Where Do You Fit in This Picture? Send Us Your Residence Type Preference Survey NOW

By Anthony Weston

Many members of the Hart’s Mill community gathered on Saturday April 28th for a fuller exploration of our new Building Block plan and the options it creates for economical and appealing house and suite design. The result was a lot of community excitement, along with some very useful feedback to the Planning, Design, and Development Circle as we go to the next stage of planning with our architect.

Couldn’t make it? We still want to hear from you! Add your preferences into the emerging picture of the mix of dwellings in the village! Here’s how you can learn about the options and make your preferences known.

We need your response!

When you are ready to fill out the survey, go to the Housing Preferences Survey Form in Word format. Please fill it out and email it to weston@elon.edu.

 We look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

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Cheep Thrills at Hart’s Mill

by Margret Mueller

One of the great advantages of spending much more time on the land, tending to our little farm, is that I get to witness really cool stuff. Earlier this spring, Jeffry and I  became aware of a pair of pileated woodpeckers building a nest in a dead pine tree. It was conveniently  located where we had a direct view of the hole from the farm.

The hole was created high up in the tree with much banging and flying wood chips. As the hole got deeper, they both worked  from inside and periodically poked out a head to fling a beak-full of chips into the air, making this wonderful regal bird look briefly very silly.  After a couple of weeks, we heard soft taps, indicating the next phase of nest-building, which is to create a “bed” of smaller chips. Time passed, and one day at the beginning of May I was weeding and suddenly  heard  what sounded for all the world like a swarm of angry bees. It was a pileated feeding its new family!!  I later learned that this buzzing begging sound is typical of all young woodpeckers; very unlike the typical peeping of baby songbirds.

On May 9th I set up my camera on a tripod, aimed it at the nest hole, and waited. And waited. And waited….The backs of my legs were slowly sunburning, but I was entertained by a female bluebird avidly flying back and forth to her nest-box, also feeding babies. So much fecundity!  Just as I was beginning to wonder whether this was the best use of my time (so much work to be done) a sudden loud buzzing ensued from the treetops.  I witnessed and was able to photograph the male woodpecker feeding a beak-full of something (delicious, I’m sure) to two reptilian-looking babies with fuzzy red topknots.  Feeding done, the bird went all the way into the nest hole, only to reappear moments later  and toss out some, ummm… “debris”.

In another couple of weeks we should be seeing the fledglings, who reportedly hang around with their parents for a few months, learning necessary life lessons. Pileateds are said to be rather reclusive, but  I hope to witness this next stage in the lives of our new family.

 
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Bees Are Back!

by Tain Collins

 Randy Dodd and I are heading up two new bee hives!  Our intention for these hives is to care for them and help them to survive.  As pollinators, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are good for the farm and land here at Hart’s Mill as well as our neighbors’ gardens (bees forage an average of two or 3 miles from the hive).
 
Here are just a couple of very cool things I’ve learned about bees so far-  They are complex communal and social insects and they choose to survive together as a community.   One way they communicate to each other is by “dancing”.  Through a kind of dance, or shimmy, foraging bees that have found an abundant nectar supply can share, with other members of the colony, information about the direction and distance to the nectar or pollen bounty!  

Small scale beekeeping, like any other animal husbandry, is a lot different than factory farm beekeeping, which goes hand in hand with monoculture. (Every year thousands of bee hives are lugged to California to pollinate the monoculture almond crop, for example.)  Large scale or industrial beekeeping also includes exploitation, stealing, culling, and manipulation.  Small scale farms can use small scale bees.  Though many beekeepers take the honey and replace it with sugar water, I would like to allow the bees to use all the honey they need and not have to make them work harder than they already do.   Honey bees will tap about two million flowers and fly 50,000 miles to make one pound of honey.   In general I would like to move more toward “natural beekeeping”, meaning minimal interference in their natural cycles.  There is so much to learn about beekeeping.
 
As I barely get to know bees, I am seeing them as one representation of the abundant beauty and complexity of life.   It feels good to bring new life to Hart’s Mill! 

 
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April 15, 2018—A “Taxing” workday at Hart’s Mill

by Margret Mueller

Due to dire warnings about severe afternoon thunderstorms, our workday began a bit early, spanned lunch, and wrapped up around 3:00—just as the skies opened for the first round of rain. On the workday agenda were several clean-up tasks: bringing trash out of our otherwise beautiful woods, breaking up and removing the concrete and stone around the abandoned well up by Kim’s house, and clearing tailings and soil from around the new farm well.

Jeffry and Anthony brainstormed about the farm well and came up with a plan to not only level the site but dig a circular trench for a pump-house foundation while they were at it. Paul gathered up much of the fine gravel the well-drillers brought up, and used it to fill potholes in Ben Jones Drive. Meanwhile, Margret led a contingent of volunteers into the woods at the Far Field to begin trash cleanup. She and Tain were joined by Earth’s Turn Community members Tami, Whit, and Rico (thank you!!). As is often the case in rural areas, a few spots on our property are long-ago dump sites for a curious variety of items; we extracted, among other things, washing machines, a kitchen range, bicycle parts, a car bumper, a dishpan, a large amount of bright-blue plastic, bottles and cans (but sadly, no treasure). We plan to take all these items to the local trash/recycling site in the near future.

After lunch, Jeffry and Margret started breaking up the old abandoned well. After many Herculean swings with a maul (Jeffry) and many chunks of stone and cement tossed into a trailer (Margret), we were about half done and called it a good start. Anthony declared the chunks of stone perfect filler for the pump-house footing, so they were immediately re-purposed!  As the skies darkened, Paul led a quick impromptu tour for 4 young people who came by to visit. Fat cold raindrops ended another successful Hart’s Mill workday.

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Design Work Springing Ahead!

by Anthony Weston

The Planning, Design, and Development (PDD) Circle’s Spring design priority is to achieve a village design that is workable both architecturally and financially, and so appealing and functional that it will earn ready assent from current members and can help us effectively (and quickly) inspire and recruit new members. This design will have to be co-developed alongside detailed site engineering, financial planning, etc. but we think the actual, visualizable house plans will be the dramatic next step.

We are currently moving toward this goal in a variety of ways. This post outlines the main ones, but can only touch the high points. All members are invited to find out more when PDD hosts April’s “Last Saturday” event at Hart’s Nest, on Saturday 28 April, 3-6pm. Everything discussed in this post will be laid out and explained in detail, with ample time for questions and discussion too. We’ll have some specific questions for the community as well, as we tune   the new models to members’ wishes and interests. Please mark this event on your calendars and make it a point to come!

“Building Blocks”

Katy, Paul, Donna, and Anthony road-tripped to Atlanta in early March for an extended consultation with Greg Ramsey and associates at Village Habitat Design (we also toured the plant of a potential construction partner on the way). Greg and his partner Dennis McConnell sparked a major re-conception of the design program of the community

Our zoning provides for 32 units. We’d been assuming that we’d mostly be building a few kinds of houses, each basically a Single Family Dwelling Unit (that’s a zoning category), adaptable for individuals, couples, or families with a few kids and maybe a renter in an upstairs bedroom. We were planning one or two shared homes as well.

Greg and Dennis introduced an entirely new element. Suites are semi-independent units linked  to a house with a door (with a lock) and with an external entrance as well, fully equipped as a small apartment (1 or 2 BR plus bath, sitting area, and “wet bar”: a small kitchen without a stove (but microwave is OK). The key thing is that a house with several such suites still counts as a Single Family Dwelling Unit. Thus we can still build 32 units, all officially Single Family Dwelling Units, but at the same time significantly increases both the number and the variety of living situations we can offer to members.

Katy worked out a luminous visual presentation of the basic idea which she presented to a March joint meeting of PDD and Finance/Legal Circles. These slides are a quick illustration. (Please realize that the hexagons are just c0nceptual.  The actual houses are not likely to be hexagonal!)

Achitecture

We need to do a variety of consultations with the County and with potential funders to be sure that this “Building Bock” schematic design meets legal and financial requirements. The key work, though, is to begin to visualize and work it out architecturally. How will the homes actually lay out and what will they look like?

To help answer this question we are bringing an architect on board: Jonathan Lucas, of What on Earth Architecture in Asheville, http://www.whatoneartharchitecture.com/  We have been in conversation with Jonathan for several years – his style promises a very good working fit with our own – and he has experience with cohousing design as well as a wide range of other projects. Jonathan can offer both floor plans and perspective drawings and also 3D visualizations, energy-use modelling, and virtual walk-throughs. We have begun consultation with Jonathan by Zoom conference and are setting up a three-way conference between us, him, and Greg Ramsey very soon. He will also be making a visit to the land later in the Spring.

As you can see from Katy’s slides, our new model makes it natural to work with “building blocks”: suites and houses of various sizes, keyed to members’ wishes, combinable in a variety of ways. For economies both in design and construction, we’ll want to work with fairly few “blocks” and maximize the ease with which they can be combined and varied. We do want to note that this we may need to adjust or replace our current Sunslope schematic design. It may not be adaptable enough for the multiple configurations we are now envisi0ning. Still, of course, major design elements from Sunslope will remain, such as the large south-sloping roofs for major photovoltaic panels and fully liveable single-floor options, as well as an attempt to moderate the range of style preferences we have discovered among us.

Construction Methods and Partners

We also continue to research and compare a variety of different construction materials and methods. This search relates closely to architecture, but it is still a separate question since often very similar designs can be realized in a wide variety of materials/methods.

Sustainability, affordability, adaptability, availability are all key desiderata, and the decision is going to require weighing of all of them and probably making some hard choices between them. Also, choosing between construction methods is often to choose between specific firms with whom we might partner, introducing yet another set of considerations. The right partnerships will be crucial!

We have narrowed down the list of alternatives considerably. For example, we are unlikely to choose blown-in foam or rigid styrofoam-type insulation, though it can be used in some highly efficient and affordable panelized forms, because ultimately its very longevity is a disadvantage.  You can’t get rid of it, ever. Many also have off-gassing issues. On the other hand, our current candidates include some intriguing methods and materials, such as hemp-lime mixtures for insulation (possibly also available in panelized forms). We are also considering whether and how far earth-building methods could be an appealing choice for parts of the village, farm, or other buildings. At the same time, we continue to consider traditional stick-building methods, which have significant advantages and can be adapted to our sustainability and other requirements as well.

Other PDD Irons in the Fire

There are many other, related items on PDD’s plate:

  • We are revisiting the Affordability question at the same time that we are beginning to get harder and more specific data on likely costs and prices.
  • Another big-picture question is how far can/should we welcome multiple styles (designs, construction methods, etc.), and if so, at what scale?
  • The Common House also needs to go back on the agenda. We’ve back-burnered the Common House in favor of the residences for a while, but on the Building Block plan, smaller suites presuppose the Common House: it probably will have to be built concurrently after all.

Again, please plan to find out more when PDD hosts April’s “Last Saturday” event at Hart’s Nest, 3-6pm on Saturday 28 April.  All members are welcome!

                                                                        

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saint Patrick’s Day: The Planting o’ the Green

Written by Margret

On March 17, a group of Hart’s Millers gathered on the land to celebrate a unique version of St. Paddy’s Day. Though both potatoes and the color green  were involved  (but sadly, no beer), the theme of the day was decidedly not Irish!

  Jeffry and Margret led a team of volunteers in planting several hundred starts of broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and red and green cabbages. These seedlings had been incubating on racks of donated Gro-lights in the garage at Hart’s Nest and were more than ready to be set out. Tain, Paul, Marilyn and Margret were on the planting team. Jeffry watered the new “greens” manually via a hose from the tractor shed rain-water reservoir. We will be relying on this plus rainfall until the new farm well (yes, we now have a well!) has a source of power.

  Next on the agenda was cutting up and setting out one hundred pounds of potatoes into pre-dug furrows. Amy, Lisa, and Jae joined us for this activity, and we now have eight long rows of Red Norland and Yukon Gold potatoes.

   All of this was accomplished in three pleasant hours. The cool, cloudy weather was ideal for new transplants and hard workers alike. Much gratitude to our helpers—it takes a community!

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The Harts Mill Forest….

Four years and seven months ago, one of our matriarchs brought forth for this land, a new Forest Stewardship Plan, conceived in Great Wisdom, and dedicated to the proposition that all forests are worth caring for……

While this noble plan is a testimony to the eightyish acres of forest on the site, it also pays homage to the stark reality of living in a time and place where land and money are “part and parcel” (pun intended). One way this reality is etched into law and local government administration is through the ability of private  landowners of 20 acres or more of forest to enter their forested land into “Present Use Value” status.  Doing so hugely reduces their property tax burden.  So it is with the Harts Mill forest.  The Forest Stewardship Plan is the document that lays out the road map for what needs to be done from a forest management perspective to keep the land in “PUV” status.

Plan implementation has been on our collective radar over the past several years, but the myriad of other activities to launch this ecovillage enterprise has, at least to date, made it a bit difficult to stay on track.  We have managed to check a few items off the list, like building trails and a worthy if not entirely successful foray into helping the Tree of Heaven gene pool understand that this is not the right place to further evolve.  But, on the big ticket items related to making sure that this is, societally speaking, a “productive” forest (i.e., for timber, pulp and paper, other valuable manifestations of cellulose, and spin offs such as edible mushrooms), there is more to be done.  So, a 2018  conception that has been gestating in the Land Stewardship Circle is to catch up on a few of the plan’s action items.

The plan identifies 10 or so different parts of the forest, known as “stands”, that each have their own requisite implementation actions.  A careful read of these has led to the decision to move forward with some actions in the coming months for Stands 6 and 8a.  Namely, we’re planning to cut down some trees (a very high majority being pine and sweet gum) and turn them into some combination of timber,  mulch, mushrooms, perhaps horse stable shavings or pulp and paper.  This will dovetail with village and farmstead development plans, as clearing will be required in both of these stands as part of preparing to build, and our farm soils need more organic matter. The “thinning”, as spelled out in the plan, will also help the trees that remain thrive. There will be workday opportunities in the coming months, so stay tuned, and check out the Plan to learn more.  Volunteers are also being recruited to adopt and take leadership with invasive plant management areas.  If potentially interested, please contact Randy.

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Last-Saturday Event—Land Stewardship presents!

by Margret Muller

Saturday, February 24, 3-6 p.m., Hart’s Nest

Spring is coming fast, and the Land Stewardship Circle (LSC) offered an educational presentation to any and all interested folks for the purpose of clarifying its Mission and Aims, tasks going forward, 2018 priorities, 2017 leaps forward.  The gathering was well attended by 17 members and friends:  Anthony, Paul, Hope, Jeffry, Margret, Randy, Rita Joe & daughter Mia, Tain, Marilyn, Virginia, Bailey, Sarah, Allie and Jae, and Earth’s Turn Community member, Doug.

 Jeffry (Operational Leader of LSC) gave a brief overview of the circle’s Domains, Aims, and Priorities.   With the help of Powerpoint and oversized paper copies of our land and farm master plan (created by Bobby Tucker of Bodhi Land and Design), Jeffry explained how Hart’s Mill’s  village, roads, forests, pond, farm-able areas, and more are laid out on the land. 

There are five Domain subdivisions: forest, pond, farm,  infrastructure, and education. This gathering concentrated on the first three.  Here is a brief summary–stay tuned for more!

The Pond (report by Virginia)

It is uncertain how old the pond is, but since we know the dam was made in 1962, it is more than 56 years old. Soundings made from a kayak show the deepest areas to be only around 5’, with most of the rest between 3 and 4’. The sides are too sloped and the edges show much erosion, exposed tree roots, and ingress of storm water run-off from Frazier Road.  In Virginia’s opinion, major work on pond restoration can certainly wait a few years, but she recommends creating a storm water run-off elimination plan soon, as that water is almost surely polluted.

The Forest (report by Randy)

When Hart’s Mill bought the property from Alana Ennis in January of 2017, an excellent  Forest Stewardship Plan was already in place.   Created for us by the Eno River Association in 2013, this report spells out in great detail a plan to keep our forest healthy and to meet the requirements of our Present Use Value (PUV) tax assessment.  Various discrete land parcels are slated for thinning as they mature, and we are already somewhat behind in addressing the first parcel. Randy stressed the need to develop a timeline and to explore creative ways to meet our PUV requirements. Our land also has many burgeoning exotic invasive species (notably Ailanthus, or Tree of Heaven) which need some attention very soon.

The Farm (report by Jeffry and Margret)

Last year, General Circle consented to a Mission and Aims document for the Farm which allowed us to move forward. So far, about ½ acre is dedicated to vegetable production, and other substantial portions of the land are becoming productive in other ways.  Jeffry and Margret, as Seeing Stars Farm (SSF), are currently doing the bulk of the work, paying all expenses, and selling what we grow at a farmer’s market. This benefits both Seeing Stars (financially) and HM (meeting the PUV, beginning soil improvement,  establishing a presence on the land, and involving members to fulfill our mission as an agrarian intentional community).  This arrangement will be revisited periodically, and eventually it will convert to being an all-Hart’s Mill enterprise.

Last year we had some successes (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, cabbage, onions, bok choy) and some failures (tomatoes, peppers), which was not unexpected for a first crop on new soil. Paul was elected to be a liaison person between SSF and HM to ensure transparency and transmit questions and concerns. In our first year we grossed $1,450.00, which is more than needed to qualify for the agriculture portion of the PUV. Hooray!

This year we are planning to have farm work-days, to be scheduled as needs arise. We will have a list of tasks large and small, for anyone interested in helping out. Stay tuned!

Joyful tidings

Two acts of generosity will enable to farm to make significant progress this year: 1) Margret and Jeffry are underwriting the dropping of a WELL on the land. This will happen in early March.  2) An Angel Investor has made a substantial financial contribution to be used to further our farming efforts going forward.  We are so grateful for and uplifted by this support and encourage other Angel Investors to step forward, as the needs are many. 

And the star of the show: The Land

The final portion of the meeting was a walk-and-talk on the land itself. The weather could not have been more cooperative; it was 70, breezy, and sunny. This walk made it possible to point out all the major areas we had addressed—the pond, its dam, tree stands in need of thinning, the general area for village construction, and the current farm activities. Folks had an opportunity to ask questions, some of which we could answer and some of which will need some research. This is the concept of “it takes a village” in action!

We returned to Hart’s Nest feeling nourished and uplifted by the riches of our precious land and devoted community. 

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Walkabout on the Land With a Forest Expert

By Margret Mueller

Several of us (Paul, Hope, Tain, Jeffry, and I) were privileged to explore our land on February 16th with Ken Moore and his wife, Kathy Buck. Ken is the former long-time assistant director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden and clearly knows and loves the woods. We proceeded from Hart’s Nest in balmy weather and made our way to the relatively unexplored “South 40” where the latest trail-building is being done. It soon became apparent that the down-side of walking with an expert is that so much excites them; it can be difficult to make much forward progress!

Here is a sample of some of the interesting facts Ken and Kathy imparted:

  • A rather unexpected piece of lore is that Poison Ivy is an important wildlife food plant and should not be cut down unless it is “in the way”, such as in the garden. Wildlife is not affected by P.I.’s toxins. Its flowers are frequented by bees, numerous birds eat the berries, and deer and rabbits browse the twigs.
  • We have two types of large trees that have shaggy bark. White Oak has long strips of bark that can be pulled down and off, while Shagbark Hickory’s bark is attached in the middle of each strip and is loose on either end.
  • Raspberry canes (yes, we have wild raspberry!) can be easily distinguished from our ubiquitous blackberries because they are round instead of square, are reddish and have a “bloom” (white film) that can be rubbed off, and have fewer, sharper thorns.

Ken’s enthusiasm is contagious and his knowledge prodigious; his contributions to our species inventory are invaluable. Many new tree identification tags have been placed, as well as temporary labeled popsicle sticks and surveyor’s tape. If you come across any of these, take a moment to note what’s alive and well on our land.

 Some of my favorite discoveries were a lovely hazelnut bush right beside the new trail, and a copse of young dogwood trees.

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What is Hart’s Mill Trying to Become?

Thoughts by founder Anthony Weston

It seems the Engaging with our Vision Retreat (January 27-28, 2018) did us the great service of bringing questions to the fore — issues that are fundamental, not easy, but that need to be articulated and addressed as we carry on and ramp up this work together. 

I cannot speak for everyone (and do need to note that “founders” is not a defined or in any way decision-making group in our governance or organization) but here at least is my take. 

Fundamentally we want to be an agrarian ecovillage.  This does mean that our primary endeavor is ecological — it has to do with how we relate to the larger living world and consequently as a human community within the more-than-human world. It would be a radical thing to create a community that simply modeled and realized a “regenerative” kind of ecology in the most concrete way — in terms of what kinds of buildings and physical village we build and how we feed and power ourselves, how the land fares under our stewardship. Yes. Indeed this would be itself an act of “social activism” in the world as it stands. 

But: we (meaning me and I believe others who share this way of thinking) also hold that “ecology” or “sustainability” or “regeneration” do not stop there. Human communities also are situated within the larger human world, so there is an  ecology of human relations situated with the more-than-human ecology too. Very specifically: if we form an all-white community in the midst of a racially mixed area, moreover with all the history of race-based exclusion and dis-empowerment (even in the ownership history of our very land), etc. etc. we would be failing to acknowledge and regenerate the human ecology that we and others also live within, and that is actually continuous with the land, the larger ecology, too. After all, traditional southern agrarian society was also deeply racist. We are after a new kind of agrarianism in those terms too. So the project of outreach and diversity so viewed is not an “add on” or something that might just be taken up as a personal, outside-the-community commitment (though it certainly can be that too), but is essential to the constitution of the community itself. 

At least we must seriously try, and continue to try, to create a racially diverse and responsive community that does not just re-inscribe the old social relations. For my part I am willing to go ahead with financing, design, and construction work even if these efforts have not yet borne much fruit — as long as we do not let go of them but truly intensify our efforts. (I am not sure this is true for everyone, though I think it probably is.) I think this provides a pretty clear way forward for most members, including most or even all of those who spoke up on this issue at the retreat. This will remain a place where members have varied views, but I think we can still readily head in broadly the same direction. 

There are major decisions to be made, for sure; there are major obstacles; we are attempting something wonderful and at the same time multi-faceted and difficult and there are no guarantees. At the same time, though, I have such a sense of a  huge  project taking major steps forward all the time – beyond any one person’s capacity even to sum it up. And very little of this is seriously controversial to anyone. We may want a different balance or focus between the various parts… we may worry about where the money is coming from, etc. etc. — again, all  valid for sure — but the fact is that we have an  energetic, stable, almost stately project going here that I believe does not warrant dismay and is not particularly confused about itself or consumed by some sort of internal conflict. 

Of course it may be that the ambition and range of the HM project are not for everyone. I know, not everyone can wait for the village proper. None of us want to wait. Still, what we have going is fairly clear-sighted, and I think that project was basically reaffirmed and even somewhat further clarified at the retreat.  It’s that very clarity that is leading some people to re-evaluate their commitment to HM — and again, that certainly can make sense. But the project itself remains strong and dynamic. Hope gave voice to this at the Retreat (I am tempted to be cute and say that Voice gave hope to this at the Retreat too) when she said that this project has gotten to be bigger than any of us. Long live Hart’s Mill!

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