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Clear-cuts. And the Dream of Expanding Our Local Community Network.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Yesterday morning as I was waking up, my boyfriend Ken walked in, opened my window, and told me that it was 65 degrees and that the forecast said it would reach 75.  This is great in terms of having a pleasant afternoon, but not in terms of what it indicates about global warming.

Within a few minutes, through the open window, I could hear the sound of a very large machine, punctuated by the occasional sound of a falling tree.  There were already two large clear-cuts on our road, and I could tell this new logging was close.  I took a walk.

The newly logged area is about 3,780 feet long and starts about 1,925 feet from our property.  I measured it in my 5-foot paces and then multiplied by 5.  When I showed up, about half the trees were still standing, in contour strips across the property.  I got the tiniest smidgen of hope that the clear-cutters would log selectively, rather than clear-cut, and leave at least strips of trees, roughly on contour, thus helping natural forest regrow on the land and probably increasing its value in the meantime.  As of this afternoon, about half the trees were still standing, and the machines were at rest.  My smidgen of hope has grown into a sliver of hope.

Monday is the day we get a van-load of free pre-dumpstered produce from Relay Foods (things coming out of Relay’s inventory, that otherwise might have gone in a dumpster, had we not taken them.)  So our neighbor and ex-Twin-Oaker Jim Adams was over to claim his share of the haul.  Seeing my sadness, he suggested writing to the Central Virginian newspaper about how valuable it is to have a mostly wooded county, and that we shouldn’t give that up for a few peoples’ profits.  And I plan to write such a letter.  Jim inspired me to think that I am not powerless in the face of local clear-cutting.

But then another member inspired me more.  He told me about the frequent willingness of East Wind, a community we’re affiliated with, to sometimes go into debt to acquire land adjoining their own.  He pointed out that we could start a food forest project on a clear-cut piece of land.

The trouble with that idea is, we have very little savings, and we have debt related to our fire recovery.  Twin Oaks, Living Energy Farm, and Sapling communities are also not in great financial situations; I certainly wouldn’t expect them to buy the land.  So, unless we get both some unexpected financial support, and a good amount of enthusiasm from Acorn members, we can essentially conclude that existing commuities won’t be buying this newly logged land.

But what about our friends?  Well, that’s why I’m writing this post.

I envisioned that the three clear-cuts on our road could one day, not too many decades from now, be owned by three groups aligned with our missions – they could be allied communities, or ex-communitarians, or community-minded families.  They could be seed growers, chestnut orchardists, permaculturists, well-rounded homesteaders, or other farmers with an interest in sustainability.

Is this dream likely to become a reality?  No.  But some part of it might.

One week older in baby goat world

Monday, November 24th, 2014

I put some food out to distract the meat goats so that Lanco and Tippy would hopefully do some cute things.  Herein you may see some ear-wiggling, tail-wagging, hop-skipping goat antics.

Baby goats

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Our first birth for the season came a bit early. Here, they make pathetic baby goat noises and try to figure out where milk comes from while their mother consumes their amniotic sacs and tries to clean them up before it gets dark and cold.

Egalitarian Bike Tour: Joining forces with Baltimore Free Farm

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

As a resident bicycle enthusiast, I’m delighted to join an upcoming bike tour with folks from the Baltimore Free Farm, a recently formed urban homestead, with the aim of fundraising for their community kitchen.  Their kitchen currently hosts Food Not Bombs and Food Rescue Day, both projects that seek to divert food from the waste stream and decommodify food.  Our goal is to raise $3500 – hopefully enough money for the community kitchen to operate throughout the year.  We plan to spend the month of October biking down to New Orleans, about a 1500 mile trek, camping along the way and growing sprouts out of our paniers.  We’ll be taking the transcontinental bike route to the Mississippi river, then following it due south all the way to New Orleans.  Once we get to New Orleans, we’ll form a temporary autonomous art collective and infoshop, where we’ll do street performance and musical storytelling to further raise funds.  Although it’s difficult for Acorn to spare a member for this length of time, as a group, we’re passionate about supporting projects like this in the spirit of mutual aid, to further strengthen the cooperative movement.

Are you also excited and supportive about this project?  Check out what the Baltimore Free Farm as to say about the bike tour and consider making a pledge for each mile we bike – 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, or a donation of your choosing.



Goat Dance

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

I realized that I never posted this video from February or so.  Here, a bunch of little goats and their dad explore their new toy, the old white Corolla that broke down and we never fixed, and that I eventually fenced in for them.  Someone took out the back seats and propped the door open so they could play inside of it.

Eventually we scrapped the car in order to raise money for the pig project and traded away two of those little goats for pigs.

Mr. Buckles, the big dark-colored adult, is an Alpine dairy buck, but all the mamas (the big white goats) are Kikos, which are usually raised for meat production in the United States.  We saved two of their cross-breed children (Tashkent and Mooncake) and added them with the other young ladies from our dairy herd.  Maybe they’ll become good milkers in a year or two.

Fire Recovery Efforts

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

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:

“Bale Raising” Straw Bale Workshop

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

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.  

Steel Building Fire Update

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Thanks to everyone for their kind words, sympathy, and offers of support.  We’re generating a list of things we’re replacing that will be up next week.  If you’d like, check the list to see if there’s anything on there you’d like to help with, and give Paxus an email to coordinate the donation:

If you’d like to make a monetary donation, we would like to encourage you to donate to the Louisa Volunteer Fire Department, as they brought a huge crew and several trucks out to contain the fire.

As storage is very limited right now, it may take us some time to be able to accept much stuff.

Thank-you again for thinking of us.

Overdue update on our new green office building

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Sorry for the long silence on the new headquarters we’re building for our collective business, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, but we’ve been so busy building it that we completely forgot to tell you all about it. We broke ground on the recycled warehouse and mostly erected it back in 2011 (post on that coming up soon) and then broke ground on the building proper in May of 2012. The months preceding ground breaking were a flurry of design sessions, draft drafting, research, and consultation. After laying a lot of the ground work ourselves we ended up working with architect Fred Oesch, an area green architect who came highly recommended from a number of people, to bring our plans to completion. He was a great help, advising us on design elements to aid in natural lighting and ventilation, building systems for high performance and low cost, and helping us figure out what we could do ourselves and how best to do it.

The final design is a beautiful sweeping two story affair oriented invitingly to the south (how could we build a building without a grand southern exposure?) and fitting cozily into the space we prepared for it. Take a look.

The new SESE office… now the trick is getting it off the paper and onto the ground.

You can see quite a few features of the building on this drawing. The long face full of windows is the south and front side of the building, maximizing solar heat gain in the winter and letting lots of light into our working space. Our recycled warehouse is poking its nose into the picture from the right. You can see the sun porch and front airlock projecting out of the face of the building. The exterior grade doors leading from the porch to the outside and into the office proper will prevent outside and inside air mixing which should help keep us cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The mostly glass walled area should also make a cozy place to take off your snowy coat and boots or just pass the time in the winter.

From here you can also see the terraces providing outside access from the second floor, which is mostly private offices and flex room for our growing co-op to expand into (knock on wood!). The east and west terraces will be surfaced in an engineered soil and planted with sedums forming a living roof which should last indefinately and help keep our building cool in the summer by converting some solar energy into living energy rather than heat and by doing a bit of evaporative cooling to boot. Crowning the building you’ll notice the full length monitor (a sort of super cupola) that we’re including for lighting and ventilation. The windows all along this ridge will let a flood of light into the core of the second floor, naturally lighting what would otherwise be a dim northern side of the building. When we open them up in the heat of the summer, we’ll be setting up a powerful stack or chimney effect whereby hot air in the building will rise into the monitor and escape through the windows, pulling in relatively cooler air from the ground floor to replace it. When the days get hot enough that the stack effect stalls out we’ll be mounting a few whole building exhaust fans in the monitor to take up the slack. Out of our commitment to live lightly on the land we will not and have never air conditioned our people, although we do air condition our seeds. Ventilation, shading, and the timely opening and closing of windows can keep our spaces comfortable throughout some pretty challenging weather without the high energy cost associated with air conditioning.

The first floor of the new office, the place where it will all go down.

Here you can see the layout of the first floor of the building with a few features I already mentioned. Here you can see how the southern wall (the bottom of the drawing) is peppered with windows while the northern wall opposite it is pierced very sparsely. This lets light (and heat during the winter) in on the south where it is abundant but keeps the cool dark northern wall as well insulated as possible. You’ll also notice that the rooms clustering around the northern wall are spaces not generally inhabited by people, like the mechanical room or the bathroom, or that we want to be cool and dark, like the picking room where all the packets of seed live. The principles for good seed storage are to keep the seeds cool, dry, and dark as what they want to start growing is warmth, wetness, and light. Situating the picking room along the north helps keep it cool and dim. To supplement this we will be super-insulating the walls of the room (including a straw bale wall along the whole northern exterior wall) and installing a good wrap around vapor barrier to keep our amble Virginia humidity out. These measures should minimize the amount that we need to run our air conditioner and dehumidifier to keep the room at its optimal condition.

The southern rooms are more self explanatory. The multi-purpose room is our big open space that we hope to use in a variety of ways. It should provide over flow space for working during the busy winter season, space to hold our regular community meetings, big dance parties, and hopefully to hold occasional public workshops on seed starting, seed saving, cooking with heirlooms, gardening organically. The clean office, also called the quiet office, separates computer and phone workers from the dust and loud music from of the shippers and packers occupying the dirty office (also the noisy office).

Two little harder to spot details are the wood fired boiler and the composting toilet. We’ll heat this building, as we heat all our buildings, with wood harvested from our own land or purchased locally burned in a super high efficiency boiler. Wood is a great heating fuel, especially in rural areas, as it is relatively abundant, naturally renewable, and carbon neutral. Using a high efficiency gassification boiler and an intelligently designed heating system (which we got a lot of help with from Galen Staengl, a local green mechanical engineer) can get the fire running pretty cleanly and can get the most energy out of this still precious resource. The building also features a small basement vault where we will house Virginia’s first legal owner built vault composting toilet and the dosing basin for our grey water system, designed by John Hanson of Nutricycle Systems. Composting toilets are ecologically and economically wonderful waste management systems and, as we’re in a position to easily pull it off, we would have felt remiss not to include one.

Well, that concludes the preliminary tour of the new seed office. We hope to throw up a few more posts in the coming weeks to catch you all up to the current state of the construction. Stay tuned!

Granola with commune-made ingredients

Friday, August 31st, 2012

by Irena

Here at Acorn, I generally don’t cook much.  I tend to specialize in a few recipes, and granola tops the list.  People compliment it a lot so I decided to make a post about it.  Lately I make about 7 gallons of it at a time, eyeballing almost all the ingredients.  I use ingredients from two other communes affiliated with us – nut butter from East Wind, and sorghum from Sandhill.  I use a 6-cup or 8-cup scoop and a big, deep Hobart mixing bowl.  Unlike most granola, mine has no extracted oils, just the oil in the nut butter.  Granola sticking to the pans has never been an issue for me.  It has no refined sugars and no honey; with sorghum as the only sweetener, I think with sorghum it’s easier to make sweet granola without making it too sweet.

My Ingredients

10-12 cups nuts (I count sunflower seeds, though I find them less nutty than other nuts.)

about 45 or 50 cups of oats

about 7 cups of sorghum syrup (a sweetener made from a the stalks of sorghum, a crop related to corn; we get ours from Sandhill Farm, an FEC community in Missouri)

about 7 cups of nut butter (this can be peanut, almond, and/ or cashew butter; we get ours from East Wind, another FEC community in Missouri.)

1 Tbsp nutmeg

1 Tbsp cinnamon

about 2 cups water

My Steps

  1. Pre-roast the nuts for 10-20 minutes at about 300 degrees.
  2. Put the sorghum, nut butter, water, and spices together in a pot over low heat.  For large amounts, I like to sift the spices through a tea strainer so they don’t clump.
  3. East Wind nut butter doesn’t have emulsifiers or such added to it, so it separates.  I break the nut butter up so until no chunks are larger than, say, an almond.  Stirring helps accomplish this, but I generally find it necessary to also find the biggest chunks and manually break them apart.  This can be the most laborious part of making granola.
  4. Mix the nuts with the oats.
  5. Make a depression in the oat-nut mix and pour ½ to ¾ of the liquid into it.
  6. Stir immediately and deeply, turning the bowl in order to get all the edges.  Continue stirring until all the oats you’re bringing up already have some liquid on them, that is, until none of them have that floury surface texture, and until all easily visible sorghum-nut-butter chunks have been broken up.
  7. Spoon the already-mixed granola onto an ungreased pan.  Leave the uncoated oats in the bowl.
  8. Pour the rest of the liquid into the oats.  Repeat step 6 (stirring to the bottom of the bowl) and step 7.
  9. Spread the granola evenly over your pans.  I use 3-4 large baking sheets.
  10. Bake at 300 degrees until surface begins to brown, turning the trays around halfway through or when the first edges begin to brown.  In Acorn’s convection oven, I bake the granola for a total of about about 50 minutes; I think most home ovens would take longer.

Some notes about this process

  1. The only essential ingredient is the oats.  All other ingredients can be replaced with something else.  All proportions can be changed according to your taste.
  2. It is important to pay attention to the ratios of oats to nuts to liquid ingredients.  Significant changes in these ratios will result in significant changes in the texture of the granola as well as the taste.  Large changes may result in granola bars or in very dry granola.
  3. The water is just to make sorghum and nut butter more stirrable so that they won’t burn while in the pot.

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