My favorite of all agricultural and food conferences – the Organic Grower’s School – has just ended. Two volunteer shifts got me in free of charge for the whole weekend and I was immersed in a plethora of sustainable goodness: wild edibles and medicinals, soil ecology, glorious book vendors (!), humanure, building a solar food dehydrator (above image), permaculture and biodynamics – not to mention good friends and fellow dancers, farmers and interns.
After this weekend I now have new knowledge on: building linear and median raingardens (or wetlands if more appropriate); the fact that growing biodynamically not only involves the positions of the heavenly bodies, but in fact is based around 8 different soil preparations that all somehow utilize the innards or horns of a slaughtered cow and wild stag; the difference between a direct point solar dehydrator (sunlight directly hits the food being preserved beneath a clear panel) and an indirect one (solar thermal energy is caught beneath a clear panel and the resulting hot air flowed into an adjacent chamber where the food sits); how to identify hemlock trees based on the white stripes down the back of their leaves and how they, spruce, pine and juniper are all edible and packed with vitamin C; that what my dad taught me to find and eat as a kid and called ‘sourgrass’ is a great springtime wild edible also known as sorrel; how to feed the soil through a variety of mediums such as compost and its tea, urine, humanure, red wigglers and various micro-flora and -fauna (Did you even think to consider that perennials appreciate fungal elements in their food, whereas annuals will thank you when they get bacteria in their soil? Neither did I!); how to finally see the steps and actions to consider when starting a community garden such as listing all the possible benefits, how to design it based upon whether it will be individual plots or one cohesive garden, how to arrange management and organization, communication avenues and that you can partner with a pre-existing 501-c3 without going through all the rigamarole yourself.
Without a doubt, this weekend has brought me out of the winter doldrums and into spring mode – get me out there and planting, weeding, caring, tending, herding, foraging, getting dirty fingernails and seeing the beginnings of the fruits of labor. And thus, it is with this reawakened enthusiasm that I begin my blog on WWOOFing the US this year. The basic plan is somewhat limber: To Kansas first (Pinwheel Farm – home of sheep for meat and fiber, chickens for meat and eggs, and a market garden) for about a month – maybe 2 – then somehow making my way up to the Pacific Northwest to the tip-top of Washington, near the San Juan Islands and other whereabouts that I have friends (Port Townsend and Chimacum), and down the coast through Oregon and California before looping back eastward.
Throughout this journey and education I will attempt to document and share my experiences of each place in individual and descriptive entries, trying to capture views into the world of each of the farms I’ll be staying at and learning from; their daily lives, toils and celebrations, how the soil is cared for, any native foods to the region, fabulous meals and drinks made and shared, and any practices (such as spinning, weaving, basketmaking, dancing, seed saving, etc) that have some special value or traditional use to the families and areas I wind up in. In essence, I’ll try to communicate the terroir of each destination.
Terroir [tehr-WAHR], a French word for ‘soil’ is most commonly used in the wine industry referring to the type of soil grown in (chalky, clayey, loamy, etc.) as well as other factors that influence the soil and thus the quality of the finished product such as altitude, relative position to the sun, time of year, water drainage and even the angle of a slope’s incline. They claim that it affects the most minute taste sensations in the wine. In similar fashion, any food will take on some of the properties, tastes, vitamins, minerals and even ‘energy’ that are present and unique to the region, farm, hands and soil involved. I believe the same energetic qualities hold true for traditions, husbandry and other activities daily life holds as well.
And since you’ve read this far, I leave you with some more pictures of the weekend and promises of tantalizing future posts.