The fruit (and vegetables) of Sharing

Several years ago, I built a 2,000 square foot greenhouse on our land so we could grow food for our family all winter long.   We had gardened successfully on the same spot in prior years.  Greenhouse gardening was new to us.  It took a while to figure out what to grow and how to grow it in the winter season, but last winter we determined to fill it with cold tolerant vegetables and not heat it at all other than the free solar daytime heat.  We knew it would have too much capacity for us to use, so we invited other Villagers to share in the work and the produce.   We dined all winter long on fresh cabbage, carrots, kale, spinach, beets, lettuce, radishes, onions, broccoli and cauliflower.   We worked together in the greenhouse and later making sauerkraut from the bumper crop of cabbages.  Delicious.  But the best payoff was in relationships.

I want to share an email that my wife, Becky, just received from Judy (cc to me).
It gladdened my heart to see the fruits of sharing.  Sharing:

  • Transforms relationships.
  • Demonstrates trust and love.
  • Stimulates generosity in return.

The Bible teaches,

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”   Ecclesiastes 11:1

When I was a child, I used to wonder, “so who wants soggy bread?”    🙂

Here’s the answer:

Hi Becky,
 
I finished filling my kraut-bucket with cabbage today, and wanted to say thank you for sharing the produce from your greenhouse.  Although we spent a few hours there planting/thinning/weeding, our reward has been greater than effort expended.  Not to mention that it is your greenhouse, your seed, your water…  
 
I’ve been wondering how you determine what is fair when it comes to sharing the fruits of our labors.  I don’t want you to feel that we are taking too much advantage of a good thing!
 
My concern is that things not go to waste because there isn’t time or energy to harvest what was planted.  I am willing to help you put up the vegetables–as an additional ‘payment’ for what we receive.  For example, I’ll chop your cabbage and bottle it (you provide the jars); the finished product is yours. Maybe I can help get the last of the beets bottled…  I know you have MANY other things that could be occupying your time.
 
Please don’t hesitate to let me know what I–and Tom–can do to best help keep things moving along!
 
-judy.

Thank you Becky and Judy and Tom and George for your example to us all.

We have extra land. Anybody want to farm it?

Food security is the ultimate liberty.  If you can do it in  urban NYC, you can do it anywhere.  For some more inspiration, watch this YouTube video.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDxBEUOImjI

The Village on Sewanee Creek is about 750 rural acres on Tennessee’s lush Cumberland Plateau.  Of that, about 80 acres is cleared land that could be farmed.  Some of it is.  (The balance is either in deep woods or in a deep rugged canyon nature preserve) We have already built a community raised bed garden.  But there’s more.  Either on lots currently owned by Villagers, but as yet unfarmed or on unsold lots.

Want to farm but need land?  We have it and we can help you learn to farm.  Call us at (931) 442-1444.

Top 10 Self-Sufficiency and Survival Skills

These days a lot of folks are thinking about how to survive tough times ahead.  It’s tempting to end your short list after a stash of food, and an assault rifle with plenty of ammo.  Good luck!  In a pinch, it’s not the things you have as much as the skills you have that will be your most valuable assets.  By the way, since it takes years to acquire all the necessary skills for provident, abundant living, I recommend adding COMMUNITY as a pre-requisite to an attempt to become truly self-sufficient.  You will find that the task is much less daunting and the journey more enjoyable if you work with other like-minded people to divide, conquer and share the spoils of your efforts.

Whether you want to move into rural America or stay put in the suburbs, here are some skills you will need whether or not TSHTF.

# 1 Grow Fresh, Wholesome Food

Most people have some experience gardening even if it was just watching a bean grow in a Styrofoam cup way back in kindergarten.  But could you live off of what you grow?  It’s definitely possible.  Our first summer garden in the Village provided us with roughly 80% of everything we ate, but we learned in subsequent seasons that doing it consistently can be challenging.   We added a 2,000 square foot green house, intending to grow food year round and found that it was a whole different animal… uh vegetable.  It takes time to build up soil quality, learn what grows best in your area, how to control insects, crop rotation and a myriad of other complex and inter-related issues. 

Fortunately, gardening is the single most popular hobby in the USA, so you know that it’s rewarding and you can swap knowledge with lots of people.  Agricultural colleges operate an Extension Service in most counties where you can get tons of useful, local information and soil analysis.  Local farmer’s coops are a great source for tools, fertilizer and seeds.  But your best source of information will be your neighbors who have successfully grown food for years.  They know local soils and weather patterns and where to buy or trade non-GMO heritage seeds.

Extend your garden with permaculture methods by planting a fruit and nut orchard that will yield abundant crops year after year without tilling and planting.  But start soon.  Developing a productive small-scale farm takes time.

#2.  Learn to Weld

Learning to weld is easy, especially if you use a MIG wire-fed welder. Just adjust the wire feed speed and voltage to match the thickness of steel you are welding.  You can get the hang of it with just a little practice and a few tips from a friend who knows how.  Community colleges often offer inexpensive classes on Welding. One near us is also certifying welders for work at nuclear plants in Alabama and NE Tennessee. 

I bought a little 120V MIG welder at Harbor Freight for about $100.  It’s a good idea to stock up on a bunch of flux wire.  Not a bad investment as inflation kicks in, especially on commodity intensive stuff like steel.  I use my little welder a lot and liked it so much that I bought a second one that runs off of 220V current and can do deeper welds.  It was about $180. 

If you haven’t welded before you will be amazed at how often you will use it, whether in a survival situation or just doing some DIY repairs around the house or shop.  Then again, you can barter or start your own small welding business for some extra cash.

For real self-reliance you might want a portable generator/welder combo. You can find these for sale all the time on www.governmentliquidation.com or, just use one of the generators you already have.  When we built the amphitheater stage, we added a 40’ container with massive doors that open to a big movie screen and lock closed to house the barbecue and A/V equipment.  It’s in a scenic, remote location at the Village. My 7KW Honda generator and MIG welder worked great.  I’m now putting the finishing touches on a guest house built from two shipping containers.  If you plan to do any welding on this scale, I also recommend getting a plasma cutter, also available inexpensively from Harbor Freight.

#3 Learn Basic Carpentry and Home Repair Skills

Start with some DIY projects around the house.  Build a deck, a shed or a playhouse.  Building it plumb, square and level are the basics and are easily learned. Ask a friend who has some carpentry skills to help out.  The Amish don’t have a patent on community barn raising.  It’s a great way to learn, build something great in a short time and bond with resourceful friends. 

Any long-term crisis requires these skills.  Even in good times there are plenty of opportunities for the service-minded person to enjoy helping a widow or single parent in need.  I have found there is nothing more satisfying than building or fixing something well.  Carpentry, Electrical and Plumbing skills will all be in demand.  Having learned some of these skills from a friend, if you are the one on the block who knows how to fix stuff it’s your turn to make a lot of friends quickly.

 #4 Learn To Trap and Hunt

Hunting is one of those basic survival skills that have also found their way into mainstream recreation. There are plenty of hunters around.  You need to make sure you are one of them so some of the local game finds its way onto your table and not someone else’s.  This is a skill that takes time to master.  It’s not just about marksmanship.  It requires one to understand the movement patterns of animals in the wild – the where and when of their eating, drinking, sleeping, communication and mating patterns. 

Since we have an abundance of hunting land right here in the Village, it has been easy to barter for hunting lessons with good hunters for the right to hunt here.  I think that’s a far superior learning method to book or video learning because it’s local.  But traditional learning methods have their place too.

Trapping gives you a more reliable, efficient way to get fresh meat.  Traps and snares work while you work at something else or sleep. Traps can cover a wide area. A hunter can sit in a tree stand all day and not see a thing.  If you are more interested in dinner than sport as I am, trapping is for you.

There are a lot of different types of Snares, Live/Box traps, leg hold traps and body gripper traps. Each has a different purpose and different methods that need to be learned for trapping anything from small game like rabbits or squirrels, to large game like deer or feral hogs to nuisance animals like coyotes, beaver or raccoons.

Look for a local Trappers Association and join up for their mailing list, workshops or just some fun outings.

 #5 Learn how to Butcher Animals

This skill is a natural, not only for hunters and trappers.  Near the Village there are several small farms that raise grass fed or free range livestock (beef, goats, chickens, turkeys, etc.) One of our Villagers is an avid carnivore.  He’s in the process of buying more land from me, planning to raise his own beef.  I lowered the price a bit with an option to keep a cow of mine in his pasture land.  Butchering skills come in handy for significantly reducing the cost of bringing your beef (or chickens or wild game) from the field to your dinner table.

The first time I butchered a deer, I was pretty clueless.  It was a partial road kill, with a broken back it limped onto my property and I needed to learn quickly.  That deer made it into my freezer and we enjoyed the venison, but it wasn’t pretty.  Later a hunting friend showed me how.  Learning how to properly butcher and store animals for meat is a skill that everyone wanting to be self-sufficient should have.

 #6 Fish for Food

This isn’t about trophy or pleasure fishing where a secondary objective is to have a nice nap in the sun. You need to be able to bring in a quantity of fish reliably and fast.  First, buy and learn how to use trotlines, fish traps and nets.  Then learn how to make your o  wn.

Like trapping, a good trotline can be left to do your fishing while you build a barn or chop firewood.  And when you return, you’re likely to find several fresh fish on the same line just waiting to be fried up or smoked.

In spawning season, many fish will school up and move together.  My wife and I have enjoyed a salmon run on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.  Many other freshwater lake and river fish like Walleye, Bass, Stripers and Crappie have similar spawning behaviors you can take advantage of.

Google trawl and gill nets for supplies you need.

Warning!  These techniques may be illegal where you are. Be familiar with local regulations.  But then, if it comes to a choice of a potential fine versus hungry kids, well… you decide.

#7 Gunsmithing – Learn To Repair Guns

For the aspiring Survivalist or Self Reliant person, having a variety of guns for various purposes is a no-brainer, whether for hunting or defense.  Knowing how to clean, repair, site and adjust guns is probably just as important as knowing how to use them.  Any  guy who has been through basic military training remembers that one of the first things you learn is how to disassemble, clean and reassemble your weapon efficiently so it will work properly? No shortcuts when your life depends on it.  Keep basic spare parts for your guns and learn how to fix each one if it breaks.

Many Video’s and Books on Gunsmithing can be found on Amazon or Brownell’s. Pick ones that cover your gun types.

#8 Operate a HAM Radio

We decided early on that having someone in the Village with communications skills and equipment is important.  With the many skills I need to master, we decided another Villager would take this on.  He happens to be my brother who is just finishing his house.  Since he already had his license, this decision was easy.  For now, he has a good portable HAM, but he’s planning to install a fixed unit with tall antenna.  I plan to get my license when I can get to it.  In a disaster, a HAM radio is your communications lifeline to the outside World.  To appreciate its importance, there was a great TV survival mini-series a few years ago called Jericho.  You can find it on Hulu.com.

Last year, the requirements for a HAM radio operator’s license became a lot easier.  No Morse code is required.  A few hours study and pass an online test and you’re on your way.  Then, join a local club for practice and to build a resilient network.

  #9 Advanced First Aid

“Knowing advanced life saving first aid skills should be the goal of every person who is prepping for life.   And I’m talking about skills that go above and beyond those taught in basic first aid classes.

Learn how to treat major wounds, such as a sucking chest wound, until help can arrive. Could you set a broken bone? How about removing a bullet? It’s not as simple as some macho guy on TV makes it look. You’ll have to assume at one point during a crisis, you’re first aid skills will be needed. If not by you, then possibly by a family member or friend. You may be their only hope for surviving.”
The Survival, Emergency Preparedness and Self Reliance Blog

  #10 Small Engine Repair

Small engines provide most of the power that makes self-sufficient living enjoyable and even doable for folks of our time.  As I look around our homestead, I’m surprised to count the number of small engines I use.  (Chain Saws, 4-Wheeler ATV, Generators, Pumps, Air Compressors, Saw Mill, Rototillers, and the list goes on)

Knowing how to repair any of these small engines is a huge plus because it seems they’re always breaking down.  Because we’re in the country there are a number of small engine repairmen I can and do depend on, many more per capita than you would find in a big city.  Most people around here use small engines a lot.  But in a crisis situation, good repairmen may be overwhelmed.  Your local community college may offer classes on basic and advanced small engine repair. Once you’ve learned the basics, the rest is a piece of cake.

Auto repair has elements of Small Engine repair skills, and I’m tempted to include it here, but in a real crisis I’m thinking of getting back to alternative modes of transportation.  Automatic transmissions or sophisticated electronics built into most newer model cars are way beyond the reach of today’s shade tree mechanics.  If I can fix the small engine on my 4-wheeler that will get me by for transportation within a ten to fifteen mile radius, that will do, especially if I have more than one vehicle.  I do have an older model 4-wheel drive stick shift, carbureted vehicle.  It’s great for off-road use or on icy roads.  And, for those wanting to be prepared in case of an EMP attack, it has no sensitive electronics that could be fried by a massive pulse.  For this older vehicle, small engine repair skills will get me a long way.  Then, of course I could go back to horse and buggy days as some around here do.  I know where to buy a saddle horse for almost nothing.  Come to think of it, where the cost of gas is headed, that might not be a bad idea.

At a minimum, you should be able to change a tire, and change out parts that frequently break like starters, alternators, water and fuel pumps. If you can’t do these simple chores, you’d better have money or another vehicle to rely upon should one go down.

This is my top 10 list.  It is only the start if you want to be truly self-sufficient.  To give credit where credit is due, I got inspiration for this article from a like-minded blogger on The Survival, Emergency Preparedness and Self Reliance Blog.  My list is a bit different from his, so you might want to visit there for more ideas and a different slant.

 

#11 Food Preservation

Yes, there are many other important skills I couldn’t squeeze into the top 10.  I’ll sneak in one more.  Food Preservation is really important because in most climates your winter garden won’t satisfy all your needs for fresh food.  Food preservation includes Canning, Smoking, Dehydrating, Salting, Pickling, Root Cellars, Refrigeration/Freezing and much more.  Maybe I’ll do a list of the next 10 another time and lead off with this one.

Hands-On Preparedness Fair – Workshops

Our call for highly qualified workshop leaders has been answered in spades.   The quality and diversity of topics to be covered at the Fair on July 23-24 is outstanding.  See some of my older posts for a flyer and overview.  Here is a sampling  Preparedness Fair Schedule 7-24-2010

A sequence of three presentations, starts with
Permaculture Design and philosophy, (Saturday @ 10 am)

Permaculture is a design science that takes a whole-ecosystem approach to sustainable development. The term, Permaculture, means permanent agriculture and permanent culture. Permaculture developed in Australia in the late 1970s, by Ecologist David Holmgren and Natural History Professor Bill Mollison, and has since spread throughout the world. Leaders of the sustainability movement are applying Permaculture principles and design methodologies to everything from gardens, home sites, village designs, businesses, and entire regional economies.

Participants will be introduced to a unique tool that incorporates natural design systems into problem solving on multiple levels. Design Resource will offer future classes with in depth studies on topics like energy, food, healing aspects of the landscape, community networking and financial permaculture                                              

 BACKGROUND:   Kevin Guenther is a registered landscape architect, Leed AP professional and certified permaculture designer who has focused his consulting business (Design Resource) on sustainable design

Followed by:
Foraging and Gathering Food and Meds  (Saturday @ 11 am)

Hike through our 500 acre natural preserve in Sewanee Creek Gulf:  Foraging for food and Medicine is the 2nd hour of the permaculture presentation                                                                                                   

Workshop leader, John Rose says, “I work very much hands on, and each location I visit is different. There are a few guidelines common to the practice of safely interacting with anything in nature, whether it is wild plants, wild animals, weather, the elements in general, and ones approach to them.  Includes a general document that will help clarify these things.  I will also include a list of items that are useful learning tools such as a good small notebook with pen, or pencil for drawing and describing plants in their element.  This same notebook can be used as a nature journal for keeping track of such things as time of year, environmental conditions, weather, terrain, and many other aspects, all important to correctly identifying a plant at any given time of year, and under varying conditions.  I will look at not only edible and medicinal plants, but also poisonous plants, and plants that have other utilitarian uses for such things as fire starting, cordage, shelter, and other things.”

And third in the sequence:
Preparing Foraged Foods and Meds  (Saturday @ 2 pm)

Dr. Christina Berry adds that simply identifying edible plants and meds won’t get you far if you don’t know what to do with them.   This workshop will teach about preparing foods and meds from the foraged vegetation found on your foraging journey. Preparations of tinctures, teas, salves and syrups will be made and explained. Discussions of the use of different herbs for different treatments will also be discussed. Resources will be provided for further research.

And there will be much more.  Other workshops include:

TVA’s energy expert, Les Hartman and Village founder Grant Miller present
Alternative Electricity Generation Options.  (Saturday @ 9 am)

Understand available options, pros & cons of each, cost/KWH range, personal work cost, etc.    Understand options for grid tie vs. local battery storage.  See various electricity production options including water, PV, a Lister Diesel Generator and Wood Gasification.

Delve deeper into PhotoVoltaic Solar electricity with George Horrocks, chief design engineer with Tennessee’s largest PV installer.
Power from the Sun  (Saturday @ 10 am)

 Learn the Basics of Producing Electricity from the Sun and Why There has Never Been a Better Time to Go Solar. Whether you want to lock in your energy costs for life, clean and green the world, have backup security when the grid goes down, or see solar as a revenue generator for your family or business, with the price reductions of nearly 50% for solar in the last two years, coupled with incentives in the form of grants, tax credits, and TVA’s Generation Partners payments, now is the “perfect storm” of opportunity to install a solar array.

First on the priority list for preparedness is water.
Rain Water Collection Systems Tour and Demonstration  (Friday @ 3 pm & Saturday @ 1 pm)

Join Paul Owen of Nature’s Tap for a tour of the Miller Home off-grid system.  Understand the benefits and costs of setting up a Rain Water Collection System that can reliably supply all of your water needs.

Then explore options for Water Purification with George Miller,  water quality lab manager for the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley Water District via internet link from California. (Saturday @ 1:30 pm)

Discuss water purification options including filtration, chemical, UV, distillation, etc.    Learn the best use of water from various sources, its treatment primarily for drinking, and its storage.

What about food?
Tour the garden, greenhouse and orchard with permaculturists and gardeners.  (Friday @ 5pm & Saturday @ 1pm) Explore your questions about self-sufficient gardening.  Then learn how to prepare food, observing dutch and solar oven prep’s.  (Saturday 11 am through lunch).  Enjoy tasty BBQ catered from local restaurant, Holy Smokes and learn how to preserve meat and fish by smoking, drying and making jerky.
Sample some local favorites while observing the process of milling wheat for bread, home-made yogurt from milk and tasty jam from local berries.

And you can Can.  Learn how with Carolyn Park and Becky Miller
“Food Preservation Made Simple, Quick and Easy, By Dry-Pack Canning Method”  (Saturday @ 11 am)

CLASS OBJECTIVE:
Have a hands-on experience while learning a proven food storage method.
PARTICIPANTS WILL…
-Learn how to properly can foods such as whole grains, legumes, sugar, and other dry foods.
-Participate in a step-by-step process for canning and sealing dry food in #10 cans and mason jars without the use of electricity.
-See how proper food storage can extend food shelf life for up to 30 years.
-Obtain handouts to help you gain the knowledge to build your own food bank and become food secure.
DISPLAYING:
-Other Food Preservation Methods
-Equipment
BACKGROUND:
Carolyn and Becky have had life long experience in gardening and food preservation. Experience was drawn from three generations of family farming and homemaking.  Recently they have focused on long-term food storage to promote family sustainability and wellness.

“But wait, there’s more”   🙂

  • For hunters or wannabe hunters, expert hunter Bob Blackburn will host a round table discussion on hunting in the Tennessee Woods.   (Friday @ 7:30 pm)
  • For self-defense, expert Brad Bleasdale will present a two-hour course entitled “Choosing and using a Pistol for Defense”   (Saturday @ 10 am)

This Class will cover gun safety, types of handguns, how to eliminate “caliber confusion”, holsters, lights, and lasers, and a host of other topics.
Designed for people considering a pistol, or as a refresher for those who already carry.  Perfect for women, youth, or novice shooters.
Class will include hands-on instruction, and range time with a certified shooting instructor.  Gun and ammo will be available for those without.
Children are welcome but must be accompanied by an adult.

Bio:  Brad Bleasdale is a lifetime shooter and shooting instructor.  Blessed with the heart of a teacher, Brad teaches novice and intermediate shooters the basics of firearms safety and competence.  Brad has instructed hundreds of people in the safe and effective use of firearms, with specialized classes for women, youth, and church groups.
$10/person or $25 / Family.  MUST HAVE:  Eye Protection (sunglasses are fine), ear protection, folding chair, notebook, water.   Bring your own Handgun and Ammo

Alternative HealthCare for mind and body.

  • Start with a 2-hour Native American flute lesson that will soothe and heal the soul, by renowned musician Tony Gerber.  This hands on instruction includes a Native American Flute, all for just $60. (Friday @ 4 pm)
  • Take care of the physical you with a discussion of holistic healthcare methods that have worked for you.  Remedies for every day live.  This round-table will be presented by Dr. Cliffton Brady.  (Saturday @ 1 pm)

Entertainment and Fun

  • Enjoy a movie under the stars at the 26′ wide Village Amphitheater.  Bring your own steak or hot dogs to grill for an outdoor feast.
  • Groove to the jam session sounds of “Space Craft”  (Friday Supper, Saturday Lunch)
  • For the young in body and spirit, learn to rappell off the cliffs near Miller’s Falls with certified instructor, Jesse Gainer or play Village Games with Haley Blackburn.

And that’s just a sampling.  So much to learn and do.  So little time.  Come, join us for the first annual Preparedness fair at the Village on Sewanee Creek.

Preparedness Fair @ the Village – Permaculture

Permaculture Design Class 2010I’m excited to announce one of the presenters at this year’s preparedness fair at the Village on Sewanee Creek.  Kevin Guenther is a renowned sustainable landscape architect from Nashville.  He will be presenting on the Permaculture ethic, how it is both a community building mind-set “PERMAnent CULTURE” and a method of low impact, productive agriculture, “PERMAnent agriCULTURE”.    I’m attaching a flyer for one of Kevin’s paid courses on the same topic.  Permaculture Design Class 2010

Segueing from Kevin’s presentation, we plan to do a walkabout tour of some of the 500 acres in our Nature preserve to discover naturally occuring “permanent” food and med’s. 

Finally, what to do with those natural treasures?  We will prepare some of these into edible dishes, topical ointments, or other medical remedies.  Practical, hands-on information you can take home and use.

For more information about this year’s Preparedness fair go to https://1stvillager.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/preparedness-fair-at-the-village-on-sewanee-creek/.

A Life Transformed – Part 2

Part II: Dreams

            My summer in the garden changed my vision for my future almost entirely. Things about which I had rarely thought suddenly became central to my idea of happiness. Food was one of those. Being blessed with the opportunity to eat so much whole, real, home-grown food has deeply convinced me of its importance. In just the past few years since we moved here, my family has developed a simple, but unique food culture that gives me a physical, tangible connection to this place as I move on to college and other chapters of my life. I’ve even told my parents that for my graduation present the only thing I want is a supply of our home-canned vegetable soup mix, salsa, Mom’s apple sauce, and, of course, green beans. My everyday breakfast of homemade yogurt and the delicious mainstay of homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam are traditions I plan to carry on. I’ve learned here how powerful food, especially whole, healthy, real food, can be to bring families and communities together.

            Now, when I look at my family’s garden, I see a great deal more than plants that give me nourishment. I see a visual representation of my connection to my family and to this place and of my own personal growth. I see a teacher that has many more lessons for me, lessons about simplicity, gratitude, humility, discipline, perseverance, respect, inner peace, the importance of connections, gentleness, caring, observation, hard work, independence, and love. I truly believe that, as Masanobu Fukuoka teaches, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.” Growing food is about growing yourself.

            But most exciting, when I look at my garden I see my dreams for the future connections I hope to share between myself, the land, and my own family. When I look at the corn field I can hear the taps of my toddlers’ feet and the excited squeals of their game of “peek-a-boo” between the stalks. I can imagine their dad calling them over to help him stuff one of his old shirts for a scarecrow and a precocious 3-year-old telling them they’re doing it wrong. I can see myself buried in a mass of green bean vines until I feel a tap on my shoulder; my little son’s face is glowing with pride at the huge carrot he has just picked. I look now at the tiny fruit trees we planted a year ago and imagine them tall and strong enough to hold little climbers eager for the first ripe apple of the season.

My glimpses have spilled over from the garden spot to encompass all of our land. I envision a driveway lined completely with blueberries and raspberries, flowerbeds filled with sweet potatoes in front of the porch. The house itself is very small, but always warm and filled with light and laughter and people rushing in and out. I can feel the rush of summer air as someone opens the back door to bring in another basket of green beans to snap. “Grandma” is taking a batch of her famous whole wheat bread out of the oven (the smell is to die for) and “Grandpa” is sitting in an armchair serenading us with his saxophone. Someone hops on the piano bench and it becomes a regular jam session. It’s harvest time, and there are tables set up everywhere for slicing cucumbers and peeling peaches. My brother and his wife are there canning their peaches and pickles with us. More probably gets eaten than goes into the bottles, but there’s more than plenty. With all of the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, there are several conversations going on at once. The floor is kind of sticky in spots from where someone has absent mindedly knocked over the syrup for canning peaches. In the evening everyone helps clean up the kitchen and take dinner out to the back porch, where we sit until sunset.

            In my dream all of the people who mean most to me share my love for and connection to the land on which we live. I’m able to instill the importance of that connection in my children, and our whole family grows together through our experiences in the garden. It’s an important bond that we share and the memories of our summers together shape us all and keep us coming home, no matter what other far-ranging adventures life may have in store for us. We are made of this place. The very food we eat is made of the love we put into the garden. The garden is a place of Renewal from life’s stresses and hardships, Freedom from the pressures of the world, a Place to call home, a Refuge from pain, the Memory of golden days, the Peace of silence, the laughter of a Community, the promise of Justice, and the Transformation of the soul.

A Life Transformed – Part 1

My lovely daugther just graduated from St. Andrews Sewanee School (SAS), valedictorian of her senior class.  Her experience at this outstanding school was transformational, but that’s not what this is about.   She just shared with me her final paper for her Environmental Studies Class.  Submitted May 20, 2010, it is still pretty fresh.  To me, it is timeless.  . . .  and wonderful!

Here is the introduction and part one of two parts.  I’ll post the other part later.  Enjoy!

            One last orange streak is still visible in the lightening sky, and the chilly air feels clean as it enters my lungs. The only sounds that break the morning stillness are the calls of birds and the gentle rhythm of my flip-flops along the trail. I swing open the large wooden doors of the greenhouse and set down the baskets I’m carrying. I walk slowly down each aisle of raised beds, trailing my hand through the lush potato leaves, plucking out a weed here and there. We should be eating tomatoes within the next week. I hope I didn’t trim the leaves too far back.  I’m definitely going to have to find some other way to use all these cucumbers. The spinach is going to seed – sad, I’ve really enjoyed that this year. Mmmm, cilantro. I’m so glad Mom decided we should try out more fresh herbs. That strawberry looks especially juicy. I pop it in my mouth. Yep. Delicious.  I come to the end of the first row – a bed full of green beans – and I have to stop and smile. This is my favorite part of the garden. More briskly now, I retrieve my baskets from where I set them down and begin to rustle through the rough velvet of the leaves to find each hidden pod.

            I’m not part of any unbroken family chain of gardening wisdom. My ancestors left the farm for the suburbs in my grandparents’ generation or before. My own connection with the land is relatively recent. As I walk here in my garden, I’m often unsure what to do for it. I don’t hear the soil and the sun and the plants speaking to me. Not yet, anyway. But I feel their importance, their peace, their simple joy. And I’m learning to listen.

Part I: Return

            I was born into a family of America’s corporate elite. For most of my life my dad was a top executive whose salary supported our living in large houses in affluent areas with excellent schools. Though I grew up in many different regions of the country – including Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Atlanta, Georgia; and Louisville, Kentucky – the areas where my family lived were fairly similar, as were the thought processes of the people who lived there. It’s no great wonder that I grew up ignorant of anything beyond culs-de-sac, strip malls, traffic, and processed food. I was taught at a young age, not by my family, but by the whisperings of “Mother Culture” that the only respectable jobs required business suits and graduate degrees.

            I was shocked, therefore, and more than a little upset, when my dad informed me that after my freshman year of high school we would be moving to a large plot of land in Middle-of-Nowheresville, Tennessee. I’ve never been spoiled enough to object loudly, but internally I was dreading this move more than most. After the packing was done my mom and I joined my dad, who had come in advance to start work on the new project: sustainable land development. At that time our house was only a foundation, and the three of us lived in a tiny camper next to the construction site. I spent that summer hiding out in the trailer with a book or on the computer. My dad was in love with our new land, and he often tried to get me interested with hikes to the waterfalls, the bluff views, and the beautiful greenery. My attitude was always the same: “Yeah. It’s beautiful. Can I go home now?”

            A year passed. I was hardly ever home because of all my school activities and commitments. I spent a few months in Costa Rica, which planted the seeds of simplicity in my head and in my heart. Though my neighborhood in Costa Rica wasn’t very close to any open land, I became accustomed to walking to every destination, enjoying beautiful rainforest views as I crested each hill, and smelling in my clothes the sunshine we used to dry them. Those seeds were just the beginning of my return to the land.

            Most people would guess that the deep change in me came mostly because of my time in another country. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. I can trace the transformation in my thoughts and dreams to one summer spent in our family garden. OnRaised Bed Gardene week, really. I had just come back from a fun but stressful month at Tennessee Governor’s School for the Humanities. I was feeling hurt and frustrated by school friends and looking for a place of cleansing and healing isolation. I began to work with my mom every day in our family garden. It took me only a few days to recognize the peace and significance that I felt in the mornings I spent working there. The way I talked began to change. I started to dream out loud of a small house where I could live simply with my family and a large garden. I gave thanks openly for the simple things, and I expressed frustration that I couldn’t express adequately to my friends just how I had changed and how much this new connection meant to me. I often lamented to others and in my journal, “How do I explain the feeling of waking up, putting on shorts and a t-shirt, walking out to the garden, picking green beans that I grew myself, snapping them, throwing them in a pot with a little sugar and salt and pepper, eating them, and not needing anything else in the world?

            A trip to my old neighborhood in Atlanta reconfirmed that I had changed deeply and dramatically. The suburban life that once seemed to me the only way to live now repulsed me. I felt like I was drowning in a huge sea of pavement. Traffic seemed unreasonable – where was everyone going? Parking lots made me squirm. Strip malls appalled me – why in the world should a town need an entire store devoted solely to makeup? I regularly ranted to my mom about the stupidity of such a lifestyle. She reminded me that this was the way the majority of Americans live, that most didn’t know any different, and that not too long ago I was one of them. As I walk through my garden, through the trees between the garden and my house, and through any open space, I often reflect on that trip and on Gerard Bentryn’s statement, “If you cannot see where your food comes from, you are doomed to live in ugliness.” As I do, I am overcome with gratitude to God for guiding me and my family to this place and giving me the opportunity to learn to see.