In Praise of Inefficiency

by Kimchi Rylander

Unplugging from consumer culture, living simply and building community . . . it’s not an easy path! As I review my past ten years here at Earthaven, I’ve discovered that letting go of efficiency may be a shortcut to village togetherness and happiness.

I owe so much gratitude to the Tribal Condo, one of the earliest timber framed, hand built structures at Earthaven and a place that I call home. While the original builders gained much needed skill, building with lumber hand harvested from the land, the house has minimal plumbing, salvaged leaky windows, and no inside insulation between floors. In essence, it’s a house that needs constant maintenance and care. In 2001, I took a leap of faith and bought into the 1000 sq ft “apartment” house.

In the early years, I wondered if I had made a poor decision. Clearly, this house was inefficient and likely to decay sooner than other homes. However, as Suchi (my house partner) and I began to maintain and repair it, we noticed how each episode offered a tremendous opportunity to connect and relate within the village.

One year, our roof blew off when a strong wind funneled down the mountain and pulled out purlins that had only been nailed (not screwed) in. Torrents of rain came down, and all the residents of our home crawled out on the roof at two o’clock in the morning to pull the tin back on. The next day, villagers offered to provide lodging for us and repair the damage. It was awesome how the community helped us through our “disaster!”

While efficiency offers a way to make the most of the available energy, time, and money we have on hand, it doesn’t always maximize opportunities for relationships in a community. Take a look at Nature: at one level it’s very inefficient, but at another level, it provides myriad opportunities to weave a tapestry of dense interdependency within a locale.

“If a house is built too well, so efficiently that it is permanent and refuses to fall apart, then people do not have a reason to come together. Though the house stays together, the people fall apart and nothing gets renewed. Coming together … to do communal tasks gracefully—tasks that a machine could do in an instant anonymously—or to repair rickety houses ensures the very smiley togetherness so missing in the pre-planned, alienated lives of modern civilization.” (Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Memoirs From the Living Heart of a Mayan Village, by Martín Pretchel.)

Suchi and I chuckled after discovering yet another item to be fixed in the house. “Please pass the bottle of inefficiency,” I decided. “I’d like to sprinkle some more of that on my plate of life.”

Kimchi Rylander is co-Firekeeper, and longtime member of Earthaven Ecovillage. An artist, deep ecologist, and permaculture activist, she is currently building delicious new cultural topsoil beginning in “her own backyard.”

Calf Adoption – A Surprising Success

LC (Large Cow)

By Liz Diaz

The harsh truth about milk is that it was made by a mother for a baby.  We take the baby cows away early in order to get the milk and in exchange offer care and food in other forms.

L.C. (Large Cow) has been bred 4 times, four years in a row, so that we may continue to have delicious, nutritious milk for our family.  While it is true that we separate momma from baby, we also make sure baby gets enough milk, fed to the calf via a bottle, two or three times a day.

But not this year.  This year L.C.’s calf would get adopted by L.C.’s daughter, who was due to calve around the same time as L.C.  If we could somehow convince Mireille (pronounced mee-ray) that she had given birth to 2 calves, then Mireille could serve as nursemaid and L.C.’s calf would have a bovine mama and get all the milk she wanted.  And we would get out of having to bottle feed, water, and otherwise take care of the young one which can be a tedious, daily task.

We figured it was worth a try, but we weren’t too hopeful.  I had read that it was

Mireille nursing her new calf, Kacow.

difficult to get a cow to adopt a calf that wasn’t her own.  Cows depend on their sense of smell to tell them a lot of things, including who their babies are—or are not.

But we had to try.  So when Mireille calved first, we froze the placenta.  When L.C. calved 10 days later, we pulled it out of the freezer to thaw.  We separated L.C.’s calf (named Coco) and (on the second day, after bottle feeding her colostrum for a day) we put her in the barn with Mireille’s calf (named KaCow).  Coco and KaCow spent about 8 hours together, with no mother, mixing smells, peeing on each other, and keeping each other company.  We can all tell you it wasn’t an easy 8 hours.  The calves were hungry and wanted their mommies.  Mothers were full of milk and wanted to feed their young.  The whole village could hear the incessant mooing.

Kacow and Coco

Finally, in the evening, we tied the placenta around Coco like a belt.  I rubbed the juices from the thawed placenta all over Coco—top to bottom—in hopes that she would smell like her big ½ sister (who is also her neice).

Then we brought Mireille into the barn, distracted her with some food, and reintroduced her to her “twins”.  There was definitely some confusion, but ultimately Mireille let Coco nurse!  We could hardly believe it.

Two more days of isolation and we let the calves into the field with their mother.  Again, we stood in disbelief as the two calves nursed with no real problems.

The true relief that it had worked came he next morning when Lee reported

Mireille nursing both calves

that Coco was nursing from Mireille while KaCow just laid contentedly on the ground next to them.  At that point, we could congratulate each other and the cows for a job well done.  As Lee says, everyone’s got a job on the farm, and Mireille is doing double duty.  We’re so proud.

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Diaz arrived as a work-exchange at Earthaven in the Spring of 2010, just in time to jump into Imani Farm, Village Terraces Neighborhood, and other exciting adventures. Her farm specialty is moody and unpredictable animals – of which she has many harrowing stories. She currently works for Useful Plants Nursery and takes care of Oakley Swiftcreek, her adopted nephew.

 

 

Pumpkin Carvin’

 

 

A cold and rainy day didn’t keep the pumpkin carvers away. There is a full week of activities at Earthaven Ecovillage to celebrate Halloween and one of my favorites is the annual pumpkin carving.

I went over to the Council Hall with my eight-month-old, Oakley, inside my rain jacket. I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to participate with him there but wanted to hang out anyway. I always loved pumpkin carving as a kid and was excited to introduce the tradition to him on his very first Halloween.

Before I even got in the building I noticed a small group of musicians standing in the middle of the room. It hadn’t been pre-planned, but what a treat to have live bluegrass music at this event.

A happy group of kids and their parents, along with a few witches, were already elbow deep in pumpkin guts when I got there. Some people were also hollowing out huge turnips and I learned that turnips where the original jack-o-lanterns. Legend has it that there was once a man named Jack who was so bad that when he died even the devil wouldn’t take him into the underworld and he was left to eternally wander the earth with his lantern. When European people came to America they brought their vegetable lantern carving tradition with them. I can only imagine how excited they were to learn about pumpkins, which I can tell you from direct observation, are a lot easier to carve than turnips. The challenge, however, did not stop Earthaveners from giving it a try and several beautiful turnip jack-o-lanterns sat next to the pumpkin ones decorating our Council Hall for the Samhian Ancestor Feast a few days later.

I saw a pumpkin getting carved with a pretty intricate face, one with a moon and stars, and one being cut into many curved ring layers. There were still pumpkins available so I thought I would give it a try and see how far I could get on a carving project of my own. I put Oakley on the floor and to my surprise he was perfectly happy playing with and tasting the pumpkin guts while I cut out super basic, classic triangle features.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Coffee Hour Market

Coffee Hour was started by Earthaven member Suchi in the summer of 2009. She was looking for a way to increase social opportunities and support the village economy. One picnic table outside the Trading Post held the coffee, tea, muffins, goods for trade–and all of us.

Every Tuesday morning for over two years, friends and neighbors have gotten together, rain or shine, freezing or scorching, for a social event with a different flair from the nighttime gatherings.

We now fill two tables with food and one or more with people, often with kids playing all around.

Here is the impressive list of foods available for sale or trade at the most recent Coffee Hour, all grown and/or produced right here in our valley: goat milk, goat yogurt, goat cheese, sunflower spelt bread, sourdough pumpernickel bread, sesame flax crackers, sweet red peppers, a wide variety of hot peppers, okra, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, onions, garlic, figs, fig preserves, potatoes, sauerkraut, eggs, kombucha, coffee, tea, and lemon poppy seed muffins. Some star highlights from the past include chocolate pies, lacto-fermented mustard, handmade jewelry, and pesto.

I have always liked attending this morning gathering, enjoying its unique feel. Now as a new mom who can rarely make it to events past an 8:00 PM bedtime, I have an extra appreciation for people getting together in the morning. I take this time to sell my baked goods, buy foods I don’t grow or make myself, drink my weekly cup of coffee, visit with folks, and get what Geoff Stone (very regular coffee hour attendee) calls “The Buzz” of the village. Also known as gossip, news, or keeping up to date, I consider this an important part of community life.

When the weather turns cold we will continue meeting through the winter inside the toasty Council Hall. But for now join us any Tuesday morning starting at 9:00 under the canopy in the village center. We’d love to have you!

Founding Day Parade 2011

On Sunday, September 11, I heard music and drumming in the distance on Another Way, the road in front of our house.

The Founding Day parade was marching down the road from the direction of our front gate. Banners, flags, drums, people smiling and waving.

Every year we celebrate our birthday — September 11, 1994 — with a parade. This is the day Earthaven’s 12 original founders pledged money at an afternoon tea party to buy our 320 acres.


Shangri-Laundry

The Shangri-Laundry is located in the basement of this building

In June 2011 the Forest Garden Neighborhood welcomed Shangri-Laundry, a self-service laundromat that is convenient, green, and clean. Parking is available just past the building. There is one double-load washer and one double-load propane dryer, so you can reserve time online for hassle-free scheduling. The primary source of electricity is the photovoltaic array pictured to the left of the building.

    My neighborhood (Village Terraces) has a shared washer, but I like to use Shangri-Laundry when the weather is too rainy for outdoor drying. And, I often sleep too late to get my wash hung on the line in time to dry. 🙂

 

Diana Leafe Christian organized the laundry coop and the system was designed by Greg Geis. It is easy to use. When you walk into the nice, cool basement, this motion-sensor light comes on, so you can see to put your laundry in the washer before inserting money that starts your timed access to electricity: lights, washer, dryer, and DSL broadband Internet.

First you insert bills ($5 or $1)

Then start the on-demand hot water heater (unless you are doing a cold wash)

Then you add soap (supplied for you) and start the washer

 

The laundry supplies environmentally friendly laundry soap and booster for you to use at no extra charge, as well as about eco-cleaners you can buy at Shangri-Laundry.

While the washer is running, you can hang out on the sofa and go online or read magazines that are provided. You can lock yourself in for privacy (and there are toilet facilities). There are plans to install a bathtub later, so you will be able to relax in a hot bath while the machines spin!

 

Here is Greg moving his laundry from the washer up to the dryer. Both the washer and dryer are energy-efficient and have multiple settings from heavy-duty to delicate. The front-loading washer is gentle on your clothes. It senses the size of the load and adjusts the amount of water accordingly. The dryer can be set for a timed cycle or to sense when your clothes are dry. The length of washer and dryer cycles can vary based on the load size and the options you select.

 

 

When you are down to your last 15 minutes (a dollar’s worth of time), a constant beeping will start and this blue light will blink. You can press the blue button to stop the beeping if you don’t need any more time. Insert another dollar as needed to keep the electricity going until you are done.

 

There are many helpful signs to guide you through the steps. The Shangri-Laundry is available for Earthaven residents, visitors, and neighbors. We hope it will help make our lives more sustainable by letting folks avoid a trip into town to do laundry. We are interested in feedback to make the laundry meet your needs–please “like” us and stay in touch on our Facebook Page.

Video Portraits of Two Earthaven Members

Here are two portrait videos made by Jacki Huntington, a UNC journalism student who spent a month here last summer, then returned for a weekend this spring to wrap up her project. One focuses on Michaeljon and the other on redmoonsong.


and

Hut Hamlet Trampoline

A video by Will Rogers:

hht from will rogers on Vimeo.

Local Food All Winter

Tomatoes! Garlic! Chicken Stock!

And that’s just the beginning


Eli with cheese squash

The author, Eli, here with cheese squash.

At the Village Terraces common kitchen we haven’t stopped eating a diet based on local foods just because it’s February.  In fact, we’re practically swimming in foods from our farm, Imani, other farms and forests at Earthaven, as well as regional farms and orchards. Our winter pantry goes way beyond cabbage and potatoes.

Imagine this recent meal—sautéed beef (from an Imani steer), home canned tomato sauce (Imani) with peppers (Imani), garlic  and basil (VT garden co-op), and onions (Gateway Farm at EH) served with cornbread made from a neighbor’s homegrown and ground cornmeal and milk and eggs from our farm, and collard greens fresh from our garden. For dessert? Blackberries from a local U-pick farm (via our freezer) and homemade raw yogurt from our cow’s milk. All that hard work this past year is definitely paying off.

An inventory of our pantry: Canned tomato sauce, blackberry jam,

Boxes of stored grapefruit and apples, both from the Southeast.

strawberry jam, and chicken stock. Dried summer squash, tomatoes, strawberries, and juneberries. Onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, apples, and a large variety of winter squash. For nutritional and medicinal teas- dried nettle, raspberry leaf, dandelion, comfrey, red clover, catnip, and peppermint.  Sauerkraut, Kimchi, apple cider vinegar made from cider we pressed ourselves including some garlic and herb infused vinegars. Honey, berries preserved in honey and whiskey (ok, the whiskey came all the way from Kentucky, but we do made certain concessions), dried mushrooms and burdock. Right outside the kitchen door the rosemary, sage,  and oregano live on and about twenty feet away there are still a few surviving kale and collard plants.

Peppermint, Catnip, & Raspberry leaf, harvested to use all winter as tea.

In our freezer we keep strawberries, blackberries, juneberries, and basil as well as beef and pork from our farm and venison from the region. We daily get eggs from our chickens and milk from our cow which in addition to fresh drinking goodness we also use to make raw yogurt and cheese. And while they aren’t actually local we are devouring and loving the cases and cases of citrus I purchased at a Florida farmer’s market while I was in Gainesville visiting my grandmother in December.

I fondly remember sweating in the July heat of the tomato field, collecting

Lee stirring a pot of chicken stock made from our poultry and meat bones.

those first spring nettles in the forest garden, staying up late into the night to can stock, handing over LEAPS (our local currency) in exchange for Gateway squash,  the group work day in the fall to put in the garden co-op’s garlic crop and the most abundant fruit year I can remember.  And I am eagerly looking forward to those first wild spring greens and the strawberries I can see out my bedroom window.

I have always been passionate about food, and since I’ve been living atEarthaven ( 1 ½ years) I have been able to begin the lifelong journey and spiritual practice of being an active participant in growing, gathering and otherwise obtaining my nutrients. Finally, providing my food and living my daily life are becoming intertwined.

It Never Snows in NC

Group of mostly adults sledding after a snowstorm this week.

It never snows in North Carolina. “Or so I was told,” said Tanya Carwyn, who moved to Earthaven from Colorado two years ago. “So I sold my skis before I left.”

The other common thing you’ll hear people say about this area is that we have the “mildest temperatures on the East Coast.” While that’s probably true on a scale of averages, at least historically, the last two winters have been colder and snowier than many places much farther north.

LC the cow drinking water. We manually crack the ice on her water several times a day during cold weather.

Last year, the winter of 09/10, we had three major snowstorms of well over a foot of snow each time. This year we’re on our third snowstorm already and it’s just the middle of January.

For those of us working or tending animals in the snow, our jobs are harder. And for some, like Art Myers “being snowed in at Earthaven is tough–sledding all day and sauna all night.”

Liz Diaz

On snowy days, villagers of all ages have been gathering together to sled down the upper pasture at Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood.

“It’s an excuse to hoot and holler,” says Liz Diaz, a resident at Earthaven. We 12 to 15 people get together that don’t normally see each other, it’s an opportunity to connect and share in some fun.

Chai Tea at the Hut Hamlet Kitchen after a hard day of sledding.

This week, after the sledding, there was hot chocolate at Art and Karen’s and on another occasion Chai tea at the Hut Hamlet Kitchen.

Families from afar sometimes worry about us stuck here in our holler. Karen’s mom called, worried about their family. But because we are seasoned homesteaders we often survive these storms better than city people. We have stacked firewood, generate our own power, and grow and store enough of our own

Art Meyers - always ready to have fun.

food that most of us could be snowed in for weeks without worry. “I told my mother-in-law that I could even find fresh green vegetables by digging out some collards from under the snow.”