We have been working with around ten acres of mainly forested land in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. There we have an edible forest gardens, flower and vegetable gardens, a yurt classroom, and canvas tents for staying in the woods. We continue to care take that site and visit often, but no longer live on site. Read below for a history of that land.
After outgrowing that site, we recently moved to Burlington, VT and are in process of finding the right place to put down roots here, with the infrastructure and land that we need to run our programs.
Along with much of the rest of New England, glaciers used to cover this land. When the climate changed and the glaciers began to melt and retreat, they deposited minerals, rocks, and silt along their path. The Holyoke mountains caught the glaciers in this valley and collected their melting water into an enormous lake. This glacial reserve created deep and rich soils in nearby towns like Hadley and Amherst.
After the glaciers retreated, native people tended this land (now Franklin County) for thousands of years. The Pocomtuc people, who spoke a dialect of the Algonquin language, farmed annual crops in rich soils nearby and probably hunted and managed the forests up in Shutesbury. They stewarded this land until settlers arrived here from Europe and decimated their population through disease and war. More about the Pocomtuc people here.
Farmers and settlers then moved on to these lands. The old stone walls that run through our forests offer signs of a time when this land was again farmed intensively. People say that these stone-filled forest hill towns were the "last land cleared, first land abandoned," because their marginal, rocky soils made them incredibly challenging for tilling-reliant annual agriculture. Luckily, fossil-fuel heavy annual agriculture isn't what we are excited about.
Our vision is to work with these forest lands to return them to productive, bio-diverse ecosystems that sink carbon, build soil, and grow nutritious, healthy food for people and animals. We are slowly learning this place and designing a perennial polyculture (a long-term, mixed species garden designed to work like a forest system) that will work with the land's natural pattern and produce delicious, bountiful food. Like any project worth doing, this won't happen overnight. We are excited for the journey-- to slowly work with this land, planting and tending fruit and nut trees that may feed our great-grandchildren. We are also living inter-generationally, teaching at nearby schools, and working on deepening our social system's interconnectedness and resiliency along with our farm system.
Our hope is that this site may grow to provide an example of how marginal forest land can support thriving farm ecosystems that will nourish people and the planet. And also that we have fun.
"The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope."
- Wendell Berry