How much is enough?

Fall is a time for abundance. The harvest moon hangs low in the clear sky, temperatures plummet, nuts drop from the trees, sweet potatoes and pumpkins emerge steaming from the oven to warm us and fill our bellies. There is much to be grateful for, much good work to do.

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Pineapple guava in my back yard, which produces fruit throughout November and December

And yet, I find that sometimes my mind cannot comprehend the bounty before me. My smile vanishes beneath my furrowed brow, and I tromp through the leaves grumbling about lack…not enough workers, not enough food from the garden, not enough time… The gifts of creation seem meager and miniscule, and I cannot enjoy my supper because it is made up of not enough home-grown ingredients and too many store-bought.

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Simple, edible Canna lilies

When is there going to be enough? I wonder. Suddenly enough is defined as more, no matter how much I have to begin with. More money. More free time. More vegetables. More projects that are not yet finished, or not yet started. New and different friends, because the relationships I have are not…enough. Nothing seems to be enough, and so the endless striving for more ensues, and my search for the simple life has landed me back where I started, stuck in the rat race.

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Our chickens forage in the safety of their chicken tractor

Is there something wrong with my chosen lifestyle? No, the error is in my thinking, which blurs my vision. Creation is abundant. Period. When I am in tune with the harmonic productivity of the planet, I can see that there is always enough to share. Like in the familiar stories from scripture, where the widow gives her last mite as an offering, or the woman offers her last bread to the wayfaring disciple, I cannot know what heaven has in store for me to receive unless I’m willing to offer up the things of this world.

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Garden bed in my yard. Here you can see rosemary, chives, thyme, lettuce, cabbage, onions, lemongrass, a blackberry bush, an apple tree...abundance!

In the stories, the widow is exalted, and the the hungry woman and her son are blessed with the miracle of a flour bin that never empties, a jar of oil that is always full. They do not receive these rewards by hoarding and being stingy. They receive because they are willing to give, because they allow God’s abundance to be made evident in their lives.

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Pecans are underfoot everywhere this time of year!

Abundance is all around us, all the time. Let us set our sights on the giving and receiving of good gifts, and remember to be grateful in all things. When we share and give thanks, there will always be more than enough.

What can you give today? What have you received?

Natural Building, Day 4…Only the Beginning

The last day of class was great fun. I finally had to get my feet in the mud, the roof is installed, all but one wall is finished. We got creative with glass bottle inserts and some all-natural wall hooks for the humanure room. So much love goes into hand-built walls, that this little corner of Koinonia Farm is radiating with agape energy. Nicole is staying on for a couple of days to help us finish the last section of cob. There are plans in the works for a 2012 workshop, stay tuned for more details. Koinonia was a front-runner for affordable housing back in the 1970’s, perhaps we will have the chance to revolutionize the way Americans build in the 21st century? Who knows…for now, thanks to everyone for the best time I’ve had all year:

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This is where we left off the day before...

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Mike, Ryan and Sara, our artists from Baltimore

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By 3pm half of the cob was done. Glass bottle inserts in the earthbag wall will form the shape of a cross.

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Earthbag wall

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Slip straw + cob + bottles = highly functional art!

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Burlap sack lining before the metal roof was on

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Couldn't help but smile when Brendan and I were dancing to mix the cob

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Bare feet are the best tools for mixing clay, sand and straw

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Cliff and Barry nail the roof down tight

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So happy together!

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Our new friend Sage kept us stocked with snacks while we worked

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Christina gets out of the kitchen and into the clay

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Sand plaster applied to earthbag wall

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Entrance to new humanure toilet room

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Pretty colors

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Goat's horns embedded in the cob become hooks in the humanure room

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Brendan's cob-stained feet

I can honestly say that life will never be the same after this experience. As Nicole put it, it’s so empowering to know that we can build our own houses out of the freely-available materials provided to us by the Earth’s abundance. Can’t wait for the next earth-built blitz!

Natural Building, Day 3

Intensity was the name of the game today. From the early-morning cob-making, to noontime truss-setting, to a trio of techniques in the afternoon, to a spontaneous talent show/ drum circle. Yesterday’s persistence at the building framing paid off. Everyone’s energy level is high, and the rapid transformation is unbelievable. A week ago today, Cliff had not yet arrived at Koinonia and Wayne hadn’t yet begun the front yard swales. Tomorrow we will be putting the finishing touches on the building…but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

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Homeschool Cooperative students, getting in on the cob oven construction

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Cob is all about community...all ages and lots of fun!

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The first layer going around the oven sand form. Trinity and Ida showing Wayne how it's done

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Alex and Julie hard at work...nearly finished by lunchtime.

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Hey mom, look what we helped build!

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Ryan and Alex tamping down the central slip-straw wall, one section at a time

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Nicole and Ned moving right along...

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Barry takes it to the next level.

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Mike, Josh and Cliff filling the first earth bag for the base of the outer wall.

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Happy Brendan!

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Cliff, tamping the earth bags

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Nicole learning to mix earth plaster

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The "aha!" moment...getting the plaster just right

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Alex and Sunny applying earth plaster to bamboo lath

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David and Penryn filling the gaps with cob

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With all this activity, even the bunnies are tired.

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Plaster wall complete!

Grand finale coming tomorrow night!

Natural Building, Day 2

Another glorious day was ahead of us, and everyone was ready to get down to business. With so many people working in a small space, Wayne decided to make use of the many hands, so a cob oven was added to the agenda. Roof support beam is set, bamboo lath is complete, oven form is ready, and tomorrow we start applying the cob.
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The plants that feed us...in raised beds in the yard near the construction

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Muscovy ducklings, watching us work

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Cliff's sketch of the entrance to the new building

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Side view of building, perhaps with a glass bottle cross design built in?

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The sawdust was flying!

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Bamboo is beautiful

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Nicole and Juby, hanging more lath

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Josh and Cliff raise the roofbeam

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At 1:30, the cob oven site looked like this...

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...and when I returned at 5:00 this is what I found!

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Amazing work, amazing people…it doesn’t get much better than this!

Natural Building, Day 1

The first day of Koinonia Farm’s first Natural Building Workshop was tremendous. After learning more about Koinonia’s history and getting the basics in a variety of natural building modalities, the students were itching to get out in the sunshine and get to work. They spent the afternoon splitting bamboo to be used as lath for mud plaster, stripping cedar bark from the structural poles, preparing a drainage trench to redirect water away from the building, and supervising some hard-working kids.
Wayne Weisman of the Permaculture Project and Cliff Davis of Spiral Ridge Permaculture will spend the next few days sharing their natural building expertise and letting the creative energy of the students take hold. I’ll be posting our progress each day, to show you what our 13 students (plus some community members and homeschool cooperative kids) can accomplish in 4 days’ time!
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Wayne giving a breakdown of the building design.

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Brendan and Cliff, sharpening tools

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Juby with the split bamboo lath, Alex stripping bark from a cedar post

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Ryan and Michael, taking a break from digging the drainage trench

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Kellan, age 4, using a draw knife to strip cedar poles

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The first post is set! And Cliff and Nicole hanging the bamboo lath

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The Prendergast girls, hard at work! Ida, age 7, loves the patterns that insects created under the bark

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Happy students = happy teacher!

More to come…

Redirection

For weeks now, I’ve been wanting to get back to blogging. My vision for this site has changed, and I want to keep you all up to date on the progress of all the amazing and inspiring work happening at Koinonia Farm. My posts will be shorter and (hopefully) more frequent. For longer philosophical musings, check my other site Turning Dreams Into Deeds.

As a jumping-off point, here’s a peek at some of the work done by students in Koinonia’s fourth Permaculture Design Course. In preparation for next week’s Natural Building Workshop they’ve been digging swales and drainage trenches in my front yard. These will direct water away from the earthen walls of the building and towards the fruit trees and annual garden beds. More photos to come as construction begins next week!

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Students dig a drainage trench around the existing structure

 

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The building site, prepped and ready to go!

 

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Digging a swale uphill from the building site

 

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Testing the swale to make sure the water will wind up where we want it to go

 

Twisted Persistence

Morning glories have always been one of my favorite flowers. Their simple faces, turned towards the dawn, seem to rekindle forgotten promises. I used to take early morning walks along the dirt road near Koinonia’s chapel, and the blooms of purple, white and periwinkle would brighten the slowly emerging light.

Now that I spend more time in the garden, I’m coming to despise the sight of morning glory vines. They are fast-growing weeds, prolific producers of seed, and they quickly swallow garden beds and crape myrtle bushes in my back yard. No matter how diligent I try to be about weeding, every summer there comes a week when I cannot keep up, and by the end of that week the morning glories are trying to show me who’s in charge.

On a recent morning in the kitchen garden, I had set my sights on the tomato cages. The tomato plants are already over six feet tall, producing well, but the new growth had started to be swallowed up by an intricate web of morning glories. It’s a delicate matter to remove the tiny twists, because if you pull too hard, you risk severing the tomato plant’s tender leaves.

The twining ends of the vines reach out to grab anything in reach...

As I slowly untangled each arm of the weeds, I was awed by the nature of my nemesis. What struck me first was how quickly something that I had once found to be beautiful could be transformed into an exasperating nuisance. The context of the plant’s placement where it was not wanted had caused me to deem it a weed, and rather than enjoy the colorful blossoms I began to attack it with a vengeance. I wonder how many people are stuck in situations where they are considered a nuisance, but given the proper context they would be allowed and even encouraged to bloom and proliferate.

Another lesson from the morning glory is persistence. Morning glory vines can grow up to 20′ long, with several arms coming from each plant. Each vine bears dozens of blossoms, and each flower can then produce from 4-8 seeds. In 5 years we have never planted morning glory seeds in our garden. Yet they are prolific because they scatter seed throughout the season in every direction.

I did not manage to remove all the morning glory vines from all the tomato cages that morning. In fact, I probably didn’t even remove half of them. In the end, I resorted to getting rid of the ones that were causing immediate problems to the tomatoes, and I had to settle for leaving the rest for another gardener on another day.

Morning glories are victorious...at least for today.

Which brings me to my final lesson: at the end of the day, it turned out that the mostly harmless vines were more of a distraction than anything else. Rather than spending my time prepping new beds or harvesting the tomatoes, I got bogged down in trying to bring on perfection. And while it’s important to keep up with the patches of weeds, at the end of the day, every natural garden is going to have some tangles, some grasses, and some briars to contend with.

Maybe some day I’ll come to live in harmony and balance with the morning glories. But until that day comes, I pray that I never forget the simple wonder that such life can exist at all.