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.

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.

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.