News from the Garden

work hard, eat well, and give thanks

Sometimes, I Am Startled Out of Myself,

like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.

-Barbara Crooker

(similiar to Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”?)

skeleton crew

Well the season proper is ending! Our final wwoofer said Bon Voyage, and we are beginning to plan for next year. Because we are not growing at Philmont next year, we have little to do but continue harvesting, and focus our attention on our next piece of land.

We are currently applying for grant funding and hoping that our project can come to fruition with greater ease the second time around. Or is it the third time that’s a charm? In any case,  I certainly feel that I absorbed a great deal of valuable and practical information through this first-year experience; fall and winter will hold great opportunities to reflect.

There is a lot of planning to do, and it is testing our patience. Very difficult to make plans with an abundance of unknown factors.  Endings can be confusing, and clarity often comes with a bit of space and time. Right now, our inclination is to rest, eat good food and get out and see those friends we were hibernating from.

More news soon about our program next year. In terms of Solaqua….our soil sample results came back very positive, and the land behind SunDog Solar looks free and clean to prepare for next season. Upon guidance from the Cornell Nutrient Analysis Lab (part of the Cooperative Extension) we were instructed to choose the test for heavy metals. This test is most conclusive in our case because any other waste materials associated with the paper mill (if they had dumped anything there) would have biodegraded safely by now.  The test analyzed for metals such as Lead, Barium, Arsenic, Copper, and Chromium, and all levels were far below toxic amounts.

The end of the season also means Cutting Your Losses. Having lost a few chickens to those trickster coyotes, we feel that it may be time to give them to a nice, winterized home. What sweet hens they have been! Half-feral, roosting in our farm-truck sitting next to the coop. We wanted to give them their free range of the place, but it seems they had some extra hungry eyes looking out for them too.

Likewise, the deer have not been friendly, in the final stretch. They ate nearly all our pea green tendrils, a tender micro-green that was our little pet-crop this year, not cheap to grow or to eat….unless you get the free deer-ride. We did try a rotten egg/cayenne pepper repellent, but it did not seem to do the trick. I just ended up with runny eyes and sneezing fits.

So looking towards winter, the kitchen is full of winter squash, kimchee, dilly beans, pickles, mead, salsa verde (tomatillo salsa) and all sorts of other delicious preservatives. Before all this canning went down, it was one big Stink-Fest. I nearly lost my mind with all the rotten tomatoes/juice pooling all over the counters and floor at one point. Things rot year round but Autumn feels particularly pungent. N’est-ce pas? Other exciting endeavors: Dan has started inoculating mushroom bags for some oyster and shitake flushes in the months ahead.

We are looking forward to what will unfold in the next few months…what a difference a day can make! Updates soon.

The Book of Life

To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves; and what is important in beginning with ourselves is the intention. The intention must be to understand ourselves and not to leave it to others to transform themselves or to bring about a modified change through revolution, either of the left or of the right. It is important to understand that this is our responsibility, yours and mine; because, however small may be the world we live in, if we can transform ourselves, bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large, the extended relationship with others.
– J. Krishnamurti

autumnal hums, drums, and the humdrum

The start of September brought hurricanes and high hopes. There was a small lull in productivity; rainy-day movie marathons balanced with fruitful mushroom walks in the damp forest. Luckily we didn’t lose any assets or vegetables to the storms and  felt grateful for the pause, enablign us to prepare for the harvest season. This month we’ve been clarifying plans to greet the coming cold, fine-tuning our areas of research and interest, welcoming end-of-season wwoofers and selling bushels and bushels of beans (…among other beautiful crops).

At the start of the month, we hosted a team of sweetheart herbalists, two women traveling with their workshop on the use of herbal medicine as a radical act of subversion, throughout history and in our current day, to oppressive institutions. We thought about the innate healing and intuitive wisdom of plants and how this knowledge can be used to re-empower what we’ve lost by way of healthcare in our country. For me, the conversation also invigorated community alliances, the actual space to gather and share. We swapped stories of how different native plants become allies and how enriching it is to come to understand our minds and bodies more intimately. We also talked about the importance of connecting to the source of sickness and truly understanding that the earth directly and abundantly provides for wellness…these plants are dwelling just around the borders of our homes and yards. Anyway, here is their blog, if you want to know more!

Other mishaps were bound to follow us into this month…more episodes of “Broke Down Trucks in Irritating but Fortunate Places”. Otherwise, we’ve been selling lots, and paying back people who have helped bring our organization to life (Thank You Field Goods!) Here at the end, we feel successful, and by now there is little maintenance and lot of bounty. We are hoping to get going on other infrastructure projects that we had to put on hold, such as getting the yurt up and getting the chickens ready for the cold. Not only building and clearing projects but also creative such as collecting herbs for salves and tinctures and also processing/canning surplus produce (our pickles are…AMAZING).

We recently fieldtrip’d to the Shaker Mountain Cannery in New Lebanon, and also visited the Galiana Retreat Center. We are getting to know our neighbors and the wonderful initiatives they are putting into motion. We also took a fieldtrip up to Vermont to the Roots School for a celebratory skill-share weekend. The workshops covered topics such as stone tools, weaving, tracking, pottery, bows, naturalist studies, and ninjutsu for example. The weekend was “grounded in the idea that we as people can become more conscious, stronger, effective and capable stewards of the land that supports us” (from website). This time of year is perfect for getting out of the farm-bubble and meeting and sharing with neighbors, establishing heartier relationships with people of mindsets and ambitions aligned with the qualities multi-faceted project.
Finally I just wanted to share this article I recently wrote for the North American Youth Section. Perhaps it will give a little more background on our project, our goals and aspirations, and, of course, how they both brilliantly and haphazardly manifest.

That’s all folks! Be equipped for the equinox–but not foiled by the foliage! Love, peace, and apple cider 🙂

Over-yielding Polycultures//Dynamic Accumulators

We’ve been feeling the tides of change at Common Hands, recognizing the innate impulse of creative projects to wax, wane, to weather both roadblocks and breakthroughs. Following a spiral that leads from birth to chaos, to the fertile void and leading back to the new normal. No longer as busy as we once were, we are reaching a meaningful ripeness that is replacing the busy-bodiness of the earlier season.

In this openness we’ve begun to implement our ideal of organically-grown education, the spontaneous learning that comes when one discovers the contours of their own knowledge-base and experience and are thus empowered to share with those around them. We have done more forestry walks and “sit-spots”, time we spend meditating in various spaces throughout the surrounding land, deciphering the patterns and possibilities of our surroundings, asking how we can best listen to all the elements; to be guided by these natural evidences. We want to do more group embodiment activities that help us to awaken our sensual perceptions of the world around us.

At Maiden Lane we were doing some hands-on learning about the permaculture design process, and came up with a group vision for the space, considering all the aspects and creatures that live off the land, from the humans quartered in the house to the guinea fowl that live across the street. We felt like pioneers as we blazed trails with scythes and machetes and unceremoniously brought our lumber to the gargantuan wood-chipper, primarily crunching up honey locust trees to be transformed into luscious mulch for our spiral garden. We hope that the fairies and gnomes agree with our plans and start to inhabit the space more freely. If not, then we’ll accept all bees, bats and butterflies to the new scene.

With all of these plans we really hope to employ a more holistic understanding of building, and to come to realize that architecture is an extension of the mind that creates it. That to “be truly mindful in architecture and planning…you need to see all the forces coming together—‘the land, the environment all around, all the people affected. And then your work can be sensitive and connected to the elements” (Kat Vlahos, professor of architecture U of Colorado). To understand that to build in a natural way, we must view structures as their own organisms, that mirror the creatures that inhabit them, as the interface between the inside and outside.

Another edge we are working with is how to live and be with others harmoniously, how to work through conflict from a higher perspective, without the pitfalls of the ego. It is difficult to always maintain this integrity when daily stresses become huge (i.e. when the engine fries and dies on the only farm vehicle we’ve been using to transport around). This really requires a great deal of patience, communication and also a bit of self-knowledge, a sense of knowing personal boundaries but also respecting that these are in a dialogue with other people and their boundaries. After all, we do operate as a group and we do have to be aware of others, how they are feeling, how they are contributing and evolving  as individuals and as part of the group, how we can help each other to become more expressed, heard and loved. Perhaps this is a larger topic to be discussed, but this is just a quick description of how I see some of our community work progressing.

Oh sigh, I wrote this entry so long ago and it’s taken about two weeks to post! I wish the theme of these posts wasn’t always about the rapid quicksand of life but so it goes. Until next time y’all. LOVE and so much love.

pesto, kimchee and chihuahuas

The air has been hot and thick and we are tending to a constant task of hydrating; gallons of lemon water and diluted Gatorade, while sprinkler-feeding our crops just in time for it to evaporate within minutes. These July days are tough. At one point we were up to 10 members, now we are more like 7, (plus three dogs, a gecko and tarantula) but we are expecting to welcome more wwoofers in August and September.

We’ve been working through struggles as a core group to welcome in a whole new group of wwoofers, wondering how to maintain the original intention of the farm as we knew it, while still fostering a sense of collectivity and democracy, transformation and flexibility. It is interesting to be a revolving, shuffling community. We definitely do not want top-down hierarchy but there is a need for order and stability that comes with clear leadership. Thus, we have worked towards crafting a project that enables the intention of the farm to strongly support both permanent and temporary workers. We want be open to the influence of each individual who is taking part in the project at any given moment, to allow each person to claim space and contribute freely while also maintaining a sense of order and structure that people can fill into.

We’ve been making time recently to incorporate our peer-lead learning model more and more formally, and this morning we took a mushroom walk in the woods and had a presentation about permaculture and how it relates to all realms of life, not just agricultural but social, political, economic as well as personal. While we haven’t had a lot of time to implement our educational model while the season was in full swing, we realize that learning is not always obvious, that true learning is in every interaction, observation and response to the most daily of occurrences. The field and living room are classrooms as well!

We want a structure that encompasses all directions, like a compass. Some people will gravitate towards embodying different directions of the compass, but ideally every community member has a comprehension of the whole. The vertical axis is idea and action oriented. On this axis the north has an eye on the horizon, sees the territory that must be crossed, understanding the larger purpose and vision, while on the opposite end, the south is able to comprehend the details and tasks that help to fulfill the vision of the North. The horizontal axis moves on the level of people and community. The east direction brings energy to community outreach, sales and marketing. The west is attuned to the needs and desires of the farm workers and the energy and harmony of the group as a whole. Together, everyone has an awareness of all axis points, while understanding their own particular focus and unique way of interacting with the project.

We’ve also been hosting mentors at the field to consult us on certain crops and methods, accommodating different styles that each farmer promotes, and finding what works best for us. We’ve also done quite a few work exchanges with other small farms, for example at New Leaf Farm where we helped harvest in exchange for roto-tilling multiple beds at Philmont. This kind of outreach instills faith in the art of community and asserts more strongly that private ownership is no longer feasible, we must share resources, equipment, tools and knowledge, seek and share resources instead of blindly acquiring and taking from invisible sources. Plus, it’s more fun.

After working diligently these past few weeks, we have gotten our garden under control and are planting for fall, trying to beat the germination clock. Cutting our losses on certain beds that didn’t yield enough and turning over some new leaves. Also in the midst of this is taking care of ourselves and having fun as a group, preparing to welcome more people to the community while unfortunately seeing others go (ah! Such is the sting of impermanence…always), and trying to conceive of how our project will look next year and what we can do in the meantime to prepare. Much to be done, always! But I truly can’t imagine spending this energy any other way…. It does seem limitless when a project comes along that ignites passion and inspiration. Hopefully I’ll update more sooner not later…I did seem to lose track of blog-time this past month. Oh well, who keeps track of blog time anyway? There are not sun or moon cycles on the internet…it’s always surf o’clock.

Our Salad Days

Time has come for you to shed your
Silken petals and declare
Whether you are apple, cherry,
Plum or pear,

And all summer take your pleasure
Nourishing the ripening fruit
With the sun and rain you welcome
Through leaf, through root.

-Charles Pratt, from “Valediction”

Time is certainly passing though we’ve been feeling very present, having almost a micro-lens view of each task at hand, and here we are almost at the end of June, passing off the solstice torch, and now a steady and subtle decline of daylight (if we choose the glass half empty). On the Brightside, there is so much day light now to spend weeding and harvesting, to bask in luxuriously, and so many different brands of farmer’s tans to cultivate in awkwardly symmetrical places that remain hidden until a nice skinny dip in the crick, donning our uniquely individual pale swimsuits that end on the upper arm, at the mid-thigh, and featuring a few strips along the waistline at the lower back. So beautiful.

Big news for us this week….we got chickens. And we LOVE them. 8 sassy hens and one chilled-out rooster. We named him Zach because it is the most common male name of People Associated with the Project ( Other possibilities that were ruled out: The Fonz, Mustafa…he didn’t seem to have enough ‘tude for these machismo names). Also of note, we have a foot-less hen, whom we call Pogo and sometimes “Footloose”, though the latter is not as accurate…they ain’t loose..just gone. Sweet thing, she gets by with a little help from her hens…literally, using their bodies and her wings as makeshift crutches. In any case, this acquisition now completes us as a truly biodynamic farm, now beginning to establish a feedback loop of fertilizing our land from within, all animals and vegetables and compost and refuse belonging to the same circle of life. Yay.

We can’t lose our sight for planting, so we put in loads of winter squash up at solaqua, in a sort of double-helix winding shape. We’re getting experimental up there which feeds our quirky, que sera sera sensibility. Also, planted some ground cherries the other day and am so excited for their blooming paper lanterns to appear.

This week was all salad and we really felt the nuance of the Shakespearean line, when Cleopatra speaks to her “salad days/ when I was green in judgment, cold in blood…” These “salad days”, taken to mean a period of youthful inexperience, the rawness of misjudgment, sums up our struggle with salad mix this week. Without going into great detail, we basically lost our CSA of salad for the week because of a storage mishap, and the bags were crushed overnight. This was a learning loss, and we felt the fickle particularity of these sensitive leaves.

Despite our rough and tumble flair, we do wear professional hats, though sometimes we lose them in the wind, along with precious crops that fly out the back of our truck, or coffee mugs and wallets that slide off the top of our cars. Over all, we are getting organized, keeping track of “stuff”. Holding space for both micro and macro, seeing both texture and panorama in the same frame. It’s an interesting experiment, for a group of people to hold an awareness of so many projects, keeping track of all that’s needed be it rakes or cars or dogs or water bottles or even jars of peanut butter. Making sure cell phones are charged and transmitting important messages over bad-service zones in back country roads. We are all going to get really good at these systems, they take time and care to develop. Perhaps we can merge our minds somehow, transmit information instantly to the group without texts or conversation. Perhaps…. if we lived in dreamtime.

So I’ve rambled long enough and my tummy is rumbling with want for dinner…Take care all, and enjoy the sun and shower and solstice games.  Love!

I Sing the Body Electric

I SING the Body electric

The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them;

They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,

And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul.

-Walt Whitman

Holy harvest, what a week. We had our first CSA delivery this week as well as our first market. While it wasn’t the most productive week in terms of planting, the energy was focused on slowing down our pace and harmonizing as a group (feasting on banana splits together=major bonding). Amidst the stressful June haul it is so important to be on the same page.

The weather seemed to sense our need to release any built up tension, and it (finally!) let loose and stormed two nights in a row. We left the field just as it started to darken around us ominously and teaspoon sized drops thumped our skin. There was a hail surprise as well as a stellar series of lightning bolts, resembling an electrically intricate root system in the sky (…celebrated our own firework extravaganza!). Driving home into what looked like an apocalyptic epicenter, it felt that the gods were speaking something loud and true. All the rain and electricity really awakened our field, however, and took some of the work of watering off our hands, certainly contributing to our flourishing market table at Chatham Market on Friday. Our table was full of handsome heads of lettuce, kale, baby bokchoy and garlic greens and we all felt a sense of pride (our beautiful babies, for all the town to see!)

Before I get carried away with a meteorological, Tesla-shaped tangent, I’ll fill you in on the CSA report. Having never harvested for 60+ shares, we put trust into the field to provide us with all we needed, fingers crossed! The arugula proved to be our most contentious crop, though it was our fault in the end. The weeding task was mountainous so we harvested it all together and ended up sorting the baby arugula out of the grass, (not the other way around) for hours on end. I think we all felt a little delirious at the end of this mighty marathon, even with about 8 pairs of hands working steadily together.

Other charming mishaps included a pea-green escape mission. These precious micro-greens (I like to call them pea-green princes) houdini’d their way out of our box truck (somehow) and attempted to flee from impending delivery-doom. It was both horrifying and hilarious to see our precious cargo exposed to the dangers of the world as trucks whirled past, flipping them about the back roads driving towards Hudson. Thankfully, we rescued all escapees, not even bruised in the 90 degree heat, and headed home, singing bob marley for their cause– “exodus, movement of jah peagreens” –all the way.

SolAqua is definitely going to take a lot of soil work, as it is densely laden with sod and rock. This discouraging fact has become a motivating force, and we see how much land needs some tending, love and care. We are working away, sheet mulching and making raised beds to plant squash, peppers, tomatoes and some root vegetables. Other missions this week include extermination of cucumber beetles by hand and a painting party at the house, making signs and banners, a little market flair. More people will be joining our ranks soon, so exciting! Seems that our modest project is seductive to others after all. Who knew! As always, keep checking in on updates, who can predict what this next week will hold.

Take up with Strength your Rightful Task

What a difference a day can make. This month has certainly been full, and we keep reminding ourselves that we are first year farmers– trying to keep things in perspective! We have been oscillating between good news and bad news and trying to find a balanced stride as we plant crops, tend to those precious sprouts and imagine that soon our field will be overflowing with the bounty of our hard work.

Balance is a quality we are aiming for and we began the week with a group meditation on Rudolph Steiner’s Calendar of the Soul, and together created a pastel drawing sourced from our silence. The calendar of the soul is a series of verses, one for each week, and it is meant to guide the soul’s development through the changing tides and landscapes as the year progresses. As a group, we wanted to have something to ground us as we move together through the season. This balance of being and doing is one we are contemplating (especially when “doing” is the underpinning of our livelihood and therefore takes great precedence).

Now that the sun has turned up a notch, more suitable for summer, we have been taking advantage of the creek at Philmont. In between crab grass excavation projects (a merciless opponent), weeding and watering projects, turning beds and planting more crops, we never seem to forget that we have the opportunity to jump into the cool water and feel entirely new again; this balance of work and play is essential. This week we have also harvested some pea greens (sold to the restaurant Local 111 in Philmont) and also dandelion greens…a harvest that enabled us to conceptualize the quantity that 70 CSA shares will actually be.

We made time this week for a field trip, relocating our crew to help another friend’s farm Clove Valley CSA in High Falls, NY. This was an inspiring visit, not only accounting for the beautiful people and land we collided with, but also as we acknowledged how important it is for all of us to gesture towards others endeavors and to show support beyond one’s immediate community. It is a challenging and stressful time of year for small farmers (woodchucks: the omnipresent menaces looming nearby!), but we felt it was important for us to take a step back from this intangible and unwieldy stress and build relationships that support connection to other communities working towards the same goals. We are definitely desiring to keep our priorities clear…We are farming because we desire to feel this sense of camaraderie and togetherness amidst our endeavors to cultivate the land.

Another project that really blossomed this past week was our permaculture design process in Chatham. We built a spiral rock garden which involved liberating and amassing a plethora of stones and dirt from the landscape. It was a great team effort as we had one team excavating rocks and another team relaying wheelbarrows filled with dirt for the beds and another team holding the larger perspective, orchestrating the whole of the design, (we all switched these roles at different points). We felt the land transform with the attention and energy we put into it that day and are excited to have this sacred garden occupying part of our home space (Lauryn is renting a room on the property and we love hanging out there).

In a last bit of news, Solaqua is ploughed! YES! It took some delays and a lot of unfortunately placed rain spells, but we are now so ready to begin planting there. We built a greenhouse, bought a caravan, and even had a potluck/bonfire (potbon fireluck) there the other night…all helping us to feel that we are “moving in” to the land. More updates soon! Right now I simply can’t afford this computer time when there are plants and weeds and all sorts of other needs.  And so I leave you all! Be well and happy, summer is upon us!

let the wild rumpus start

We have certainly kept our hands busy over the last few weeks as planting became our primary focus. The fullness of the moon feels like a culmination of sorts and our group is really showing up and coming together. The beginning of the season is truly a time to sow seeds of all kinds– beyond cultivating the land we are also laying the foundation for our collective, cultivating a workable system for communication, time efficiency, feedback and reinforcement, as well as learning to negotiate the needs of the individual in relation to the needs of the whole. The days have been dynamic and changeful and we have all remained very present and focused with the tasks at hand.

Over the last week, the amount of shareholders has increased almost daily (we are now almost at 60…and climbing!) We are busy increasing the quantities of certain crops we’ve already planted as well as planting additional veggies like cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, scallions and artichokes. Basil is also pulling into the lead. We have mostly been working at Philmont site and recently started sheet mulching there, which is a permaculture method that is low-impact and involves no tilling of the soil. This method is super effective for weed control and basically mimics the benefits of natural forest mulch.

The rain seems to be playing trickster lately. We have been trying to orchestrate all the elements (a game of chance) to get Solaqua ploughed and ready, but it has been too damp. We did, however, do some keyline mapping at the site, marking out the natural contours of the land. We don’t yet have a keyline plough but we want to demarcate these lines now so that we are prepared for future seasons.

Last Saturday we kicked off our mud-caked boots and felt semi-clean for the night as we volunteered at the Flying Deer benefit dinner and concert. Flying Deer is a wilderness school and mentorship program, empowering youth through helping to deepen their connection and understanding of nature. The event took place in a renovated space in the mill building on Solaqua’s property, and the gritty elegance of the place was quite stunning. It was a wonderful gathering that enabled us to really connect to people affiliated with our group, and even those aligned with us indirectly; through mutual interest and engagement. The dancing (oh! the dancing) with the drumming of Gaia Roots was especially cathartic for our team, and we left sweaty and satisfied.

In other news, literally, we were in the RegisterStar this week! (photo here) We have also been finalizing some of our plans to have a homesteading educational workshop series in collaboration with the Chatham Co-Op, ongoing throughout the summer (more details to follow). Our first event will be about beekeeping in mid June. Other topics we hope to cover throughout the series are chickens, herbal medicine, and sustainable building.

We are hosting our first wwoofer this week and excited to welcome more of this wonderful species into the fold later in the season. It is always delightful to have extra hands around! Common or uncommon. We’ve been dreaming of having sheep grazing in our pasture at Philmont but not quite sure if that’s a feasible possibility right now. We’ve also been dreaming of getting more sleep, perhaps while day-dreaming of sheep, or perhaps dreaming of sleeping sheep, while sleeping to count sheep, counting on a sheep-less sleep, (or sleeping to increase our sheep-count?)

Anyway, be well, stay healthy and say hello to the flowers as you pass them by. We’ll be in touch as more the days go on.