Autumn Equinox, 2014: Current State of our Green Acres Urban Farmstead

Over the past year, this little two-house urban farmstead in the Green Acres Neighborhood Ecovillage that includes the GANG (Green Acres Neighborhood Garden) has undergone a complete regenerative overhaul. It started when I had to let go of not one, but two people who had betrayed my trust and put themselves and everybody around them into deep consternation. I will not talk about that particular shadow aspect of our permaculture project here. It is too personal. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But know that the shadow does exist, and it’s our job to consciously integrate that shadow wherever it appears. Indeed, I’m convinced that it’s shadow-work that drives evolution forward.

(As usual, the most interesting stories are ones I cannot blog! Same goes for my trip to Seattle, where our dear nearly 97-year-old Lady Renee proved her mettle as she was dying — and gave us all a huge surprise and laugh — and it’s not time to talk about that either!)

I date the regeneration of our little farmstead to the day when Rebecca moved in to the DeKist house next door, sometime last August, 2013. As soon as I met her, I knew her. It was just one of those things. And I was right. I didn’t realize that she had 40 years of organic gardening under her belt, or that she had run inner city community gardens. Bingo!

Our vision is the same, our dedication is the same: focus on regenerating community in the Green Acres Neighborhood, with food as the center around which community revolves. I told her, “You be the doyenne of that house; and I of this house. We will gradually shift over the people who live in these two houses to the point where everyone present shares the same co-operative ecovillage vision.”

We planned for this to take about one year. It did. Meanwhile, we renovated the bedrooms of both houses, including removing the old wall-to-wall carpets and polishing the hard wood floors underneath. I had to forego rent for the various bedrooms for a few months, while we interviewed those who said they were interested, but for one reason or another did not jell with what we are doing. By August 2014, everybody was in place, a newly created integenerational two-house homestead, and the roster, besides the two of us old women, includes four young people, three of them female, one male, and all dedicated to both food and community. Two of the young women are SPEA graduate students (IU School of Public and Environmental Studies), another is an herbalist in training, and the young man is both handy and oriented towards gardening.

Here we are on Sunday evening two evenings ago, after our second monthly meeting: Duncan, the young man, would rather not have his picture taken, so he took the photo.

Rebecca on left, then Kiryssa in front, Katarina 9the herbalist) in back, Leah (who brought five chickens with her) and me. Notice the three dogs. Duncan also brought a dog. Kiryssa brought a cat, Leah two cats, and my cat makes a total of 13 animals, including the chickens . . . We are on perpetual poop patrol in the back yard, and so far, it's working fine!

Rebecca on left, then Kiryssa in front, Katarina (the herbalist) in back, Leah (who brought five chickens with her) and me. Notice the three dogs. Duncan also brought a dog. Kiryssa brought a cat, Leah two cats, and my cat makes a total of 13 animals, including the chickens . . . We are on perpetual poop patrol in the back yard, and so far, it’s working fine!

Leah, especially, is very organized. She made a “wheel” for chores for her housemates next door (Rebecca and Duncan), and I asked her to make one for Katarina, Kiryssa and me, here. She brought it to last night’s meeting. We’re about to start our weekly rotation.

wheel

Part of why I wanted to start this process of truly working together, many of us living in fairly small quarters, was to both demonstrate a sustainable template of learning how to live more closely together, and to help myself get over the “old person’s” tendency to get into rigid habits. I wanted to test myself, and to stretch my own comfort zones and habits (which include an enormous amount of solitude, certain chairs, coffee cups, silverware that I consider “mine,” etc.)

I thought it would be difficult, and it was, briefly, very briefly! But what I have discovered about this process of bringing more people into my intimate living space is that I feel a greater sense of comfort, even security. And that it’s fun!

It’s good knowing that five other people have my back. It’s good knowing that we’ve already established a real flow here, with my living room used as the living room for both houses and the living room of the DeKist house used as a communal dining room for meals that we sometimes share. It’s good opening the fence up between the houses so that my back yard can be the back yard for both homes, and my patio, ours. Good having a place for an outdoor fire, and outdoor meals. (We plan to add an outdoor kitchen there, either this fall or next year.) Good planning to convert the garage into a greenhouse. Good having two old women with experience and patience and the long-range view interacting with four young people who have courage, intelligence and heart, and, I strongly suspect, are way beyond us in ways that I’m sure Rebecca and I have yet to understand. YES! Let the young and old lead each other into the unknown future as we face and embrace the myriad emergencies our human presence has inflicted upon our dear Mother Earth.

Good, having both houses working to preserve the GANG food from this summer’s enormous harvest, canning, drying, freezing. Good, that Leah took the ball and made sure the chicken yard was copasetic for city regulations. Here it is, with a chicken or two visible, and, if you look closely, you can see one edge of the low coop that she herself designed and constructed peeking out:

chicken close-up

I had wondered how the chickens, their coop and yard would fit in. But I think now that this project actually enhances the back yard, makes the whole thing look “intentional.” View from my back porch:

chicken yard from porch

Looking to the right from my porch, here’s an African hugelkulture bed with herbs, one of my son Colin Cudmore’s original Garden Towers, and a glimpse of the patio (which used to be a basketball court) and sitting area:

garden tower and patio

We have seven finished hugelkulture beds now, all but two of the African variety (with kitchen scraps that create composted soil (in only two weeks!) in the middle). The final one, this year, is the monstrosity out in front of my house, the one that’s surrounding an old maple tree stump. Here’s how it started out.

img_02932Here’s where it was part way through the summer.

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It’s just about finished now. About ten days ago Rebecca and our intern Jeffrey put a half-load of composted dirt on the side that faces the street, and we will add this load, and old ground up stump, to the side facing the house within the next day or two. Then it will be ready for planting a nitrogen-fixing cover crop for winter.

ground stump

I got the above load, and others like it through the years, by listening for the sounds of trees being sawed down nearby. Sometimes they are also chipped, and the tree companies are glad to drop off their loads. This particular load was more desirable than usual, because ground up stumps have some dirt mixed in. Two guys brought it over at noon today, and after they dumped it where I wanted the three of us had a good time touring this farmstead and talking about DIY projects that they are interested in pursuing. They’re both country boys, and very inventive and handy, folks who have probably not received the kind of praise they need to actually pursue their passions. Hopefully I helped to rectify that!

My takeaway from the North American Permaculture Convergence was the recognition that any permaculture project of whatever size that is worth its salt is going to rub up against existing laws. That working this edge is just part of the deal. I came back with a new determination to fight for whatever is “mine to do.”

So, when I got home I thought about my new decision: what IS mine to do right now? Aha! It’s to get the new gate and sign for the GANG garden in place (finally, after five or is it six? years).

To do that I had to fill out a maddening form which included a scale drawing of the entire property, plus pay a $50 fee. I won’t bore you with the details (and besides, it’s one of those stories that, to spare other people’s feelings, I will censor myself from telling on the blog), but needless to say, I didn’t want to do either one. And after an email exchange with four planners from the city, it turned out I didn’t have to. YES! They decided we did not need a permit, after all. This would not have been the result, had I not pushed, hard, in my second email to them.

Here it is, completed, and newly legal. The sign itself looks like it’s going to walk off, and is a bit crooked. We need to pound those legs into the soil a bit more. Oh well!

gate

I could show pictures of the new pantry in the DeKist house, and tell about the dumpster-diving that has already gleaned seven cases of beer and 100 power bars, but I’ll wait on that. I could also show the beginnings of the ecowarrior project on the outside walls over there, but I’ll wait until that’s completed.

Meanwhile, here’s the piece de resistance for this entire blog post.

Rebecca had wanted a working dishwasher (I personally don’t like them and don’t have one here), because she’s going to be holding communal dinners and wanted a way to wash dishes more easily. We agreed to keep an eye out at the Habitat Restore for this item. So . . . last week I was out there to drop some extra gardening stuff off and by chance walked into the appliance room. There it was, a gleaming, nearly new dishwasher with a note on it that said “this is the best running dishwasher I have ever tested.” How much? $200. Hmmm. That seems steep. I went to the clerk and asked if the guy who tests appliances often put notes up like that, and he said, no he’d never seen him comment on a machine that he tested. So. SOLD.

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When I got home I looked it up. This particular machine, a “Kenmore Elite,” retails for $1600. Can you believe? We had it installed yesterday.

SCORE!

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5 Responses to Autumn Equinox, 2014: Current State of our Green Acres Urban Farmstead

  1. John Cowan says:

    Way to go Ann! Not too often that you can score one like that. I don’t like dishwashers either but, the new ones (probably like the one you purchased) are designed to use very little water, much less than you might use if you washed by hand.

  2. Sylvia says:

    Excellent Ann, I am very impressed how well things are panning out with your gang homestead!

  3. Joy Shayne Laughter says:

    Ann, if you want more cut wood, get a pickup truck over to Saville Street between North Dunn and Fritz Street, in Matlock Heights. Every day on my way to work I drive past this house, they cut down a big tree and the cut-up bole is piled high beside the driveway, as if they want people to just take what they need.

    • Thanks Joy, but we’re full up of carbon here right now. Thanks for keeping a lookout, however! Much appreciated.
      We will need leaves, when people start raking them. Even better is to rake them into your own gardens!

      There’s a pile of grass clippings about three houses away that I just discovered. Will see if we can get that terrific source of nitrogen to balance the carbon . . .

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