Our annual Land Day Celebration was much fun. The weather was very cooperative, the food & drink were delish, the guests were delightful, the music (with not 1 but 2! very rockin’ bands) was fabulous. Some pics of the day are below. Thanks to all who made it possible.
(Editor’s note: This is a repost from Paxus’s blog. Check it out http://funologist.org/ )
Part of what is exciting about living in the central Virginia communities these days is the network is actually growing. After almost two decades of there being only two income sharing communities in the region (Twin Oaks and Acorn), three years back Living Energy Farm popped up nearby. Last week Acorn moved members into Sapling (aka Tranquility Base) which is the house we bought in late August. It is starting out as a simple residence for Acorn, but we have already agreed that it will ultimately become a new income sharing community.
Part of what is so exciting about this is that often times communards don’t find the right community to start with. Sometimes this is resolved relatively quickly, like with my dear friend Belladonna Took who was rejected by Twin Oaks and is now a happy member of Acorn (she is referred to as Abby in this post http://funologist.org/2013/01/24/pocket-dramas/ about her rejection). Other times it takes one or more memberships at “the wrong community” before the person finds their place. With three, soon to be four affiliated but independent communities all in the same county there are lots of possibilities for synergy including clever membership solutions. [And a more fertile soil for my own Chubby Squirrels dreams.]
Communities have their own personalities. Twin Oaks is what i call a clockwork community, where there is a more regular procedure for things to happen. Hundreds of work shifts are scheduled, meals show up on time and reliably, you better not be late for your tofu shift – because people are depending on you. Acorn is somewhat more chaotic. Things happen when people get inspired to make them happen, very little is scheduled (small dozens of jobs, mostly related to cooking and cleaning, contrasted with hundreds to perhaps a thousand jobs weekly at Twin Oaks).
East Wind is a thousand miles away in the Ozarks of Missouri and i have always thought of it as the “wild wild west of the communities movement” (despite there being important income sharing communities further geographically west). East Wind is physically more rugged, without indoor plumbing in many buildings and more demanding physical work than Twin Oaks (but not Living Energy Farm). East Wind has huge tracks of beautiful land, over 1000 acres that they control and neighboring state parks which are even larger. Their decision making system is a strange anarchist-democratic model which is more flexible and volatile that either Acorns or Twin Oaks.
But what has inspired this post is a cultural difference between East Wind and all her sister communities, in my never humble opinion. East Wind is the community you can depend on if you are in a jam. East Wind will send out a group of members to help out almost any of the FEC communities when they really need it. Got a sorghum harvest beyond your capacity? East Wind will send a van load of people. Need some willing kids to help with a barn raising? East Winders are there. Arsonist burns one of your buildings? East Wind can be relied upon to dispatch a crew, even if it is a thousand miles away.
It is this generosity of spirit and willingness to help that makes me (and the rest of Acorn) especially happy to welcome the 7 East Winders who traveled far to help out with the fire recovery, straw bale work and dozens of other tasks we need help with going into winter and the busy season. Viva East Wind!
~East Winders help tear out the damged floor in Heartwood at Acorn~
And now, for a happy blog post about how awesome our winter is going this year. Our busy season for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is kicking in, but there’s plenty of outdoor things to do. Because of a hard freeze on Jan. 7th, we had to cover the gardens with double layers of remay and harvest anything that we hoped to have in the future. Fingers crossed on how well our plants survived the freeze.
Our three kiko meat goats are scheduled to kid in January. Radiator Charlie gave birth on Jan. 3rd, and Sweet Chocolate had her babies on Jan. 5th. Despite being fat as anything, Grandma Nellie still hasn’t produced any children. Every morning at milking time, I remind her to work on it, but she doesn’t seem to care.
Only one of our dairy goats is producing milk, but Mamma, our best producer, gives us half a gallon of milk a day. We’re giving Lark, one of our dairy ladies, a rest because this summer she was sick for several months and still hasn’t gained back all the weight we’d hope. Lottie, Julie’s little favorite, hasn’t put on enough weight yet to breed, but Dancer, Sage, Calypso, and Beans are set to give birth in early spring, with Mamma a little later than the rest. (We had planned on giving her a break but the buck broke into her pen…)
With yet another fire to hit us this year, this time in Heartwood, our main community building, we’re pulling together to put our infrastructure (and lives) back in order. Luckily, we are able to save the house, but need to raise money for the repairs. Please take a look at our indiegogo fundraising campaign:
by Lottie Buckles
On October 19th, local heirloom seed savers and worker-owned co-operative Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be hosting a Young Farmer’s Mixer to facilitate an enriching community building experience, provide networking opportunities and have fun. We want to provide young farmers and young farmer recruits with access to examples of financially viable business models for new farms, homesteading resources and land link organizations. We also want to facilitate connections between landowners who want their land in cultivation and land-less farmers. There will be opportunity to link farmers with food justice organizations and illustrate how food justice activism can play into a small farm business.
The event will begin with a tour of Southern Exposure’s seed and trial gardens and a demonstrative seed-saving workshop. The day will end with our second annual Fall Festival complete with dancing, home-grown music, apple folk tales, food, drink and good spirit. If interested, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know what you’d like to bring for the potluck!”
4:00 – Tour of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange trial and seed gardens
5:00 – Seed saving demonstration
6:00 – Dinner, keynote speaker, young farmer networking session
7:30 – Apple folk tales and music from Diane Cluck
8:30 – Music and dancing and merriment!
Come mingle with landowners, food activists, local sustainable agricultural organizations (including Tricycle Gardens, Twin Oaks Seeds, Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF), Blue Ridge Permaculture Network) and of course, young, beginning and aspiring farmers!
From Richmond: Take I-64W to Exit 159. Turn right onto US-522/Cross Country Road, continue ~7 miles. Take a left onto 629/Cartersville Rd. Take 1st right onto 640/East Old mountain. After ~2 miles, stay left on East Old Mountain, turn right onto 699/Indian Creek Rd.
From Charlottesville: Take I-64E to Exit 148. Turn left onto 605/Shannon Hill Rd. After 3.5 miles, take a sharp right onto 640/East Old Mountain. Left on 699/Indian Creek Rd.
Acorn is one of the first driveways on Indian Creek Road on the left. There is a large greenhouse at the front of the property.
After years of planning and a frenzied summer of building, the new seed office is finally ready for the straw bales. In accordance with our values of providing educational opportunities for sustainable living, we’re having a “Bale Raising” Straw Bale Workshop Oct. 28th and 29th. The workshop will be lead by green and natural building architect Fred Oesch. Straw bale is valued for utilizing a local, non-toxic agricultural by-product in the context of building to help create highly energy efficient buildings, and it’s also very user-friendly.
Recently, Acorn has had an abundance of fruit—between donations and our most recent peach harvest, we’ve had more than we’ve known what to do with! Our peaches, sadly, are diseased—peach trees don’t do well in our climate—so hours were spent cutting out the diseased parts for canning.
We also canned significant amounts of pineapple, and an experiment was made making fruit leather.
In case you are unfamiliar with canning fruit (as I was at the time), here are step by step instructions:
1. Cut them into bite-size chunks, spears, or whatever works for you. We didn’t remove the skin off of our peaches because ours were very small. Be sure to remove any bad brown bits (hopefully your peaches won’t have any!) and the pits. As you cut the peaches up, they need to be placed in water with lemon juice (any type of citric acid will do) so that they don’t turn brown while you prepare for canning.
2. Before canning, it’s important to sterilize the mason jars. Put the jars in boiling bath water for five seconds.
3. Make the canning syrup. We made ours by boiling turbinado sugar and water, although you can substitute sugar for honey.
4. Place the peaches in the mason jars, and be careful not to pack past the base of the rim. Fill with the syrup, place in boiling bath water for 25-30 minutes. This sterilizes the insides so that they keep well in the cans.
The fruit leather was a far more simple process—we pureed fruit, laid it on trays with wax paper, and baked overnight at a low temperature (150 degrees). We found it didn’t solidify enough by morning and ended up baking it until midday. The pineapple was harder to make into fruit leather because it had more water in it.
For the past few years, several Acorners have collaborated with local organizations including the Louisa County Resource Council (Low-income Food Distribution Center) and The Central Virginia Master Gardeners to start up a local food bank garden program called Plant a Row. Plant a Row encourages gardeners to grow extra in their gardens to donate to their local food bank to help provide fresh, local, and healthy produce to economically disadvantaged people. We expanded the program to include a garden education center at the food bank, where we grow a variety of vegetables, hold workshops on organic gardening, and have cook-offs to prepare freshly harvested veggies into delicious samples for folks to try.
Although this is a little outside the norms of the typical Acorn project, we think it’s important to break down oppression in all its various iterations, not just within our little community bubble. We see access to healthy food (that isn’t covered in pesticides!) as one of the building blocks to a healthy, productive life, which should be a right, not a privilege. Natural food stores and farmers markets are great, but the prices can be cost prohibitive, especially for those who are suffering to make ends meet. With this project, we aspire to bring in more fresh food to the food bank, as well as to also empower clients of the food bank with the knowledge and skills to garden, putting control over our food source back in the hands of the people.
As you may guess, it’s difficult to implement such lofty ideology into a practical reality. One of the biggest challenges is to make connections with the food bank clients in a sustained and meaningful way. An attempt to address this is the samples portion of the program, where we serve samples made from in-season veggies and let clients know that the those potatoes in that cheesy potato pocket (gotta start somewhere!) were harvested from the garden out back just yesterday. Many of them don’t even know about the garden, so this gives us a great opportunity to tell people about the program and give them a tour of the garden.
If you visit Acorn and you think this project sounds cool, ask how you can help out! With this new, volunteer-run program, we need all the help we can get.
The structural core of the new SESE headquarters is a timber framed skeleton. Timber framing is the traditional method for building in wood, only being replaced by modern stick framing in the early 1800′s when the development of industry made the cheap production of standard size wooden lumber and pounds of cheap nails possible. Timber framing, in a relatively well forested area such as our own, makes the use of local wood, even wood from our own land, possible. We decided to incorporate timber framing into our new office for a few reasons.
- We want this building, SESE’s new home, to gel with SESE’s emphasis on regional heritage and empowering people to provide for themselves and their local communities. Timber framing in this case allows us to use local wood milled by local millers to build something showcasing a bit of regional building heritage.
- The large posts and beams inherent in timber framing allow for large open spans between horizontal posts which works particularly well for straw bale walls. This is because the posts can be embedded within the straw bales with a minimum of notching of those bales (we only have to notch every 12 to 16 feet rather than every 16 inches as we would with a stick frame).
- Exposed timber framing is not only a functional part of the building’s structure but is also quite beautiful and visually impressive. And what, after all, is life without beauty?
- It looks like a lot of fun to build!
So we dived on in! Based on a number of recommendations we got in touch with George Allman of Timbersmiths, Inc., a second generation timber framer who lives and works about 30 miles away from us. He was and still is a great help as he is both an experienced timber framer and a professional engineer. So, he was able to take our architect’s drawings, confirm their structural soundness, size all our timbers, and provide us with all the diagrams and plans we need to construct the thing in addition to advising us on tools and strategy, loaning and renting us specialty tools, and teaching us all the necessary skills.
So what’s involved? Well, there are a range of timber framing styles (most countries have their own traditions) and a range of techniques ranging from round timber framing to square and from all traditional hand tools to the inclusion of modern power tools. As this is our first timber frame structure we chose a fairly simple style and are using common woodworking power tools (like power planers and circular saws) instead of sweating it out with axes and hand saws. The modern world has a lot of very useful things to offer us, after all.
First, we ordered our full complement of oaken posts and beams from local sawyer Mike Wheeler and had them delivered to George’s shop where we showed up in force to run them through his giant thickness planer, reducing them all to a uniform thickness and smoothing out the rough saw marks.
Once that was done, we loaded the planed timbers onto a flatbed truck and had them delivered to our farm where we set up some heavy duty saw horses and got to work cutting the mortises and tenons needed to join them.
Some of the bigger and more complicated posts required quite a bit of work chiseling out the joinery on their many facets. Tip: Avoid non-right angles when building a timber frame structure.
To increase the drama (and hide the heavy wear likely to happen in the building) we decided to ebonize all the oaken timbers. Ebonizing is a natural finishing process we learned from a local furniture maker. Oak, it turns out, is full of tannins which will darken to near blackness when exposed to iron oxide (better known as rust). Being a working farm we have no shortage of rusty iron and steel laying around which we collected in a bucket and submerged in white vinegar. Painting this on to the timbers turns them from a golden tan to deep blueish black in minutes. Very dramatic indeed!
After this we put a final coat of boiled linseed oil on the timbers and lift them into place with the boom truck we are renting from George. Traditionally the building would be built on the ground in sections called frame rows (basically cross sections of the frame) and then tilted up into place and connected to each other. It requires a lot of people, a lot of rope, and a pretty good idea of what you’re doing. As cool as it would be to have a big barn raising, considering the realities of the situation I am incredibly happy to have a crane on hand. Individual timbers in this building can weigh close to 1000 lbs.
Once the timbers are placed we drive a peg or two through the joint, tying the tenon into the mortise and securing the frame in place. Voila!