August is a busy harvest month at Earthaven. Abundance (and labor) abounds.
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.
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.
Jenna, Marie, and Liz enjoy Sugar Baby Watermelon from the Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood garden.
“I never even liked watermelon before now” says Liz Diaz.
Small and sweet with a green rind, red flesh, and small seeds, Sugar Baby is a heritage variety and did well in our hot, dry, summer conditions.
“We must have gotten 40 watermelons from this 10’x75′ patch of garden” says Jonathan Swiftcreek, one of the neighborhood gardeners.
Firewood Workday NOT canceled due to rain!
In other news, our firewood workday had lots of rain, which didn’t seem to stop us or the dancing. We filled our firewood shed with wood from our 2008 agricultural clearing. Our boiler system heats our hot water as well as our homes.
Pictured above: Carmen, Bob, & Steve on the top level. Matthew, Lee, & Debbie on the ground.
Pictured right: Carmen and Steve dancing in the rain.
Creativity at Harvest-Time
What a busy summer it has been! How did it get to be September? Now we’re into cool nights and changes afoot.
Seems like everything comes at once this time of year. And as much as we ask for abundance, sometimes we forget how much it takes to manage it when it gets here.
A friend of Earthaven has a beautiful blackberry farm near to us in Old Fort. Row after row are elegantly trellised and dripping with fruit. They are such a joy to pick, triggering something in our gatherer-hunter cellular memories, as there is a sort of euphoria and focus that comes. Using that long-embedded know-how, three of us picked 12 gallons of blackberries in little over an hour.
Once at home some were frozen, others eaten fresh but one whole bucket – about 3 gallons were waiting to be “put up.”
Last week, with the help of our experienced intern, Liz Diaz, I heated up the 3 gallons, added lemon juice, and a very small amount of sugar. With Pamona’s Pectin, low sugar jam making is possible. In the canner for 10 minutes and 2 hot and sweaty women later, we have 40 cups of blackberry jam! YEAH.
We’ll no doubt be grateful come winter when we break into those!