Coming to Common Ground

Lately we have received a prose poem on the subject of the name change, after an evening on the land, by a pseudonymous member to be known to us only as Change O. Heart (no relation to any Harts we know or don’t know).

 

Tonight a crystalline blazing Venus settles toward the horizon of our common ground.
By sidelong glance I can still just barely catch the outline of the fence enclosing its intensively-worked vegetable sub-plot.
Any minute now the owls and coyotes will repeat their claims too. Don’t forget us!
Common ground on all scales, from the line of tall trees that eagerly awaits the slowly down-drifting stars to the dirt under our fingernails.

There are other kinds of common ground too.
One is the common intention that grounds and unites us, the village-in-the-land we mean to build.
Our hope, our work, our great venture, the project draws us so strongly to each other.
It’s the common ground of our dreams, the place where our hearts become one.

Besides, that vision scales up. It’s not just our work. Something about it goes much farther,
it turns out, judging by the fact that it’s a common name.
It seems we are making common cause with all manner of change-projects.
No hesitation, then: we’ll rise to it. We embrace and celebrate all our compatriots on the
vast Common Ground-swelling,
While at the same time we announce ourselves as the Common Ground Ecovillage.
We are the way the Great Common-Grounding shows up here.

Come inside now, friends.
There is a fire on the great hearth and a lively circle of fellows is singing, or maybe
tomorrow’s planting is being planned.
We are re-creating for the thousandth time the commons: “The cultural and natural
resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as
air, water, and a habitable earth.” (Thanks, Wikipedia… which by the way is
itself a commons too, isn’t it?)
That is a beautiful word, friends… and portends a beautiful world besides.
Togetherness, cooperation, mutuality… community.
It’s an old story — talk about centuries of struggle!
Think of the Diggers’ creed: All Land in Common, All People One.
Don’t fall for “tragedy”. There is no “tragedy of the commons” waiting to happen.
As a social institution the Commons worked for millennia, across a vast
range of different cultures, until it was destroyed by enclosure, and monied
appropriation. That was the tragedy!
The derogation and dismissal of the Commons is exactly what a venture like ours ought to
resist and reverse.
Common Ground works.
Indeed, in the long run (thanks, Margret Mead), it’s the only social and
ecological arrangement that ever has.

Next we must sing the ground.
This Ground is the soil. What we hold in common is a living community itself,
which we propose to regeneratively join,
a million times richer than anything bequeathed us by any or all Harts,
shared with each other, with the oaks and pines and even the ailanthus, with
the hawks and otters and the winds and stars.
(Saturn rising now as Venus sets, and a cloud front is moving in. Rain soon.)
Our hands in this dirt, our food from this ground, our feet on these trails,
our dreams burbling along these creeks – that’s the grounding we ache for,
the reunion we intend.
This “ground” is no more humdrum than “commons” are tragedies.
This ground is spectacular!

It seems that in renouncing the name of a slaveholder we have led ourselves
back to the absolute basics in the end:
Beyond all human or historical names,
Beyond other-than-human particulars
(sure I liked “Kingfisher” and “Daughter Oak” and “Headwaters” too, but it
seems something bigger got hold of us),
Even beyond regional place names,
To finally name ourselves unapologetically and simply for the unadorned
Earth/soil/ground itself.
The commonest of Common Grounds.
We lift up our Common Ground as it always and forever lifts us up in turn.

So, concretely, here and now: we – you, me, us – have come together and keep
coming together around this work of Common Grounding (I like the verb).
Yeah, it’s work. It’s still possible to miss the ground entirely (so used to walking
on asphalt or floors or not walking at all) or lose ourselves in different parts
of the woods.
Our trails need way more walkers to truly settle into the land.
It needs such skill and subtlety and patience sometimes even to find the
(small-c) common (small-g) ground that we have learned to call Good Enough
for Now and Safe Enough to Try.

But we grow, and it grows on us. And likewise perhaps the hidden wisdom of the name
only opens to us slowly, like some shy trail-side flower awaiting a long and sunny
enough spring day to unfold in its own good time.

Welcome to Common Ground!

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Presenting…Common Ground Ecovillage

by the Membership & Marketing Circle

 

As many of you know, we have just completed a four-month process of choosing a new name.  🎉We are now COMMON GROUND ECOVILLAGE!🎉  This is a name that we think reflects our community valued well, and we hope it stays with us for a long time!

 Why did we change the name?

In late 2019, a community member found information suggesting that Thomas Hart who owned Hart’s Mill in the late 1700s most likely owned slaves and was involved in a transaction that attempted to dispossess Native Americans of their land in what is now Tennessee and Kentucky.  Given that this type of 18th-century colonial history is so very far from our vision of social justice and harmony with each other and the land, a new name for our community felt imperative.  

What was the process?

We embarked on an extended process that included generating names individually and also collectively in a name-changing party.  Altogether, 27 members generated over 160 names and then 33 members ranked their top ten names from this long list. Their rankings became advisory to the General Circle, who also commissioned various forms of research about the 12 top-ranked names. 

It was not easy to pick one name among several strong possibilities and even stronger preferences!

The General Circle met four times: once to determine our process; once to identify the top names; and twice to determine the final name.  In these last two meetings, we relied on the election process from sociocracy to guide us. 

In the end, it was a felt desire to reach common ground that allowed us to choose our name. Once we consented to the name, we quickly discovered its beauty and surprisingly apt fit with our community’s core purpose of finding common ground in achieving justice and harmony with each other and the land.

We also appreciate how much the name Common Ground Ecovillage encompasses who we are and what we aspire to as a community:

  • The most defining feature of our community are our 112 precious acres of virtually undeveloped forests, wetlands, pond, streams, wildlife and cultivated farmland, soon to be joined by unobtrusive dwellings for humans. We have always thought of this land as “ground” that is co-owned, held by all of us in “common.” 
  • We have always shared the ecological and social goals involving: the restoration, protection, and appropriate cultivation of the land; a shared commitment to racial, social and economic justice; a highly inclusive system of governance, an always open door. These are our bedrock beliefs, the common ground, if you will, of what we hold sacred.
  • We have always known that we were meant to become an ecovillage with all that the term implies. It points to a shared set of deeply held beliefs about regenerating relationships with each other and the land and inviting others to widen the common ground on which we stand together.

Please join us in celebrating our new name!  You will see changes soon in the website, emails, and in conversation as our new name begins to roll off our tongues with a smile reaching all the way to our eyes! 

Next steps

We hope you will join in the common work as we continue to grow our community in membership, food (the farm), and research on the most ecological, sustainable, and reasonably costing homes. 

There is a lot to be done, but less to do when we work together — contact Marilyn (MarilynGrubbs@gmail.com) to volunteer for membership development, or Anthony (weston@elon.edu)  to volunteer for sustainable design.

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Join this Visionary Site Design Work

by Anthony Weston

The Planning, Design, and Development (PDD) Functional Circle has just concluded schematic design for the Common House, and we are also in the midst of another key planning initiative, “Raising Sights 2020”. We also just hosted a very active Last Saturday event on that theme. Want to know more? We thought so…

 C0mmon House

There it is (click for a full-size version)!  We’re working schematically at this point – trying to capture the spirit and the function of the eventual building; actual features may somewhat differ – but we are delighted to offer a worked-out visualization for the first time. This is a view of the building as it could look approached on the ground from the south (main community path) side. You can go here for many more images and details.

PDD has been developing the Common House design for since January 2019. Many other members have been involved through Noodling Groups that advised us on the overall design program, while another, partly-overlapping group thought through the Common House kitchen in detail.  Sustained back and forth with our architect, Jonathan Lucas of Asheville’s What on Earth Architecture, consolidated and evolved the plans, as we also consulted with County regulators and other advisors. It was an involved process for this central and complex building! Just last week we were finally able to roll out the designs for a first and very enthusiastic look by General Circle.

Again, you can find out much more by going to the “Common House” page under the “Village Design” tab on the community website (or again, just click here). Do note, while you are on the website, that there are other pages relating to village design as well; specifically you might want to revisit the Residences page also to get a sense of how Common House and residence styles coordinate.

Oh and maybe you are wondering what is that spiral structure on the roof? It’s a vertical axis windmill. Think of it as a sculptural but moving and functional element, merrily spinning away as you approach the building, flashing a bit in the sun and powering some of the building’s lights inside when needed. Indeed, we’re an ecovillage!

Here is the floor plan (click for a full-size version):

Again, there is much more detail here.

We are thrilled to share these designs with the community and to finally be able to concretely envision this building that will be so central to the life of the community both functionally, physically, and in spirit as well!

Raising Sights 2020

As we consolidate architectural visions, we are approaching a point at which we want to be able to launch into detailed design development – making decisions about materials, methods, finishes, etc. – as well as undertaking detailed design for village site engineering – making decisions about basic infrastructure, siting, etc. This poses our next big set of challenges and opportunities.

Many of these design decisions will be difficult or costly to change later. At the same time, we are also aware that in the run-up to this moment we have also gradually and unintentionally made some accommodations to more standard (sometimes called “realistic”) ways of doing things, as we deal with outside professionals as well as try to come to terms with persistent trade-offs such as cost issues. Meantime new technologies are constantly emerging that offer unexpected and potentially wonderful new paths to some of our most ambitious goals (so what exactly is “realistic” isn’t always so clear). Both the urgency of our ecovillage project, and the methods and technologies that might support and further it, have only increased since we began this work together, and we want to be sure we are doing the very best we can now as we move toward specific, on-the-ground design commitments. 

Accordingly PDD has decided that before proceeding any farther we need to take a critical pause and revisit our basic values and goals, return to our highest ambitions, and raise our sights wherever possible, while remaining practical at the same time. Our new initiative is therefore called “Raising Sights 2020”. It’s developed into a look at four of the most basic objectives of our overall project – which we’ve articulated as Self-reliance, Climate action, and building a Healthy and Happy community within a Thriving Living System – and trying to specify how it might play out across four key sectors for our engineering and architectural planning: Energy, Water, Materials, and the Land. What does self-reliance specifically mean when we are thinking about materials? What does climate-change adaptation mean when we are thinking about water use? – those kinds of questions.

We shared our answers so far at the Last Saturday event on February 29th (which just happened to be Leap Day also – a fine occasion for a leap forward together!)  Here’s what we offered (click for a full-sized version).

                                                                

This is very schematic too, of course, and still in process. By design we are sharing our “sight-raising” right in the midst of undertaking it. It’s a project for all of us! Community members offered many useful questions and feedback at the Last Saturday event, and are welcome to continue to do so by emailing PDD through me at weston@elon.edu.

But we are also poised to take a further step now. Within the framework of this matrix, we want now to undertake RESEARCH on specific objectives to determine just how practical our goals are. Are they realistic? Can we go farther? Specifically, how? What are the best current practices and the most ambitious achievable goals in these areas?

PDD is organizing to carry out some of this research ourselves. We also expect that we’ll need to consult and hire experts in some of these areas to advise us in some technical matters, as well as contacting other communities and projects that have taken innovative and ambitious steps in some of these directions (e.g. DC electrical grids; alternatives to community-wide wireless; actually applied permacultural methods; etc.).

AND – WE NEED YOU! We are hereby calling for any and all interested community member to also join this research work. We called for volunteers at the Last Saturday session and will soon be in touch with those who did about beginning the work. But every member and friend of the community is welcome and indeed urged to join as well. In fact you can email me to that effect right now. We are preparing a guide for the research work and will begin setting out specific assignments shortly. Please jump in! (Again: weston@elon.edu.) Exciting and urgent work for all!

 

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Into the Trees!

By Anthony Weston

Gaius, Bailey, and I are pleased to announce that the treehouse is now finished and open for business.  Please come and visit!  You’ll find it upslope from where the Dam Loop Trail and the trail to the Hartery and Hart’s Nest crosses the little creek that flows out of the pond.  It’s a triangular cedar platform in the trees, not too high, with a ladder on the low side, a rope ladder, pirate-style, on another, and a bench up top to keep lookout or read a book. It’s for kids—bigger people will notice that the ladders and the bench are a little smaller than you might expect.  But it’s comfortable for adults too, and you are welcome to come on up (but let’s say only up to two adults on the platform at any one time, and one on the rope ladder, please!).

You might also be interested to know that no trees were harmed in the mounting of this treehouse. There are no nails or screws or anything else into the trees; it’s held up by pressure alone.

We hope to develop the slope and creekside right around the treehouse as a Play Area. Already there is a hammock, thanks to Bailey, and a little loop trail around the area, thanks to Gaius. 

Other ideas mentioned for the Play Area/Creek Crossing include: a bridge upgrade (planned); a zipline down the slope (does anyone out there know how to build ziplines?); and a (stone) amphitheater. Stay tuned!  Your ideas—and good energies for helping to realize them—would be very welcome!

 

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Black Bean Harvest at Hart’s Mill–It Took a Village!

 by Margret Mueller

As some of you might remember, Jeffry and I tried to grow a crop of black beans on the land last year, only to have our hopes and efforts dashed by the untimely arrival of Hurricane Michael’s torrential rains.

Undaunted, we planted again this year, on approximately 1/10 of an acre. Since one of HM’s stated goals is “to feed ourselves to the extent practicable,” we thought it would be a good idea to find out what sort of yield we can expect from a certain size plot and how many families this might reasonably supply.  I must admit we were operating under the aphorism “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” as we had no earthly idea how a successful harvest might be accomplished, should we have one.

 We began the process a couple of weeks  ago when a group of six folks (Maria Teresa, Marilyn, Jeffry, Anthony, Paul, & Hope) gathered at the farm and were shown how to pull up and  laterally stack the  plants to finish drying the pods. 

This year our weather could not have been more ideal—warm and dry for a whole week!  The beans were crispy and ready!  But then, what?

 A large-scale farm would most likely own a combine (a machine that combines three separate harvesting operations—reaping, threshing, and winnowing), or several farms might share one, but we did not know of anybody nearby willing to tackle such a relatively small crop.  Eventually a plot was hatched to convert a clothes-dryer into a small-scale threshing machine.  It sounded plausible; throw some brittle bean pods into the dryer along with some hard rubber balls, and let it spin! We procured a good used dryer (thank you Alana!) and Jeffry gave it a whirl, so to speak.  It turns out that this does indeed separate the beans from the pods, but retrieving the chaff and gathering the beans proved extremely time-consuming. (Anyone want to buy a good second-hand clothes dryer?). Jeffry also tried modifying a small chipper/shredder that he saw featured on Youtube, but that also proved too challenging.

Enter Doug Jones, fellow farmer and member of the Earth’s Turn community nearby. Though his plate is always full to overflowing, Doug loves to share his extensive knowledge on most all things farming, and he has the tricks and tools to make things happen.  It turns out that way back in the 70’s he was growing storage beans, so Doug was excited to see our nice stand of mature black bean plants–and he knew just what to do. 

  • Question: how do you get little black beans out of dried pods?
  • Answer: you STOMP on them!

 So… on Saturday September 21, Hart’s Mill held its first  (annual?) Black Bean Stomp. About a dozen of us, including a multi-generational family, gathered at Hart’s Nest.  In all, five pick-up-truck loads of dry plants were delivered to the Nest over several hours, spread on plywood and tarps, and literally stomped, shuffled, and danced upon.  Hope’s boombox belted out the Go-Gos singing “We Got the Beat” (which we reinterpreted as “We Got the Beans”) and other favorites, while we stomped, gathered, separated, screened and winnowed the beans. Click here to watch the action video!

Five hours later we had about 170 pounds of beautiful almost-clean beans!

Tired but proud, we gathered for a delicious pot-luck meal and toasted ourselves for this huge accomplishment.

As the last step, Jeffry and I are giving them a final sorting, packaging them in 1-lb. bags, and taking them to the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market along with our other crops. All volunteers will receive one of these bags as a token of our gratitude.

 What we learned:

  • 1/10th of an acre can produce a LOT of beans (i.e. protein).
  • Even a good 1/10th acre harvest may barely supply the bean needs of a 32-household community for a year.
  • Most anything can be accomplished with enough imagination, expertise, good attitudes, energy—and a mentor!
  • It does, indeed, take a village

Many thanks to Doug, Dave, Margaret, Marilyn, Paul, Anthony, Amy H, Jeffry, Krystal, Amy LS, Hope, Margret, Maria Teresa, and our bittiest helpers, Nathan, and Everett! 

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Painting the Big Planning Picture

By Anthony Weston,

On September’s “First Saturday”, the Planning, Design, and Development Circle offered a wide-ranging review of the ongoing planning work for Hart’s Mill for an enthusiastic group of 25 members at Hart’s Nest.  The village is taking shape, becoming a matrix of structures that will build and nourish community with each other and the land.   

We began by looking at the current Common House concept design.   At the heart of our community, we’re developing a design that is delightful as well as flexible, affordable, and practical.  We then walked through the evolving community “dream kitchen” layout where we envision preparing nourishing meals large and small, canning, fermenting, and producing all manner of deliciousness within. 

On to the residences.  After a review of the “building block” concept that underlies the adaptable layout of our homes, we looked at schematic designs for the four residential prototypes now planned.  We learned a few things from the survey of our members this spring and as a result are developing an economical 3-bedroom house as well as a 1-bedroom cottage with a suite attached.  We reviewed the 9 ways that these 4 structures can be combined to serve a wide variety of members and their housing needs.  This flexibility and adaptability is a hallmark of our village concept. 

There were quick reviews of other topics: Hope’s slideshow on the excavations for the Waste Water Treatment system (now completed) pursuant to permitting a suitably-sized “waste disposal” (ie. fertility recycling) system; the question of optimal community size; and the possibility of building the village in phases (Katy).

For the final hour we transitioned to the land for a guided tour of the village site plan (Anthony), refreshed by watermelon and accompanied by another three members who mostly engaged in parallel play (aka “childcare”) with the three young kids. (The score: Gaius 180+, bubbles 0).  Mapping the village plan to the land helps us feel that much closer to living there.

In the meeting and again in this blogpost I want to emphasize that most of the information we presented about residential design and the 9 Living Options within them is also posted RIGHT HERE on the HM website under the “Village Design” tab. We’ve updated those pages with the new plans and will continue to refresh them as they are consolidated. For one thing, look for Common House elevations soon! Which reminds me also to add that questions, reactions, feedback, and suggestions are always welcome as this work proceeds. Please speak to me or Katy or email us at weston@elon.edu and katy@hartsmill.org.

Members of PDD include Katy Ansardi (Elected Representative), Hope Horton (Facilitator), Bob McCulley (our newest member), Jeffry Goodrum (on leave), and Anthony Weston (Operational Leader). Interested in becoming a member of PDD?  Contact Anthony: weston@elon.edu

 

 

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Our Forests, Our Future: the ForestHer Initiative

By Hope V. Horton

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service is reaching out to women.  Why?  Of the 18 million acres of timberland in this state, 61% are privately owned and the percentage of women owners is rising.  But women are traditionally under-represented in the forestry field and may not have the perspectives, knowledge, and skills to effectively manage their forest lands. 

Enter….ForestHer NC!  Spearheaded by Debbie Roos of Chatham County’s Cooperative Extension Service, this initiative will include six workshops throughout the year in 3 different locations across the state.  The first offering in Pittsboro, which I attended, brought together sixty women (and a few men) to hear professionals from several state agencies present an overview of forest management from a variety of angles. 

But first…let’s take a quick look at a few fast facts about the Hart’s Mill forest: 

  • Hart’s Mill has about 88 (out of 112) acres of forested land
  • We have nearly 4 miles of trails winding through the entire site
  • Our soil types are favorable for both food and forest cultivation over the majority of our land
  • Over 50 tree/shrub species and 130 wildflower types have been identified to-date
  • We have had a Forest Stewardship Plan since 2013
  • Ten distinct areas, or stands, have been identified, each with their own qualities and characteristics
  • There’s an active forest thinning initiative, let by Randy Dodd, happening NOW to address our plan’s recommendations* (and we’re looking for volunteers!)

The current state of our woodlands is largely a result of our land-use history.  We believe that much of our forest was used as farmland decades ago.  In the late 1990’s, most of the re-grown forest was heavily cut over, burned, and re-planted in loblolly pines.  As the current stewards of this land, Hart’s Mill has the obligation and opportunity to take it from here, nourishing and enhancing  the course of our woodlands for generations to come.  

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to us as we consider possibilities.  Here is a taste of what I heard at the ForestHer workshop:  

Click here to read map legend

Mark Megalos of NCSU Extension Forestry gave an overview of North Carolina forests complete with geology, history, types, and trends.  Two fun facts that stayed with me are 1) the eastern edge of the Piedmont used to be coastland, and 2) there are no natural lakes in the Piedmont. Click here for a map of forest types across the state.

Nick Haffle of Chatham County MIS made us aware of the fantastic GIS resources available online by County to do property research and interpretation.  There’s a feast of information including parcel  maps, photographic and topographical data as well as legal information such as deeds, value, and tax status.  Curious about the Hart’s Mill land and environs?  Google Orange County Interactive GIS, input our address: 1023 Frazier Rd., Mebane, and start poking around. 

John Isenhour of NC Wildlife Resources Commission and Jennifer Roach from the NC Forest Service made it abundantly clear that the first step in forest “management” is to establish objectives and goals  and then review them from time-to-time.  What are we trying to achieve?  What concerns do we want to address?  Hart’s Mill’s Forest Stewardship Plan was coordinated by the Eno River Association in 2013 when Alana Ennis was the landowner.  This plan has enabled us to qualify for the Present Use Valuation tax status, which is a huge financial benefit.  We might want to review the objectives laid out at that time and see if they are still resonant with us.   

I also learned that there is such a thing as a Wildlife Management Plan.  This piqued my interest and I’ve been in touch now with someone at the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to talk about what this might involve (to the best of my knowledge, this plan is free of cost). 

This workshop helped me to see our forests with new eyes and be open to new possibilities.  And this is just the first of six workshops planned.**  If this piques your interest, click here for more information on the program, and be in touch—I’d love to have company! 

*Every volunteer is valuable!  If you are interested in helping out with the WWW (Wood-Wide Web) forest thinning initiative, keep your eye out for announcements on our monthly calendar. 

**There will be five more workshops in the next year in three different state locations (not listed on the website).  Each costs $25 and includes lunch (it was really good!).  The Pittsboro workshops will take place on November 7, March 12, May 14, August 13, and one TBA.  To get on the mailing list, email Debbie Roos of NC Cooperative Extension. 

 

 

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August Trail Day Report (and a fun way to still help)

By Anthony Weston

On Sunday August 4th, a high-spirited band of workers gathered at the crack of dawn (OK, 9am) for a work session dedicated to trail maintenance and improvement.  George, Lisa, Randy, Hope, Paul, Amy, Mir, and Anthony started in the most challenging place and cleared the Pond Loop trail, which took continuous lopping, weed-whacking, tripper- and fallen-tree removal, and more. 

Reconvening at the far side of the dam, we moseyed along the south side of the Village Loop Trail over to McGowan Creek Loop, clearing as needed as well as enjoying some lovely spiderwebs still decked in morning dew.  We took a break to admire a box turtle who turned up in the path. 

    

Then we treated ourselves to a quick romp around the Far Loop — it still needs work, but it is easily passable — and then finished off the McGowan Creek Loop before retreating to the Pavilion for a convivial potluck lunch. 

Many thanks to all who took part. At lunch we also got a look at the new trail map being prepared by Lauren Lintz for her NCSU MA project. A  few final edits and it will be ready. 

Now, for those of you who (we know) desperately wanted to join the trail work but for whatever reason couldn’t make it, a final note. Absolutely the best way to help maintain the trails is to USE THEM! So the upshot is that you can still help!  Come out and walk the trails — Lauren’s map will be available on the HM website (my earlier version is up now) with hard copies at the pavilion and Hart’s Nest as well, and you can always call me or Hope (or Paul or Jeffry or Margret).  Or just explore!  There are many loop options, from brief saunters around the pond to several-mile adventures if you do all the Loops. Most of the trails are run-able as well. Come out and really see the land!  Sights like this abound. 

 

 

 

 

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Food & Medicine Are EVERYWHERE—A Walk With Wild Edibles Educator, Kim Calhoun

by Hope Horton

It was a cloudy morning during a precious 3-hour grace period between rainstorms.  Six of us gathered at the Nest and dedicated ourselves to discovering the edible plant species living on just a small part of the Hart’s Mill land.  Our guide,  Kim Calhoun, has spent decades developing knowledge about and relationships with the flora in our midst, and we were excited about this chance to learn with her. 

We shadowed Kim as she gently drew us into the particularities of the native plants that flourish on this land.  Right outside the front door, within our grasp at the edges of the trails, towering overhead – it was impossible to stroll more than a few feet before Kim introduced us to another plant friend—delectable, medicinal, or simply beautiful.  She had already whetted our appetites with a cold infusion of Japanese honeysuckle flowers, sipped in the living room before we set out.  We filled a thermos of boiling water to take with us, because chances were excellent that we’d find ingredients to prepare a yummy tea to enjoy after the walk.

Meeting each plant friend was an exercise in close observation.  Are the stems smooth or hairy?  The leaves simple or compound?  The edges serrated or crenelated?  Is there a fragrance?  Are they safe to taste, and what’s does the flavor evoke?  What portions are edible, and what benefits do they bring?  And this list barely scratches the surface of what we can be noticed and learned about the nature of the flora all around us. 

We hovered over about 30 different plants–looking, touching, smelling, and even sampling –most of which were edible and/or medicinal.  Here’s a tiny taste of what we learned.  Persimmon tree leaves are full of Vitamin C.  The sourwood tree leaves taste, well, sour, and add flavor to pesto.  Wild St. John’s wort leaves contain hypericum oil which turned our fingers purple and can help with nerve pain and mild depression.  Lobelia inflata, a very potent plant, has been used to help people to quit smoking.  Violet flowers and leaves are an amazing food and medicine—chop them into a salad or dry and crush the leaves to make a wild greens mix with other plants.  Also field garlic (good for colds), agrimony (helps relieve stress), resourceful person’s pepper for spice (see picture)…the list goes on. 

We encountered poison ivy everywhere.  Kim learned to call this native plant “sister ivy” from a teacher named Frank Cook who noted that when we hear the word, “poison,” we become fearful and shut down to the possibilities in the plant.  Sister ivy teaches us to be mindful of how and where we are walking.  It comes into disturbed areas to reclaim them and help them heal.  It’s also great food for wildlife.  And if you’re sensitive to it, just pick up some jewelweed, rub it on your skin to de-activate the oils.  Or, or make an infusion that can be sprayed on or frozen into ice cubes and rubbed on your skin.

The Elderberry bush growing on the pond dam was the star of the show!  The flowers are so beautiful and full of benefits too numerous to list.  We pulled the creamy flowers from the stems and dropped them into the thermos with hot water to steep.  After returning to the Nest, we sipped the gentle brew while reviewing all we learned on this cool and cloudy morning together.

Foraging is not for amateurs.  It takes knowledge and experience to know which plants-parts-quantities-and preparations are safe to take into our bodies.  In order to harness the medicine of plants, it’s important to develop a close relationship with them over the seasons. Are you absolutely certain that the plant is edible (or is it a poisonous look-alike)?  Has the plant been sprayed or exposed to exhaust and other toxins?  Is there enough of the plant to harvest sustainably?   Today, we were in safe hands with Kim! 

Kim offers classes and events in wild foods and medicine, yoga, energy work, and massage.  Visit her website at abundancehealingarts.com

 

 

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Harvesting Potatoes: Gleaning Knowledge Along the Way

As part of the “potato head” group which participated in potato preparation, planting, hilling, protecting, and now harvesting, here is what I have learned so far:

  • There is something so exciting about those red, blue, and gold potatoes emerging from the soil, watching then spill out from the dirt makes you just want to break out into a dance! Gathering them from the overturned dirt and disengaging the ones still attached to the plant – there is an intense satisfaction and joy to hold those little and not so little potatoes in your hand— some plants have just 2 -3 big ones, others have 8-10 of varying size, so it is often a surprise what is below ground.
  • I can see why having several eyes in one piece is a good thing! My idea that “1 is enough” is valid in that some potatoes will be produced from the plant, but now that the potato project is coming full cycle, I have learned that more eyes means more stalks and more stalks means more opportunities for spuds to grow in the same place…  meaning less work at harvest to get possibly a similar amount of potatoes.  After two hours of digging potatoes for market, I can see this is a good thing, which leads to next point…
  • Harvesting is back-breaking work. I have a 2-hour maximum.
  • Working in pairs is fun and actually makes the work easier! A threesome is even easier, with little loss in efficiency and much gain in speed.
  • In addition to hat, sunscreen, and water bottle, wearing a kerchief or bandanna or a Headwick really helps to keep from dripping everywhere, because, as noted, harvesting is back-breaking work.
  • Even so, I can’t wait to do it again!   

Here is a photo of a normal Johnny red potato plant just spilling over with spuds (thanks Marilyn!), and another of the potatoes prepared for market (thanks Margret!)

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