Monday, February 22, 2010

Tripple Brook Farm - Sat. Feb 20 Recap!

Happy Monday,

This weekend I went to Southampton to work with Steve Breyer at Tripple Brook Farm. My classmates Alex, Emerson and Marty came along, and my roommate James also met us there. We all worked in the greenhouse for a bit, did some grafting and helped with the cleanup work (removing the unproductive plants and making room for others just getting started.)

Alex and Marty admiring a cactus plant!


All of us brought home a mulberry root stalk in addition to the plant credit we're all building! It's a great system... Steve is extremely appreciative to have people working for plants rather than cash and he usually has plenty of work to do and plants to barter with. For people into permaculture... what an ingenius way of working in community (helping Steve by doing a work-trade) and taking care of earth by planting perennial polycultures!

Here are some pictures showing what we accomplished!

This is another woman who was working for plant credit at Tripple Brook, Kate.

Starting the grafting, after learning some stone sharpening!

We were grafting 'Szukis' (variety) scions onto the american persimmon rootstocks.

We accomplished quite a bit in the 5+ hours we stayed. I'll begin posting regularly each week (on Monday or Tuesday) stating which organization I'll be volunteering at on which day. I'd love for more of you to join, so please e-mail me if interested in permaculture, perennial plants, natural building, straw bale construction, intentional community living, ecovillages, (keyword plugging!), compost, nuestras raices, sirius community, tripple brook farm!

Enjoy your days,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Volunteer Opportunities in the Pioneer Valley area

I've been spending a lot of my days working with some great organizations: Sirius Community, Tripple Brook Farm (plant nursery) and soon, Nuestras Raices.

Nuestras RaĆ­ces Farm is an urban community farm that supports beginning immigrant and refugee farmers, grows small businesses, and celebrates the Latino community of Holyoke MA. We have compost on site, and plan to construct a larger compost area in the future, and we are seeking a volunteer compost manager to increase our capacity to manage and use our compost effectively.

If anyone in the area is looking for some great permaculture-related projects to get involved with, please contact me! I'm willing and able to drive (I will be driving myself anyway, so it is no problem!) and can introduce you since it is sometimes intimidating to go to new places by yourself.

Here is an e-mail I just sent out to some folks about the Nuestras Raices compost management volunteer opportunity:

Hey fellow volunteers,

I'm writing this message because Nuestras Raices is looking for a few people to help create a compost management plan. See the attached description.

I spent a bunch of time working with compost during the month of January - volunteering at Growing Power (Will Allen) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Amy sent out a message about Will speaking at the White House last week.) Their organization picks up about 6 million pounds of food waste each year and turns it into soil for the farms! We're certainly not trying to collect THAT much right away at Nuestras Raices, but there is certainly some small-scale local restaurants, schools, churches that we can partner with.

Even if you don't have composting experience but are interested in helping, please send Amy or myself an e-mail. This could be a really fun and rewarding project - thinking in terms of the environmental and social action issues of our time and how closely they are related. So let's turn some "waste" into something useful, help heal the land, and build community simultaneously. And then eventually, you will learn to love compost as much as I do!

Other projects happening right now include finishing construction of a straw bale garage (being turned into a studio for future living space!) at Sirius Community in Shutesbury, MA. Here are a few pictures of our progress so far. I usually go on Thursday mornings, or Friday / Saturdays.

Finally, Tripple Brook farm is a plant nursey in Southampton, MA that pays in plant credit! If you are in need of plants (which also make great gifts for people in the spring) or just want to feel more connected to nature during these cold winter months, e-mail me ( I have A LOT of yard to fill for the upcoming spring, so I will be at Tripple Brook every Saturday and/or Sunday from now until spring.

Link to my previous post about Tripple Brook.

That's all for now, hope to hear from some of you awesome people soon!


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Will Allen with Michele Obama fighting childhood obesity

My friend Katie, who I met working at Growing Power, just sent me the following article. It's Will Allen's birthday today and I think he's going ot enjoy being at the white house for it. Wouldn't you???

Growing Power founder on hand to help launch childhood obesity initiative

Milwaukee urban farmer Will Allen will share a podium with first lady Michelle Obama at the White House on Tuesday.

The Growing Power founder and CEO is to be one of three featured speakers helping Obama officially launch a national initiative to fight childhood obesity.

Allen will join Judith Palfrey, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and Willis "Chip" Johnson, mayor of Hernando, Miss., as they formally announce efforts to raise awareness of the need for children to have healthier schools, more exercise, access to affordable healthy food, and the knowledge to make healthier choices on their own.

The campaign was first broached publicly last month in Michelle Obama's keynote speech to the National Council of Mayors. President Barack Obama also mentioned the initiative in his State of the Union address.

Allen, whose Growing Power urban farm and food systems training center at 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive, operates in an underserved area of Milwaukee, plans to speak about the need to increase access to affordable healthy food. He will talk about creating new infrastructure to grow food in cities and new networks to channel food from diversified local farms into communities.

Allen said Monday that he also plans to invite the first lady and other national leaders gathered for the Tuesday announcement to visit Milwaukee and to see Growing Power in action.

"We have to institutionalize good food in our schools, and not only in the cafeteria, but in our teaching every day," Allen said in a phone interview.

"We also need to be able to grow food year-round where it's needed, despite the climate, the way we are doing it here at Growing Power in Milwaukee. We need to scale up these efforts, growing good soil, growing good food, growing the relationships necessary to distribute and deliver this food to people."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ditch Your Bank for a Credit Union

I'm doing some research right now about credit unions for the discussion I'll be leading during Wednesday's permaculture class. The discussion will be about money and in one part of the class we'll be talking about where we store our money.

Permaculture is a lifestyle and it's important to keep your hard-earned money in a safe and reliable place. (from Are Credit Unions Foolish) According to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), a credit union "is a cooperative financial institution, owned and controlled by the people who use its services. These people are members. Credit unions serve groups that share something in common, such as where they work, live, or go to church. Credit unions are not-for-profit, and exist to provide a safe, convenient place for members to save money and to get loans at reasonable rates." Essentially, credit unions are collectives of people brought together to loan each other money at fair rates. Pretty simple, actually.

I stumbled upon this interesting article called "Ditch Your Bank for a Credit Union"

By Liz Pulliam Weston

A lot of you are really and truly sick of your banks.

You're sick of getting socked with fees, or tripped by hidden penalties, or earning lousy interest rates. You're tired of being treated like a nuisance rather than a customer. And yet you have little hope that the bank down the street is any better.

But who says you have to settle for a bank? Relief could be as close as the nearest credit union.

Because so many people are fuzzy about the differences between banks and credit unions, I'll highlight the three most important distinctions:

  • Credit unions are member-owned. If you have an account at a credit union, you're a part owner in the enterprise. That may not entitle you to use the executive washroom -- your CU probably doesn't even have an executive washroom -- but you're likely to be seen as a person rather than as a "cost center."
  • Credit unions are not-for-profit. This status helps explain why interest rates tend to be significantly better, and fees fewer and smaller, at credit unions than at banks. Any profits credit unions do make are distributed as dividends to their members. Contrast that with banks, which continually invent new fees and policies to boost profits (and to pay those stunning executive salaries).
  • Banks hate -- hate -- credit unions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law in 1934 to "promote thrift and thwart usury," and banks have been gunning for them pretty much ever since.

Because of their not-for-profit, cooperative structures, credit unions are exempted from most state and federal taxes. Banks have convinced themselves this is an unfair advantage and have spent a lot of effort, plus a fortune in lobbying fees, trying to legislate credit unions out of existence, or at least limit who can join. (I guess they thought the money was better spent there than on, say, improving their interest rates, reducing their fees or slashing their telephone hold times.)

Are you eligible? Almost certainly

Fortunately for you, banks have failed pretty miserably in their efforts to contain the competition. That's why the Credit Union National Association, the CUs' trade group, can brag that virtually everyone in the U.S. can belong to a credit union, thanks to where they live, where they work or the associations to which they belong.
Average interest rates at credit unions vs. banks
Consumer loansCredit unionsBanks

Credit card



48-month new car



48-month used car



36-month unsecured



Mortgage loans




Five-year ARM



30-year fixed




Regular savings



Interest checking



Money market



One-Year CD



Source: Datatrac, December 2008

The nation's credit unions count 90 million members, and their trade association estimates members save $8 billion a year thanks to better interest rates and reduced fees. Credit-union-issued credit cards, for example, tend not to have annual fees or to charge punitive interest rates for a single late payment. Most credit unions offer free checking accounts, and penalties for overdrawing those accounts tend to be lower: a $20 or $25 fee is typical, compared with up to $39 a pop charged by banks.

Also, (from Consumer Savy Tips) "Because credit unions tend to be smaller and cater to a select group of people, there is more personalization between the staff and the members."

Larger banks (not naming names but you can guess) will invest more regularly in some environmentally harmful practices, like coal-mining, because their number 1 mission is to make money for shareholders, plain and simple.

Are you convinced? Who's taking their money out of a big-bank tomorrow and putting it in a local credit-union? Comments encouraged!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Grafting Persimmons at Tripple Brook Farm

G'evening -

Today was great. I woke up rather early and departed for Southampton to go work for Steve Breyer at Tripple Brook Farm. I arrived at 10am and the day began by walking outside with Steve to his persimmon trees. We cut some branches from an on-site persimmon tree (variety 'yates') and brought the cuttings inside to the greenhouse, which is attached to his house. A description of the Yates persimmon:

"Introduced by Edward Yates of Cincinnati, OH, the original tree was discovered in a pasture in southern Indiana. Bears large, yellow, sweet fruit with fine flavor. Hardy, prolific and very early ripening, the fruit ripens here during October. Very unusual for an American persimmon, the mature but still green and firm fruit will ripen well off the tree; this suggests commercial marketing possibilities. Also, in areas where the growing season is too short to allow ripening the fruit on the tree, the mature fruit can be picked before freezing damages it and it can then be ripened indoors. It is said that this cultivar will bear seedless fruit if grown without a pollinator, so growing it without a pollinator may be advantageous."

Steve brought out some American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) sapplings that he purchased from a plant nursery in Montana and then we began bench-grafting.

The American persimmon sapplings, packaged in a trash bag with wet newspaper for moisture and humidity control.

Healthy looking roots.

First, the area was sterilyzed with some rubbing alcohol. This is done to decrease the chances of pathogens affecting the newly grafted trees. We sterilyzed our hands, the razors, sissors and desk we were working on. We then sharpened the razors so that we could make the cleanest possible slices (increasing the likelihood of a successful graft.)

Here are some pictures of our work:

Looking proud after hours of grafting. I learned from a very knowledgable and experienced grafter - more than 7 hours was spent doing whip-grafting today, which is different from splicing.

Images taken from:

More persimmon grafting, but of a different variety, "szoukis."

I left Tripple Brook around 6:15pm with some witchhazel branches (soon will be flowering red in my kitchen) and a bunch of black walnuts that Steve harvested in the fall and gave to me. I also made about $15/hour in plant credit. Tripple Brook has a great system where anyone can go and work there in exchange for plants. Labor is so appreciated in the nursery business, says Steve, that he is thrilled when anyone takes him up on that offer. Myself, being in the position I am with 5000 square feet of unplanted garden (a bit overwhelming at times!)... I need all the plant credit I can! Therefore, I'll continue to work at Tripple Brook Farm for the next few months - at least one day per week - accumulating credit and eventually bringing home a car-full of plants for the 3 Willow Lane permaculture edible forest garden.

Isn't it great when everyone benefits? Humans are definitely social beings that work much better together, in community, than separate from one another.

It's great being surrounded by plants in the coldness of winter.

Especially when there's fig trees...

...and some hardy banana trees as well!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

UMass Permaculture at Sirius Community - A Huge Success

Hey y'all,

Just a quick entry to say how yesterday's field trip to Sirius Community went. It's hard to put into words... let's just say that this UMass permaculture class is full of amazing people. Nobody would have guessed that about 75% of the class had never been to Sirius before. It felt so natural being there - everyone seemed so comfortable and the energy was just plain awesome.

We arrived about 30 minutes later than planned - it is extremely difficult getting 9 or 10 cars from one place to another! Leaving someone behind I could not let happen... but eventually we made it.

We circled up in the Octagon, did a breath, a brief check-in / announcements, then went on a mind-journey through the woods to a permaculture garden. Our discussion was getting pretty heavy by the end (global problems that permaculture seeks to solve.)

After class, half the students went on a tour of Sirius while the other half began dinner preparations. We had a FEAST of a meal at 6:00 - about 45 of us total - we could have easily fed 15 more with all the food we had!

After dinner the music playing began... and it didn't stop for hours. It was amazing seeing people become so close in such a short time-span. I couldn't believe this was only our second meeting as a class. People were singing, playing music and being their true selves, which is sometimes a rare thing in our society. All in all, an absolutely amazing time at Sirius Community. When you bring great people together in a great setting (the Sirius Community Center has amazing energy) magic happens. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people and having the life that I do. I'm able to do so much and yet many others around the world are so limited in their options.

Check out the movie Poto Mitan about the women in Haiti if you can.

Thanks for being yourselves, everyone.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Vermicompost at 3 Willow Lane

Picture of the day - from S.P. Sullivan's blog: