Wednesday, February 29, 2012

OEFFA Conference and Earthineer

A big part of settling in a new place is gathering a community for support, encouragement, and inspiration. For agriculturalists, or agrarians, that community is especially important. It means the difference between floundering on one's own and flourishing with others. While we knew a number of farmers in our area before and soon after alighting here, we soon learned that Ohio has an extended and ready-made network of organic (and beyond-organic) growers, marketers, and activists. It is OEFFA, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association.

To learn all about what OEFFA does you can look at their "About OEFFA" page. In a nutshell, though, they are an organic certification agency, an education and support network for farmers throughout Ohio and the US (there are many members outside Ohio), and a well-organized advocate for farmers and consumers in the realm of state and national legislation. They publish a newsletter, hold farm tours and workshops across the state, and have a bumpin' annual conference featuring far too many workshops to choose from, inspiring top-notch keynote presenters, a trade show, meals from local and organic sources, and an opportunity to meet peers face-to-face.

Last year Margo went with Alten, had a great time, and made useful connections. This year it was my turn. I rode with a friend, Ben, who farms nearby at Mile Creek Farm, and that ride gave us an opportunity seldom afforded to folks in our situation (farmers with young children) to sit and have a focused conversation for hours. Soon after arriving at the site he introduced me to friends of his from our area, among them Doug and Kat of Smaller Footprint Farm and Isaac, the Food Service Coordinator at Antioch College.

I attended workshops on food preservation, defining one's vision, NRCS funding opportunities, using mushrooms in your woods and garden, companion planting, creating and maintaining native gardens to capture rainfall runoff, and what to do when you've got lead in your soil. I would have loved to attend the workshops on moving old barns, the risks of "fracking", cultivating edible mushrooms on logs, raising and selling fiber, and a number of others. I attended Woody Tasch's keynote on the Slow Money investment movement and Andrew Kimbrell's on the progress being made to keep Monsanto's (and others') aggression towards small farmers at bay.

Then, of course, there was the Saturday evening contra dance, which needs no explanation to those who know contra dancing, and of which no explanation of mine can do justice for those of you who aren't familiar with the past-time. Suffice it to say, I think you should try it if you never have before.

I did come out of the OEFFA conference with one more potential internet habit. The one booth in the trade show that I could not resist was that with the two computers, a large flat panel tv, and a flashy red GrainMaker mill. It was the display for a new social networking site, Earthineer. The two founders, Dan and Leah, were there making their pitch, which was this: Facebook is all well and good, but for those of us who are pursuing a sustainable lifstyle a world-wide community could be an incredible asset. For any question that one might have, many are steps away from the same problem and many have already found various wonderful, creative solutions they want to share. That's the gist of it, anyway.

Leah and Dan's background is similar to many of the rest of us: they had a formative experience that sat with them for a while, and when a transition came in their lives they made some big changes based on the vision that experience left them with, and is the product of those changes. I can identify with those motivations, and knowing that two of my favorite companies (GrainMaker and Countryside & Small Stock Journal) support the project makes it even more appealing. How useful I find it remains to be seen. I don't really understand how Facebook works, and for all my blogging the internet still leaves me, ironically, feeling dazed and disconnected. But I expect, as the Earthineer community grows, that I am going to find conversation and answers through a single website which would previously have taken me days of searching and many wild-goose-chases to find otherwise.

So if you have the inclination, join Earthineer and be my friend. 'Cause I only have two right now, and one was the default.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Haiku Game

We go for the cheap thrills. When we are looking for entertainment, we don't go to the cinema, the races, or skiing in the Alps. Usually not even to the bowling alley. We're game-playing people. There may be later posts dedicated to Settlers, Ticket to Ride, St. Petersburg, Scrabble, Chinese checkers, and the host of other games we love to play, but this one will sing the praises of The Haiku Game.

Haiku, as you may have learned in elementary school, is a form of poetry from the Japanese culture. It is the simplest kind I know in terms of rules, classically consisting of three lines with a reference to the natural world. The first line holds 5 syllables, the second holds 7, and the third concludes with 5 more. That's a simplified and strict definition - modern forms infrequently stick to the 17 syllables or images of nature. For example, here's one I wrote in the back of class during the poetry unit in my Elementary Education courses:

Half of my classmates
Talk too much, saying nothing.
The other half doze...

More recently we spent four years in Willits just a few miles up the 101 from Ukiah, which holds a grand Haiku festival every year. They take it pretty seriously, with judges, awards, and submissions from around the world.

Enough with the background. Now for the game. I have, sadly, not been able to figure out from whom we learned it initially; none of the people present the first time I recall playing it even remember the occasion. But since learning we have introduced it to many friends and acquaintances. It goes like this:

Each person sits with a piece of paper and writing utensil in front of them. Each person writes the first line of a haiku (5 syllables) and passes the paper to their right. Each person then takes the paper passed from their left, and writes the second line of haiku (7 syllables) to match the first line in front of them, and passes the paper to the right once more. On the sheet now in front of each person, they write the final line (5 syllables) to complete the poem, and pass it to the right once more. When all poems are complete, each persons takes a turn reading the haiku that the three people to their left wrote.

Depending on the group and the time of day, poems can be entertaining, deep, foolish, or completely unintelligible. And if the young (or syllablically-challenged) are participating, the 5-7-5 rule might end up as more of a suggestion. But it remains good wholesome fun, encourages community, and creates art.

So in honor of the past participants of Haiku Games that Margo and I have facilitated, and in honor of the 10,000-view-mark that the blog passed recently, I am instituting a "Haiku of the Week" to be featured in the sidebar. Each one will be taken from the sheets of Haiku Games past that I've kept.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Grow More Vegetables, 8th Edition

How to Grow More Vegetables, by John Jeavons, was initially published in 1974 by John and Ecology Action with the help of copying machines. While that happened before I was even born, I have heard the claim substantiated by folks who bought the first edition long ago, and 35 years later made it to their first tour of Ecology Action's gardens. A few editions down the line it was picked up by Ten Speed Press, of Berkeley, which also publishes a number of other great books (and which has been recently bought by Random House).

It became thicker, edition by edition, as EA's work progressed and the concept of biointensive, and then GROW BIOINTENSIVE, mini-farming was further developed. And, as those of us who have owned recent copies know, it contained nearly sixty pages at the back known as The Bibliography that listed thousands of resources that pertained to sustainability, agriculture, simple living, solar cooking, and the like.

When Margo and I began our agricultural life we had the 6th edition, and soon after coming to EA the 7th edition was published.

Some folks, depending on their philosophy of sustainability, count it as the Bible of sustainable agriculture. We found it as a combination of three sections: a great introduction to principles of successful gardening (in general) and biointensive gardening (specifically), a constant reference for crop-specific flatting, transplanting, and diet information, and a collection of sample garden plans modeling true sustainability.

The first section, once read and understood, I seldom returned to except as a teaching aid. After practicing it the information has been internalized. The second section is known, infamously to some, as the Master Charts. Before attending a workshop at EA they were a mystery of numbers and lists, and now they are a constant companion in our planning. I never took much time with the third section, because it came across as too technical, and I didn't have the attention span for that kind of reading.

For the Master Charts, though, our book has accompanied us everywhere from dining room table to garden bed, California to North Carolina.

The 8th Edition has been published and is now on sale. Small and medium changes have been made throughout, with three large ones I've noticed so far: the technical "sample garden plan" section I talked about above has been boiled down from 20 pages in the earlier edition to 9 pages in the new one, and presents itself in a more approachable way. The Bibliography has been cut out entirely, and is now available online at EA's website on this page. In its place is a list of helpful tools and plans on how to build them. And, most pertinent in our long-term use of the book, the Master Charts have undergone a transformation. In previous editions each set of 20 crops would span four pages, requiring the planner to flip back and forth to get all the information. In the new edition crops are in sets of 10, and span two facing pages. Those who own a copy and have used the Master Charts will know what I mean; it will require some adjustment for us, but will likely be a big improvement.

In other news, we have flatted our alfalfa, clover, onions, and leeks, and will flat our green onions next week. Our pseudo-greenhouse has maintained temperatures above freezing for the last few weeks, which is good. I finished processing the last of our crops from 2011 and now have the yields for all of them calculated and logged, and plan to add a page to the blog that lists our high yields. So our sights are set on 2012 now, with EA's March Three-Day Workshop in Willits coming right up, classes at our local Audubon center on seedling propagation, compost, and bed preparation soon after, and then planting!

Winter, for all practical purposes, seems to be over...