August is a busy harvest month at Earthaven. Abundance (and labor) abounds.
Happy Spring Equinox! At Earthaven we are singing and drumming at sunrise, and holding a children’s ritual and egg hunt. There are two equinoxes each year, when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator.
A few years ago, our interns at Imani Farm, NikiAnne and Drew, told us about a rumor that at the equinox, eggs would balance perfectly upright when put on end on a flat surface, because of the tilt of the earth at that time.
Well, Lee and the interns got down on the floor in the Village Terraces Common Kitchen and, after some effort, balanced the egg! The only thing is, we never tried it when it wasn’t equinox, so for all we know, we could balance an egg like this any day of the year.
Imani Farm chickens are pastured and receive soy-free, organic feed. A limited number of their eggs are available in Asheville. No GMOs! When you go to the farmer’s market, please check with your local egg farmer to see if they are using conventional feed (GMO) and, if so, tell them you want to pay more for GMO-free eggs. Let’s use our consumer buying power to support organic feed rather than Monsanto GMOs!
One of the ways Earthaven honors longtime members is with Member Appreciation evenings – where the person tells their life story. In this clip from his story, Chris Farmer presents his vision for creating an Appalachian version of Machu Picchu in our village.
Raising heritage fowl off the grid challenges us on how to increase the flock. Not enough power for a typical incubator. Difficulties providing consistent heat for babies when they hatch or come from mail order. We have been experimenting in using the old fashioned way…..a broody hen. Simple so you say…let the mama do it. Well there are some points to consider.
You are at the whim of nature. This plays out in several ways. The sex of your hatch is up in the air. Not just pullets (females), guaranteed a few or most will be roosters. Are the eggs fertile and will they take? Candling is an art to figure out. The learning curve is accelerated by the first rotten egg you experience. Will the broody hen be a good mama or will she abandon the nest for some reason. And with ducks, all domesticated ones except the muscovy came from the mallards, and have had the broody instinct bred out.
Fortunately for us we were able to convince the sort of broody duck hen to sit for 28 days on her nest. So now we have 4 ducklings. They escaped the black snake by the savvy mother getting them out of the nest when they were less then 1 day old. She did abandon the 4 other eggs. One was actually hatching, so some quick thinking, a hot water bottle, and wool sweater sleeve allowed the duckling to survive. All are doing well and growing so fast. Still don’t know if they are hens or drakes, that will take awhile to figure out. And the black snake…it got away. Let’s just hope it’s pulling double duty on the voles and mice!
1-Aesthetics: Let’s face it. Little baby lambs are cute. There is nothing quite like walking by a big beautiful pasture full of lush green grass and mama sheep with tiny new lambs.
2-Wool: The Gateway sheep are sheared twice a year, in the spring and fall, and the wool is available for sale to Earthaven residents and friends. Just imagine wearing a hat knit by one friend from yarn spun by another friend with wool that was grown right in your own back yard!
3-Pasture Fertilization/Integrated System: Gateway is one of several farms at Earthaven and the sheep are one piece of a farm system working towards sustainability (while realizing that we have a long way to go.) Sheep, chickens, turkeys, winter storage vegetables, bio-fuel, house building, solar energy and human connection are some of the many pieces involved. Poop makes great fertilizer.
4-Education and Radical Responsibility: Two Earthaveners slaughtered one of the Gateway lambs to serve for the Thanksgiving dinner served in the Council Hall. One had experience with animal slaughter and the other was excited to learn. Both were taking radical responsibility for their food by being a part of the death that gives them life.
5-Meat: The lamb meat was roasted in the oven at the Village Terraces common kitchen while we listened to food songs on WNCW, drank wine, and prepared stuffing and gallons of gravy. The meal was a sort of pre-arranged potluck and folks could choose to purchase (at cost) turkey and/or lamb. YUM!
6-Haggis: “Made from all the parts of the sheep the English won’t eat” read the sign in front of this dish that many of us have only heard about in old stories. This version was made by one of our Dutch members using the organs to create a surprisingly (to me) tasty treat.
7-Head Cheese: No it’s not cheese, and Yes it is made from the head. A molded gelatinous ring making good use of even more parts of this animal that would often be discarded.
8-Fiddle Strings: A friend heard that a sheep was being slaughters on the land and called to ask if he could have the intestines to make fiddle strings. The request was of course honored and perhaps he will honor us with some of his music in the future.
9-Testicles/Stretching Our Comfort Zone: The testicles, batter dipped and fried, were served as an appetizer before our incredible dinner. My mind was a bit squeamish (ok, repulsed) at the thought of eating testicles, but I certainly wasn’t going to pass up this rare opportunity. I pushed through the discomfort and was rewarded with a superior taste sensation. I mean really, batter dipped and fried? You can’t go wrong.
10-Stock: After dinner the lamb bones came back to the VT kitchen where they spent 24 hours simmering on the stove to create a rich delicious nutrient dense stock. We love to use this for soup, cooking grains, or mix it with miso and drink it. We also pressure canned a round of it to use in next Thanksgivings’ gravy.
11-Hide: The lamb hide is currently undergoing the tanning process. You just might see it as apparel at next years’ dinner.
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
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.
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
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.
It’s a dance of sorts. It starts in a circle, holding hands. There’s a break, for talking. Then there are the reels through the woods, discovering the way the forest grows. It’s also a future legend that starts like this.
Once upon a time Earthaven hired a forester, Shawn Swartz (who used to be a Full Member and live here with his family), to guide us towards a forest plan. The plan is designed to inform, instruct and guide us in making choices about how to (or not to) relate to the various forest species we live with.
The first step is to agree on priorities. What’s most important—protection, product, aesthetics, wild life or education? If we manage for protection, will we also get enough firewood? If we manage for product, can we also prioritize restoration? Or the health of one product over others?
“Keep in mind,” Shawn advised, “no management—meaning the elimination of human intervention—is also a management strategy. Leaving a healthy stand alone might be the best choice, but letting the forest take care of itself can also mean letting nut-bearing hardwoods die off, while rhododendron and red maple take over.” We decided protection and product are equally “most important”; if we manage for product, we intend to do so in ways that maximize forest health.
To do a forest inventory, you have to literally take one. The idea is to get a “snapshot” of the forest, a picture of which species are doing well. How tall are the trees? How much timber is there? Are the stands of mixed age and species? What’s in the understory?
To get a fair inventory of the species in our forest, we worked with samples: one “point” for every six acres. With 240 acres designated to remain forested, we had 40 points to march to. March? More like crawl and beat a way through the thickets! And a whole lot of up and down as well, from ridge to ridge, across slopes and gullies. We’d note the parameters of all trees within range of a point: diameter, height, species, regeneration on forest floor, snags, and presence or absence of invasive species. At one point there were sizable trees, the biggest a northern red oak, diameter 17.9 inches. The understory included pipcissiwa, magnolia, silverbell and cat briar.
And so it went—eleven species in all (chestnut oak, scarlet oak, northern red oak, maple, tulip poplar, sourwood, birch, pine, hemlock, locust and black gum in various groupings) plus thickets of rhododendron and/or mountain laurel. Diameters ranged from 1.2 to 38 inches. Except for a point where there were quite a few two-and three-trunk chestnut oaks (trees that grew together and became one tree at about breast height), Shawn said no doubt this place was logged about 80 years ago.
At the last point, Shawn did a site index, an index of productivity based on age and height. He had record sheets and knowledge of what to record and why. If a tree might have logs, he would ask someone to “get the logs of that tree Marie (or Darren or Gaspar) is on.” Someone would pace off the 66 feet and measure with a special tool called a Biltmore Stick. Sometimes an experienced eye was used to estimate logs, especially where it was impossible to sight the base or if the tree had kinks, bends and flaws. Thanks to a leading teacher, or a teaching leader, we learned by doing.
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.
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!
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,
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.
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
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.