Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Together

“If someone asked me what I stand for…”

One of our interns turned to me in the midst of planting garlic.

“Well, I stand for me. For us. For our way of living.” He chuckled making his point, gesturing at the young apples, pears, and elderberries, the cover crop sprouting out of this summer’s potato beds, the pigs at the edge of the stone wall, the deep soil into which we were plunging cloves of garlic.

“How could someone argue against this?!”

We returned to our own thoughts, mired in the 95th out of the 150 total pounds of garlic we were planting. It was a simple, methodical task of sinking a short stick into the ground, submerging a garlic clove into the newly made nest, and blanketing it with more soil. As other crops near the end of their season, garlic is just beginning.

So while consumed in this act of starting something new as the lushness of summer dies back, we were also engaged in conversation of something new.

Wall Street.

Okay, Wall Street itself is old. The Occupation of Wall Street, however? NEW. Fresh. The beginning of a new momentum, a new season, a new solidarity. A new opportunity to say: wait, stop, no. Reality is clear – we are tied within an economic system that allows the top 1% to become richer & richer, with more power, protection, and privacy than other individuals. What about our 99%? Why should we tolerate greed and corruption? What about you? What about me? What about my sister? What about your brother? What about the children? In a system so broken with fraud and so fraught with inequalities, from where is hope to spring?

From the people. From saying enough is enough.

And it’s spreading. What started on September 17 in NYC has spread to Boston, San Francisco, DC, Philadelphia, Burlington, Baltimore, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, and 1,528 other cities across the nation. Occupy Manchester (NH) and Occupy Concord (NH) began October 15. Occupy Plymouth is ongoing: stand with your neighbors on the Plymouth Common. There is a place for your voice. Get inspired:

A D Acres resident, having spent some time at the Wall Street Occupation in early October, dons the following message on the back of her sweatshirt: Sow Seeds, Not Greed.

Surely each of us will have our own reason, our own perspective, our own purpose for wanting reform. Perhaps our reasoning is not yours. Probably, ours can align with yours.

Here at D Acres we stand for an alternate economy. An economy of community, of local goods, of handshakes and of shared meals. Our work continues to build networks of local farmers, community groups, and area residents, while simultaneously modeling and educating on viable subsistence farming practices. We employ a barter system when possible, and offer meals and education to the community for a nominal sliding-scale donation. Money is never required. We believe that the needs of our community must be – and can be – met within our community by our community members. The localization of our regional economy is the basis for economic justice and community empowerment. We’re doing it here at D Acres. Please join us.

as published in North Country News

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Resting Place for Potatoes

I have fingerlings under the sheets.

Hundreds of pounds, in fact, under many sheets and a few cardboard boxes. Fingerling potatoes, that is, which are currently drying and curing in a corner of the basement. Protected from the light, these fresh tubers lay underneath, well, old sheets and some fabric scraps. There are also some Kennebecs, Katahdins, and other baking potatoes under cardboard boxes, a small quantity of russets, and striking Purple Vikings and Purple Suns underneath the local updates of some expired newspapers.

This is our practiced, practical praxis for readying our freshly harvested ‘taters for winter storage. In the past couple of weeks we have forked, dug, shook, searched, prodded, nudged (aggressively), burrowed, mined, and quarried approximately 2500 pounds of potatoes from our newest field. All by hand, of course. It is a formidable quantity, an autumnal treasure hunt of many days and numerous work hours for a bounty that will feed us through the winter months.

In order to last late into the spring, these potatoes will be stored in our root cellar amongst cool temperatures and high humidity. First, though, they must be dried and their skins cured. Moist and damaged tubers are a set-up for rot, and a careless oversight can ruin a whole passel of work.

So we have potatoes lining the basement, potatoes cobbling the floor of the barn, potatoes filling the barn loft, and potatoes spread about the old tractor room. Wall to wall it’s a tight fit, but somehow just the right amount of space has been found.

Shielding these tubers from light is especially important – some time in the sun turns potatoes green in color and toxic to eat. A tragedy to avoid, most certainly. Even those stored in the dark corners of the barn are carefully covered …cardboard, newspaper, and sheets are all breathable materials that assist the drying process while thoroughly protecting the potatoes.

Shrouded in such simple sunblock, our potato harvest sits for two to three weeks. We’re not interested in rushing the process, and the wet weather isn’t suggesting otherwise. By next week, though, we’ll be in the thick of it. Sorting potatoes by type (broadly categorized as white baking potatoes, purples, reds, and fingerlings), we’ll also pull aside the small ones and any damaged ones that were overlooked in the initial triage. These get eaten first, as they are the least likely to keep well.

Everything else, the proverbial cream of the crop, is gently tumbled into our mouse-proof bins in the root cellar and labeled accordingly. There they will sit, 2500 pounds of delectable feasts and delicious dinners in the raw. We’ll eat hundreds of pounds of ‘taters through the winter months; we’ll sell them to friends, visitors, market-shoppers, and restaurants; we’ll share them at community food events and potlucks. If anything is left in spring, we’ll have seed potatoes ready to plant.

So there are grand plans for our many ‘taters. For the moment though, they are tucked in beneath retired bed sheets and curing on cardboard. The next phase of their journey from field to meal is about to begin.

as published in North Country News

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Special Projects

Drifting from the buzzing metropolitan area of Boston to the woods of New Hampshire does not happen in one step, not for me anyway. As a mechanical engineering student at Northeastern University, I have been attempting to find that specific niche in an otherwise unspecific major. Mechanical engineering covers anything from aeronautics to solar power to prosthetic limbs. Luckily for me, I was able to spend time in a lab, at a desk, and now at a farm through Northeastern’s co-op program. The drastically different environments that I have been exposed to allow me to better understand what it is and what it isn’t that I want to do with my degree.

During my stay at D Acres I have been focusing on “Special Projects.” These deviate slightly from the day-to-day activities usually seen on the farm. The first special project was an anaerobic digester. It differs from compost in that it works without oxygen. The breakdown of oxen and pig manure in a water environment releases methane gas that can then be used for cooking or heating purposes. The project specifications can be found at The research involved was fairly intensive. A number of different designs exist and it was difficult to find one that was suitable to the New Hampshire climate. The final design was a combination of a few, but on a much smaller scale. The small scale gas production will only be suitable for demonstration purposes. I felt the design was fairly successful and saw methane production within the first week. After that week, however, the temperatures cooled and gas production decreased. To fix this, compost was piled around the digester which has been successful in raising the temperatures so far.

The remainder of my stay has focused on bicycle power. This subject has been studied by many different people in many different places around the globe. Having an avid interest in bicycles I was very excited to tackle a bicycle-powered project. That was 4 weeks ago. Since then, I have built a power take-off for an apple crusher, a direct-driven washing machine, and finally a portable power station. Each bicycle set up is a different approach to the same thing—bicycle power. The documentation is available at The power take-off combined with the portable frame (sections of an old bed frame bolted to the rear wheel of the bicycle to raise it off the ground) of the power station leaves the bicycle fully intact and allows the user to ride to where it is needed and then hooked up to the machine it is going to run. Practically anything that is belt-driven can be run by one of the setups. The portable power station with flywheel is great for keeping machines running smoothly.

All of the projects have had points that were challenging, frustrating, and rewarding. The most challenging aspect is the availability of resources and machining equipment. At previous internships I worked in shops backed by multi-million dollar companies. Fabricating only required an order to be placed for all the parts needed with very few cost restrictions. Everything at D Acres has been built with parts available on site. Some parts have been found in the resource pile, others in the eaves of the barn, and most of the time parts are pulled from beneath piles of other parts. Although it is challenging to locate parts needed for projects, making use of old parts is a great practice. It keeps my brain constantly forming alterations to a previous design—making the design work for the parts available. The philosophy yields minimal cost and negligible waste. No gas is wasted in the shipping of parts and parts that had no function become productive pieces of the D Acres community.

The most rewarding part of my stay has been being able to see people actively use the equipment. Members of the community really enjoy being able to crush apples by pedaling bicycles, children and adults alike. It also eases the workload of people at farm. Crushing apples used to take at least twice as long when doing by hand and required exerting much more physical effort. Now, a five-gallon bucket of apples takes less than three minutes to crush.

In coming weeks I will be pursuing powering items in the kitchen and solar-powered cookers. The food processor is used on a regular basis and being able to figure out how to power it without electricity would be a large achievement. Having more efficient cookers, such as a parabolic oven, would reduce cooking times in the sunnier months. Research and design is still necessary at this juncture, but I look forward to the challenges ahead.

-Joey Kile