Small Farmer's Journal

or Subscribe
Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

Week in the Life of D Acres

by Beth Weick of Dorchester, NH

“What is going on here?!”

This was a friend of ours, John, who repeatedly asked this question – not upon arrival, but after two days of volunteering his hands in construction & forestry work, his second visit in as many weeks. He was loaded with questions, but this simple one kept coming up.

Helpful as we like to be, we just laughed harder with each repetition. This is a question better answered with a lifetime than a few lines. Besides, John already had a better idea than most. Screwing in floorboards for a new pig shack, cooking community dinner, cross-cutting firewood in the snow, greasing our veggie-powered wood-chipper, running the chains while logging with the oxen…Actions are better informants than words, and perspicacity in one’s work makes for quick illumination.

Even so, D Acres of New Hampshire in Dorchester, a permaculture farm, sustainability center, and non-profit educational organization, is a bit of a challenge to describe. Hence the ensuing pages. Join us for this week-in-the-life tour, a little of everything that really did unfold in this manner. Extraordinary, perhaps, only in that these few November days were entirely ordinary.

In the Beginning…

The days always begin with animal chores. Two oxen, twenty-six pigs, twenty-three chickens, and eight ducks need tending morning, afternoon, and evening. Thus start our days. Waking up, adjusting ourselves to the cold or to the heat or to the weather, getting the tiredness out of our eyes and the grumpiness off our shoulders, we each head to our respective pastures and paddocks. We bring food, water, and freedom for the day; by nightfall we return again, proffering a closed door for each animal to sleep behind, more food, and clean water. Our animals are our power sources, our compost providers, our food, and our companions. We want to treat them right.

“We” being Josh, Regina, Dustin, and myself – Beth. Dustin is our winter intern, arriving in November and staying ‘til springtime. As part of our ongoing educational programming, we host apprentices and interns throughout the year. We provide learning opportunities and guidance in skills of sustainable living, as well as exposure to communal living arrangements and consensus organization. Work is dictated in part by the seasons, though students can choose their areas of interest within the available activities. Dustin, for example, is interested particularly in woodworking and forestry. A variety of other tasks, however, are certainly rounding out his farmstay experience.

The remaining triad comprises the D Acres Staff. Josh is one of D Acres organizational founders and has been with the farm since its inception in 1997. He wears many hats, literally and figuratively, all of which are most succinctly alluded to through his titles of Executive Director and Farm Manager. Regina and I each found our way, independently, to D Acres over the course of 2008. Regina is our Kitchen Manager & Fiber Artist. Let me assure you her work falls well beyond the range of those few words. I am referred to as Farm Staff, which quite simply reads more professionally than jack-of-many-trades.

We are united in our mission to improve the human relationship with the rural New England landscape through farm-based research, education, and demonstration of small-scale agriculture, sustainability skills, and collaborative community. The name “D ACRES” references the land’s previous owners Edith and Delbert Gray and our location in Dorchester, as well as being our guiding acronym: Development Aimed at Creating a Rural Ecological Society.

Week in the Life of D Acres

We don’t rush into much

Let us begin with Monday. This is certainly the easier day of the week. A day to complete house chores, tidy up odds & ends, make a run to town for restaurant scraps to feed our pigs, and have our planning meetings for the week. Which projects need to be completed, how we’re each spending our hours, who’s cooking dinner, who’s hosting a workshop, who’s cleaning the animal bedding, who’s sweeping the floor…we have a weekly agenda that ranges from 30-60 topics, and covers the gamut of day-to-day operations and longer-term endeavors.

On this particular Monday, an intern of three months – Dave – was departing for winter classes and spring employment elsewhere. He was a self- described plant guy, who could turn the simplest of inquiries into a lesson on plant nomenclature, habit, history, and development. We were amidst a staff meeting when he finished cleaning out his treehouse abode, packed up his truck, and came for a final round of hugs, well wishes, and thank yous.

The staff meeting, abounding with discussions of budgets and advertising, projects and planning, resumed as we listened to his truck struggle to pull out of the snow-covered parking lot. It is a curious thing, how those who call D Acres home persist steady and constant, while those who come to learn and experience pass through in brief whirlwinds of energy and interest. Regardless of who’s here to help, though, we need to know who’s coordinating the latest event, who’s designing the latest pamphlet, and who’s editing the grant proposals. So the meeting continues.

We organize ourselves through a process of consensus. This can present its challenges, yes. There are always varying levels of experience, knowledge, and age to balance, and personality strengths & weakness must be considered. While the “buck stops here” is applied to everyone, each individual is given the skills and the support to fulfill that responsibility. As opposed to a more hierarchical power structure, consensus cultivates teamwork, clear communication, cooperative processes, mutual respect, and diversity. It asks each participant to flourish while also strengthening the community.

Consensus is our premise; a “Wheel of Chaos” is spun to assign specific roles. Each meeting is run by a facilitator who moves through the agenda, keeps our discussion focused, and guides us to an agreeable outcome. A second person is the note-taker, maintaining our records of agenda items, discussion points, and the resulting plan. These notes are our means of maintaining accountability and continuity week to week, as well as the basis for the following week’s agenda.

In this manner we concluded our morning meeting after two hours of productive conversation. Shortly after midday we were pushing back our chairs and heading for the root cellar: lunchtime. There are leftovers stored in coolers – no need for a fridge in these temperatures – as well as fresh cabbage adorning one wall, and buckets of carrots and potatoes aligning the other. Grab a jar of dilly beans on the way back through the basement, and voila? – a feast is to be had.

I don’t dally over a hot meal, however, as I’m on duty to pick up pig food in town. Scraps and leftovers from restaurants, delis, pubs, cafes, the University dining hall, and the local grocery store are picked up three times a week from nearby Plymouth, NH. Our piglet population is growing, and what’s a better way to feed them than by redirecting the waste stream to their hungry snouts. They eat better than most people, and that’s not an exaggeration. So in and out of town I go, humming along in our vegetable-oil-powered Fuso truck. We paint the sides with slogans depending on our sentiment: currently we’re espousing ‘culture community’ and ‘brake inertia.’

Back from town and it’s all-hands-on-deck as the others come out to greet me, help unload the buckets and boxes, and sift all the packaging from the grocery produce. Just in time for our second meeting, the General Meeting. Dustin will join us for this one, and we’ll work out the nuts and bolts of each day’s activities for the week, plan for community events to be hosted over the weekend….you’ll see. Compared to this morning, the meeting is relatively quick. Which it has to be because now it’s Regina’s turn to head out the door. Serving on the Dorchester Historic District Commission, Regina has twice- monthly meetings beginning at 7pm. Business will last for two hours, at least: small-town politics don’t get a hard rap for nothing. The rest of us wish her well and go about our dinner with something akin to leisure. Josh’s parents have come over from up the road and prepared supper – a hot pasta primavera of sorts, herbed bread, and tonight a special treat: Fig Newtons! We don’t buy sugar, and only produce a small quantity of maple syrup on the farm, so sweet treats are a rarity for us. We certainly enjoy when it hits our tongues.

A group effort at dishes, some brief emails to send, odds & ends to note down for the coming day and it’s off to bed. While we cook, eat, heat, and arrange our indoor work on the main floor of our community building, we each have our private spaces to return to at the end of the day. Dustin heads to his quarters in the Red Barn, Josh & Regina to their back room off the original farmhouse, and myself to the top of the Silo. It’s cold outside, but not yet frigid, and staying warm seems easy compared to what it will be in a month. Some cushions, extra blankets, a good sleeping bag, and some youthful stubbornness do the trick. By choice, I have no heat in my round perch. Though our woods are full of trees, firewood is not limitless and comes at the price of many hours. In the sentiment of conservation, I prefer to do without when I can. Whether it’s thick blood or a thick skull, I sleep comfortably and deep. Tomorrow will be here oh so soon.

Week in the Life of D Acres

Tuesday

The day’s work begins in the living room of our community building. We hold our final Garden Meeting of 2010, transferring remaining notes on ordering treestock and seeds to our general meeting minutes. It is quick, and our minds are already looking ahead to negotiating the day’s endeavors.

SmallFarmersJournal.com is a live, ever-changing subscription website. To gain access to all the content on this site, subscribe for just $5 per month. If you are not completely satisfied, cancel at any time. Here at your own convenience you can access past articles from Small Farmer's Journal's first forty years and all of the brand new content of new issues. You will also find posts of complete equipment manuals, a wide assortment of valuable ads, a vibrant events calendar, and up to the minute small farm news bulletins. The site features weather forecasts for your own area, moon phase calendaring for farm decisions, recipes, and loads of miscellaneous information.

Spotlight On: Equipment & Facilities

Blacksmith Forge Styles

Blacksmith Forge Styles

from issue:

Blacksmith Forge Styles circa 1920.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 4

by:
from issue:

Over the last few years of making hay, the mowing, turning and making tripods has settled into a fairly comfortable pattern, but the process of getting it all together for the winter is still developing. In the beginning I did what everyone else around here does and got it baled, but one year I decided to try one small stack. The success of this first stack encouraged me to do more, and now most of my hay is stacked loose.

John Deere No 12A Combine

John Deere No. 12-A Straight-Through Combine

from issue:

It is only natural for the owner of a new combine to want to try his machine as early as possible. This results in most new combines being started in the field before the crop is ready for combining. As soon as a binder is seen in the neighbor’s field, the urge to start becomes uncontrollable. When grain is ready for binding, it is not ready for straight combining.

SmP Seeder-Roller

Seeder-Roller – SmP Séi-Roll 1.0 for Horse Traction

Because it is a renewable and environmentally friendly energy source, horse traction is currently undergoing a renaissance in small scale agricultural holdings, winegrowing, market gardening and forestry. Within this context, implements for animal traction with mechanical drivetrain and direct draft are gaining importance. One of the goals of Schaff mat Päerd is to support this process by the development of new equipment and related studies and publications.

Fjordworks Plowing the Market Garden Part 2

Fjordworks: Plowing the Market Garden Part 2

Within the context of the market garden, the principal aim for utilizing the moldboard is to initiate the process of creating a friable zone for the root systems of direct-seeded or transplanted cash crops to establish themselves in, where they will have sufficient access to all the plant nutrients, air, and moisture they require to bear successful fruits. To this end, it is critical for good plant growth to render the soil into a fine-textured crumbly condition and to ensure there is no compaction within the root zone.

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 3

by:
from issue:

In parallel with making hay on the ground, nearly every year I have also made some hay on tripods. The attraction of this method is that it only needs one day of good weather to dry the grass sufficiently before it is put on the tripods, and then the hay takes very little harm no matter what the weather, usually coming out green, dry and smelling of hay two weeks later when it can be baled or stacked.

"Work Horse Handbook, 2nd Edition" by Lynn Miller

Draft Collars and How To Size Them

It is difficult to accurately measure a horse’s neck without fitting. In other words, there are so many variables involved in the shape and size of a horse’s neck that the only accurate and easy way to size the neck is to use several collars and put them on one at a time until fitting is found.

Ask A Teamster Tongue Length

Ask A Teamster: Tongue Length

My forecart pole is set up for draft horses. My husband thinks we should cut the pole off to permanently make it fit better to these smaller horses. What would be your opinion? Like your husband, my preference would be a shorter tongue for a small team like your Fjords. The dynamics and efficiency of draft are better if we have our horse(s) close to the load. A shorter tongue will also reduce the overall length of your outfit, thereby giving you better maneuverability and turning dynamics.

Portable Poultry

Portable Poultry

An important feature of the range shelter described in this circular is that it is portable. Two men by inserting 2x4s through the holes located just below the roost supports and next to the center uprights can easily pick up and move it from one location to another. Frequent moving of the shelter prevents excessive accumulation of droppings in its vicinity which are a menace to the health of the birds. Better use will be made by the birds of the natural green feed produced on the range if the houses are moved often.

Between Ourselves & Our Land

Between Ourselves & Our Land

by:
from issue:

Since being introduced to the straddle row cultivator last year in hilling our potatoes, I have been excited to experiment with different tools mounted under the versatile machine. Like the famed Allis Chalmers G or Farmall Cub my peers of the internal combustion persuasion utilize on their vegetable farms, this tool can help maximize efficiency in many ways on the small farm.

Delivery Wagon Plans

Delivery Wagon Plans

from issue:

While the low down delivery wagon is an improvement, the objectionable features are increased. But with all those objections the low down wagons increase every year. Their convenience outweighs all other objections. They are handy for country delivery and are fitted up inside to suit either grocers, bakers, butchers or milk delivery, or a combination of the four.

Building a Community, Building a Barn

Building a Community, Building a Barn

by:
from issue:

One of the most striking aspects of this development is the strength and confidence that comes from this communal way of living. While it is impressive to build a barn in a day it seems even more impressive to imagine building four barns or six, and all the rest of the needs of a community. For these young Amish families the vision of a shared agricultural community is strong, and clear.

Ask A Teamster Perfect Hitching Tension

Ask A Teamster: Perfect Hitching Tension

In my experience, determining how tight, or loose, to hook the traces when hitching a team can be a bit challenging for beginners. This is because a number of interdependent dynamics and variables between the pulling system and the holdback system must be considered, and because it’s ultimately a judgment call rather than a simple measurement or clear cut rule.

International Harvester Fertilizer Distributor

International Harvester Fertilizer Distributor

from issue:

Because of the many varieties and mixtures or fertilizer, it is impossible to give complete tables listing them. It is, however, very easy to determine the distribution of any particular fertilizer by proceeding as follows. Put a cloth, or some large sheets of paper under the machine and turn the main driving wheel 57 times for 7′, 51 times for 8′ and 46 times for 9′ machine. Weigh the amount ejected which will indicate the amount distributed per one-tenth of an acre.

Barn Raising

Barn Raising

by:
from issue:

Here it was like a beehive with too many fuzzy cheeked teen-agers who couldn’t possibly be experienced enough to be of much help. But work was being accomplished; bents, end walls and partitions were being assembled like magic and raised into place with well-coordinated, effortless ease and precision. No tempers were flaring, no egomaniacs were trying to steal the show, and there was not the usual ten percent doing ninety percent of the work.

New Horse-drawn Side Delivery Rakes from Europe

New Horse-drawn Side Delivery Rakes from Europe

In Northern Italy the two agricultural machinery manufacturers MAINARDI A. s.r.l. and REPOSSI Macchine Agricole s.r.l. produce a vast range of haying equipment with pto and hydraulic drive, also hay rakes with mechanical drive by the rear wheels. The majority of the sold machines of this type are currently used with small tractors and motor cultivators. The technology of these rakes is based on implements which were developed in the 1940s, when animal traction still played an important role in Italy’s agriculture.

Permanent Corncribs

A short piece on the construction of corncribs.

Journal Guide