GROWTH + CHANGE

we just wrapped up an incredible summer of programs on the farm. between having women in high school spend the bulk of the summer with us at spiral, studying the intersection of social and environmental justice, and having adults stay for shorter, skill-based preservation workshops, and doing permaculture design work for clients, it's been rich, intense, joyful, and full.

we wanted to put up a post to let our community know about a shift coming for Dig In Farm. we have so loved running programs on our site in Shutesbury, and have cherished these last two years as an 'incubator' time to try out new programs, projects, and plantings. we have been so fortunate to have family, friends, donors, collaborators, students, mentors, teachers and conspirators, all come together to make that happen. we couldn't have done what we have done in the last two years without all of your support. thank you! we are humbled and honored to have you at our backs. 

over the last two years, we have grown in size and scope of project. we have connected with more people, and begun to dream big dreams about what kinds of projects we want to take on in the future. we have so much excitement and sense of possibility about a number of different land-based projects, that we decided we need to give ourselves a break from running programs in order to set the bigger vision.

to make space to develop a larger project plan that combines education, social and environmental justice, permaculture, youth, land-based skills, and community, we have put together an advisory council of friends, students, collaborators, and mentors. this incredible team is committed to visioning together for the next couple years to develop a long-term plan to help flesh out the next project. our culture often celebrates fast, quick thinking, and we want to push back against that, to give the full time + space to gestate our next project iteration into life. we are excited to do this work together and see what emerges. we are all smarter together than any of us alone. our advisory council is diverse by design; we want as many viewpoints as possible to help hone the vision together so that we can best serve our community.

in this visioning time, Juna will be living and teaching at Quail Springs Permaculture in California where she will be program coordinating. Jacob + Grace will be primarily living in Burlington, VT, returning often to the Shutesbury farm site to tend, prune, harvest, and share. (Yay for low-maintenance perennial crops, and for a gorgeous, multi-purpose classroom that we will also stay in when there!) We plan to continue to use + share the site we have developed with plantings, gardens, and a yurt classroom in Shutesbury as one of our teaching sites.

In Vermont, Grace will be serving as Executive Director for a progressive synagogue, helping to foster an inclusive, warm, alive spiritual community. Jacob will continue to do permaculture design work for clients, play with and plant nut and fruit trees everywhere, as well as serving as the primary parent at home with Amos.

we wanted to share our transition with our wider community to update you, and also to invite your thoughts, visions, and feedback for us. thank you for supporting us this far, and we can't wait to share with you what is coming next!

 

SPIRAL 2016

we are filled up with gratitude for the incredible cohort who gathered to dive deeply into social and environmental justice, farming, feminism, radical community building, feasting, play, joyful living, and truth- talking this summer. it's hard to sum up the project neatly-- easier to let some pictures do the talking.

we would like to thank all our collaborators, supporters, and friends who helped make spiral come alive. it truly takes a village to hold a project like this, and we thank you for showing up in all the ways you do-- as teachers, donors, mentors, conspirators, farmers, allies, herbalists, and supporters of all kinds. we are humbled and beyond grateful.

people power confronts shutesbury's best crop: rocks

people power confronts shutesbury's best crop: rocks

field guides, all day every day as part of our sit-spot daily practice

field guides, all day every day as part of our sit-spot daily practice

making paper as part of a mending patriotism project exploring the politics of daily materials

making paper as part of a mending patriotism project exploring the politics of daily materials

dye test fabric as part of a fibers + global trade class

dye test fabric as part of a fibers + global trade class

presenting designs for a 170 acre property

presenting designs for a 170 acre property

medicine wheel/ natural cycle

medicine wheel/ natural cycle

visiting rice paddies, learning about traditional miso-making

visiting rice paddies, learning about traditional miso-making

guest teacher prof. sommers (who builds bridges between the academic and practitioner spheres) teaching us about archival documents, particularly old cookbooks, diaries, and other amazing primary sources from the pioneer valley that connected us to the land's history as seen through the lens "women's work."

guest teacher prof. sommers (who builds bridges between the academic and practitioner spheres) teaching us about archival documents, particularly old cookbooks, diaries, and other amazing primary sources from the pioneer valley that connected us to the land's history as seen through the lens "women's work."

all. the. waterfalls.

all. the. waterfalls.

an elevator speech for 'permaculture'

I have taught permaculture for several years, guest-teaching in other people’s permaculture design courses (PDCs) and running my own. And yet when people ask me what ‘permaculture’ means, I often still falter when trying to scrape together words to quickly present what I spend all my time doing.

It’s challenging to put complicated ideas into a short sound bite. Much of what I love about permaculture are its broad-reaching implications and infinite permutations. Permaculture isn’t just “a method of gardening” (often how I hear it discussed). Permaculture informs us about the ways we might educate our children, work out our conflicts, invest our money. It can serve to help us puzzle through complex, systems-level problems. It challenges us to seek long-term, collaborative, creative solutions. I love permaculture’s wide array of uses and feel myself shrinking back from limiting permaculture to one quick definition.

Many permaculturalists struggle with how to summarize permaculture. I have attended the wonderful 'Women in Permaculture' conference that happens at the Omega Center every year. Two years ago we spent much of our precious time together discussing the need for and “elevator speech” – an accessible way to present permaculture to those unfamiliar with the movement. Needless to say, we didn’t get around to creating one.

We may also shy away from trying to agree on one succinct explanation of permaculture because of the nature of permaculture itself. We know that permaculture must be, due to its nature, of and for each specific place and person who implements it. We want to allow it to take on a local flavor and use and don’t want to box it in to what it “should” look like everywhere.

I do not want to prescribe what applied permaculture will look like everywhere. But I do want to suggest that not sharing more of an easy sense of how to present permaculture to the wider world may be holding permaculture back from gaining broader traction. Toby Hemenway has a great article extolling the importance of naming what permaculture is and isn’t, in order to not allow permaculture to spiral out of control, cult-like, gobbling any good idea in its path and naming it “permaculture.”

We must speak with simplicity and clarity to a world unfamiliar with our jargon-heavy language. How can we work together to find clear language that invites others in rather than keeping them out? How can we name the work we want to do so that others can easily see what kind of tool permaculture is?

Mollison (one of the people who coined the term) says permaculture “is a design system for creating sustainable human environments.” While I don’t disagree, ‘sustainable’ has lost much of its meaning. His definition falls short of naming the importance that justice has in permaculture design. [You can read through other folks’ offering their definitions here.]

When I think about the core of permaculture, I look to its ethics. The ethics of 'earth care, people care, and fair share' are the pillars on which all of permaculture rests. And so, when people ask what my work is, I say, “Permaculture is a system to help come up with creative solutions. It is a tool that helps us solve problems in ways that are good and just for the earth and are good and just for people.” That’s it. I'm trying to drop jargon-y words like “regenerative” that have little meaning to the wider world and start getting specific, simple, and clear.

This little pitch is truly what I think permaculture is, and any strategies that might emerge from it (like community schools, rain barrels, co-housing or urban tree planting) are simply solutions people have come up with while using the system. Permaculture isn’t the answer. It’s just a tool for figuring out good solutions.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have on how you explain permaculture. I welcome feedback or critique; I hope to use this blog as a way to puzzle through my own questions and gain community around this work!

 

 

 

new addition to the farm crew!

growing your own food makes amos get his boogie on

growing your own food makes amos get his boogie on

the blog has been laying low for a while, because at the tail end of 2015, we welcomed in our newest farm crew member-- amos spencer lightberg! he's already helping feed the chickens, boil maple, and plan our veggie, herb, and flower gardens for the summer. we're over the moon in love with this little guy and can't wait for you to meet him!

halloween tree planting party!

We are having a tree-planting party at Dig In Farm on Saturday, October 31st-- Halloween! It's a party in the morning! Outside! With baby trees!

Come plant + feast with us + revel in the glorious late autumn.

First we'll have a mini-lesson on how to plant a tree and make sure it's cozy and tucked in to its new home perfectly. Then we'll be planting them. You need exactly zero experience to participate.

We’re planning to get between 50 and 100 fruit trees and berry bushes (some Asian and European pears, apples, pawpaws, cherries, persimmons, raspberries, blueberries, and more!) tucked in to the earth before winter. Come dig in the soil, frolic with friends, and join in the seasonal merriment. If you have extra shovels and want to bring them, that's awesome. Feel free to bring musical instruments if that’s more your style and you can be the entertainment.

We’ll have oodles of baked goodies, spiced popcorn, warm apple cider and other delights. After we plant for a couple of hours, we'll have a delicious lunch-- some chili and cornbread and other vittles-- to fill your bellies. Feel free to bring potluck food if you feel up to it, but no pressure. Come in costume if that’s your thing. (Please feel extra free to bring candy corn, if that’s your thing.)

When: 9:30 am – 12:30 pm: planting, 12:30 pm - on: lunch feasting (we're keeping it early so you can get all your Halloween prep needs met later, although we will be kicking it all day so you are welcome to stay/ hangout/ keep playing music or knock on our door for treats.)

Where: 35 Leverett Road, Shutesbury MA 01072 (right across from the fire station, down the long driveway in the back)

Wear: Your best costume OR your best planting clothes OR whatever will keep you warm, cozy and happy outside for a few hours.

Bring: If you want to bring something potluck style to share, that would be wonderful, but no pressure. Same with shovels. And bringing any friends is of course totally welcome.

tending chickens at eight months pregnant under a full moon

I lay in our bed, stomach as taut and round as the harvest blood moon eclipsing above us. I am nearly eight months pregnant, full of life that wriggles and presses and practices swallowing to prepare himself to enter this wild, hungry-making world. The baby rolls and my whole stomach undulates, an immense wave of motion tugging at me as I try to fall asleep.

             Before Jacob left for school this morning, he screwed the last few pieces of fencing to a new, portable chicken coop for our young ‘Freedom Rangers’, birds we will harvest the same week the baby is due. They will be our meat for the winter, fortifying my body after it loses blood and is cranking out milk. We have been feeling guilty; we haven’t been taking the kind of care with these birds that we want to. We have these beliefs about ourselves that we are good animal caretakers who give their animals the lives they deserve. And yet we have other jobs, other responsibilities, and this batch of birds had stayed in a small pen for much longer than we felt good about. And so we have been eager, out of both love and guilt, to finish this coop and put them on pasture, give them green grass and new scratch every day.

            We finished the coop in the morning and plopped the birds in, watching them delight at the fresh violets between their feet, the space to frolic and flap their wings and run at each other, half playing and half asserting pullet dominance. We worried that the coop remained a little unsafe for them; there is no floor so they can peck, and there is always a danger of some voracious fox tunneling under the bottom to lustily grab some tender meat for late night feasts. We had long planned to buy electric fencing, but it’s incredibly expensive and we hadn’t mustered the courage to do it yet.

            Last night we found ourselves at a farmers supply store in the fifteen minutes squeezed in between our day jobs and our birthing class, where we practice moving our hips and how to moan deep and bovine to make it through difficult contractions. We grabbed a white bundle of electric netting, not yet the tangled mess of wire it so often becomes on farms, and slipped off into class.

            After two and a half hours of practicing hip-pressing and trying to hide the fact that I was tearing up through a video of a woman lowing as a wet, blue, sticky baby head emerged from between her legs, cracking his mother wide open until she wept with joy as the baby was laid on her chest, we were tired. We drove the forty minutes back home and wanted to plunge straight in to bed. And yet we worried about the chickens. Something might come exploring in the night, a mouthy rat or greedy raccoon, eager and opportunistic to chew on one or more of our babies.

            We ended up grumpy with each other, each not wanting to erect the fence but also not wanting to be the one to direct us to bed without trying. We lugged the heavy fence under the moonlight out to the pasture where the birds were quietly nestled into a mass on the ground. They have a roost bar but seem so far to prefer a large puddle of cozy warm feathers.

            We unrolled the fencing, using headlamps to read the directions off of the charger: ‘Dig grounding rods six feet into ground. DANGER OF ELECTROCUTION if rods not properly grounded.’ We forged ahead, spreading the wire netting out in front of us, strategizing about using rebar or random wires to send the charge through. Slowly we came to the decision that trying to electrify wiring on a damp night in the dark, exhausted, was not safe. Dying via electric shock in the dark was simply not worth the risk of a predator ambling by.

        We went to bed. We fell asleep in that strange, full-moon sleep when it’s still bright outside and feels like almost-morning in the dead of night. Suddenly electrified, I sat bolt upright as I heard a terrible, high-pitched screaming ringing out from behind the house where the chicken coop sat. I yelled out, “THE CHICKENS!” and Jacob and I leapt out of bed simultaneously. He ran to the back of the house and flung open a window, shouting NO! at the top of his lungs, while I took the stairs two and three at a time, flinging open the back door and running into the field, illuminated by the foggy moonlight. I saw nothing. No activity, no commotion.

“Grace, it’s a porcupine. It’s just a porcupine,” Jacob called down to me, his voice evening out, but still heavy with breath from the sprint. A lumbering figure huffed down a nearby ancient apple tree and trundled off into the forest, miffed at having his late night snack and song interrupted. All the chicks lay where we had left them, cozy and oblivious.

I have never heard a porcupine calling for a mate before, but it’s a truly harrowing sound, high-pitched like a baby in extreme distress. Since he was perched at the top of trees to wail his yearning, the song carried across our field, ricocheting off the aged stonewalls and back into our house, strong and supplicating. This grumpy porcupine steals our crab apples and leaves them half-chewed with quills strewn around in the morning, but he poses no real threat to our flock. He simply wants sweet fruits and a mate, and happened to be calling out into the darkness on a harvest moon night, hoping some other lonely soul might lumber his way.

My belly tickled as I felt my baby stretch. Is this what the scary part of parenting will be? Trying our best, not doing enough, fearing that we failed, leaping up in the moonlight to protect our young from threats, real and imagined? Will we forever be sleeping with one ear open, ready to spring up together and charge into action?

The two of us padded back to bed, awake and relieved and tender, the fussiness with each other from our fencing struggle erased through our shared protective love of our animals. We snuggled down into our summer quilt, almost not warm enough anymore and pressed our bodies up close. Jacob began to breathe deeply soon, his warm stomach soothing the ache in my lower back. As he began to doze off he whispered tenderly into my ear, ‘You will be such a great mom.’

 

 

 

 

 

spiral, 2015!

spiral whole crew

“This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I have learned so much here and have made so many beautiful and meaningful connections with people from all over!” - Siena, 15

and just like that, the inaugural summer of spiral has come to an end! we had fifteen high school and college students, four recently graduated college students, one cook, and three directors living here at Dig In for a whole month. and what an unbelievable month it was.

first of all, each of our the fantastic participants completed a full Permaculture Design Certificate, presenting amazing master plans for the farm at the end of the month. we were blown away by their whole-systems thinking. they are now ready to enter the permaculture world as designers, applying the ethics of earth care, people care, and fair share to all their studies and projects.

we also took a number of incredible field trips around the area to learn from other teachers and leaders. we spent time with Jonathan at Food Forest Farm in Holyoke, Leila at Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Kate at Bug Hill Farm in Ashfield, Jono and Kemper at Hickory Gardens in Leverett, Christian at South River Miso in Conway, Jade at Milk and Honey Herbs in Shutesbury, Jill at Winterberry Farm in Colrain, Lilly at UMass Permaculture, as well as guest speaker Evelyn from Broadfork Permaculture. we're so grateful for all the teaching they shared with us this month.

what blew us away more than any of the particular classes or field trips was the incredible group of people who came together this summer. they were consistently thoughtful, hard working, positive, connecting, and visionary. we feel so hopeful about the future knowing these young people.

we are immensely grateful for all the support we had to launch spiral this year, as well as for the students and parents who took a leap of faith in coming to a new program. we are filled up with joy and gratitude and are already scheming for summer of 2016!

spiral, thus far!

weeding in dill

weeding in dill

pounding pigment for dye tests

pounding pigment for dye tests

creating new terraces

creating new terraces

mending and stitching on the quilt for mending patriotism

mending and stitching on the quilt for mending patriotism

pea tending love

pea tending love

learning to carve

learning to carve

outdoor classroom

outdoor classroom

clearing some field edge

clearing some field edge

prepping veggies for fermenting

prepping veggies for fermenting

bowdrilling for fire

bowdrilling for fire

the crew assembles!

IMG_1062.JPG

mentors are here for the spiral summer program! we are in heaven, busting out a ton of work building infrastructure, prepping the garden, cooking delicious food, and bonding as a staff.

one of our amazing mentors, emma, is keeping a blog about her summer experiences. if you want to read her glorious blog as she lives here for the summer, check her (and us) out here!

 

overwhelmed with gratitude

we just finished our indiegogo campaign and are utterly bowled over by the immense outpouring of love and support from friends, family, and collaborators. i've always thought it was cheesy when i've given money and heard back "we couldn't do this without you" -- but now i realize that is absolutely true. we couldn't be doing this without you. over the last month you all came together, shared the message, contributed your money and time and effort, signal boosted, wrote things about this work on blogs and Facebook pages, shared with your communities, invested in radical education and together MADE IT HAPPEN.

this is truly community supported education. with all of your help, we are able to support almost twenty young women, who come from a wide variety of economic backgrounds, in attending Spiral this summer.  as part of the course, we will be talking a lot about economic justice; how to share capital and distribute resources fairly around communities. we will certainly be using this indiegogo campaign as an example of successful community support and "fair share".

we are totally humbled by all of your incredible generosity, and deeply inspired to make this program the best it can possibly be to do justice to your amazing support. we are ready to work. thank you, thank you, thank you.

Indiegogo Campaign!!

spiral header

friends! we are so thrilled to announce the launch of our indiegogo campaign. we are aiming to raise $10,000 to support students who cannot pay full tuition to our summer Spiral permaculture program. check out our campaign here!

one of our donors just wrote this of giving to the campaign,

"Over the years I've found myself giving money to organizations organized around issues. While I'm committed to the issues addressed by the organizations I give to, and many of them think holistically about fighting social injustices, it often feels like this model neglects the points of overlap in all issues of injustice. I'm writing to share my excitement for a permaculture design program for high school women called Spiral. I've learned about permaculture over the years from some incredibly inspiring friends deeply committed to social justice. As I understand permaculture design, the idea is to build a solution to a problem that addresses not just an individual issue, but imagines the system surrounding that issue. In permaculture design, you think about the network of causes creating a problem, and also the impact any given solution will have on the world surrounding that problem. With permaculture design, a group thinks through how to solve a problem in a way that will work in the long term, rather than slapping a bandaid on a problem and cleaning up any following problems after the fact.

Through Spiral, a group of 16 high school aged young women will come together on a working farm in Western Massachusetts to earn Permaculture design certification. I am SO excited about the program and the idea. First, there's no better way to start healing some of the issues in the world than to give a group of engaged young folks the tools to think holistically about directing energy and passion towards new solutions. Second, part of permaculture design is learning to live in community. If we're going to tackle the world's problems in an all-encompassing way, we've got to do it together, and knowing how to consider each other is part of that work. I think a summer intensive, where a group is living and working together, will give so many amazing opportunities to think and talk through how to do that."

We hope so! Please check out the campaign, and kick in any funds you have to share! spread the word to your networks! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

maple season!

double bonus

double bonus

it's that magical time of year when SUGAR COMES OUT OF TREES. it's the end of winter, when we are all totally beaten down by the grey snowy tundra around us, when the first spring greens are still weeks, if not months, away, when THE TREES START MAKING SUGAR. this is proof that trees are our guardian angels and always have our backs.

the trees only have sap running for a very brief time of year. when it's warmer than freezing during the day, trees pump sap and sugars up their whole trunks to start getting powered back up from the spring. but when it's still freezing during the night, the trees have to pump all the water and sugar back down underground and store it in their roots, so that they don't freeze and explode. it's this up and down pumping action that moves the water and sugar (aka delicious nutritious maple sap) and makes the sap actually flow through the tree, which is why you can tap it out. thanks, trees!

the actual process is fairly simple. you wait until the right time of year (that's the trickiest part). [people say you only have abut 30 days until the tree heals over the hole you drill internally, but since that's about the length of the season, it's never been a problem for us.] you get a drill bit with a 7/16" (some people are now even using 5/16" bits) and drill in and slightly up into the tree, going only 2 to 2.5" in. you don't want to go too deep or you'll miss the good live layer where the sap is flowing.

maple drilling
jacob drilling

then you put in a spile (one of the spouts that flows the sap out), hammering it in with a piece of wood (you don't want to smush the metal by using a hammer). then you can hang your bucket (we got extra frosting tubs that our grocery stores gave us for free-- talk about an upgrade) and wait for the drip! you want to make sure you have a lid of some kind, otherwise flies and squirrels might get in there.

spile from which the goodness flows

spile from which the goodness flows

mama maple with two buckets

mama maple with two buckets

we've noticed that there is a difference depending on which side you hang the bucket on the tree. the south side warms up first, and pumps strong, but the north side will produce longest at the end of the season.

a note on size: you don't want to tap your trees too early-- if they are smaller than 10" in diameter, let them grow more before putting a tap in. folks say you can put in about 1 tap every 10" you have in diameter- so a big mama maple might have two or even three buckets hanging!

then you need to gather and strain your sap, (gather whenever you have a lot of sap...), getting out all the tree bark and squirrel nibbles (or whole squirrels) that might have happened to fall in. we used to use cheesecloth, now we use an old pillowcase. strongly prefer the pillowcase. then you have the pure, clean sap, ready to either be consumed (we use the sap to brew our tea or coffee and it is AMAZING), or boiled down to syrup.

sap to syrup is a 40:1 ratio, so you have to boil a lot of water off to get syrup. there are some trees now bred to be "super sweet"-- around 7% sugar content i believe, so if you are a forward thinker and want to leave an awesome legacy sugar bush (the incredibly awesome term for a stand of sugar maple trees) behind, you could plant those.

generally you boil outside for the bulk of the process (folks say boiling inside will peel off your wallpaper so much water comes out). we did boil inside one year, and our walls and ceilings had rivulets of sap for ages. so boil outside-- your boiling set up can be as high tech as a super sleek evaporator set up, or as basic as a pot over a fire (but then you should expect it to taste strongly of smoke). this year we didn't have a woodstove for outside to use, so we borrowed a deep fryer stand from a friend and hooked a propane tank up to it. you pour in the sap and boil it down all day, and it will change color and burble intoxicatingly.

getting it up to 219

getting it up to 219

boiling on the propane tank

boiling on the propane tank

when it gets low, you can bring it in to the house and boil it on the stove. you need to bring it to 219 degrees F (so you'll need a candy thermometer). at 219 it is syrup, and then stable. if you bring it hotter, it will turn to candy, and if you leave it lower and watery, it can mold. it's a fine science-- many times i have heated slightly too much and had jars with crystallization on the bottom.

so much maple lust

so much maple lust

we don't do actual canning or bottling of the syrup, we just clean jars, pour in the syrup, and keep it in the fridge. it keeps forever, but it's always eaten before then.

as you can see from the above picture, the color (and flavor) shift dramatically over the season, there is the lightest which comes first, and it darkens over the season. we did a tasting last year of syrups made across the season, and each had our own preferences. it certainly made us laugh that any of the syrups are sold as "fancy" or "grade b". all delicious and different.

maple syrup not only is a local source of sugar for us new englanders, but it contains health benefits-- trace minerals that the tree roots bring up that we don't normally get in our diets. so, so many thanks for the trees!

in the farm kitchen: february

spanish tortilla 1

There are a myriad of benefits to eating locally: increased health from eating whole ingredients, a strengthened food economy for local farmers and producers, less oil burned to transport our calories, a heightened connection with the seasons and the earth. But this time of year can feel challenging—what is available that is tasty and nourishing?

I’m starting this series, In the Farm Kitchen to highlight how we are using locally available, seasonal ingredients, and simple ways you can bring local, seasonal, healthy foods into your life (and in so doing create a quietly massive revolution in the food system).

One key piece of eating locally in winter is food storage. Root crops tend to be available all year (big thanks to local farmers, for growing and storing those for all us eaters!!), but it’s tough to get bright, fresh fruits in winter. To prep for winter, we always do an enormous berry harvest in summer and freeze at least a hundred pounds of fruit to eat through the winter. This morning my day started with a smoothie made from low bush blueberries grown in Heath. (That blueberry farm was amazing because it has been burned every three years [a practice that helps blueberries thrive] basically forever. For as long as people have been keeping track, that place has been a blueberry mountain. It's amazing.)

eggs in basket
blueberries 1

We also like to keep a jar of spouting seeds or beans on the windowsill behind our sink. We rinse these a handful or so of seeds every day and over the course of the week they grow to fill an entire mason jar. They keep us phytonutrient-fed even when the last of our kale is buried under four feet of snow outside.

Another key that unlocks the possibility of local eating for us are our chickens. (Our chickens are also super important for increasing the fertility on our farm. Our soil is really thin and depleted, and we take the chicken bedding filled with poo and spread it around areas where we want to be able to grow more food. Stack those functions.) Yesterday it was negative twenty in the night, and our chickens are still laying eggs galore for us. Thirteen just yesterday! We will be able to gobble all those eggs up no problem during Spiral, when we have fifteen young women living with us over the summer, but now it’s certainly a lot.

IMG_3634.jpg

I’ve been making frittatas and frying eggs like crazy, and today a dear friend sent me a recipe for a Spanish tortilla, made with eggs and potatoes. This recipe is awesome because a) it’s easy, b) it’s delicious c) it’s gluten-free, and I’m building a recipe arsenal for this summer, since one of our Spiral participants is totally gluten-free, and finally because d) western mass in February can easily offer up all these ingredients.

spanish tortilla

I wish you could know how crazy good this smells. The recipe I used is from Food52, and the link is here. What are you cooking in your farm-fresh winter kitchens??

 

living and exploring "women's work"

spiral print

Annie Dillard wrote that "how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." In an effort to examine the normally unexamined, today I tried to notice all the quotidian work I do in order to see what kind of patterns pulse beneath.

 I got up at six, and after groaning at the thermometer, scrolling through instragram (being honest), and making the bed, I shared a cup of coffee with Jacob (well again, to be honest-- Jacob drank something wholesome like nettle or dandelion root, proving yet again his body is a temple and mine is a caffeine tank). By seven he was out the door for his long commute to his high school. I debated going out to do the chicken chores, but since the thermometer read an unbelievable -17, I decided to work instead on finishing up a quilt for a friend’s new baby. This sweet new person came into the world just a few weeks ago, and her mama labored to birth her for three whole days. We both really like this family—they are new in our lives, but have the spark of friends that could be dear and long-lasting. I wanted to make something homemade and useful, and figured something cozy, warm, and bright would be good for starting a family in the dead of winter. For an hour and a half I cut, ironed, and stitched a wild little blanket for a tiny person.

By eight thirty I wanted to make sure the chickens had water and food, so I bundled up and journeyed out to the coop. I cracked the frozen door open and was greeted by our two roosters crowing. I had been worried about them last night in the frigid dark, but we left them a light on in the coop to ease the chill. Still, my fears were confirmed when I inspected our rooster’s comb and noticed a few little black spots, signs his comb was hit with frost bite. I felt terrible, racked with guilt for not keeping them all warmer. I ran inside, read up on treating frostbite online (it’s like a WebMD overdose, but adding the search term ‘chicken’, and after learning the trick was not letting them get gangrene(!), armed myself with a little cup of antibiotic resistant ointment. Goo in one hand, rooster in the other, I tried to dress his little chicken wounds and smear a protective coating over his comb to prevent further infection. Needless to say, he didn’t love it.

I began to think that giving the chickens some hay instead of the woodchips we normally fill the coop with (chips are free; hay costs money) could help keep them a little more insulated and prevent further frostbite. I quickly threw in a load of laundry that had gotten chicken poo all over them, made a grocery list, and drove the s-curves down out of our hill town into town twenty minutes away. There I deposited farm checks at the bank (thankfully) and went to the grocery store, loading up on food for our home while in town. (We have been eating a lot of rice, beans, and sweet potatoes lately—we’re pretty wholly ready for early spring crops to return.) I swung through the farmer’s supply store, picking up more feed for the birds as well as a bale of hay. We chatted briefly about maple, and when the season would start, or if it just wouldn’t this year.

I arrived home and dumped the grain into the shed, then spread hay out for the birds. After collecting ten eggs, I thanked the birds, and checked to make sure their water hadn’t frozen. (We bought a heated waterer that had a sparky scare, was rebuilt twice, and sometimes still freezes on the top, so it’s always worth checking.) I refilled laundry.

After grabbing some quick food to put in my face, I had a phone interview with an applicant for our Spiral summer program. We talked about her passions and work teaching younger kids about farming and social justice, about living in community and how to resolve conflict. She told me she plans to start an alternative school when she gets out of college and wants to use permaculture design to get there. We talked about Mending Patriotism, the month long Permaculture Design Course, and how we are raising money to make the program truly accessible to young women from all backgrounds. Through our conversation my heart swelled with inspiration and I felt grateful for having put in (and continuing to put in) the less sexy work—accounting, marketing, outreach, fundraising—needed to make the engine of Spiral go.

After our conversation, I received several emails from a helpful friend putting me in touch with schools with students for the summer program. I wrote back and forth with some of these folks: intro emails, chatty emails, professional emails. I worked on a script I have been writing for a fundraising campaign. I told our story, again and again, each time in a new way.

While writing to people I have never met in the flesh, building on stories and shared friendships, I was suddenly struck by how every piece of my work today has felt deeply, thoroughly "women's work". So much of my day had been about keeping animals, people, and spaces warm and fed. Of doing work that will need to be done again and again—buying and making food that will get eaten, cleaning a coop that will be filthy by tomorrow, washing clothes that will again get soiled, and building relationships that take time and energy.

I began to realize so much of what I think of as traditionally “women’s work” is just this: oikos-- cyclical tending. Oikos feeds the engine of a business, or farm, or family. Jacob and I definitely share this kind of work—it certainly doesn’t fall only to me. He washes dishes, cooks meals, does laundry and shovels muck (and so much more snow) like I do. But at its core, something deeply feminine underlies my work.

At its core, all the work I do it about relationship. About tending to relationships, of friends, community (both personal and professional), animals, family, place. Whether I am working as a farmer, a teacher, a friend, or a wife, what I care about is strengthening the fibers of our web of relationships. I love Joanna Macy’s idea of ‘the work that reconnects.’ I want to claim traditionally coded ‘women’s’ work' as simply ‘work that reconnects’—ancient, necessary, powerful, cyclical, revolutionary, quotidian work, no matter who does it, of whatever gender expression-- work that keeps us warm, nourished, and connected. In building relationships and tending them well, we are strong enough together to do what we cannot alone, safe and warm enough to act with boldness.

step one: observation

the piles of woodchips and compost are hot spots for fox visitors

the piles of woodchips and compost are hot spots for fox visitors

our cozy living room; ample books for inspiration & winter reflection

our cozy living room; ample books for inspiration & winter reflection

ah, the joys of plant-list-making

ah, the joys of plant-list-making

I am a person who like to get things done. I know it’s important to move slowly, take space for self-care, rest, and rejuvenation, but honestly, that’s not how I thrive. I want to throw myself fully into projects, to stay up late and wake up early to complete them. I feel anxious if I’m not planning and enacting. I want to feel that I am living a life that challenges me to live fully and do more.

Which is why the first step of the permaculture design process is particularly challenging to me. We are asked to start with observation. Simply observing forms the foundation on which the rest of the design process rests. The idea goes: without sufficient observation, I am just imposing whatever pre-conceived idea I have of what should happen (whether on the land, in my personal relationships, or with my work). Observation asks us to fully listen to the place (or relationship, moment, or task) that we are in, to explore what it wants, and then to base our design off of what would truly serve.

mittens and tools by the door

mittens and tools by the door

rooster all up in the next box, just trying to stay cozy

rooster all up in the next box, just trying to stay cozy

We moved to Shutesbury to start Dig In Farm in July, and I was chomping at the bit to get projects started, implement designs that had been floating around my head for the last several years. I wanted to make a massive site map and plan out what we would plant and build for the next one, ten, fifty years. I still want that.

But that wasn’t reality. Our home needed a lot of work before it was livable, and we didn’t end up moving here until November. Fall and winter came quickly and intensely—our land has mostly been under a foot or more of snow since Thanksgiving. We’ve been spending time inside drinking tea to stay warm, visiting with old friends and making new ones, working on computer-based projects, and bundling up to walk in the woods on sunny days. We’ve been figuring out the kinks of keeping chickens happy through the winter, often shoveling their coop and yard before our own driveway.

But this nature-imposed pause has led me to the first step of permaculture design despite my innate “make a to-do list and crank it out!” tendencies. We have been spending time tracking on our land, and have learned about the neighbors who already live here. (Jacob says that tracking is like reading the newspaper in the morning.) There are two owls who fly through in the early morning to find their resting spots on the back of the forested part of our land.  Red and grey foxes meander through the woodpile in the morning, and a coyote likes to use the stone wall as a road. There’s a wet low spot where a few low bush blueberries are nestled near a mama of a witch hazel; big old sugar maples and a small stand of birch that might one day offer some spearmint-y syrup.

one cool effect of so much snow is getting to see exactly where we need paths and what our zones are

one cool effect of so much snow is getting to see exactly where we need paths and what our zones are

we've been drinking a ton of nettle + skullcap + lemon balm + linden + meadowsweet for a nervine & immune booster

we've been drinking a ton of nettle + skullcap + lemon balm + linden + meadowsweet for a nervine & immune booster

It helps me to think of the first step of observation like the first step of nonviolent communication: listening. In order to really understand what someone else is saying, you have to listen before coming up with some response. Otherwise you’re just waiting for your chance to speak. (Lord knows I’ve been there.) Similarly with permaculture, and having a relationship to place, you have to listen to the land, its patterns and its potential, its hidden secrets and its challenges.

We haven’t stopped planning and scheming and dreaming about this land, but we’ve stopped pretending it’s all going to be figured out soon. We are still reading seed catalogs and doodle possible herb garden spots over coffee in the morning, but we’re becoming comfortable knowing that this year it’s likely the land will look very much like last year. And that we will start small: we will implement projects in little chunks, and see how the place responds. While it’s very hard for me to lay down my mindset as the person who has a plan for everything, all the time, it’s the only way I can come into real relationship with a place and a process. It’s also the only way to grow anything that will actually thrive.

announcing... Spiral!

spiral logo.png

it's a new year & a huge new project here at Dig In Farm! we are THRILLED (beyond thrilled! ecstatic) to announce the launch of Spiral, a residential summer permaculture design course for women in high school and during their gap years!

we have been working tirelessly for months (years!) to vision, conceptualize, design, and launch this project, and we are so, so excited we can hardly stand it. here's the equation:  intensive farming experience + radical justice education + permaculture design course + community living + young women leaders + incredible mentors + all the delicious food + outdoor living = one amazing summer and our small contribution to world-wide [agri]cultural revolution.

a few key stats about the Spiral experience: it's one month (june-july); residential on our small farm in western mass; a permaculture design course; for women ages 15-18; sliding scale. social justice, resilient farming, deep community, and abundant joy form the core principles of the program.

poke around on our site! contact us with questions, and spread the word to any women in high school you might know who will be into this.

AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!

giving thanks

our little house peeping through in the back

our little house peeping through in the back

wild cranberries we picked at the quabbin reservoir

wild cranberries we picked at the quabbin reservoir

love this picture of my mama in the awesome hat she whipped up

love this picture of my mama in the awesome hat she whipped up

cozy chicken just wants to stay in and read with some tea

cozy chicken just wants to stay in and read with some tea

crazy delicious chocolate cake tower with chocolate sour cream frosting

crazy delicious chocolate cake tower with chocolate sour cream frosting

we turned cranberries into everything

we turned cranberries into everything

this week offered so much to be thankful for at Dig In Farm. there were a lot of firsts (first time hosting both of our families for thanksgiving, making us finally feel like full grown adults), first time eating meat in over 15 years (whew-- there was a lot of thought and intention that went in to that decision-- see last post if curious-- but as for the actual experience of eating it: it's chewy! who knew?), first big snowstorm of the season (during which my family constructed a seven-foot tall snowy owl outside my kitchen window that has been slowly melting all week), first time jacob made insane sweet-cream-cheese-filled bagel bites (!!!) from the momofuku cookbook (hopefully a first of many, many more times).

we cooked, feasted, and played joy of cooking charades, during which my highlight of the week occurred: my brother attempting to act out "haricot green beans with balsamic vinaigrette."

we have a lot of exciting projects brewing here, coming soon. for now, here are some pictures of this winter wonderland-- come visit. we'd love to cook you a feast.

on raising, loving, killing, and eating (?) animals

chicken

Today we killed one of our beloved chickens. I held its little body while J cut its throat. As it reacted and tried to wriggle from my hands, I sobbed, but I kept my grip tight so that it would die with as much peace and steadiness as possible.

 I was shocked at the strength of my response. After all, I had thought I was getting tough to this sort of thing. I saw two enormous pigs killed this year (truly made me glad kashrut [kosher dietary law] has decided for me never to eat these animals…) and helped with the eviscerating when friends did a run of 150 pasture-raised birds for their CSA members. But I had never done the deed myself, had never felt a body filled with life first spasm and flail and then go still. I had never killed an animal that I myself had raised, had lovingly cared for every day, bringing fresh greens and clean water and organic grain, shoveling shit and gazing adoringly at him for hours.

I had grown to love this bird with my quotidian care. And then I had killed it.

We killed this chicken not for food, but because it was sick. Last week it just stopped getting up. Its legs became paralyzed and it couldn’t get food or water. Other chickens would trample it; it called out in pain. We knew it was the right thing to do to end its suffering (not to mention stop the spread of a bad chicken disease and protect the flock) but that did not make it any easier.

This mercy killing was a prelude to a much larger debate raging inside myself. Killing animals is something I have been furiously wrestling with for the last year. I was raised vegetarian and I haven’t eaten meat in over fifteen years. When I was young, my desire not to eat meat largely stemmed from a love of animals and repulsion to the idea of killing them. When I got older, my ideas about environmental stewardship mandated eating lower on the food chain and vegetarianism felt bolstered again. After graduating college I lived at a residential school that kept a vegetarian kitchen. Not eating meat was an easy choice for me, my beliefs lying pretty much unquestioned.

But the deeper in to the food world I explored, the more desire I had to take ownership over the calories I consumed. I noticed that although I wasn’t eating meat, I was certainly eating a ton of animal products. Dairy is a staple of our diet—milk and cheese and yogurt find their way into our bowls in some form at almost every meal. And the more I learned about dairy, the more I realized that death and dying were certainly a part of that system as well. (There’s no need for boy calves that are born to nursing milkers….) Not to mention that there are different human health implications to eating a cool block of cheese rather than, say, a piece of chicken. (No judgment there. Lord knows I do it on the reg.)

Even more important, when I didn’t choose dairy but instead opted for some soy product—tofu or tempeh or tofurkey (heavens to betsy – guilty pleasure!), I began to realize those products (and the massive amounts of fields of soybeans and corn they required) were involved in the clearing of rainforests, massive species die off, topsoil erosion, and enormous uses of pesticides that flow into our waters and poison the ocean. yikes.

I began to appreciate the idea of local food. While I do not believe that farms near to you have inherently better practices than others, I do believe in the power that you can go and find out. You can ask that farmer what she sprays. You can see how much space those chickens have. Most important, you are removing the idea that food comes from “away.” Just as there is no “away” for trash (where does it go when the trucks pick it up?) there is no “away” for food. Growing food is part of a system of life and death. Even vegetables require animal manure to thrive. Death gives birth to life which ends in death, and so on.

And so I began to get excited about not only eating as local as possible (God help me with coffee and chocolate. I pray for a heated tropical greenhouse one day), but wanted to become as much a producer as a consumer. Jacob and I set the intention of trying to (eventually) produce 50% of the calories we required. (The great thing is with community, we don’t need to grow everything. If you already have an awesome sweet potato storage system, rad-- I don’t need to worry about it, and am happy to rely on you for those. Being entirely self-reliant and silo-ed for some weird zombie apocalypse is not my goal. But being [at least] equal parts producer and consumer certainly is.) Immediately we realized that animals, in some form, would have to be involved in any such system if we were going to get serious about what we humans require to stay alive.

And so we ordered chickens, half of them to keep for eggs, half of them to kill for meat. We have been raising them for the last two and a half months, and I have fallen in love with them. They have personalities. They are funny and soothing to be around. They peck at greens we grew for them, the play with worms they dig up from the soil. How am I going to kill these little guys and eat them?

I don’t have any easy answers. There is no way around it; the fact that we rely on death in some form is a painful one. And yet I also do believe that scale matters, intention matters. I agree with my vegetarian self that we DO need primarily to eat lower on the food chain—that having a primarily animal meat diet makes us not only unhealthy, but irresponsible global citizens. But I also have come to believe that contending that any diet is free from implications of death is a fallacy as well.

The Baal Shem Tov (a mystical Jewish leader) wrote about the work of being a shochet, a person who slaughters animals. He said that each time the shochet kills, he should cry so many tears they can wash the blade clean. As I held the chicken and let its ‘nefesh,’ its blood and life force, drain to the ground, my tears flowed with it. My unease doesn’t make me think that I will be wrong to eat meat when we do slaughter chickens in a few weeks, it makes me human. (Although I still don't know what it will be like to eat meat!) When I forget the real sacrifice made to keep me alive, I lose a crucial piece of my humanity. But when I think I can somehow keep myself apart from the circle of life through my diet, I might be ignoring my place (and my responsibility as a conscious steward) in the natural order of things.

My views don't feel cemented on this at all; I will see what comes as my work and life with animals grows, changes, and deepens. Any thoughts you have are always warmly welcomed. 

 

 

inspiration

this is a summer throwback, but it certainly inspires! this was an epic farm in heath that has been in blueberries for hundreds of years.

this is a summer throwback, but it certainly inspires! this was an epic farm in heath that has been in blueberries for hundreds of years.

sometimes I just need some inspiration. it's important for me to remember there are SO MANY good people doing incredible work-- check out the folks below, or add your own beacons of inspiration in comments. (commenting is a thing people do on the internet, right?) have a fantastic tuesday!

Wendell Berry. Particularly this poem.

Wes Jackson. Particularly this perennial wheat project.

Carla Perez. Particularly this justice and ecology work.

Lisa Fernandes. Particularly this focus on social permaculture.

Abraham Heschel. Particularly this sense of the need for sacred rest.

Dorothy Day. Particularly this sense of personal responsibility.

Vandana Shiva. Particularly this speaking truth to power.

Penny and James Stark. Particularly their commitment to slow solutions.

Joanna Macy. Particularly her fierce hope.

Rob Hopkins. Particularly his work on positive transition.