Food & Health Archive


Building a Sustainable Community: The D Acres Model

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

If you were going to create a community-based homestead or farm from scratch, where would you start? What building materials would you use? What crops would you grow and what animals would you raise? How would you develop an organizational structure and connect with your community? And, how would you make sure all of this evolves in perpetuity and is truly sustainable?

For the past twenty years, Josh Trought, founder of D Acres of New Hampshire, has been asking himself these very same questions and has come up with a model to help others seeking practical alternatives to the current environmentally and economically destructive paradigm.

D Acres is an ecologically designed educational center located on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains in northern New Hampshire. In addition to it being a fully operational farm, it serves multiple community functions including a hostel for travelers, a training center for everything from metal- and woodworking to cob building and seasonal cooking, a gathering place for music, poetry, joke-telling, potluck meals, and much more.

In his new book, The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm, Trought describes not only the history of the D Acres project, but its evolving principles and practices that are rooted in the land, its inhabitants, and the joy inherent in collective empowerment.

Booklist calls it, “An immensely useful guidebook for organic farmers, cohousing advocates, and anyone interested in learning about a place where sustainability is truly possible.” Trought hopes this book encourages more people to become involved in the land-based service movement. He writes,

While the book may be valuable to most anyone, my purpose in writing was to offer a compilation of information that I wish was available when I began farming. By providing a basis of understanding of the farm system, I hope that readers can use this model as a platform for their own innovation and creative living.

From working with oxen to working with a board of directors, this book contains a wealth of innovative ideas and ways to make your farm or homestead not only more sustainable, but more inclusive of, and beneficial to, the larger community.

For more insight into Josh Trought’s work building a sustainable community at D Acres, check out the author interview below.

*****

A conversation with Josh Trought— educator, farmer, author, builder, community organizer, dreamer

A key aspect of D Acres that comes across in this book is its flexibility, and that it evolves based on the changing needs and ideas of both the onsite members and the surrounding community. Is there a project or idea that has surprised you because at first it seemed unlikely to work, but has instead flourished? 

JT: Transforming the land with pigs has been an eye opening process that we are continuing to explore. Experimenting with the number of animals, age of the critters, what time of year, in what soil conditions as well as rotational opportunities allows for continual observation and ongoing evaluation. At first it seemed that the compaction pigs caused would limit subsequent annual production without mechanization, but we had heard about planting potatoes in thick mulching of wood chips on compacted soils so we just tried to build the soil from the ground level up. At this juncture it has proven effective beyond our expectations and continues to yield benefits throughout the process.

I am also amazed at the attraction of people to tree houses and the playground is a super element I would not have foreseen when we began this project.

This book covers a lot of ground, from alternative building techniques, renewable energy, and holistic forestry to hospitality management, organic gardening, and more. All of these specialties require skilled labor. What are your strongest skills and what are you most excited to learn more about right now?

JT: I am really humbled by this whole process. I feel like a novice in so many ways.  grew up in the suburbs and have learned a lot by both doing that which I am passionate about and that which is necessary. I am excited about being part of a cultural continuum that will span into the future. I am excited to be part of a permaculture movement that will enrich the ecology for the next thousands of years. I imagine a future record/book such as Farmers for Forty Centuries that documents the evolution as members of this vibrant ecology on Earth. I am excited to be a very small part of this immense movement towards an ecological society.

My strongest skills are probably in construction design building with an emphasis on natural and reclaimed materials improvisation. I am really excited to continue seasonally improving my skills in the garden and the woodshop. I am necessarily compelled to learn more about human nature and our relations to one another.

As a child, you spent many summers with your family on this property in northern New Hampshire and now you have been living on it full-time for the past 17 years. What do you love most about the D Acres landscape and is there anything new about it that you have recently learned even after all these years?

JT: Every year I try to get more in tune with the natural cycle and rhythm of the land. The farm is so seasonally dynamic.  I like to notice the seasonal shifts as they occur.  I have started documenting these changes using my senses as well as journal and videography to view not only the seasonal changes, but also those that differ year to year.

I like getting more in touch with the water resource. I enjoy swimming in our local rivers and appreciate the resource for its ecological value. I have been more focused on how the water works on the land and our role to clean and purify this resource.

What advice do you give people that want to start their own community-scale farm?

JT: While I encourage them to do so, there are several comments I like to share with them. I think while it is important to start and initiate projects of this nature everywhere, it is also important to nurture existing projects. It is a good idea to join an existing project to learn from models that are up and running as well as support the projects in place.  We are proud of the people who have participated in our project and then gone out to start their own family farms or projects unique to their locales. I also think it is important to recognize that the D Acres model is a response to a wide array of circumstances. Any new entity would naturally be a reflection of the surrounding variables including the individual personnel and their strengths, land base, and community needs.

Book Exposes Scientific Fraud, Collusion on GMOs

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth is an important book that is long overdue in the United States, and Chelsea Green Publishing is proud to distribute this book to consumers who need to read the whole story behind how government officials and chemical companies have colluded to mislead the public about GM crops and foods.

With a foreword by Dr. Jane Goodall, this book is being praised by scientists for finally lifting the veil and exposing the collusion that has gone on behind the scenes between politicians, regulators, select scientists, and global seed manufacturers. Together they have joined forces to promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs) while ignoring the negative effects GMOs are having on our public food supply, health, and in the process has subverted scientific protocols.

The book was announced this week at a press conference in London, featuring Goodall.

“Without doubt, one of the most important books of the last 50 years,” writes Goodall in her Foreword. “It will go a long way toward dispelling the confusion and delusion that has been created regarding the genetic engineering process and the foods it produces. Steven Druker is a hero. He deserves at least a Nobel Prize.”

Frederick Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and an expert on sustainable agriculture had this to say of the book: “Altered Genes, Twisted Truth is a remarkable work that may well change the public conversation on one of the most important issues of our day. If the numerous revelations it contains become widely known, the arguments being used to defend genetically engineered foods will be untenable.”

This book uncovers the biggest scientific fraud of our age. It tells the fascinating and frequently astounding story of how the massive enterprise to restructure the genetic core of the world’s food supply came into being, how it advanced by consistently violating the protocols of science, and how for more than three decades, hundreds of eminent biologists and esteemed institutions have systematically contorted the truth in order to conceal the unique risks of its products—and get them onto our dinner plates.

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth
gives a graphic account of how this elaborate fraud was crafted and how it not only deceived the general public, but Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Barack Obama and a host of other astute and influential individuals as well. The book also exposes how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was induced to become a key accomplice—and how it has broken the law and repeatedly lied in order to usher genetically engineered foods onto the market without the safety testing that’s required by federal statute. As a result, for fifteen years America’s families have been regularly ingesting a group of novel products that the FDA’s own scientific staff had previously determined to be unduly hazardous to human health.

By the time this gripping story comes to a close, it will be clear that the degradation of science it documents has not only been unsavory but unprecedented—and that in no other instance have so many scientists so seriously subverted the standards they were trained to uphold, misled so many people, and imposed such magnitude of risk on both human health and the health of the environment.

“If you have even the remotest interest in this topic, I would strongly encourage you to get a copy of this book,” urges Dr. Joseph Mercola in an interview with Druker. ” It is, without a doubt, the best book on the topic and provides a treasure trove of facts that will help you decimate anyone who believes that GMOs are safe.

“For close to 20 years, the American public has been exposed to these largely experimental, untested foods, which its own scientists said entail unique risks and could not be presumed safe,” adds Mercola. “The FDA claimed GMO’s could be presumed safe, and that there was an overwhelming scientific consensus backing up their decision, yet the evidence shows that is a bold-faced lie.”

Watch the full interview with Dr. Mercola and Druker:

 

Roadkill 101: An Insider’s Guide to ‘Asphalt Hunting’

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

We’ve all come across one while driving — a doe, a deer, a female deer — dead on the side of the highway. Admit it, carnivores and omnivores alike, you’ve often thought to yourself, “I wonder how long it’s been there … and … boy, am I hungry!”

After checking the rearview a couple times and being thwarted by oncoming headlights, you probably speed off with the smells of an imaginary venison stew giving your stomach pangs. Your trunk? Also empty.

Face it, lean times financially mean many of us seek inexpensive, yet still wholesome, ways to feed our families.  Author and homesteader Ben Hewitt asks us to consider roadkill as an option of putting meat on the table. Yes, honestly and truly – roadkill. And, why not? In many instances, the animal has been freshly killed, and if it’s a sizable deer (or even moose), that’s a lot of meat that can be stored away into the freezer for another day.

In his new book, The Nourishing Homestead, Hewitt offers some basic tips on the etiquette and edibility of “asphalt hunting.” One thing is to be sure, there is an upside to the deep freeze of a winter that many of us are experiencing.

Read on, and start searching the side roads for your next meal.

*****

Determining the Edibility of Roadkill

This excerpt is adapted from Ben Hewitt’s The Nourishing Homestead (March 2015).

Folks who hear of our fondness for “asphalt hunting,” which has netted us three deer over the past four years, frequently ask how we determine whether or not a piece of roadkill is prime for the stew pot. Like so many aspects of food production and processing, such a determination depends on a number of factors.

First and foremost, what time of year is it? While we have harvested roadkill during the warm months, doing so requires much more luck (to have come across the kill shortly after it met its fate) and a bit more discernment (to know what safely constitutes “shortly after”). For that reason, I can only recommend harvesting in winter, with the exception being if you are unfortunate enough to be the one who hit the animal or if you actually witness its demise.

When we come upon roadkill, the first thing we do is to assess the level of bodily damage. This is not always obvious, because severe internal injuries are not generally visible, although they also don’t preclude harvest, as there’s still likely to be a fair bit of edible meat. Generally speaking, if we find a deer that’s really torn up, with a fair amount of visible blood, we leave it. Shattered and twisted legs look dramatic but are actually a sign that the animal took the hit down low, rather than directly to the body, where the majority of the meat is contained.

Regarding freshness, the colder it is, the less you need be concerned. That said, anything that’s frozen stiff suggests to me that (1) it’s been there awhile and (2) it’s going to be a real hassle to transport and dress. The ideal situation is exactly like the one I came across last October, when I rounded a corner on a rural road to find an SUV pulled to the side of the road and a fellow in designer jeans hauling a dead doe into the ditch. I hit the brakes and hopped out of the car. “Are you planning to do anything with that,” I asked. It was a rhetorical question, because I could see that his plans for the deer ended the moment he reached the bottom of the ditch. He looked at me quizzically: “No, why? You want it?” He sounded skeptical, but was kind enough to help me load the animal into the back of our Subaru. Ninety seconds later, I was on my way home with a freezer full of fresh venison. I doubt more than 10 minutes passed between impact and loading the deer into our car.

That doesn’t happen too often, so you should be prepared to make a judgment call. In general, what I like to see in cold weather is a body that’s still limber and maybe even a little warm. That’s a sure sign it was a recent hit. Of course, if there’s snow on the road, you can usually tell whether any spilled blood is fresh and bright red or congealed and duller in color. I suppose it goes without saying, but when it doubt, leave it for the birds. Which brings me to another simple rule: If birds or animals have been feeding from your quarry, it’s been there too long. Or too long for my taste buds, anyway.

Do expect some internal damage. A burst stomach is not uncommon, and while its contents can appear to have spoiled a lot of meat, it’s actually pretty easy to clean up the resultant mess, via either a vigorous scrubbing or a careful cutting away of affected areas. Fortunately, there’s not much meat directly around the stomach cavity, so contamination of prime cuts is unlikely.

Finally, you might want to check state wildlife laws before gleaning any roadkill. Here in Vermont, it’s actually illegal to glean roadkill without notifying a game warden; the deer herd belongs to the state, a fine example of how the common wealth of the land has been commoditized. The truth is, most wardens are happy to see the meat go to good use. The other truth is, damned if I’m going to let a perfectly edible animal rot in a ditch while I try to track down a warden for permission.

Get Ready for Maple Sugaring Season

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Everything is better with maple syrup. At least that’s what you’ll hear when you ask Vermonters. So what better way to solidify your love for all things maple than to learn how to make it yourself?

If you only have a couple of trees nearby — say in your backyard — author Michael Farrell (The Sugarmaker’s Companion) has some simple advice for you to get started tapping a few trees and collecting the sap by bucket. The following excerpt is adapted and condensed from Chapter 5 of his book.

If you have access to a larger grove of trees you might also want to read these additional excerpts from The Sugarmaker’s Companion on producing value-added products from your collected tree sap.

*****

Maple Syrup 101
by Michael Farrell

Backyard Sap CollectionWhen to Tap

One of the most difficult decisions you have to make from year to year in your sugaring operation is deciding when to tap. I always recommend tapping just a few trees in January and February to determine what is going on with sap flow conditions. In relatively cold areas, even when the temperatures get above freezing in January and February, the amount of sap flow can be negligible. The trees are basically frozen, and it takes an extended period of warm temperatures to induce substantial sap flow. In warmer regions where the winter isn’t as severe, optimum temperature fluctuations usually happen all winter and the trees may be producing a decent amount of sap in January and February. If you see this happening in your test trees, you’ll want to tap the rest of your sugarbush to catch the early sap runs.

How to Tap

Finding the Right Spot

The first step in tapping is to find a good spot to drill the hole. It doesn’t matter how nice a hole you drill, what type of spout you use, or what level of vacuum you are pulling if you have drilled into a bad section of the tree. To get a decent amount of high-quality sap, you need to drill into clear, white sapwood. It is important to avoid previous tapholes and the associated stain columns as well as other defects and rotten areas on the trunk. Large seams and wounds are easy to identify and avoid, but it takes a trained eye to locate old tapholes.

Drilling the Hole

Sugaring Tap

Some people advocate drilling the hole directly into the tree whereas others recommend drilling at a slight upward angle. I usually try to achieve a perfectly straight hole but always err on the side of making it at a slight upward angle whenever necessary. No matter how you drill the hole, be sure to use a relatively new, clean, sharp drill bit that is intended for drilling into maple trees.

When you are pulling the drill out of the tree, always examine the shavings to make sure that they are pure white. If you get brown or dark-colored shavings, you have drilled into a bad part of the tree. Your sap yield will be negligible, and any sap that does flow may have a yellow tinge to it and impart off-flavors to your syrup.

Setting the Spout

The final step is placing the spout in the tree. It takes some practice to figure out how hard to tap on the spout to get it nice and snug without overdoing things. Not tapping in hard enough can cause the spout to be too loose, creating a vacuum leak. On the other hand, tapping too hard can potentially cause the wood to split, which in turn leads to vacuum leaks, lost sap, and increased wounding at the taphole. Most sugarmakers use regular hammers to set the spouts, but you don’t necessarily hammer the spouts in. Just a few gentle taps will usually do the trick until you hear a thumping sound. As soon as you can hear the difference, stop tapping on the spout.

Row of Sugaring buckets

Kvass: A Nourishing, Fermented Beverage

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Looking to add another recipe to your fermenting repertoire? Try your hand at kvass. This nourishing beverage calls for just a few simple ingredients and only takes a couple of days to ferment. Use beets or get creative with various fruit combinations like Blueberry Lemon Mint or Ginger Apple Lime.

According to Sally Fallon Morell, co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of Nourishing Traditions, beet kvass is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are loaded with nutrients. One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, cleanses the liver, and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.

Below are recipes for both beet and fruit kvass from The Heal Your Gut Cookbook by Hilary Boynton and Mary Brackett.

Related Links:
Be Good to Your Gut: Nourishing Food for Better Health
Make Your Own Bone Broth
Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait: Four Simple Steps to Making Sauerkraut
Starting and Maintaining Sourdough

BEET KVASS
Makes 1 quart

3 medium or 2 large organic beets, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon sea salt
1⁄4 cup whey or fermented pickle juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced (optional)
Filtered water

Place the beets in a clean 2-quart widemouthed glass mason jar; add the salt, whey, and garlic, and fill to the shoulder with filtered water. Cap and leave on the counter for 2 days. Once you have drunk almost the entire first batch, you can add more filtered water, cap, and leave on the counter for an additional 2 days. After this you must throw out the beets and start fresh. Save 1⁄4 cup liquid from your previous batch to use as an inoculant instead of the whey. The easiest way I find is to pour what you wish to drink, replace it with filtered water, and return the jar to the fridge. Do this each time you drink some kvass. When the beets are “spent,” throw them out and start a new batch.

FRUIT KVASS
Makes 1 quart

1 cup organic fruit (fresh or frozen)
1-­inch fresh ginger, peeled (optional, but I usually add to my ferments as it is so good for digestion)
Filtered water
Pinch of sea salt
1⁄2 cup whey

Place the fruit and ginger in a quart-sized mason jar, filling it about a quarter of the way up. Add filtered water up to the jar’s shoulder, along with a pinch of sea salt and whey. Cap the jar tightly and leave it on the counter, at room temperature, for 2 to 3 days or until the lid is taut. Turn it upside down a few times a day. This is an anaerobic process, so be sure to keep the lid closed.

Depending on the temperature, your kvass may take a bit longer to ferment. You will see little bubbles starting to form; that means it’s fermenting and the pressure is building in your jar. Be sure to check the lid to see if you can press it down or not. If you can’t, that usually means the kvass is fermented and ready to drink.

You can strain out the fruit, if you wish, or enjoy it in your drink. This is a great way for our daughter to get a bit more fruit into her diet—following the fermentation process, the fruit’s sugar content is largely or completely gone. The kvass will last in the fridge for about 1 week.

You can also use the same process as the beet kvass, above. Simply replace the amount of kvass you drink with water, every time, until the fruit becomes colorless and flavorless.

Pickle People Descend on London Cake Shop

Friday, January 30th, 2015

After reading Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, Terry Glover, manager of the London Review Cake Shop, found herself swept up in a microbial mania for pickling and brewing. To express her enthusiasm for all things fermented and to try and unearth London’s unique pickling culture, she decided to host a pickling competition. Here’s how the event unfolded in her own words.

On a rainy night in November, we invited Londoners to bring their pickles, brews and ferments to the Cake Shop for what was to be our first Annual Pickle Competition. We assembled a panel of judges, and a selection of prizes: rosettes, copies of our treasured Sandor Ellix Katz books (contributed by Chelsea Green Publishing), and wooden spoons. And we waited to see if anyone would turn up.

Turn up they did: amateurs and purists; city workers and squatters; health-nuts and members of the Women’s Institute. Despite the contestants’ considerably different backgrounds, the evening had the cosy community atmosphere of a village fete (though it was admittedly somewhat boozier than your average church hall). Our winners are representative of the diversity of entrants: first prize was awarded to a selection of vegetable pickles featuring two types of kimchi, delicate pickled mulberry leaf and Vietnamese kale; a home-brewed IPA took second prize; and third prize went to a truly remarkable chutney, made annually from a family recipe.

We love seeing folks like Terry embrace the art of pickling and create an opportunity for people to come together and share their knowledge. Here’s a video from the London Review Cake Shop pickle competition. We hope it inspires you to host a community fermentation event of your own.

Homemade Bone Broth – A Healthy Diet Staple

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Have you had your steaming hot bowl of bone broth today? If not, you might want to consider integrating this nutrient rich, immune system boosting elixir into your daily diet. With recent articles about the benefits of bone broth in The New York Times and Epicurious calling it “the new coffee,” it’s clear broth is taking off as a food trend in 2015.

Learn how to make your own chicken, beef, and fish bone broths using the following instructions from The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet by Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett. As the foundation of both the GAPS and Paleo diets, bone broths are used in the early stages to starve pathogenic bacteria in your digestive system and heal your gut. Sealing a leaky gut can help treat disorders ranging from allergies and asthma to autism, ADD, depression, and more. However, as a healthy source of calcium, potassium, and protein, anyone looking to improve their digestive health can reap the nutritional benefits of bone broth.

This easy to digest, nourishing broth is made from bones with a small amount of meat on them that you cook on low heat for anywhere from 4-72 hours depending on the type of bones being used and when you think it tastes good. According to Boynton and Brackett, some of the most nutrient-dense animal parts include those you may normally throw away. It might take some getting used to, but once you start adding those chicken feet or fish heads into the pot, your nourished gut will thank you.

For more recipes from books that focus on restorative diets and traditional foods, check out this simple, 4-step method of fermenting vegetables from The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and a recipe for succotash from Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice—a cookbook featuring foods that follow the ancient rhythms of the season.

Now, get ready to make bone both a new staple in your diet.

Homemade Bone Broth – The Heal Your Gut Cookbook

Turn Sap and Syrup into Beer, Wine, and Liquor

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

As much as we love to drizzle (or drown) our pancakes in maple syrup, you might be surprised to learn that tree sap can actually be used to make an array of drinks, with results that will far surpass your typical sugar buzz. And with scientists predicting this season’s maple harvest to be more bountiful than usual, it’s not too early to start thinking about how to make the most of your ample sap flows.

This following excerpt from The Sugar Maker’s Companion highlights several companies who have ventured into the world of sap related alcoholic beverages. From maple mead to maple beer and sap ale to birch wine, these products featured by author Michael Farrell are sure to spur your creativity, whether you are a beginning homebrewer or a budding entrepreneur.

For those who like to keep things simple, maple sap is also just as delicious straight from the tree spile. To get started here’s a brief tutorial on when and how to tap your trees.

The Sugarmaker’s Companion: Brewing, Fermenting, and Distilling with Tree Sap and Syrup by Chelsea Green Publishing

The Nourishing Homestead: Practiculture and Principles

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Whether you live on 4 acres, 40 acres, or in a 400-square-foot studio apartment, the lessons you’ll glean from The Nourishing Homestead by Ben Hewitt (with Penny Hewitt) will help anyone hoping to close the gaps that economic separation has created in our health, spirit, and skills. This book offers practical ways to grow nutrient-dense food on a small plot of land, and think about your farm, homestead, or home as an ecosystem.

Ben and Penny (and their two sons) maintain copious gardens, dozens of fruit and nut trees and other perennial plantings, as well as a pick-your-own blueberry patch. In addition to these cultivated food crops, they also forage for wild edibles, process their own meat, make their own butter, and ferment, dry, and can their own vegetables. Their focus is to produce nutrient-dense foods from vibrant, mineralized soils for themselves and their immediate community. They are also committed to sharing the traditional skills that support their family, helping them be self-sufficient and thrive in these uncertain times.

The Hewitts’ story is reminiscent of The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing, and is sure to inspire a new generation of homesteaders, or anyone seeking a simpler way of life and a deeper connection to the world.

Ben Hewitt uses the term “practiculture” to describe his family’s work with the land—a term that encompasses the many practical life skills and philosophies they embody to create a thriving homestead.

What is “practiculture”? Here is how Ben Hewitt describes it:

The term practiculture evolved out of our struggle to find a concise way to describe our work with this land. Of course, no single word or term can fully explain what we do. But in practiculture, I feel as if I have something that is concise but also opens the door to a broader conversation. It’s an intriguing word, and not one that yet enjoys widespread understanding. It also contains elements that are immediately recognizable: Practical. Agriculture. Practiculture. And not just agriculture, but culture, as defined by our work with the land, cultivating its teeming populations of beings and bacteria. The longer I do this work, the less I feel as if we are practicing agriculture so much as we are simply practicing culture.

Practiculture also refers to our belief that growing and processing our food, as well as the other essentials necessary to our good health, should be both affordable and, for lack of a better term, doable. Practical. It should make sense, not according to the flawed logic of the commodity marketplace, which is always trying to convince us that doing for ourselves is impractical, but according to our self-defined logic that grasps the true value of real food to body, mind, spirit, and soil.

Finally, practiculture is about learning practical life skills and the gratification that comes from applying those skills in ways that benefit one’s self and community. This sort of localized, land-based knowledge is rapidly disappearing from first-world countries in large part because the centers of profit and industry would rather we not possess it. They know that its absence makes us increasingly dependent on their offerings.

The Hewitts also live by some touchstone principles, ideals and ideas they return to at times when they are faced with a decision to which there is no obvious answer. We’ve listed a few of them below, but additional principles (and full descriptions) can be found in The Nourishing Homestead, and are worth reflection.

As Ben Hewitt writes, “This is not a literal list, etched into stone or rolled into a yellowed scroll, although years ago we did create a written document to help us determine the direction of our land-based practices. Truthfully, we are not always able to act in harmony with these principles. There are times when circumstances compel us to behave otherwise. But even in these cases, it’s valuable to understand and acknowledge the compromise we’re making.”

Guiding Principles:

  • The way we think, act, and perceive the world is a reflection of the world we wish to inhabit.
  • We will produce the most nourishing food possible.
  • Real nutrition comes only from vital soils that enable plants and animals to express their full potential.
  • The labor to produce nourishing food is itself of value.
  • Do not let the logic of the market dictate the logic of the homestead.
  • Resilience of systems is the outgrowth of diversity, redundancy, simplicity, and, ultimately, resourcefulness.
  • Resourcefulness of body, emotion, spirit, and skills is just as important as resilience of systems.
  • The manner in which you spend your time is, in fact, the manner in which you spend your life. Time is not money; it is life.
  • We are not stewards of the land; the land is the steward of us.
  • Interdependence, not self-sufficiency.
  • Living in alignment. It is important to us that our daily activities comprise as much as possible actions we enjoy and which can be defended ethically and intellectually, not only from the perspective of humanity, but also from that of the natural world.
  • When in doubt, be generous.

Consider adopting a list of your own. If nothing else, it may compel you to think carefully about your guiding principles, and in this regard, become a step toward living life on your own terms.

 

A Conversation With Winemaker, Farmer, Author Deirdre Heekin

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Named one of the best wine books of 2014 by The New York Times, Deirdre Heekin’s An Unlikely Vineyard takes readers on a journey of learning how to grow wine in the unlikely hills of Vermont and tells the story of her quest to express the essence of place in every bottle.

“Heekin gives a lyrical description of her earthly discoveries…and imbues her accounts with the wonder of a child discovering an earthworm in the mud for the first time,” writes Lauren Mowry, wine and travel writer for The Village Voice. And, when it comes to capturing terroir and following the principles of natural winemaking, Heekin told the wine columnist for The Boston Globe, “I am constantly listening and responding to what the fruit wants to be.”

However, more than just a book on winemaking, An Unlikely Vineyard covers the evolution of Heekin’s homefarm from overgrown fields to a fertile landscape that melds with its natural environment and includes a wealth of information on growing food naturally using the principles of organics, permaculture, and biodynamic farming.

Chelsea Green’s Shay Totten sat down with Heekin to talk about her new book and her efforts to deeply understand the land from which both her food and grapevines are grown. See below for their conversation.

Related Links:
Wine Pairings from Deirdre Heekin
Capturing Landscape in a Wine: The Unlikely Vineyard

ST: What inspired you to start growing grapes on a hillside in Vermont – of all places – and what were the first grapes you grew?

DH: Initially, I was inspired by our land. We have a southeast facing meadow that is perfectly situated to capture sun and air. Our soil is complex and full of stones. But for a long time we only kidded about growing wine here. It wasn’t until I visited Lincoln Peak Vineyard over in the Champlain Valley and tasted their wines that I understood that Vermont had great potential as a winegrowing region, and that it was possible for us to turn that meadow into a vineyard.

That day we visited Lincoln Peak, we left their nursery with over 100 vines to plant! A combination of Marquette, La Crescent, Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, and Frontenac Blanc.

ST: How long have you been growing food on the farm for your restaurant, and how much of the restaurant’s food starts from your farm?

DH: We started growing ingredients for our restaurant kitchen about 16 years ago. Our goal is to try to produce 100 percent of the produce for Osteria Pan e Salute (our restaurant in Woodstock, VT) all year long. We are very close to that during the growing season and getting closer and closer during the winter with our winter greenhouse and the root cellar. This year, livestock came on to our home farm in Barnard, VT, so now our eggs for Osteria all come from here as well as our chicken, and soon we will have our own pork.

ST: How do you measure the success of your harvests, and have they improved in recent years?

DH: I am still so amazed that I am growing wine, I am always delighted that the vines actually produce fruit! All kidding aside, I look to the quality of the fruit and how the vines have handled the growing season in relation to the year before.

I look at how the bunch is formed, how the plants weather the weather. If it is a rainy season, how resistant are they to mildew and black rot? I look at the new wood they are producing, how much, how strong, how clean of disease, and when does it harden off in the autumn.

Given that we are dealing with either young vines, or recuperating vines, I look to their production. Some vines we are taking back to square one and limiting their bunch production until they are stronger and healthier, so I monitor how much well-formed fruit they are producing.

But each year is different, and I don’t expect a constant jump in quantity or growth to measure success each year. What I do measure is quality and nuance. Individuality. While it is certainly a good thing to have minimal to no disease in the vineyard, when you work organically or biodynamically, growing seasons won’t be perfect, and vines won’t be perfect. I try to flex with nature and know that some seasons will be better than others in terms of the conditions. What I ultimately look for is the quality of the juice from the berries and the wine they make. As long as I feel the berries that go into the wine are saying something about where they are from and the vagaries and little victories of the season, it is a good harvest.

ST: How are the harvests now at the new vineyards that you have taken control of, in terms of managing the fruit during the growing season?

DH: In just two growing seasons, we have seen big changes in the vines, especially this year. This year was a near perfect growing season, so we were very lucky to have so much sun and dry weather to which the vines really responded. But the pruning we did this year also really redirected the energy of the plants back to their center, back to their roots, and as consequence the fruit was beautiful. We grew a little in our tonnage of fruit this year, but then we doubled the juice itself. The ratio of fruit to stem was greater this year. The natural fermentations took off immediately and the yeast colonies from the field have continued to be healthy and strong.

Plants that we didn’t expect much from this year, produced better than we thought, and plants that had been previously destroyed by girdling by field pests a couple of winters ago, grew new trunks, giving us healthy new plants that won’t need to be replanted next year. I am looking forward to next year’s revelations.

ST: Throughout the book the phrase “Wine is made in the vineyard” appears. What does that mean?

DH: I believe that wine is made in the vineyard rather than the cellar. The work that the winegrower does in the field during the season is where I see most of the craft in creating interesting, thoughtful wine. I see the winegrower as a guide or a companion to the vines and the fruit that comes in at harvest, not as a manipulator in the cellar. Most of the effort takes place during the growing season; for me the true winegrower or maker is simply responding with a very light hand to what he or she understands what the wine wants to become as the season continues from crush to bottle.

I have a lot of friends on the west coast who don’t have their own vines, but buy fruit from local growers and make really remarkable wines. In this instance, these winemakers educate themselves on the parcels that produce their fruit, and they work with the grower, either helping to formulate the growing plan, or working in concert with the grower’s understanding of his or her land.

And that’s what it’s all about in the end: Understanding the land and how the plants grow in a particular place. For me, it is the vine’s relationship to its terroir, the personality of the field, that dictates the wine.


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