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.

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.

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. 

 

 

herbal satchels

yep, this is a sweet iphone snap. BOOM.

yep, this is a sweet iphone snap. BOOM.

it's the final push for the high holiday season. we've just finished up sukkot (harvest fest-- YAY) and tonight is simchat torah, where we get to dance around because we're so excited that we got the good book. it's pretty awesome. this is a picture i snapped a couple weeks ago while i was prepping herbs to make smelling satchels with some teens on yom kippur.

on yom kipps we fast all day, and so we get to think about our other senses. we harvested lemon balm, oregano, lavender, pine needles, and mixed them with a little chopped up natural soap to tie up smelly satchels. we passes out the bundles of smelly fun to the congregation for the afternoon services when everyone is grumpy and hungry and trying to stay focused on their praying and not faint. (interesting side note: it's said that smell was the only sense not implicated in the original sin [you know, the one with the apple and snake and all that] so it is somehow a holier sense! who knew?)

these little bags are lovely for reminding us to be aware and present, even when it isn't a high holiday! (we just harvested fresh herbs and tied them in a little cheese cloth with twine. bam! martha stewart up in here.) if you left the soap out, they would make perfect fresh tea bags.

chick love

i'm so in love. we've only had these little biddies for a week, and already they are so much bigger than when they arrived. they love cuddling up in piles, eating their body weight in grain, and playing a game where one of them picks up one woodchip (of thousands), and runs around like crazy while the rest try to steal the coveted shred. we're pretty much best friends already.

day old peepers

day old peepers

i don't think i need to say much about these guys. i strongly suggest you order some, and get ready to receive the most adorable package of all time from the most relieved postman of all time (when you take these peepers off his hands.)

one week old and so grown up!

one week old and so grown up!

i love it when they cuddle puddle. also, why not just settle down in front of your food?

i love it when they cuddle puddle. also, why not just settle down in front of your food?