hunting and gathering
R-evolution Gardens Newsletter
- evolving toward a sustainable future -
Standing in the community garden she was managing at the time Ginger looked down at pumpkins and flowers of late autumn, the sun was sinking and I shivered not yet realizing that the days of t-shirts were coming to a close. She looked over at me and announced, “We need our own permaculture farm.” Ok,” I said playing along, “It could also be an alternative energy demonstration site, a teaching center, and completely off the grid.” “I’m serious,” she countered “We can do this.” We only had to overcome the small problems of no money, no credit, no lucrative professional income, basically no hope. Having tackled impossible projects before, Gin and I have never let something as small as hopelessness stand in the way.
“R”-evolution had begun.
A year and a half later I’m sitting on my porch, a porch recycled from a deck that was torn down elsewhere, and I’m looking out at Ginger picking a giant basket of snow peas where there used to be only an entrenched population of blackberries. Over my head a copper pipe returns hot water from a recycled solar hot water panel on the roof, behind me the wood-fired cook stove sits idle, waiting for the winter when it will heat our home, our water, and our food. Next to the greenhouse, where beehives dispatch a swarm of eager pollinators amidst tomatoes and peppers, the sun pumps electricity into solar electric panels, underground through wires, and then here to the house where my computer is plugged in. Chickens roam a hillside across from me, eating the grass and clearing an area where we will soon plant raspberry bushes. The scene represents a tremendous amount of work in a very short time; it represents the generosity of our financiers; but most of all it represents the power of what can be accomplished with intention, and vision.
In less than fourteen months, and while we were both working, Ginger and I managed to construct a functioning off-grid homestead for around sixty thousand dollars, forty of which could have been saved had the county not forced us to build a wooden house instead of the simple and inexpensive yurt we had planned on. To make the best of things we built the house small and saved a huge amount by scavenging much of the interior from recycling centers. Unfortunately, incorporating sustainable living principles while simultaneously trying to satisfy county inspectors has been a chore that highlights the pressing need for planners to overhaul building codes to meet the needs of the 21st century. With these hurdles either mitigated or skirted, alternative energy has proven to be cheaper and more fun than hooking up to the grid. With a small house our energy needs are minimal and we have plentiful electricity to run lights, computers, power tools, and small appliances.
Our gardens are flourishing, and we are both surprised by how much of our diet we can supplement from the farm already. Ginger grows vegetables, the chickens supply eggs and meat, and I contribute a bit by fishing and hunting. We had originally planned five years for food independence, and now I’m thinking we can do it in less than three. Living here has been a revelation for me. Managing the gardens, animals, and renewable energy systems has brought into stark contrast the difference between my former self as an avid naturalist, an appreciator of nature, and my present self, a participant in the natural world, a citizen as opposed to merely a tourist. From this relationship I’ve gained a richness in my everyday life that I never knew was missing.
It’s becoming ever more apparent to all of us that if we are to have a future it will be one of decreased consumption, and increased reliance on alternative energy and local agriculture. When we conceived the farm this was the vision I wanted to promote, to teach and showcase a do-it-yourself approach to the art of living smaller and wiser. Now I am realizing that these practices are more than just a way to a way to preserve the planet we live on, they also create a lifestyle that is worth living for. I’m learning that thoughtful, responsible living isn’t a yoke that our generation is forced to suffer, but rather a door that will reintroduce us to joy of living our lives fully.
Beginning late this summer Ginger and I, working with local experts, will be offering a series of affordable sustainable living classes. Wood fired hot water, solar water heating, solar electricity installation, natural building, and wild edibles are just a few of the ideas as we begin the next phase of our homestead project. Look for schedules online by the end of July. We look forward to sharing what we’ve learned with the broader community. In the meantime, we are glad to give tours of the farm for those interested. Enjoy the vegetables, there is love in every bite.