps (77 in total) and hanging buckets. We have a small and simple system here at D Acres: everything is done by hand from beginning to end. There are certain inefficiencies, but they are also the endearing qualities of the system, the fodder for rich stories once the sap is boiled and the syrup stored in the root cellar. Our tedious collection system and dubious woodstove also make the point that anyone can do this if you choose to, regardless of your set-up. Really. Some maple trees, taps, buckets, and a woodstove are all you need.

We started collecting sap within four days of tapping out, it was running so fast in this spring heat. Too busy to begin boiling right away, we could barely keep up with collecting buckets before they threatened to overflow. Each of us were out there in turn, carrying buckets of liquid gold as carefully as the slushy snow would let us. Visitors to the farm were forcefully encouraged to lend a hand. Friends, volunteers, even some boy scouts were part of the action. By the time the first boil came around, we had 160 gallons stockpiled. Before the morning was out, the count was up to 185. And still drip-drip-dripping into our smorgasbord of five-gallon buckets.

In our sugar shack, a poster is hung which describes the sap to syrup conversion process as follows: “it takes about 40 gallons of sap quickly boiled down” to make one gallon of syrup. The numbers are right on, and are a testament to what we are willing to do for sugar – more on that in a moment. It’s the adverb in the sentence that gets me. “Quickly,” it says. Well now, just for examples’ sake, yesterday’s tallies are as follows: 5:45am to 9:15pm, roughly 90 gallons of sap boiled to a watery syrup that still needs to be finished indoors on our stove. We’re figuring on 2+ gallons of syrup from that batch, and that’s after 15 hours, 30 minutes and an imposing quantity of wood. Evaporation is not, on our old woodstove to say the least, what one would willingly term quick.

Nevertheless, the time, effort and wood required for this tasty endeavor does signal the value of sweetness. At D Acres, maple trees are our only source of sugar currently (bees and their honey have come and gone over the years). When we speak of eating with the seasons, we’re not just referring to tomatoes in summer and squash for the winter. Sugar, too, is part of the seasonal equation. Maple syrup is something we can only make during these few weeks of the year. When I write “liquid gold” I’m not being terribly dramatic: syrup is something we treasure, and have to make it last the whole year through. Long hours amidst steam and woodsmoke make for a quick lesson in sugar’s value, and provide ample reason to enjoy it sparingly.

Just how sparingly will be determined by the vagaries of local weather. We’ll see what this season has in store for us, and how many gallons we can store on our shelves before the sap sours. Meanwhile, we easily anticipate the sweet treat that awaits us for the next twelve months.

And if you want to carry a bucket or two, just swing on by the farm…'ll know where to find me.

as published in the North Country News

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blue Skies Above Us

There's something distinct about the twittering call of a bird in March. I couldn't give it a word if you asked me for it, but you must know what I mean...something fresh that seems to echo off the blue skies and melting snow, something sweet that mirrors the smell in the air, something that silences the curmudgeon in each of us and dares us to deny the spring in our step. That, at least, is what the songs of our avian neighbors suggest to me.

Here at D Acres Farm, I've been rising earlier and earlier as the sun insists on waking the world just a little sooner each day. But I can't complain, for it is the singular call of birds from the cedar tree outside my southern window that are suddenly my daily alarm clock. And these tiny creatures with their maestro vocal cords are just one symptom of spring's apparent arrival.

The sweetest, arguably, being the arrival of sugarin' season. I put our 76 taps in barely a week ago, but my how quickly the sap is flowing! We have 160 gallons stored in drums and buckets around our sugar shack, and more collecting as I write this. Our first boil will be tomorrow...There's more sap than I can evaporate in a single day by far. Still, I'll be going early (hopefully before both the sun and the birds). Who'd have thought that evaporation could entertain one for so many hours?

Swing by the shack if you're in the area, check out the process, taste some of our homegrown sweetness. Company is always welcome to pass the hours.

But that's not all. There's lots getting going here at D Acres this spring, so consider the following as well: Want to get a jump on your edible landscaping and mushroom cultivation? March 20 we're offering an all-day mushroom log inoculation workshop with Dave Wichland - check out the website or give us a call for details. Please pre-register!! Or, perhaps, you're looking for a chance to gather with neighbors, share some grub and good tunes - join us at the Enfield Community Lutheran Church this comming Saturday March 13 for a dinner and concert benefitting Bill Loyens, a local neighbor who recently lost his house to a fire. A good time guarenteed!

We're all a little itchy for spring, yes...but put aside that spring cleaning for a day and join us when you can! Be it for a workshop, event, or just to drop by, we hope to see you at the farm.

All the best to all -