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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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


Mike, Ryan and Sara, our artists from Baltimore


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


Earthbag wall


Slip straw + cob + bottles = highly functional art!


Burlap sack lining before the metal roof was on


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


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


Cliff and Barry nail the roof down tight


So happy together!


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


Christina gets out of the kitchen and into the clay


Sand plaster applied to earthbag wall


Entrance to new humanure toilet room


Pretty colors


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


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:


Homeschool Cooperative students, getting in on the cob oven construction


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


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


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


Hey mom, look what we helped build!


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


Nicole and Ned moving right along...


Barry takes it to the next level.


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


Happy Brendan!


Cliff, tamping the earth bags


Nicole learning to mix earth plaster


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


Alex and Sunny applying earth plaster to bamboo lath


David and Penryn filling the gaps with cob


With all this activity, even the bunnies are tired.


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.

The plants that feed raised beds in the yard near the construction


Muscovy ducklings, watching us work


Cliff's sketch of the entrance to the new building


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


The sawdust was flying!


Bamboo is beautiful


Nicole and Juby, hanging more lath


Josh and Cliff raise the roofbeam


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


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


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!

Wayne giving a breakdown of the building design.


Brendan and Cliff, sharpening tools


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


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


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


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


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


Happy students = happy teacher!

More to come…

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 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.

Blueberry Miracle

I am constantly amazed by the resilience of nature.

Koinonia is in the process of putting a new addition on our dining hall. Back in December, the project kicked off with the installation of the new 4,000-gallon septic system, which was to be placed just along the edge of our front yard. I knew the hole for the enormous tank would be big, but nothing could prepare me for the massive mound of red earth that appeared that afternoon.

The contractors tried to avoid spilling dirt over into our garden, but unfortunately they did not recognize that the bare twigs emerging from the ground next to our dogwood tree were very young blueberry bushes. We were not at the house to request that they tweak the placement of the pile, and so on that drizzly winter day three blueberry plants were buried under about eight feet of heavy clay soil.

While waiting for the inspector to come and approve the septic system, the dirt remained untouched for more than two months. I lamented the loss of the blueberries that we would have enjoyed this summer, and tried to laugh it off. But it still irked me.

In April, there was an issue with one of the pipes coming off of the septic, and so part of the system had to be uncovered. As the maintenance crew dug, they tossed aside severed tree roots and chunks of urbanite. I was cooking lunch that morning, and when I came out to pick some herbs from my yard, there was one of my kids’ sandbox pails half filled with red clay, with three stems of a muddy, broken blueberry plant wedged in the sticky soil. The guys were proud of their find, but I shrugged it off and wondered why they had bothered to repot the dead plant. Nevertheless, I placed it next to our potted trees and it received regular waterings for a few weeks until…

New growth! I could scarcely believe my eyes. Against all odds, this seemingly fragile plant had been buried alive for months, and emerged from certain death with its roots still longing for life.

We will place the bush in our yard this fall, and if all goes well it will produce its first fruits next summer. But the hope in this story is so much bigger than a few sweet blueberries for my family to enjoy.

Sometimes it is a struggle simply being in the world. Sometimes obstacles weigh me down, disappointments crowd my view, demands pile up and threaten to crush me, and it is tempting to give up on my dreams entirely. But then I think of the blueberry bush that held on long enough to survive in the mud. Trauma caused the plant to go into shock, and it put all of its energy into the main roots.

Insignificant though it may seem, that plant’s survival has inspired me constantly throughout the last two months. When life’s pressures seem too much to handle, it’s crucial to get back to basics, to put all of my energy into the roots of each aspect of my life.

When relationships go awry, I don’t give up as quickly as I used to. The roots that survive traumatic conditions are the strongest; sometimes waiting for conditions to improve produces the hardiest plants which bear the sweetest fruit. When setbacks cloud my vision, I’m learning to focus on what inspired me in the first place. Then the taproots survive to support the main branches, and when the seasons change new growth occurs.

When I wait patiently and watch diligently, I am sure to witness the blessings that follow those first small leaves of hope.