Shed Talks, Ukrainian Eggs, and Building our Green-Coop-House Structure

 

The Crew!  Parakh, Nouri, Drew, Evan, Tim, Christina and Maureen.  What a day!

The Crew! Parakh, Nouri, Drew, Evan, Tim, Christina and Maureen. What a day!

Starflower O'Sullivan facilitates our first "Shed Talk" at Crow Forest Farm!

Starflower O’Sullivan facilitates our first “Shed Talk” at Crow Forest Farm!

Every day, I am blown away and grateful for the amazing life I am suddenly leading, and the wonderful people who have come into it.  This was a particularly eventful weekend at Crow Forest Farm.  On Saturday, we had a Pysanka (Ukrainian Egg) Painting workshop, where we wrote our intentions for Spring using ancient symbols.  On Sunday, we had our first ever “Shed Talk,” hosted by Starflower O’Sullivan, regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, and a meaningful discussion about alternatives.  On Sunday afternoon, we built the frame for our Rainwater Harvesting Chicken Coop Greenhouse (We’ve got to come up with a shorter name!), and had a beautiful dinner at sunset.  Life is beautiful.

A quality audience for our first Shed Talk!

A quality audience for our first Shed Talk!

First, I must give thanks to Chris Piatt and Kelly Junco, who spent much of February/March leading the clean-up of our barn and building a stage for the eagerly-awaited Shed Talks.  I must also give thanks to Parakh Hoon, who lent us his projector, and to Dennis Chang, who gave his input regarding lighting/orientation and shot video of our Shed Talk. (Soon to be uploaded).  The pysanka workshop went well, and thanks must go out to Steven Banks, who took beautiful shots of Crow Forest Farm and the wonderful artisans who frequent it.

Industrious artists drawing symbols with beeswax on our pysanky.

Industrious artists drawing symbols with beeswax on our pysanky.

Starflower did a wonderful job of researching and presenting the issues and challenges surrounding the Keystone-XL pipeline.  She facilitated a heartfelt discussion, where people from across the political spectrum discussed what courses of actions to take.  Some advocated a middle of the road approach, allowing the pipeline to be built under the conditions that all tarsand oil be earmarked for building a green energy infrastructure.  Others discussed the implications of the pipeline in light of the recent NASA study and statements from the UN regarding the imminent impact of global warming.  Others discussed the virtues of developing intentional communities, where resources such as cars and computers are shared.  Some asked tough questions about the reality of congressional politics, and how congress-members’ decisions to support or reject the pipeline could effect the shape of congress in the long-run.  There were also discussions on how to engage with people who disagree on a personal level.  The most heart-warming thing, however, was how two of our guests from the Middle East came to me afterwards, saying how grateful they were to see Americans discussing the implications of fossil fuel dependence.  Over dinner later, we learned more about how US consumption of Middle Eastern oil has empowered dictatorships in the region.

 

Arranging our diverse collection of recycled wood and securing it to our foundation.  We are proud to say we are still at a budget of $0!

Arranging our diverse collection of recycled wood and securing it to our foundation. We are proud to say we are still at a budget of $0!

After the shed talk, Maureen, Tim, and Evan planted potatoes, cabbage and onions.  Meanwhile, Nouri, Parakh, Drew, Mousa and I worked on building the wall frames for our chicken coop.  We are deeply grateful to Dan Warren, a barn-builder who stayed after the Shed Talk to advise us on how to attach the walls to our foundation.  He was very encouraging, and his expertise saved us a lot of time and head-scratching.  Just like last weekend, we accomplished more than I expected.  Thank you, hard working people!

Nouri, Evan, Christina Z and Parakh building the frame for our chicken coop/greenhouse.

Nouri, Evan, Christina Z and Parakh building the frame for our chicken coop/greenhouse.

When the evening was over, we had a beautiful dinner outside the Octagon house.  We had roasted Jerusalem artichokes, thanks to generosity of Elliot Crookshank and his Mom Nancy from the 3 Cow Dairy in Floyd.  We ate Soujouk, a smoked Halal beef sausage, a gift to Nouri and Moussa.  I contributed leftover Ukrainian food from the pysanka workshop, including kapusta, kasha, and turkey shnitzli.  Finally, Tim and Maureen prepared a delicious salad of lettuce and mustard greens, freshly harvested from our cold frames.  The discussion lasted long after the sun went down.

Our finished frame for our chicken coop/green house!

Our finished frame for our chicken coop/green house!

My friend Drew, an OWS “hacktivist” friend who came to help on the farm, reassured me that the life we’re cultivating here at Crow Forest Farm is not unconventional.  Rather, it is “neoconventional.”  That you can have a professional day job, but have a collaboratively self-sufficient community for the other 16 hours of the day.  That night, I slept so soundly, grateful for the beautiful community of people that have been blossoming around this great experiment that has become my life.   The universe works in mysterious ways, and while it’s not always easy, I feel grateful to the people who are helping me “grow my hands” along the way.

Thanks for a great creative and collaborative community!

Thanks for a great creative and collaborative community!

We’re took a break this weekend to observe the holidays.  Happy Pesach, Happy Easter, and Happy Cambodian New Year!  Until next time : )

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Free-Range Ideas in Action: Chickens in the Greenhouse, step one

 In only two weeks, our baby chicks have already tripled in size.  Awkward and pubescent, these feisty creatures will soon graduate from their cardboard box into a proper chicken coop.  And what a chicken coop it will be!

Our Inspiration: But can it be done?  For $0?  By us?

Our Inspiration: But can it be done? For $0? By us?

 In permaculture, we often speak about “Stacking Functions.”  This means that you design elements of your system to fulfill different needs with shared resources.  A long-discussed example of this is using chickens in a greenhouse.  During the heat of the day, the chickens roam free.  But at night, their body heat can keep plants above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, even in freezing weather.  The inspiration for our chicken coop comes from Bill Mollisons “Introduction to Permaculture”

    As you can see, this design has it all:  Rainwater harvesting, chicken watering, poultry manure for plants, nesting boxes that can be harvested from the hot house, chicken wire between chickens and plants, north facing heat sinks, cold frames, elements that reflect changes in solar insolation– but is it a unicorn?   Going online, it was impossible to find blueprints or even real-life examples of passive solar chicken coop designs.  This meant that I had to do some math, and develop these beautiful concepts into a concrete plan.  It means taking a risk, carefully documenting our work, and hopefully developing a design that would be a point of interest for other farmers.

Junior and Nouri leveling out the ground for our foundation.

Junior and Nouri leveling out the ground for our foundation.

    There are many other factors that go into this design.  We are trying to do this completely with recycled materials from old farm, with a budget of $0.  So far, we’re in the black.  We also have little collective experience with building a structure of this magnitude.  And it’s an adventure– Nobody on the web has really done it before.  So, wish us luck!

Laying our cinderblock foundation.

Laying our cinderblock foundation.

First, we measured out perfect 8X8 Square, using a T-square and 2X4X8 lumber.  We then used a water level and string to determine how to level the ground.  We then moved and shifted soil, using the soil we removed to cover hugulkultur beds.  Finally, we took old cinder blocks to create the foundation for our chicken coop.  We arranged them to have no holes facing outward in order to deter predators from digging in to our henhouse!  We then had a relaxing dinner of Borscht, homebaked bread, fish salad, chicken salad, and cake.  Not to mention the great cross-cultural exchange of ideas concerning permaculture and organic farming in a Haitian and Muslim context.  Is there demand for Halal organic chicken, anyone?

Our solid foundation and solid super-crew!

Our solid foundation and solid super-crew!

 Deep thanks must go two of my students, Nouri Elmeklhi and Junior Beauvais.  Nouri is an engineer from Libya- he brought his two beautiful daughters who started cayenne pepper seedlings for us.  Junior is a Haitian farmer who actually received a permaculture certificate in the Dominican Republic last year, and has been working to establish a permaculture site in Haiti.  These two were a Godsend!  They led the charge today, systematically creating a level foundation for our passive solar chicken house.   Thanks must also go to Tim Naylor for turning our tree of heaven into firewood, and to Mike Heitzman for resurrecting our cinder blocks, one chip at a time.  Finally, thanks to Mo for working to fill our “mosquito pit” as we transform it into a Ukrainian Cranberry bog.   

As far as upcoming events goes, we have two next weekend:

Celebrate spring at the Pysanka Ukrainian Egg painting workshop Sat. 4/12  2-4 pm.

Celebrate spring at the Pysanka Ukrainian Egg painting workshop Sat. 4/12 2-4 pm.

Ukrainian Egg Painting Workshop- Saturday 4/12 from 2:00-4:00

Since 2000 years before the birth of Christ, Ukrainians have welcomed the beginning of spring with pysanky, beautiful beeswax batique painted eggs. Come join us to participate in this ancient pagan turned Lenten tradition. Learn the history, symbolism, and techniques of this beautiful art form. Create your own pysanka to take home! Light Ukrainian Snacks Provided!

Activist and Master Naturalist Starflower O'Sullivan will facilitate our inaugural Shed Talk about the Keystone-XL pipeline.

Activist and Master Naturalist Starflower O’Sullivan will facilitate our inaugural Shed Talk about the Keystone-XL pipeline.

Shed Talx: The Keystone-XL Pipeline Exposed- Sunday, 4/13 from 1:30-2:30

Activist Starflower O’Sullivan talks about the Keystone XL Pipeline, why it’s a problem, and what we can do about it.  Participate in a community discussion following a short film screening of the documentary “Keystone PipeLies Exposed.”  Prepare for 350.org protest in DC on 4/26!   Chicken coop building to follow.

 

Our Inspiration: But can it be done?  For $0?  By us?

Our Inspiration: But can it be done? For $0? By us?