Chicks, Bees, and New Beginnings: The First Day of Spring

Today is the first full day of Spring, and it’s already off to a beautiful start!

The chicks are in the mail!

The chicks are in the mail!

At 6:30 this morning, I got a call from the Blacksburg post-office, telling me that my chicks had arrived, and that I had better pick them up as possible.  Yes, the chicks were in the mail : )

Spring Sunrise!

Spring Sunrise!

When the lady handed the box to me at the post office, I had to get down on my knees and think “Thank you.”  I could hear little mysterious cheeps and tweets escaping from this magic box.  I turned up the heat in my car, and drove them back up the mountain as gently as possible up our rugged dirt road.

15 chicks traveled for 2 and half days through the US Postal Service.  Thank you USPS for calling us and for making sure they made it home safe and sound!

15 chicks traveled for 2 and half days through the US Postal Service. Thank you USPS for calling us and for making sure they made it home safe and sound!

As soon as I got home, I woke up Maureen and Timmy.  We excitedly hurried to the Octagon house to make a new home for our babies!  Maureen laid a cardboard box with paper shreds (Courtesy of the Language and Culture Institute) as I hooked up the heat lamp and chopped up fresh veggies.  Timmy cooked us a nice breakfast of fresh eggs (ironic, yes) and asparagus.

Maureen gives a chick its first drink!

Maureen gives a chick its first drink!

The chicks had been traveling in the US Postal service for the past two days.  They have never had anything to eat or drink in their lives.  Instead, they are living off nutrients from the yolk of the egg until they arrive in the mail.  We therefore needed to give them their first drink.

Tim gives a chick its first drink! We gave them water with a little diluted apple cider vinegar and fresh-pressed garlic for health.

Tim gives a chick its first drink! We gave them water with a little diluted apple cider vinegar and fresh-pressed garlic for health.

In order to help them understand the idea of drinking and eating, we acted as mother hens.  Each of us took a chick from the mailing box and gently put its beak in the water feeder until we saw it start to guzzle. We added some homemade apple cider vinegar to the water (to add electrolytes) as well as some garlic (for its antibiotic properties).

It's important to give chicks fresh chopped vegetables and wild greens from day 1, just as a mother hen would!

It’s important to give chicks fresh chopped vegetables and wild greens from day 1, just as a mother hen would!

We gave them “free choice” of unmedicated chick starter feed from Blacksburg Feed and Seed as well as fresh vegetable scraps.  As recommended by Harvey Ussery (The Martha Stewart of Chickens), its important to offer chicks fresh vegetables, grass, and dirt from day 1, just as a mother hen would.   In the long-run, chickens that forage and eat a diverse diet of living foods are healthier than those that are fed chicken feed exclusively.

Our chicks in their happy home by the wood stove!

Our chicks in their happy home by the wood stove!

Chick TV!

Maureen and I then sat around our little chicks, watching them until we needed to head off to work.  Each chick has their own personality, and I look forward to getting to know each of our girls on a deeper level.  We have 15 layer hens, all Rhode Island Reds, which are supposed to be great dual-purpose birds (as in good, for laying and for meat) that are resilient free-range foragers.

CZ Beekeeping at Gypsy Wagon Farm in Beach Lake, PA.

Today will be an exciting day, as Maureen and I will head over to a local farm to check out some old beehives.  Our bee nucs will be arriving in about a month and we’ll see what we can reuse.  We’re also hoping that if there is still a live hive there we could transport it to Crow Forest Farm.

Tom and Dennis film exploding fruit for the official Rock the Blocks Promo Video.

Tom and Dennis film exploding fruit for the official Rock the Blocks Promo Video.

This weekend,  the Rock the Blocks Music Festival will kick off in Blacksburg.  Director Dennis Chang filmed some exploding fruit at our farm last weekend.  He also let me smash some watermelons outside our barn.  Very cathartic, and I got some great fruit salad to boot!   Check out his spectacular video here:

Dennis Chang’s Amazing Promo Video for Rock The Blocks Music Festival!

I’ll be volunteering at the Rock the Blocks Music Festival main office this weekend, checking out shows when I can take a break.  Please check out some awesome local bands playing in Blacksburg, including Atoka Chase and Orbit Eyes.  Schedule is here:

 http://www.rocktheblocks.com

Sustainable Sundays: Setting the Stage for Cultivating Community

Crow Forest Permaculture is a collective of local farmers, educators, and artists dedicated to sharing ecological wisdom in an international context.  Facilitated on an 8-acre permaculture farm in Blacksburg, VA, these workshops focus on hands-on, small-scale, and affordable environmental projects that generate agricultural abundance in a variety of urban and rural settings.  With a commitment to hands-on, collaborative, and bottom-up sustainability education, participants of all ages and backgrounds will learn how to to creatively cultivate, harvest, and share abundance in their local communities.  
JP, CZ, Chris, Caitlyn, Maureen and Adam move our IBC tote (for aquaponics!)  to our tool shed.

JP, CZ, Chris, Caitlyn, Maureen and Adam move our IBC tote (for aquaponics!) to our tool shed during our inaugural Sustainable Sunday (3/9/14).

Last Sunday, nearly 30 people met for a Crow Forest Farm meet and greet where we learned how to make lacto-fermented ginger beer and created our own potting soil.  Yesterday, a crew of 7 dedicated people gathered in the midst if chilly wintery mix to construct our “Shed Talks: barn stage from recycled materials.

Our Stage Building Crew!

Our Stage Building Crew!

Chris, Kelley and Parakh lay down our first stage frame 3/16/14.

Chris, Kelley and Parakh lay down our first stage frame 3/16/14.

Our Barn Before...

Our Barn Before…

Kelley Junco was our manager, leading the charge.  Chris Piatt developed the stage plan, and acted as lead architect for the project.  Parakh Hoon acted as a DJ, documentarian, and Jack of all trades.  Mike Heitzman double checked our math and built an awesome cold frame.  Maureen McGonagle reconstructed our fire pit, and Tim Naylor sawed wood with his man-strength.  I cooked wild mustard green soup and reminded people frequently that it was time for a hot toddy break 🙂

Our finished stage!  Shed Talks, here we come!

Our finished stage! Shed Talks, here we come!

Our hope is to welcome musicians onto our barn stage for a relaxing soirée after Rock the Blocks.  In the long-run, we plan to host teach-ins and “Shed Talks,” on a variety of topics.  My gratitude goes out to all of the generous people who are supporting our vision of creating a participatory permaculture space in Blacksburg.  Come out next Sunday to help us construct a chicken tractor!

Our finished cold frame.

Our finished cold frame.

Sustaining Peace in a United and Sovereign Ukraine

It’s a time of renewal.  I’ve lit incense by my seed starts, and have opened up the big sliding doors to let the fresh air in.  The crocuses are beginning to poke their heads out of the soft black ground.  Every morning, I hear more new birds singing their revalies.  Spring is coming!  There is hope, but also concern.

I have spoken a little bit with Ukrainian permaculture activists in Ukraine.  They are currently praying for hope.  After months of protesting and successfully removing a corrupt president, they are finding themselves under attack from outside.  Putin, with his interests in Crimea’s warm water ports and Eastern Ukraine’s natural gas reserves, has gathered 6,000 Russian troops in Crimea, claiming the supposed need to “protect ethnic Russians.”  However, there have been no confirmed reports of violence against Russians in Ukraine.  New York Times accounts of pro-Russian protests in the East have had the highest number count of 60 participants.  Compare that with the thousands protesting in the Maidan.  In essence, Putin is taking this moment of vulnerable transition in Ukraine to manufacture conflict in the East and justify a Russian land grab.   When Ukraine gained its independence in 1992, it had inherited the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, and had a lot of understandable animosity towards Russia.

However, having survived nuclear disasters in Chernobyl, Ukraine agreed to elminate its major nuclear reserves in exchange for security assurances from the United States, Russian, and Britain in a “Trilateral Statement,” signed in 1994.   http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2011/05/trilateral-process-pifer   Ukraine is now very vulnerable to attack by its former oppressors, and most Ukrainians (Ethnically Russian and Ethnically Ukrainian alike) view Putin’s actions as horrifyingly opportunistic and evil, and could spell the demise for all they have worked and hoped for.

Here is a statement from my friend Pavlo, who is ethnically Russian but has been protesting with the Maidan since September:   “Dear Christina, I think that all of us (Ukrainians, Russians, USA) have to demonstrate their disagreement with Putin’s policy wherever they are and in whatever way is possible for them. Abroad this is first of all demonstrating in front of embassies and asking the guarantors of Ukrainian sovereignty (one of them is USA) to take appropriate actions. This situation can be resolved only in diplomatic way and on the international level. We have to be strong and united. Pavlo.”    Please email or call your representatives to support a sovereign an united Ukraine.

Ukraine from one Ukrainian American’s Perspective: What’s next?

First, I must apologize for my month- long hiatus from the Crow Forest Farm Blog. My return from Ukraine was a whirlwind, and great transitions are underfoot at Crow Forest for the coming Spring (More to come soon). My silence should not be taken as apathy. Rather, there is something to be said for taking time to digest information and reflect, especially when observing events from afar.  While the focus of this blog is permaculture, many people have also been following it due to their interest in learning more about Ukrainian culture.  I will therefore add a little reflection on current events.

Yesterday, a Lebanese mycologist friend visited CFF (Yes, he will be running a workshop, inshallah!) He asked me why it is that we learn about the Holocaust in school (RIP Alice Herz-Sommer), but that we never hear about the Artificial Famine/Genocide aka “Holodomyr” imposed by Stalin in 1930-32 that killed over 6 million Ukrainians. In Ukrainian, we have a saying: “Yak otchi ne bachut, todi sertse ne bolyt.” This means, “If the eyes don’t see it, then the heart doesn’t hurt.” The Nazis were very thorough in documenting their atrocities, while the Russians were very thorough with keeping theirs undocumented. While a few important films have been made about the Holodomyr, there is very little media representation of this atrocity. He asked me if that didn’t upset me.
I told him that, while it’s important to learn from history, it is also important to let things go as “water under the bridge.” Growing up in the Ukrainian diaspora of New York, there was great (understandable) animosity towards the Soviet government, and by extension, Russian people. When I was in Ukraine, I asked protesters what I thought was an awkward question: “Do ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians get along?” They looked at me like I had two heads. Many people I met were of mixed heritage. Many people had fathers who were ethnically Russian who had been stationed in Ukraine, and had married Ukrainians. They self-identified as both Russian and Ukrainian. The protesters assured me that EVERYBODY was protesting at the Euromaidan, Russians and Ukrainians alike. Everybody agrees that Yanukovitch needs to be removed, and that Ukraine needs a better, brighter future. For EVERYONE. (And yes, that means teaming up with the EU.)
This is why the media hype of a “West-East Divide” seems extremely outrageous to me. I wonder what outside interests (ahem-Putin) would benefit from a Ukraine split?  Russia wants to maintain its Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine’s Warm Water ports, as well as have access to Ukraine’s other natural resources and markets.  But shouldn’t Ukrainians decide what the future of Ukraine would look like.  Indeed, in Soviet times, the Soviet government shipped in and stationed Russian soldiers within Ukraine’s borders in order to make it more “Russian.”  The children of these people are still living here.   The Ukrainian culture has a right to survive, and not be absorbed simply because of an artificially imposed “Russification” and occupation of the culture 20 years ago.  I’d imagine it’s analogous Palestinians in the West Bank: and I’d of course, prefer to see a single state where the rights of all people are protected under law.

One thing is for certain:  for a sustainable Ukrainian future, we must recognize Ukrainians in all forms- those who embrace it as a traditional homeland and the reality of the ethnic Russians living there.  Ukraine’s traditional borders, stretching from the Carpathian mountains from the West and the Eural mountains to the East, must be maintained.  Solutions must be developed that meet the needs of all Ukrainians without Ukraine losing her beautiful cultural identity, or sacrificing her territories to outside nations.  I would mourn a Ukraine that was half-swallowed by Russia.  I’d also mourn a Ukraine that does to Russians what the Russians did to them.  Rather, I’d like to see a Ukraine that embraces both East and West: a more sustainable and vibrant future.  Let the water pass under the bridge we are building towards our future together.

Day 7 of Permaculture in Ukraine: An Heirloom Variety of Ukrainian

Singing Ukrainian Folk Songs around our "Vohnyk"

Singing Ukrainian Folk Songs around our “Vohnyk”

This post was originally written on 1/14/14.  I’m sorry for the delay in posting.

Well, I’m sitting in Lviv airport, preparing to leave from what has been a life-changing trip.  Things got busy once the Permaculture Teachers Course started, so I’ll try to summarize my experience here.

Collecting Water from the Mineral Hot Spring "Naftusia"

Collecting Water from the Mineral Hot Spring “Naftusia”

The course took place in Truskavets, a small touristic village about an hour and a half from Lviv in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains.  The village is famous for its mineral waters and hot springs Naftusia, Maria and Sofia.  The water from each of these springs has different healing qualities (and different, distinct flavors).  Research has shown that drinking small amounts of this water daily helps people regulate diabetes, and people claim that drinking it reduces signs of aging and has even brought cancer into remission.  Apparently, the water contains strains of healthy bacteria that are unique in the world, and cannot last for more than an hour outside of its natural environment.  Every other day or so, a small group of us would go to the springs to drink the sacred water.

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The course was very intensive, which unfortunately meant that I had very little time to explore.  However, the connections I made with the permaculturists and environmental justice activists in Ukraine were incredible.  My Ukrainian improved dramatically after only 2 days of being there. My master’s degree was in applied linguistics/TESOL, so the experience of learning academic content in a trilingual environment was particularly fascinating.  The course focused a lot on pedagogy rather than permaculture, so it was a review of a lot the kinds of strategies I learned in graduate school.  However, it was great to have the refresher and to develop the vocabulary to discuss Bloom’s taxonomy, differentiated instruction, as well as permaculture content in both Ukrainian and Russian.

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The course culminated in students giving 30 minute lessons about topics in permaculture.  As a second language instructor, it was a terrific challenge to teach students how to create a seed bank in Ukrainian, with activity guides scaffolded in Russian and English.  I’m glad I have a video of how I taught a class trilingually to add to my ESL CV.  They also really enjoyed my presentation regarding how to apply permaculture principles to curriculum development in an urban context, and I actually wound up acting as as couch for many of them as they developed their own lessons.

IMG_2894

The final student lessons ranged from the practical to the theoretical.  Galyna, a physical education instructor and nutritionist, taught an excellent lesson about the “Web of Life.”  Oksana, a woman with her own piece of land in Novo Volensk, demonstrated how to create a pond and rainwater collection systems from her own experience.  Pavlo and Bohdan taught the basics of permaculture, discussing how to zone a site, how to stack functions, and how to capture and store solar, water, and financial energy.  Sasha presented about urban permaculture and waste reduction.  Vita presented an innovative application of permaculture principles as it relates to the self, or what I’d like to call “Zone 000.”  Tania presented a vision session, and Ilya facilitated a discussion about permaculture as it applies to intentional communities and ecovillages.

Last night, I had an amazing send-off.  I’ve discovered that I am a living, breathing Alan Lomax recording of traditional Ukrainian songs.  I speak an “heirloom variety” of Ukrainian, a version which was brought over to the states and preserved before the influence of the Soviet Union.  Last night, we celebrated Malanka, or Ukrainian New Year.  Just like the diaspora in the US, the Ukrainians put a bunch of candles in the middle of the conference room to make a vohnyk (“campfire”) and we sang songs together long into the night.  They were fascinated with the songs I sang for them– many of the songs that my family preserved have been lost, and they made recordings of the songs.  They also taught me new songs, which I recorded on my iphone to rehearse when I return.

There were many songs that we all knew, and as I heard them singing “Rushnychok” “Chervona Ruta” “Chom ty ne prejshov” and other classics, I was brought to tears.  My family is not so weird, after all.   I am not alone.  I am part of a continuum, a rich history and culture that is recreating itself throughout the world.   The essence of Ukrainian culture that my grandparents and parents passed down to me is not a myth.  It is, in fact, very real and very beautiful.  The fact that I carry with me the seeds of something that real Ukrainians value and want to learn from also makes me feel like all of those years of Saturday school and Ukrainian scouts had a greater purpose for preserving our heritage. For this, I am incredibly grateful.

Eating at the Armenian Restaurant

My hope is that my new Ukrainian friends will come visit me at Crow Forest Farm once I’ve begun teaching courses from there, or at least meet with my family in New York someday.  The NGO Permaculture in Ukraine plans to run a regular PDC (Permaculture Design Course) this summer.  If the timing is right, I hope I can attend so I can learn more Permaculture content in Ukrainian and Russian.  As far as PDCs go, Eastern Europe is the new frontier.  I will write more about my interviews with the organizer os NGO- Permaculture in Ukraine in a later post.  They and their work are fascinating, and I look forward to meeting again in the future.  I am grateful to the people I have met here, and can’t wait  until our next collaboration.

 

Do zustrich!

Permaculture in Ukraine Day 3: What is Permaculture?

What do the people of Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus think permaculture is? Here are some of our brainstormed definitions, across generations and transcending boundaries. Many of these definitions are translated into English by our gifted translator, Pavlo Ardanov. Enjoy!

Sasha is a spunky 18 year old college student studying journalism in Lviv.  She has great vision and energy, and is my partner for this week’s projects : )

Ukrainian:  Пермакультури це система проектування, яка фокусується на імітуючи закономірності в природі. Його засоби проектування свій бізнес, ферма, або організацію як екосистеми для того, щоб бути самодостатнім в довгостроковій перспективі. Пермакультури це спосіб мислення, обгрунтування, яке фокусується на укладання функції, збільшуючи перевагу, оцінюючи різноманітність, і отримання врожаю. Пермакультури фокусується на довгостроковій достатку, а не короткострокового прибутку. Йдеться про розумний задум сьогодні так у вас є система саморегулівний без особливих зусиль завтра. Це невтручання сільське господарство: Добре розроблена система саморегулюється. Це спосіб життя, який включає в себе організацію навколишнього середовища та інтеграції компонентів довкілля для того, щоб підтримати один одного без пошкоджень, не проводячи ніяких відходів та обміну достаток. Це про децентралізованої успіх від низу до верху. Це незалежна система, що є стійким під тиском.

English:

Permaculture is a system of design that focuses on mimicing patterns in nature.  Its a means of designing your business, farm, or community like an ecosystem in order for it to be self-sufficient in the long-term.  Permaculture is a way of thinking, a rationale that focuses on stacking functions, maximizing edge, valuing diversity, and obtaining a yield.  Permaculture focuses on long-term abundance rather than short-term profit.  It’s about intelligent design today so you have a self regulating system with little effort tomorrow.  It’s laissez-faire agriculture:  a well-designed system regulates itself.  It is a way of life that involves organizing the environment and integrating the parts of the environment in order to support each other without damage, producing no waste and sharing the abundance.  It’s about decentralized success from the bottom- up.  It’s an independent system that is resilient under pressure.

Maryna is a landscape architect from Moscow.  She has traveled in America and is a wonderful roommate : )

Permaculture in Ukraine: Day 2

1/8/13

 

Sasha, Tania and Zhenya Xmas Day

Sasha, Tania and Zhenya Xmas Day

 

Lviv is an amazing city.  It is so much better than I ever expected.  It is a city of artists, foodies, and musicians.  It has a strong sense of history but is forward-looking. When I arrived at Lviv airport, Tatiana and her 11 year old daughter Zhenya were there to greet me.  Tatiana runs an organization in Lviv called “Nashe Yarmarok” that works on urban gardening and permaculture in the city.  There is so much love and playfulness in her family.  When I arrived at their home on the outskirts of Lvov, I was greeted by a turtle, a chincilla, a hamster, her 18 year old daughter Sasha, grandma, grandpa, and a Christmas dinner!
Tanya in her Urban Gardening Boutique "Nashe Yarmarok"

 

Tanya in her Urban Gardening Boutique “Nashe Yarmarok”

Tatiana’s family so full of love.  Her daughters are smart, musical, and constantly laughing.  She is constantly playing with her children.  Her daughters, while teenagers, are so open.  The people here are so down to earth.  It makes me feel better about my family.  Everybody is Ukraine is kind of like us- kind of messy, not fancy, but funny and generous,  and very much focused on enjoying delicious food.  I am so grateful for this experience, and for my family too : )

 

Euromaidan tent- just like OWS!

Euromaidan tent- just like OWS!

My family, like many Ukrainians, celebrates Christmas eve, “Sviat Vechir” on January 6th and Christmas day on January 7th.  I celebrated Sviat Vechir with my family on January 5th, flew out on Ukrainian Christmas eve, and arrived on Ukrainian Christmas day (Januar 7th).  The stores were closed but all of the people were on the streets, dressed in costumes and singing in Vertepy, traditional holiday troops that perform plays featuring kings, queens, angels, devils, and of course, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  The performances range from serious to greatly humorous, with great variety.

 

Vertep at the Euromaidan

Vertep at the Euromaidan

After singing the Christmas carols I grew up with and eating a delicious meal, Iliya, another permaculture course participant from Belarus, met us at Tatiana’s apartment.  After eating again, we went out on the town to see Lviv at night.  We went to a big square where the Lvivska Maidan was camping out.  It was just like Occupy Wall Street, but better organized, it seemed.  There, people were also perfoming radical Vertepy, singing carols in costumes.  I saw a poster reading, “Ivan Franko stood with Europe- where do you stand?”  Fireworks were streaming through the air and people were singing on stages and on the cobblestone streets.

People Watching the Vertep Euromaidan

People Watching the Vertep Euromaidan

 

There were so many interesting works of art that we found, for example, a store called “Native Mind” where I found works of art and fashion that were cooler than anything I’d seen in Brooklyn- and cheaper too.  Great music!  We also visited an artist who was painting icons on the shingles of an old famous church- one for each day of the year.

Icons painted on old wooden church shingles

Icons painted on old wooden church shingles

 

Photo of the church the shingles came from

Photo of the church the shingles came from

 

Lviv is also a very delicious city.  We visited a boutique where people made their own hard candies by hand.  I’m not a fan of hard candy but this stuff was incredibly delicious!  We went to a chocolate factory with rivers of chocolate running through it, a coffee roasters, and finally, a strudel cafe.  I don’t like strudel, but I guess I’ve never had  fresh Ukrainian strudel.  I had mushroom strudel with garlic sauce.  Insanely good!

Strudel and Coffee- mmm!

Strudel and Coffee- mmm!

Then we came home.  I went to bed only to have them wake me up to eat more with them at around 1:00 in the morning.  This is a very food-oriented culture.  We’re on the road to the permaculture course now, with Iliya at the wheel, munching on second breakfast as we speak.  I’m on a real adventure, that’s for sure.  I will keep all of you posted.