Friday, January 28, 2011

Nimbys and the Northern Pass

The Northern Pass controversy is the latest New Hampshire distraction from the real issue of America’s addiction to energy consumption. I recently received an unsolicited email that stated the proposed power lines would “dramatically affect our way of life.” Instead of being accountable for our own actions we are blaming the providers of the energy. From my backyard, I look at the immense power lines that run south into Plymouth everyday and consider the electricity running through the lines every time I flip a switch. I am not an advocate of further power line construction. But the reality is we in New Hampshire are using more electricity every year not less. This perpetual growth in consumption is the problem. And the real drama is that our way of life will be affected by climatic change and the end of cheap oil.

Take, for example, the snow-sports resort industry. Well to do environmentalists routinely use the excuse of outdoor recreation to be chair-lifted up a mountain so they can point skis downhill and allow gravity to pull them back down to the valley on artificial snow and groomed slopes. These resorts are horrendous eyesores powered by distant oil fields, as well as nuclear and coal-powered electrical generation plants. In the name of sport we are wasting energy. Some folks will even get in an airplane to fly west in a self-absorbed quest for ideal conditions. Instead of choosing readily available exercise on cross-country skis, resort skiers receive instant gratification and adrenaline rushes from fossil fuel consumption.

So when folks get angry and complain about property values (notice the number of real estate agents and second homeowners involved as opponents of the project) I ask you to take a look in the mirror because we are all to blame. The problem is US. U.S. Because we are unwilling to compromise our “way of life” we engage in distant wars, shop at box stores full of Chinese products and get our food from Chile and California. Instead of taking responsibility for our consumption problem, we are choosing to blame others who are just responding in the traditional American way by supplying to the demand. It is similar to a drug user blaming the dealer.

If power lines are capable of producing “ dramatic affects on our way of life,” imagine the impact of global climatic change. The future of humanity is chosen by the decisions we make today and the power lines are just another distraction from what the focus clearly should be: a reduction of energy consumption. If we (NH citizens) don’t want additional energy from Canada, then we need to invest in solar panels and wind generators. To reduce our dependence on imported energy we should become active members of solution oriented local organizations such as Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative and D Acres. Without taking positive steps to reduce our energy consumption, we will only have ourselves to blame for the serious ramifications. So instead of using your personal time and energy to protest, take steps to seek renewable energy alternatives and reduce your electric energy consumption.

Josh Trought is a citizen of Dorchester, New Hampshire and Director at D Acres of New Hampshire.

Outside and In

Well, the thermometer said -22ยบ at dawn, as if the impulse for an extra hat and thicker gloves wasn’t clue enough. It was cold. I kept my little legs moving fast as I went about the morning chores, but that didn’t quite warm my fingertips nor hold the wind at bay.

Upon being let out, the oxen ran and jumped with grace and power as the biting wind hit their hides. It was a fine sight to watch, but clearly they were less than amused. Over their cold feast of hay, they admonished me with glances from their big brown eyes. I promised to bring them back in once they had finished. The ducks, meanwhile, huddled up together as they tried to swim atop snow. The chickens, in a rare stroke of brilliance, refused to go out while the pigs hunkered down within their blanket- and carpet-lined fortresses. This is the first winter for these piglets – certainly Mama hadn’t explained the capricious whims of Jack Frost.

My boots crunched and squeaked over the cold, cold snow in a hurried gait towards the front door, these sound effects being the only ones to soak through my three hats and two scarves. The effect bordered on cartoonish, assisted by my gloves that, snow-covered from morning chores, had frozen into claw form while still upon my nipped hands.

Once inside, the fire quickly mellowed the sting imbedded in my cheeks and nose. The men were boasting of the advantage of beards; skeptical, it seemed to me that an icy scarf was more easily removed. Offering quite the contrast, our collection of houseplants looked out from upon the windowsills, reaching for the sun, oblivious to the cold just a pane away. While the banana plant looked weary, the begonia maintained its brilliant reddish leaves. The aloe, of course, was as indestructible as ever.

On this day, more so than others thus far this season, the time for indoor and outdoor work was well distinguished here at D Acres Permaculture Farm & SustainAbility Center. A desire for movement and fresh air was wisely tamed by the harsh chill in the air: cabin fever isn’t that feverish.

Wintertime, in general, is used for planning, for organizing, for administrating, for maintaining, and for crafting here at D Acres. In particular, we take these cold and snowy months to review and revise our guiding documents. For example, our Organization Manual. Covering history, policy, and philosophy, the manual is continually evolving with the organization. Our most recent session fixated on our description of Realities. Our agrarian reality, more specifically. We wanted to acknowledge the perceived sacrifices of small-scale farming and simple living, assert the many rewards of such a lifestyle, and reiterate the hope, beauty, and inspiration behind our philosophy.

Imagine the above morn. It was indeed cold. Bitter. Piercing. Raw. The sun, for all its brightness, was not warm. The wind whipped, needled, lashed. We bundled up against it and bent into the wind, for there were still animals to tend and roofs to shovel.

One could say - and we’ve heard it – what an awful thing, uncomfortable and rugged to trudge through such inclement adventures. And yes, it does sting a bit when you’re not ready for it. It is, however, intensely beautiful. The snowscape, I mean…but also the life in which we are immersed. Crisp, bright, vivid, vibrant, intense, radiant, brisk…Comfort is a challenge and, once obtained, a victory and a thrill. A simple sensation of aliveness pervades all. Cold, which can muffle liveliness so quick, imbues each breath with potency as well. Our reality is as compelling as the conditions that define it.

Putting words to the intuition of an instant, perhaps. Otherwise known as: “Jeez it’s cold, but what a darn good story it’ll make.” So with an extra sweater upon our shoulders, and sometimes two, we want to tell you what a very colorful reality this farming life provides.

as published in North Country News

Saturday, January 15, 2011

SustainAbility your way

I think there was mention of a zip line…from our back porch to a pond-side landing beside our lower hoop house. Modifications for a cannonball dismount may have been pondered. Yes, indeed. And this was in fact an academic situation.

Granted, not quite your average school-desks-in-a-row, raise-your-hand, and memorize-the-answer sort of academics. No, I’m referring to a planning & design activity integrated into D Acres’ Permaculture Design Course offered last year.

You see, permaculture can be many things. This includes verbose definitions the length of this column and beyond….but here at D Acres Permaculture Farm & Sustainability Center we’ve narrowed it down to the following:

Holistic, integrative, design & implementation for a sustainable future.

Bingo, bango, sounds pretty good, eh? What I’m getting at, though, is the ability to stack functions while designing gardens, buildings, landscapes, and beyond with a multiplicity of functions in mind. The zip line plan from above got some laughs, and may sit a step or two down the priority list, but it’s a fun example of thinking outside the box. Sure, it provides travel. With the ease of architect paper, it was designed as a power source as well, had a clothesline component, and a bucket carrying function.

Granted, I prefer to get down to something more practical. Let’s talk of an apple tree as food, as shade, as windbreak, as artisan wood, as smokehouse flavor, and its leaves as natural mulch come autumn. Or how about pigs as stump-removers, brush-clearers, ground-turners, soil-fertilizers, compost-builders, and, thank goodness, as bacon-providers.

The understanding and application of permaculture is refined over the course of a lifetime. But you can begin here and now with D Acres 2nd Permaculture Through the Seasons certification course. It’s a unique opportunity, offered one weekend a month from April to November (excepting June). A range of topics are covered: permaculture ethics & principles, the design process, food & energy security, natural systems & biodiversity, site analysis & assessment, backyard gardening & sustainable agriculture, natural building & appropriate technology, sustainable forestry & creating food forests, animals in a permaculture system, solar greenhouse design, village design & local economies. Students then apply the principles and praxis studied to a design project of their own.

Taking place on the D Acres grounds over the course of spring, summer, and fall, participants are exposed to the seasonal farm perspective and the variety of monthly considerations therein. With fourteen years of permaculture in practice, the trials, errors and successes inherent to the property are abundant. In addition, students enjoy D Acres lodging accommodations and farm-fresh meals each weekend the course meets. While D Acres staff, workshops, and community events are integrated into the course, it is instructors Steve Whitman and Keith Morris who lead participants through the seven weekends of studies while including guest presenters, off-site tours, and attendance at the 2011 Permaculture Convergence.

More information can be found on the D Acres website at or by giving us a ring at 603-786-2366. Still looking for something more? We’ve also created a D Acres permaculture film - check it out via our website, or join us on tour: Feb 11 @ Red River Theater in Concord, NH; Feb 15 @ Plymouth’s Flying Monkey Theater; March 3 @ Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences in Quechee, VT.

This is your chance. Don’t wait: early bird registration due Feb.15, registrations close March 15. In the words of one 2010 graduate, “I could not have hoped for a better permaculture education. Thanks a million!!”

as published in North Country News

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reflections before Renewal

Over the last six weeks, as a winter intern here at D Acres, I enjoyed a welcome respite from the bells and whistles, hustle and bustle, and general stresses that, for me, have become synonymous with the approach of the holiday season. To be sure, the December days came and went with their usual frequency, the numbers of the calendar still ceaselessly ticked toward the end of another year, and yet…without television or radio as constant reminders of how many hours and minutes of shopping remained until Christmas, I was totally oblivious. Instead, I was falling into a rhythm of rising with the sun, doing morning chores, and setting to work on other projects that needed completion before darkness once again closed in at the end of the day.

When the time came, I was grateful for the opportunity to travel home to spend the holiday with my family, although I did find that when I woke up on Christmas Day, I was missing my morning chores. It may sound crazy, but they can be a great way to wake up. The weight of the water I carry to the animals warms me to the core, the taste of crisp morning air is indescribably sweet, and if I can catch them at the right moment, the first rays of the rising sun will paint the White Mountains purple. It is these experiences that kindle the fire that burns in my belly.

I dig this routine. Maybe it’s because it’s still so new, and I know that there will come a day when my internship will end. But after nearly a month and a half of living here, I have to say that my learning has only just begun. Each day brings new questions and insights, new problems, new solutions. My mistakes are my greatest teachers, and I am often reflecting upon the words of Samuel Becket: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Whether working with the team of oxen, the wood chipper, or a hammer and nails, for me, it seems to be the challenges that make the practice worthwhile. And it is the small daily celebrations that happen here: the hot meals prepared with farm fresh ingredients, the lunchtime laughter, or the spontaneous live fiddle music at a Farm Feast Breakfast, that bring joy and merriment to the experience.

There are bigger celebrations here, too, and they happen more than just once a year. In fact, there are several of them, and they happen every month. Please come! Check out the events calendar, and join in the festivities. We look forward to connecting with you in this year of Renewal and Renewables. Happy New Year!