Digging into Hart’s Mill Community Farming Initiative

By Margret Muller

Jeffry and Margret of Seeing Stars Farm (SSF), with support and assistance from the rest of the Land Stewardship Circle, held a Last Saturday event on January 26 at Hart’s Nest.  Sixteen people gathered to launch what we are calling the Community Farming Initiative (a.k.a. “Farm-Aid”, minus the famous musicians, sadly). 

Our presentation began with a brief visit to the farm to help folks picture the area we will be farming.  Back at Hart’s Nest, Anthony spoke about our agrarian mission and Paul gave us a brief history of the milestones in HM’s farm development. Jeffry then showed us Bobby Tucker’s Master Farm Plan, indicating the area currently under development for vegetable farming. He explained that Seeing Stars Farm’s existing  arrangement with HM is to farm for ourselves for now with the understanding that this will transition to community farming as soon as appropriate.
 
Margret explained the reasons and goals for our workshop:
 
Reasons:
  • Part of Hart’s Mill’s mission is to learn to feed ourselves from the land as best we can, using best practices, as spelled out in both our Mission and Aims document and Principles and Intentions document, especially P&I #3. This  will require education, practice, trial-and-error, and so on. Though doing this is challenging without a physical community in place, it seems like a good idea to make a small start on this now. SSF has been farming on our land for two years. We’ve learned a lot and can assist with this new project almost immediately. 
  • A second big motivator is that HM was given a substantial farm loan a while back, repayment of which will need to start next year. The investor would very much like this loan to be repaid BY THE FARM, to the extent feasible.
Goals:
  •  To understand the difference between farming for profit and farming to feed oneself. 
  •  To emphasize that earning money farming is NOT Hart’s Mill’s long-term goal—it is a short-term goal with the benefits of loan-repayment, gaining experience, increasing activity on the land, building the soil, learning to work together, etc.
  •  To learn about annual crops that are best-suited for this purpose, including considerations of seasonality, uniqueness, sale-ability, income-vs-labor ratios, ease of production, storage needs, and more.
  • To form break-out groups to brainstorm about ideal crops and considerations, returning to the group for discussion.
  • To have one or more teams, with thoughtful choices of crops, commit to inaugurating the project this year. Jeffry laid out what SSF would and would not do to support the members, the idea being to help and advise but not actually grow the crops(!). Sales will be through The Chapel Hill Farmers Market, and possibly also internally to HM folks.
Our last activity involved using “commitment cards” to get specific information about members’ interest in participating. We were so gratified and excited to find that every single attendee signed on for either a growing team or as backup support! We now have in place two teams, interested in such crops as specialty potatoes, Asian greens, cut flowers, beets, and herbs.
 
 These first groups are already underway; if there is growing interest (😊) we will extend the project in the coming seasons. A huge “Thank You” to the Nest for hosting us, the members of LSC for supporting participation, and the rest of you for your enthusiasm!  Contact Jeffry, seeingstarsfarm@gmail.com, if you’d like to get on board.
 
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2019: Getting to Groundbreaking!

The New Year’s Planning Party on January 13th lived up to its name, with music, dancing, food, fascinating conversation — and a solid path for getting to groundbreaking!  2019 is THE YEAR for Hart’s Mill to pull all the pieces together towards building the integrated Ecovillage of our dreams.  Plans for the community farm are well underway, forest stewardship (the Wood Wide Web) has begun, and now we’re blazing to build the village in 2020.  

The Wise Owl raises a glass

There’s so much to be grateful for and appreciate right now, and we opened the afternoon by filling  glasses with sparkling beverages to toast our achievements to-date: the wonderful people who have come together, the beauty and abundance of the land, and the critical accomplishments that have gotten us to this launching point.  Hart’s Mill is a vibrant community already, and it was wonderful to acknowledge the many ways in which we have already made a positive difference in lives and lands.

Yes, kudos for all of that…but what’s next?  We’re fortunate to have among our members a planning maven, Allie Van.  The Governance & Training Circle worked with Allie to shepherd an intensive all-Circle planning process that began in September, 2018.  Some results of that process include a timeline of critical events and a set of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) defined by our Circles to achieve these goals.  (Click here to view the PowerPoint slides.)  

The timeline lays out an ambitious and optimistic (but not delusional) path focused on getting to groundbreaking.  Katy Ansardi and others worked tirelessly with Allie to identify key benchmarks aligned across several project elements that will guide us through the year.  It’s a great education in Ecovillage development to see all that must be accomplished compressed on a single page! 

As for how we get there, each Circle has been working hard to identify what they can achieve to reach these goals.  Circle leaders presented OKRs for the first quarter that correspond with the master timeline.  A rich round of thanks goes to Allie and all who devoted their hearts and minds to forging–and to walking–this path.

It was time to take it all in and reflect on how each of us could fit into this picture.  What will Hart’s Mill look like/feel like in 5 years?  What will we be doing?  How will we be living when we are on the land, together?  It was a rich experience to go inside and visualize what Hart’s Mill has meant to us, explore the joys and challenges, and envision our lives based on the many Principles and Intentions that have moved us thus far.

After sharing with each other what we discovered, we all had an opportunity to explore what we can do during the first quarter to move this process along.  What is each of us passionate about; what are our skills; what brings us energy; what would we gladly do to realize this vision?  Participants translated their dedication into action, creating personal OKRs with specific offerings.  It was wonderful to harness and receive such generous promises of time and talent.

And now….let’s celebrate!  Turn up the music, clear the dance floor, enjoy the food and libations, and mostly–have fun with each other!  It was a great way to energize all that we have become, all that we are, and all that we will create to make this corner of the world more beautiful, more loving, more sustainable and regenerative.  And a lot less crazy.

Want to get involved?  There’s a place for YOU at Hart’s Mill Ecovillage.  Contact us and be a part of it–NOW!  

 

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You’ve heard of having a Chili Cook-off? Well, how about a CHILLY KICK-OFF?! 

by Margret Mueller
 

That’s what happened Saturday, December 8, when a few hardy souls met at Hart’s Mill (in 40-degree weather) to get started with our Forest Stewardship mandate attend to certain parcels of land.  Consider the Wood Wide Web project officially launched!  Spearheaded by Land Stewardship Circle member, Randy Dodd, over the next two years we will be working approximately monthly from fall to spring to thin several of our forest stands, managing our invasive trees, and generally appreciating and learning about Hart’s Mill’s wooded areas.  

With Randy’s thoughtful guidance, we were able to make a good start on Stand 6, respectfully removing some pines from crowded areas and less respectfully whacking every invasive privet and ailanthus sapling we could find.  For now, the logs and trimmings are in segregated piles lining the driveway, the former to be chipped for mulch, and the latter to provide habitat and weed suppression while it degrades into useful nutrients for the land.
 
While felling trees can be a bit traumatic, we were guided by our P & I number two that states, “we are abidingly loyal to the land”—we are bound to work toward forest protection, health and restoration. It was also possible to see a certain beauty in our work; the cooperation among team members, the “opening”of the woods, the smell of fresh pine in the cold air, and for me, the breathtaking up-close beauty of the most pristine, perfect pine cones I have ever seen.
 
Much gratitude to Randy, Jeffry, Hope, Nell, Virginia, and Margret for this rewarding workday.
 
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Regenerative Development at Hart’s Mill

by Leah Gibbons

Workshop 1 Activity and Outcomes*

We had an exciting time at Hart’s Nest on November 17-18 exploring and applying a development and design process called regenerative development. The aim was to discover how regenerative development might add to and enhance the work of Hart’s Mill.  Many thanks to Hope, Joe, Katy, Maria, Marilyn, Paul, and Randy for participating. 

We began the process by discussing what participants love about Hart’s Mill.  Participants love the human relationships, social and economic ideal, organizational structure, generosity, desire to transform themselves and the world, creativity, persistence, the well-defined common values and principles, opportunity for innovation, and willingness to take leadership roles and responsibility. They also love the beauty of the land, its water, its diversity of life, its gifts (like edible mushrooms), and the opportunity to become intimate with place.

I then introduced the concept of regenerative development. I explained that regenerative development is a system of methodologies that develops capacities in living systems to continually evolve to higher levels of health and well-being, from the scale of individuals to sites, neighborhoods, cities, and beyond. Regenerative development is different from other approaches in several ways. It shifts us from:

  • Focusing on problems to manifesting potential
  • Working with parts to working with wholes
  • Static ‘solutions’ to growing capacities
  • Scarcity to abundance
  • Addressing symptoms to addressing causes—worldviews and consciousness
  • A parasitic to a mutualistic relationship with nature
  • Project-focused to value-adding (i.e., being of service) to the larger context

Regenerative development charts a path for thrivability within which more specific regenerative and ecological design technologies and strategies may be used. These include biophilia, biomimicry, bioclimatic design, Permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and Living Building and Community Challenges.

I introduced the regenerative community development tools I have developed and am piloting as part of my dissertation research. These are intended to help guide communities through the regenerative development process. These may used throughout time to adjust and adapt concepts, goals, and strategies as contexts and conditions change.

Using the tools to guide us, we dove into exploring what gives life to this place. We looked at the larger communities of which Hart’s Mill is a part as well as at Hart’s Mill itself. At the next largest scale up, Hart’s Mill and adjacent neighbors form a community. At the next largest scale, this context seemed appropriate:

And then this:

We also found thinking about Hart’s Mill as part of the Upper Neuse River Basin helpful. Looking at how all of these scales relate to one another, we explored ecological and social flows, patterns, and relationships that have given, currently give, and could give your community and its surrounding landscape vitality. We looked at elements for life including water, organisms (including people), nutrients, soil, infrastructure, and information, among others. We discovered that west-east flows of humans, commerce, water, and creatures (beavers, coyotes, foxes, turtles, birds) have been and continue to be important. We found that connections, exchanges, and mutually-beneficial relationships amongst these elements are important for vitality.

We discovered the essence of Hart’s Mill—what defines it as a unique whole and gives it life and vitality—and articulated it in a short Story of Place and regenerative development concept:

Hart’s Mill is a connecting place, rooted in rich biological and cultural diversity and flows that bring forth vitality and life. At a time of great social and environmental dysfunction, we are called forth as a catalyst for collaborative transformation. We are an agrarian community of learning, inhabiting, practicing and service committed to healing our relationships to each other and the earth, within Hart’s Mill and as an integral part of our larger community.

This statement can guide regenerative development efforts, connecting past, present, and future from the scale of individuals to the region.

We began exploring potential collaborations and guild relationships. These are relationships within the larger community that would result in mutual benefits for all. Potential members include neighbors, other local communities, Minka Farms, Triangle Land Conservancy, Eno River Association, Orange County Planning Department, City of Mebane, Commission for the Environment, local universities and schools, green developers, Sally Greene (Orange County Commissioner). Participants noted some actions that can be taken right now to generate income and move towards Hart’s Mill’s vision, including on-line teaching and beginning an educational center at Hart’s Nest.

Next, we briefly explored how regenerative development enhances Hart’s Mill’s current approach and thinking. Thoughts included:

  • The inclusion of larger contexts and systems; understanding your role within those systems
  • Frameworks to guide thinking, discussion, and action in Hart’s Mill and beyond for community members and the professionals who work with you
  • A language to communicate who Hart’s Mill is at its heart
  • Help looking at the bigger picture

For our next weekend workshop, we intend to evaluate Hart’s Mill’s current principles, vision, and mission using its regenerative development concept and the regenerative community development evaluation tool. We will then use the tool to co-create regenerative development goals and strategies specific to Hart’s Mill. We will then use the tool to discuss how specific design technologies and strategies can help implement regenerative development. We will discuss potential regenerative development indicators for your community. We will also explore your role as regenerative individuals in enabling vitality in Hart’s Mill and beyond.

*If you are a Hart’s Mill member interested in attending Workshop 2 on December 22-23, please contact Hope at hopematrix@fastmail.com

 

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Springing into Fall: Clean-Up on the Land

 
This is the time of year for general garden clean-up and preparation for the next wave of plantings. On October 28 we had a Fence-Raising on our land, a take-off on the concept of barn-raisings, which operate on the idea that “many hands make light work”.  Jeffry plotted out a new, much larger area for the farming activities, which includes enough space to maneuver the tractor inside the fence. 60 ten-foot T-posts were pounded in to mark the perimeter, with help from Paul and Randy. Old deer fencing, chicken wire, and posts were wrestled out of the  morning-glory-vine-covered borders by Margret and  Nell, while Marsha, Paul and Jeffry started putting up the new 8-foot deer fencing. 
   

 
This plastic mesh fencing is great for many reasons including longevity/reusability, near invisibility, and the ability to be “stapled” to the ground against smaller critters.  The summer vegetables have been mowed and plowed under to contribute to next year’s soil, leaving only our current rows of cool-weather crops. Our new one-acre enclosure feels spacious and tidy, quietly awaiting Spring planting. 
 
  
 
 
 
Two weeks later, on November 10, our regular monthly workday concentrated on general clean-up around and inside the storage container and tractor shed. Three loads of trash and recycling were sorted and hauled off thanks to the efforts of  Nell, Paul, Hope, Lisa, Margret, Randy, Jeffry, Tara, Rick,  4 1/2-year-old John-Michael, and two visitors,  Terry O’Keefe  and  Mary Johnston.  By 5 o’clock the temperature had dropped into the low 40’s and we were more than ready to gather around a fire and share some yummy food. A special treat was wild mushroom soup, made from maitake mushrooms previously gathered right from our land! 
 
By far the most notable and endearing event of the whole day happened that evening thanks to John-Michael, who had been dressed up as e. coli for Halloween.( Seriously!) He treated us to a rousing rendition of his character’s theme song, “I Am a Bacteria, My name is E. Coli!”  Absolutely hysterical.
 
 
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May the Forest be With You (and You with the Forest)

Last month, Paul loaned me this book, which has provided the latest fodder for a many month long contemplation on how to best serve the Harts Mill forest (and people).  It’s a great read and a helpful guide for me as I embark on a couple year effort that will mostly entail, in the forestry profession’s lingo, a “thinning” of parts of the forest.  While it’s beyond the scope of this post to delve too deeply into either my own contemplation or the nitty gritty of what the Land Stewardship Circle has been chewing on, there is a previous post that has some additional background and details. Most importantly, there will be ample opportunity for any and all to a) help care for the forest; b) spend time on the land; and            c) support Harts Mill’s agrarian vision.  The work/play will start on the afternoons of November 17th and 18th.  Stay tuned, come on out, and contact Land Stewardship to learn more.

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Starting to see homes!

By Anthony Weston

At our October 27th Last Saturday event, the Planning, Design, and Development Circle presented the Schematic Designs for two prototype HM residences to an appreciative crowd of about eighteen members plus a few toddlers.

To set the context, Hope led us in a review of the key values that are guiding the development of our architectural plans.  It’s a wonder that there are more than 50 of them!  Using a large Wheel of Sustainability taped to the wall, participants selected pre-marked post-its and placed each value in the most appropriate category.  Here’s a sample:  Social values in play include shared spaces and resources, shared dwellings, supporting diversity, a balance of public and private spaces, accessibility for all ages and abilities, and connected flow between homes.  Ecological values include compact village layout, orientation to sun and wind, low energy demands, natural, local, and recycled/able materials, attractive outdoor spaces, kitchen gardens.  Culture/Worldview values include intimacy with the natural world, a movement from “I” to “We”, inspiration, beauty and creativity.  Economic values include economic viability, small homes, fewer possessions and more sharing, affordable housing and low building costs, self-build options, multi-use spaces, cooperative ownership model, flexible housing to meet different needs, and fairly comparable dwellings — no built-in inequality.

Next, I came forward (electronically, from Chile…) to briefly review the last six months of intensive planning work that have brought us to this point and that informs the plans we were about to unveil.

The “Building Block” plan is one: people who need a refresher (which us probably most people: it’s a complex thing) please refer back to this blog post from the Spring. and be sure to review Katy’s excellent slideshow linked to it.

I went on to explain how we came to be working with Jonathan Lucas of Asheville’s What on Earth Architecture. Under Jonathan’s guidance, PDD this spring worked out a set of “Design Goals and Considerations” to define the schematic design work that is now nearing completion. Among other things, we decided to move forward with two prototype designs: what we are now calling the Shared House (common living/dining/cooking/porch area with four 1-room suites that may or may not be lived in independently) and the Small Family Flex House (one-story 2 bedroom house with a 2-room attached suite, ditto).

Again a previous blog post reviews this in more detail.  Key takeaways for now are: 1) These designs are only schematic in the sense that they are just first sketches. We’ve taken a long step toward specificity – we can now see what some of the residences might actually look like – but these designs are certainly not “set in stone”.  We want feedback!  And 2) There will be other residential options. We chose these two for our first designs because they are quite different from each other and therefore help define a range of possibilities and also set some general features of layout and style, but there will be others: next up is probably a two-story and duplexable 2 bedroom family house.

Katy then unveiled the floorplans and elevations for the two prototypes. She walked us through each of them in turn. You can find them here and here. Please take the time to review them carefully, notice that both have multiple pages and quite a bit of detail. The elevations are several pages in.

The Last Saturday session continued with break-out groups to explain the plans in more detail, and to gather reactions, suggestions, and general feedback, which they then brought  back to the whole group for a debrief.

The general reaction was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic!  People repeatedly pointed to the thoughtfulness of the layouts, the flow of the spaces, the prospect of well-lit interiors, many outdoor spaces, and the earthiness of the colors and finishes as very attractive features. In fact the biggest complaint we got was a general dislike of the wet bar in the bedroom of the two-room suite, which is easily changeable with a few strokes at the architect´s keyboard.  Those of us who have had our noses to this particular grindstone for months (OK, actually, it´s really fun sometimes too, but still a long haul) are gratified and grateful all around – to the community, to Jonathan Lucas, and to each other – for a job done well. And now, onward!

Any HM member who did not have a chance to attend the Last Saturday meeting is also welcome to come by Hart’s Nest (with notice!) and review all of the attached documents including larger printouts of the plans.  Email inquires are also more than welcome to me at weston@elon.edu or Katy at katy@hartsmill.org.

Please do take the time to respond – this is the moment when things can be readily changed, and we need to hear everyone´s thoughts and suggestions before taking more definitive responses and suggestions back to Jonathan.

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Michael Comes to Hart’s Mill

by Margret Mueller

Hurricane Michael, that is!
 
Compared with the indescribable suffering farther south, of course, we have absolutely nothing to complain about. Still, many of us were affected by this storm—too much water (on the heels of Hurricane Florence’s six inches!), too much wind (yards covered with nature’s debris), and power outages. Several of us went to the land the morning after with some trepidation. I was prepared to see damage to our Grandmother Oak, as predicted by Jake Presley two years ago. Remarkably, not a branch was lost!  
 
Hope and Paul walked the trails and did some minor clearing. They reported that a large dead pine came down between the tractor shed and the pump house, thankfully missing both structures as well as the trailer holding our two precious solar panels. I was also pleased to see that this was not the dead pine the Pileated woodpeckers had chosen for a home!
 
The positive side of a hurricane blowing through is that it tends to suck the humidity out of the air, so Saturday’s planned workday dawned clear, bright, and cool. The major workday plan was for trail maintenance.  Hope and Maria tackled our newest wetland trail while Jeffry, Margret, Lisa, George, Vanessa and Lizel worked on the McGowan Creek trail. We met Paul and visitor Jamie coming from the opposite direction, and we all converged on the cob house to admire Joe and Randy lime-coating the nearly-completed structure. Randy was called upon to give an impromptu explanation of this project. 
 
It was not until Jeffry backed the tractor out of the shed so I could mow, that we noticed Michael’s more extensive effect. A large pine tree had fallen onto the roof of the tractor shed from behind, crushing a portion of the metal roof and cracking three rafters! With Vanessa’s “seize the moment” attitude, a team was assembled to tackle the repair on the spot. With George acting as foreman, he, Vanessa, Jeffry, Paul and Lizel utilized our hydraulic jack and existing scrap lumber and nails, and Voila! The shed was repaired. Spontaneous cooperation in action!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Since building things is not my field of expertise, I went off to address a different “field”–one with way-too-tall grass and saplings, and made a good start on mowing. At 5:30 those of us who could stay gathered at the pavilion to enjoy refreshments and a fine campfire. 
 
See what you’re missing? Come join us on our next scheduled workday, Saturday November 10th. Details to be sent out soon.
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What a Concept! Update on Architecture

by Anthony Weston
 
Our Architect, Jonathan Lucas of What On Earth Architecture, has taken PDD – the Planning, Design, and Development Circle – through a systematic process to develop the designs for our residences. it’s time for a progress report on developments so far. 
 
With Jonathan’s guidance, we worked out specific Design Goals for the village generally and for two types of residences in particular. We chose to work first with a 2-bedroom house with an attached 2-room suite and also a Shared house with 4, 1-room suites. (if you need a reminder about the “Building Block” plan with suites, check out this blog post from April.) There will be other types of residence as well – these two may not even be the most common types – but we picked these two as prototypes because they are fairly different in a variety of ways but between them should allow us to sort out basic design issues for all of the residences.
 
The next step was Concept Design for those two types of residences: not all the way to an actual floor plan, but a layout of the relative sizes and interconnections of the rooms, to insure that everything works and flows as hoped. So… below are the Concept Designs we are working with.   Comments and questions are welcome to Anthony at weston@elon.edu. 
 
The really exciting bit comes next: Schematic Design — actual floor plans and elevations (drawings of the buildings as they will look from the outside). Indeed PDD is now working through the first Schematic Designs for the Shared House, and will circulate these shortly too. Speaking of which… all members interested in architecture should also take note of the October Last Saturday event, October 27th 3-6 pm, where we will share our architectural program and progress in detail. Please come!  RSVP to Anthony: weston@elon.edu.
 
Start imagining living in these spaces!  KEY: Blue codes for private areas; yellow for common areas; brown is transitional space; green is attached outdoor space (porches).
 
2-bedroom with 2-room suite.  Click here for larger image.
 
 
 
Shared house with 4, 1-bedroom suites.  Click here for larger image.
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Pumphouse Drama

By Anthony Weston

As all assiduous readers of this blog will know, in early September we had a dedicated workday/workshop to raise the slipstraw walls of the pumphouse. Terry, Joe, Randy, Amy, Sean, and me, all of us led by NC’s cob guru and HM advisor, Greg Allen, got ourselves thoroughly clay-covered and all literally had a hand in the building of walls between the frame structure that I have been patiently assembling with the help of others — most recently George. You can see the first steps — some cob beginnings, and some of the forms for the first layer of slipstraw, basically straw coated with a thin film of clay — in the first photo. 

But then did the wall go up! By the end of the day, Greg had begun plastering and the walls were close to the top. Check out the second photo. It’s going to be beautiful! 

We quit just in time for Anthony and Amy to finish packing up before rains came — in fact we just slipped in this workday before a run of rainy days. And then things really got serious, when the forecasts for Hurricane Florence called for possibly 60 mph winds and days and days of heavy rain. What to do? Slipstraw should not get very wet. Normally it’s protected by the plaster that encases it, but we’d just started and the plaster was partial and itself not yet dry. The answer you can see in there third photo: I wrapped the whole thing up and put on a layer of serious tarps, thoroughly strapped down. Greg’s good advice!

In the event, Florence was not so bad. I have been able to take off the tarps and the wrapping, let it start drying out again, and am resuming work again before I head off to join Amy in Chile. In fact if anyone wants to join — helping put on the roof especially — I expect to be at it all weekend (29 and 30 September) and would welcome the help — just let me know. Regardless, though, stop by and have a look next time you are on the land. The stone bench built into the front is meant for sitting — give it a try!

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