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Slow and Steady

Otherwise titled ‘Bucket Brigade Workparties’, ‘The Mighty Mattock’, ‘The Internet just Ain’t no Big Thing’, and of course ‘Thank you Vermont!’

Y’all might have noticed that we skipped last month’s new moon post. It was Nick’s birthday, my (Kelda's) Mom was in town and we headed the hour and half drive to Fayetteville, Arkansas. We ate locally grown organic food, walked in the rain, and got an awesome tour of Tri-Cycle Farm. Thank you Jan Spencer for pointing us that direction! It's a 2-acre site nestled between homes that incorporates really smart permaculture techniques and is a centerpiece in the community for kick-ass workparties. We gleaned some gems from manager Don Bennett:

  • To design for drought, flood, and lots of all-aged pedestrian access: disguise your swales, raingardens, and ponds as paths and gathering areas. Dig them out feet deep and woodchip mulch them to what feels level-ish with the beds and plantings. You can walk on them in all weather and during rains they are storing and sinking water.

  • To do this kind of intense hand labor you need a crew that likes to work (everyone wants to work, it’s essential to have a clear task at hand and the tools available). Always have something meaningful for people to do, but don’t have them digging tirelessly until you have momentum for it. People need to feel a sense of accomplishment. Don’t use wheelbarrows to move out soil and move in woodchips, use a lot more people and a bucket brigade.

What to say on this post has been a-kilter the last few days. My grandfather’s health has declined to the point where he has significantly more pain, can’t walk, and was moved to a nearby nursing home. I find many parallels between the nursing home debate and cry-it-out debate (many young parents know it as CIO). I would venture to say that both CIO infants and adults just moved to nursing homes feel almost exactly the same. My grandfather repeatedly says he feels abandoned, wants to see his wife, and wants to go home. Decision makers in both scenarios feel like it’s inevitable, and those of us who disagree (with both CIO and nursing homes) see that the inevitability is only assured by a series of choices which are not inevitable. What would you do as a grandchild and minor decision maker? Maybe the same as babysitter of a child who’s used to CIO: just go in and hold his hand.

So you can imagine we’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Thank goodness he’s only three blocks away. I’ve also realized how privileged my life has been to this point that I am unaccustomed to watching my loved ones suffer. It’s very difficult, and I’m finding it hard to be truly happy except right after visits in which he’s either peacefully asleep or otherwise doing okay. The staff are good people, but there are so many little things we can do for him just because we know who he is (and was).

Gela’s having a great time going to the nursing home. Last night I overheard some residents talk about that cute little girl and how she just wanted to run around naked. (Nick I’m sure did his best to control the situation a few hours before). Years from now I bet the things she’ll remember about the nursing home will be: the fish tank, the cockateil, papa’s cookies, me yelling at her not to pounce on him, the guy who has children’s books (she likes to borrow them), and the rocking chairs on the porch. All in that order. She also likes to pick flowers and put them in the pop machine dispenser.

In other news, our garden is growing bigger, very s l o w l y. We’re digging it by hand. Mulching takes too long for this market season, though we might do it for things like squash. Our goal is to remove the grass and roots from this old pasture, like trying to remove the frosting on a cake. We tried a walk-behind rototiller but instead of getting rid of the grass it broke it into smaller pieces and buried them, a great way to create a ton of weeds, not a very good way to prep a perennial garden. So we’re using a mattock instead. We pop out pieces of sod, shake out the soil, and take the grass and roots to a compost pile. Given all our hours reading books to Gela, sitting with Papa at nursing home, and doing Nannie’s groceries and mail, we’re averaging a garden bed every 2-3 days. Nick was reading somewhere that a man with an ox could plow an acre per day. We groaned of course because that’s So Fast!! BUT, we’re aligning ourselves with peasants everywhere who use some variation of this method (azadón or azada). And because we’re removing the grass roots that most gardeners here battle against, we’re hoping it’s truly a ‘Slow and Steady Wins the Race’. We’ll hardly have to deal with grass as a weed again, fingers crossed.

We’ve installed five 275 gallon IBC totes (bulk liquid shipping totes, food grade for canola oil and fish oil) to collect the rainwater that occasionally pours off the house’s metal roof. Nick hauled in tons of gravel for an elevated base, stacked them, plumbed them together, and installed an overflow at the highest point. We were flummoxed for a while at the bulging of one of the bottom totes even though it wasn’t full. Nick thought the same hose/pipe could let water in and air out but that only works until that hose is covered by the water level, then it becomes a p-trap of sorts (like the “s” on a toilet bowl/sink). Nick drilled a tiny hole near the top of the container to relieve pressure. Sure enough everything equilibrated. Now we are working on conquering plugging that tiny hole when the water reaches that level. We really like the ‘passive’ “tiny dry stick” method Caitee so neatly invented back at the EcoHouse for a leaky cistern. When wood dries it shrinks, when it gets wet it expands; if you shove a dry stick into a hole then water will theoretically expand it and put pressure on the hole to keep the stick in. Great in theory, and small tanks, but since we’ll have 2,300 pounds of water atop the plug here we might go for a stronger strategy like a float switch or secondary plumbed air escape/overflow. Another lesson learned, we under-budgeted for the plumbing hardware to hook it all up. Our estimate was $20 per tank for plumbing, and to date it has cost us more like $65. Long story short always go with a larger cistern instead of many smaller connected cisterns; your plumbing costs will be less and you will have less potential failure points.

Also we need to point out how much we as a society undervalue our water (or perhaps how much Nick and I overvalue our rainwater catchment): our 1,375 gallons of cistern storage cost about $630, the same volume of water from our tap costs about $13. We’re also noticing the importance of grey water systems. Gela’s bath every evening at (about 30 gallons) adds up to 900 gallons over the course of a month. We send the equivalent of 100% of our stored irrigation capacity down the sewer every month and a half instead of into a grey water system and our aquifer, via our gardens! Needless to say, we hope to correct this with a greywater system later this year. In the meantime we give Gela 'sink baths' where she sits in, you guessed it, the bathroom sink instead. It's just one of those things she'll be surprised about when talking with friends later "You get a bath in the tub!? I get sink-baths!!" Oh well.

Alternatitvely, (to the totes, not the sink-baths) we’ve also just put a galvanized tub under one downspout. Mockingly, it’s easier to use for filling up a watering can, doesn’t bulge or need plumbing, and might be a great goldfish pond. To the totes credit, they do come with metal caging which both allows an easy trellis and endless entertainment for Gela. She’ll take off her shoes and climb up and down the totes all day. It’s a little scary for other adults to watch, but she’s sure-footed and just took it slow until she got good at it.

We’re also starting a farmer’s market. At first we thought it was a gargantuan task, but upon learning that around here the term ‘farmer’s market’ applies to a person selling produce from their truck at the same place each week, (and has little to do with meetings, non-profit status, or heated farmer-to-crafter politics), we thought we could raise the bar a little. We’re aiming for a handful of vendors setting up in Fairland’s derelict Main Street on Saturdays. Add some musicians and café tables and it’s easily the most happening scene in this small town. We were also lucky that PICH grant recipient Cherokee Nation was tickled to find us, because there’s a pot of money for this exact project. We won’t get paid but we’ll likely be able to spend money on all start-up essentials.

Which brings me to the other Slow and Steady observation. We thought a Survey Monkey poll would help gauge market location/date etc, but the reality is that the Internet isn’t really a big thing out here. We kept wondering why businesses don’t have websites with open hours (or heck, even signage indicating the right building) or no one is collaborating with us on Google Docs or why the local bank doesn’t have online banking. It was completely foreign to need to call the bank during open hours to know an account balance, or even worse try to keep track of it on small pieces of paper. The upside is that people just talk to each other more, which brings up a really interesting question of community glue vs time saved. It’s given me pause that I’ve grown accustomed to the anonymity of ATM machines and those machines at the post office. We have a sinking feeling that when we return home though, there’ll be all sorts of new Doodles, Loomios or what have you, and we’ll seem country-bumpkin-like with all sorts boring/engaging ways to talk about the weather. So if friends can keep us updated with new developments it would be much appreciated. Speaking of which, we have a landline now 918-676-1040, but we basically don’t exist because we, and our new business, are not yet in the phone book.

In closing, let’s talk about something awesome. In the back of the local paper several weeks ago was the great headline that nearly brought us to tears: <strong>Vermont Brings Big Ag to It’s Knees</strong>. Because Vermont has demanded GMO labelling, food giants General Mills, Mars, Campbells, etc are all saying it will actually be pretty easy to do, and are finally going to just label it. In honor of long-time GMO labelling advocate and friend Katharine Rode, who can now rest in peace, I’ll just say to big ag: ‘You jerks, it’s about f---ing time!’

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