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!

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.