August is a busy harvest month at Earthaven. Abundance (and labor) abounds.
On Friday morning, March 15, with lots of lively group engagement and drawings on the whiteboard, we were treated to a two-hour seminar on basic economic realities by Earthaven member Lee Warren.
“An economy is the interactions and exchanges between people that manage the flow of resources among them,” she said, “and this implies having expenses.”
The “three-legged stool of sustainability” — with economic, environmental, and social values — is distorted in mainstream culture which primarily emphasizes economic rewards but not so much social and environmental aspects of societal well-being. And in a pendulum swing away from this, Earthaven culture primarily emphasizes social and environmental values and tends to discount economics.
Lee told us her economic premises:
Premise A. Everyone needs an economy.
Premise B. The closer your economy is tied to an exploitative system that externalizes costs, the better off you do economically.
Premise C. The more your economy comes from a land-base or from women’s work, the more you struggle economically.
Premise D. “Idealism increased in direct proportion to ones distance from the problem.” a quote by John Galsworthy
Hence folks who’ve earned or inherited money from mainstream economy sources and have no actual experience in say, starting a rural land-based business or a “women’s” service work business, can believe that spiritual values and economic sustainability are somehow mutually exclusive. Or can have strong ideas about what people “should” do to earn an income in ecological or spiritual ways, without realizing that doing so can actually make the person too poor to stay in business.
Knowing how each Earthaven member earns or receives income, Lee created an “economic snapshot” of our current village economy: 14% are self-employed; 38% have retirement or other passive income; 5% do offsite work; and 43% “piece it together” with multiple part-time jobs and small income streams. We observed that except for retirees and those with outside or family money-based passive incomes, most Earthaven members are challenged economically.
Lee listed current or former onsite member-owned businesses and noted that the majority have gone out of business, moved off the property, or are struggling. She noted the number of entrepreneurial folks who have withdrawn from or left the community, discouraged by the lack of understanding about the need for economic sustainability. She demonstrated the economies of scale with an analogy about finding food on a tropical island — including guerilla-theater help from several seminar participants — and why we reduce our effectiveness if we each try to create self-reliant homesites, as some permaculturists advise. She advocated specializing instead, with some of us supplying, say, eggs, and others supplying, say, blueberries.
“To create a sustainable economy when we finally become our envisioned village of 150,” she said, “we’ll need at least 10 small businesses employing at least five Earthaven people.” We concluded by listing ways to support onsite businesses, including buying member-made products (which we already do quite well), induce experienced entrepreneurs to move here (and entice those who have left to return), raise funds to kickstart existing businesses up to the next level, offer community work credit for labor that helps onsite businesses, support specialization, subsidize the cost of clearing forest land for agriculture or businesses, and perhaps most important, allow and encourage members to experiment in their businesses and farms — rather than regulating and suppressing experimentation, as we’ve sometimes done in the past.
The presentation was well received, and in fact was one of the best events I’ve seen at Earthaven. Two members started an ad hoc committee to find ways to better support onsite businesses. Lee said she’d realized her goals for the presentation — to be slow-paced, participatory, fun, and smart.”
Many of us are clamoring for her do it again!
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!
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 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.
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.”
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.
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
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.”
Being and on-and-off-again insomniac, it is not unusual for me to wander down into our common kitchen at 3:00 am for a snack.
My insomnia is worse around the full moon or if there’s too much on my mind. And it’s almost always accompanied by hunger, which won’t let me sleep again until satisfied. So off I go, often full-on naked (trusting that the kitchen will be deserted) to search out a snack.
Before last week (and I have lived here 9 years) I can only remember one other time where someone else was awake and in the kitchen when I ventured down (and that was recently when, at 4:00 am or so, I ran into my pregnant housemate who has taken to being in the kitchen at night due to her own pregnancy-related insomnia) and I can tell you she got quite a chuckle out of my naked self foraging in the fridge.
Last week, Winter Solstice (December 21st) provided a scene that I can safely say from many middle-of-the-night wanderings was an exceptionally rare occurrence.
First though, let me say that Winter Solstice is a big deal around Earthaven. On it we celebrate the darkest night of the year, usually with a meal, ceremony, and a sunrise walk to celebrate the “return of the sun.” From Winter Solstice forward, the days will begin to lengthen. As our ancestors before us, we welcome back the sun for its warmth and heat. Unlike our ancestors, we welcome back the sun to fill our batteries via our solar panels, much needed after such short days.
This particular Winter Solstice was highly unusual in that it was a full moon as well as a lunar eclipse. This has only happened one other time in the last 2000 years (in 1638). Talk about rare!
When we realized this historical astronomical event was to take place we all agreed to meet up at 2:30 am on the deck of the 3rd floor to view the beginning of the eclipse which was set to peak at about 3:17. We’ll knock on each others doors, we offered, as a wake-up and reminder to meet and view this magnificent event.
At about 3:20 or so I heard some scurrying about and realized that no one had woken me. It also sounded quiet out there. I dragged myself up and went out to a fully cloud-covered sky and no house mates to be seen. With some guilty relief I ran back into bed. But alas, it was too late. Fully awake was I. After about a half hour of lying still and trying to sleep I wandered down to the kitchen (thankfully not naked this time) only to find five other people, not only awake, but eating, talking, rolling candles, and just having general merriment.
There they were at 4:00 am having an impromptu, middle-of-the-night eclipse get together. Every few minutes someone popped outside to see if the cloud cover had cleared yet (it never did.)
Shortly after discovering this spectacle, which was as surprising as the unseen moon, I returned to bed, only to hear some neighbors wander over with guitars and soft voices, singing in the next room. For some time, doors would open, people would wander around the deck or up and down the stairs, and sing or talk some more.
While I didn’t actually get back to sleep until 5:30, it was such a special time that I didn’t mind. I imagine it as a sort of sober, reverent, and spiritual college dorm sort of experience that can only happen in community.
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!