Monday, July 18, 2005

The Barra Homestead

barra homesteadi'm back from barra, the homestead in east corinth, vermont that i visited saturday and sunday. jim and rowan, the homesteaders, live almost entirely off the land. their answer to the question: how much land? three acres per person. this three acres includes everything they need: shelter, garden, storage, forest for fire and building wood, water, and equivalents for energy spent not directly related to land. driving their car to town, for instance, increases their "footprint."

their food producing garden is about 1/4 acre. so, for food alone, they need 1/8 acre apiece. they eat directly from the garden during the summer and preserve the rest of their food for the winter, by canning, pickling, or storage in a root cellar. they were just nearing the end of their canned tomatoes last weekend.

veggie manurei attended a workshop entitled gardening for self reliance. over two full days, jim and rowan showed us how they "make it" in vermont. they have no animals. their garden is fenced to protect from deer, gets good south sun on a south slope. they grow a wide variety of foods including, grains, beans, squashes, roots and herbs. many beds are intermixed in beneficial arrangements. for high nutrient fertilizer they put weeds into a barrel full of water (pictured) and let it steep in the sun creating "manure tea" that kills the weed seeds and smells almost exactly like animal manure. they collect water from rooftops and use gravity feed from a nearby stream. drinking water comes from the same stream. human waste is composted under a post and beam platform with squatting holes screened by woven saplings. leaves intermingled with the waste encourages breakdown and there is no offensive smell, unlike pit toilets.

woodthey keep stocked several cord sheds of wood, burning about 1-1/2 cords a winter. they cut live trees, for the most part, because fallen trees are part of the natural process of the forest that help retain moisture and provide habitat. they heat the house and cook with wood. they also have two outdoor ovens: a solar and cob. the solar oven is a mirrored parabolic reflector that focuses about 600 watts of energy on a cooking platform. with full sun, after only a couple minutes, a pan of rhubarb stems was steaming.

cob oventhe cob oven (pictured) requires firing for a couple hours and then it stays warm for quite a while and can be used for different functions as it cools, such as baking, warming, drying veggies or fruit, clothes drying (on the outside), or warming up pretty much anything. the oven was still very warm when we first arrived, about 24 hours after it was fired. the local snakes love it when it gets below cooking temperature. rowan said she often finds them in there when she takes the cover off to start it.

sheafthe biggest surprise for me was their grain growing. i had no idea you could grow wheat in vermont. while it was still a little green, the chipmunks were feasting on their crop this year, and in an attempt to save what we could we got to try our hand at harvesting using a sickle, tying sheafs, and threshing. it was still too green to thresh so jim tied up what we cut into a traditional bundle (pictured). much of their grain is winter rye which is planted in the fall, sprouts, winters over and then continues in the spring. it retards weed growth and can be turned into the soil as a nutrient builder before growing other crops.

the thread through the weekend was permaculture, a concept of bringing man into harmony with nature, where design decisions mimic nature and encourage multiple uses for each feature and multiple aspects to each use. i came away with a much better feeling for how one can live in vermont with the bare minimum, in harmony with nature and mostly independent of fossil fuel. i highly recommend visiting barra for one of their weekend retreats. you can find their programs at the global living project website.


Blogger Adeo said...

Hey Dork ~

Facinating and deeply encouraging!
I look forward to talking with you more about your learnings and participating toward developing a communal vision for permaculture at Destiny and manifesting that vision.

Unrelated note: Roughly 25% of internet users are using a mozilla browser engine. The photos on your blog are not showing up in mine. Do you have any idea how to fix that so we mozilla users can see?


6:33 AM EDT  
Blogger aloofdork said...


i'm using mozilla too (now called firefox--if you haven't downloaded firefox i recommend it - the pix have always shown up. the photos are served from a different server than the blog and it's possible that it was down when you looked at the images. try again and let me know what happens.


7:45 AM EDT  
Blogger Adeo said...

Hmm. I have the latest version of FireFox and it still ain't working.

What's your version?

11:08 AM EDT  
Blogger Adeo said...

Ah...figured it out. A setting in options that forced Firefox to load images for the originating website only.


11:10 AM EDT  

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