Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bamboo as Food

One of the goals here at the ETC is to teach people how to grow their own food. We do that in a number of ways, incorporating both gardening and wildcrafting. Oftentimes, as in the case of our numerous bamboo stands, the line between the two techniques blurs a bit.

As the weather in central Tennessee gets warmer and wetter, our bamboo is doing its best to spread itself out into any path, lawn and garden area it happens to border. Bamboo rarely flowers and seeds. Instead, its root (called a rhizome) sends up new shoots that will eventually grow into the tall, sturdy, wood-like grass that we use around here for our natural building projects. These little dark points may seem like a nuisance to those who don't know their secret: they're food! Ever wonder what the little white, crunchy rectangles in Chinese takeout are? Yup, that's bamboo.

Two days ago, a baking dish full shoots appeared in the kitchen, courtesy of Cliff and the apprentices. They harvested the baby bamboos from the yard in an attempt to control the growth, and we ended up with wild-ish, organic, as local as you can get food. Woot! So far, we've added them to chilli and soup, both of which were inspired by recipes from The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook. We simply peeled off the tough, dark outer leaves and fried the chopped hearts in olive oil with onions and garlic. Cliff, who is homesteading with his wife and two children, recommends boiling them with pickling spices for a yummy treat. Then, the juice can be used in soups to give them a little kick. Ellie, an intern over at Adam Turtle's nearby bamboo nursery, eats the inside of the young shoots raw! Be aware, though, that some sources say that uncooked bamboo shoots can be toxic and should be parboiled before use.

For a run-down on the nutritional value of this easy-to-grow, easy-to-cook, easy-to-enjoy semi-wild food, check out this article on

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our New Herb Spiral

Our old kitchen garden herb spiral was looking a little ragged, so Cliff and the apprentices (along with the help of our first EcoSoaker, Joel) gave it a face lift.

An herb spiral is a beautiful way to create a diverse herb garden in a small space. It is basically a mound of soil, with a spiral of rocks winding its way up to the top. Plants that like different amounts of sun and soil moisture can live together comfortably on an herb spiral. Ones, such as basil, that handle a fair amount of sun can hang out on the south and west side, while plants that thrive in cooler shade can survive on the north side and east. We planted some micro greens and perennial kale on our north side. Have a plant that likes dryer soil? It goes right on top. We even added a water feature at the bottom of the spiral that's giving a home to some cattails. It was a lovely way to spend Earth Day.

When I say "we" I really mean Cliff, Garrison, Nilsa and Joel. What did I do? Well, a little rock arranging, and a lot of picture taking. Here's the short how-to video I made of the pics I took.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ETC Voices Podcast

Hi there. I'm KMO, host and producer of the C-Realm Podcast. I'm currently living at the ETC and trying to find a useful role to play here. I've been keeping a blog called KMO's ETC Journal to document my experiences here at the ETC and describe how those experiences are interfacing with my usual flotilla of concerns that I address each week on the C-Realm Podcast. To supplement the written material in the blog I have recently created an ETC photogroup on Flicker and a new podcast called ETC Voices. Eventually, that podcast will have its own rss feed and homepage and be available through iTunes, but for the moment you can only find it on my blog or on the Internet Archive.

The Feedback Loop in Community Communicaiton

Communication is at the heart of a healthy community. Feeling safe to express both appreciation and concern to your cos* is important for a vibrant and fluid, yet stable, group relationship.

Without a clear chain of command or a traditionally structured student/teacher model here at the ETC, it can be a little confusing for the new apprentices to know who to talk to about their reflections on the program. Last week Cliff sat down with the apprentices, KMO and me to talk about how the evolution of the apprenticeship program reflects a natural system, such as a forest or prairie.

Instead of the main stream approach to teaching, where the instructor draws up a detailed syllabus with specific plans for each week, the Permaculture Immersion Apprenticeship Program mimics the regrowth pattern that happens in the space left by a downed tree in the forest. While there are planned projects for the season, and an overarching view of what needs to be accomplished by the end of an apprenticeship, the first week or so of the program may seem a bit chaotic. Just like the myriad of small plants and saplings that spring up in the new sunshine left by a hole in the forest canopy, the first few days of the program is about trying new ideas and getting a feel for what works and what doesn't.

Each group of apprentices comes in with its own expectations and desires to learn about one subject or another. We love that, and work with them to establish a schedule that accommodates both their passions and the ETC's need to accomplish the planned projects. And just like the seemingly patternless growth of random plants in the space around the downed tree, the chaos eventually falls into a pattern. Healthy, strong, fast growing saplings eventually shade out the weaker, smaller ones. As coordinators communicate the overreaching vision for the program and start offering suggestions as to what could happen first, the apprentices are encouraged to give feedback. The feedback is considered, and new suggestions may be made.

Once a schedule is agreed upon, then it's up to both the apprentices and the coordinators to keep communicating during the apprenticeship to make sure that everyone is included to their desired level and that the project gets completed within the agreed upon time frame. Some of our feedback tools include a "check-in" where coordinators and apprentices get a chance to talk about what's going well and what's challenging, an "intention blackboard" where apprentices and coordinators can write in their ideas about projects for the near future, and a co-counseling technique called "think and listen" where apprentices have a chance to process what they learned during the previous week.

These tools, along with informal chit-chat around meals or work, give space for a healthy community to flourish. Hopefully, the community that develops will prove to be as beautiful, rich, resilient and diverse as the forest that surrounds us here at the ETC.

*Co, which stands for community member, is a non gender specific pronoun commonly used in intentional communities which support gender identification freedom of choice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chicken Tractor 2010

To welcome our new chickens, the apprentices and Cliff built them a spiffy chicken tractor. This way we can let them forage in a controlled manner, helping us to weed, de-bug, and fertilize the garden without tearing up what we've planted.

I hung around and took a bunch of pictures while they were building. Here's some of the best, in a simple how-to slide show. Hope you enjoy it!


Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Arrival of Bobby McGee and the Four Hens

On Thursday afternoon, Cliff, KMO, Garrison, Nilsa and Rich courageously rescued five chickens from a four foot square cage, living with two turkens (a cross between a turkey and a chicken) on the side of the road for the past month. When the four hens and one rooster arrived at their new home at the Ecovillage Training Center they were happy to see their new home was ten-fold the size of their last dwelling. The chickens almost immediately began pecking in their yard, finding an abundance of worms and other bugs to eat. By sunset, all four hens were perched inside their mostly natural-built chicken coop. The lone rooster took some convincing to go in for the night and was, subsequently, nicknamed Bobby McGee. Unbeknownst to Rich, who named Bobby McGee, the musically inclined name fit well with the history of ETC chickens.

Friday, the first full day the chickens spent at the ETC, 1 egg was yield, in the late morning. Meanwhile, Cliff, Garrison, Nilsa and Rich started building a bamboo chicken tractor to use in the nearby permaculture garden. Primarily made of bamboo, the chicken tractor is both functional and aesthetically pleasing, thanks to the mix of yellow and black bamboo. By sunset, all the hens and the rooster found their way into the chicken coop by the time they needed to go in for the night. No human prodding was necessary for Bobby McGee (or the others).

Saturday morning, 1 egg with a substantial hole in it (and empty of its' contents) was found on the floor of the chicken coop at ten after seven in the morning. About an hour and a half later, Nilsa discovered four hens outside the chickens' fenced in yard. With the help of some feed, Nilsa and Rich were able to coax the hens back into their yard. However, the chickens escaped again later that day. This time, the door to their yard was left open and the chickens eventually returned on their own. Shortly after sunset, all the chickens appeared to be nested in the chicken coop, although it was tough to tell in the dark.

Sunday morning, it was realized that Bobby McGee, the lone rooster, was missing. Remnants of rooster feathers appeared about 80 yard southwest of the chicken coop and it was generally decided that a fox ate Bobby McGee. So, three days after the arrival of Bobby McGee and the four hens, there remain only four hens, with no rooster. Then again, four eggs were laid today.


Cooking Cooperatively

Currently, there are five residents at the Ecovillage Training Center, and one kitchen. To save time, money and food we've banded together to create a cooking cooperative. There are many different types of co-ops, from strictly buying cooperatives to ones that share the buying, cooking, and cleaning duties every day. The kind that we have here is the latter. This model is most frequently seen in cohousing or intentional communities where people are interested in both cooking and dining together on a regular basis.

During a couple of short stays at Dancing Rabbit, an ecovillage in Missouri, I ate my meals through their open co-op, Sunflower. As an apprentice here at the ETC last year, I participated in the kitchen set-up run by the Hodge Podge Cooperative, the group of about seven people that collectively ran the educational opportunities. I loved the sense of community that manifested itself around the kitchens of both places, so I knew that I wanted to take what I had learned from both of them and apply it here.

As a co-op, we pool our money to buy groceries. Dry goods are purchased from either the local Amish bulk food store or a bulk foods catalog. Our fresh produce and dairy comes from either The Farm Store, a nearby locally owned market called Duncan & Son's, or straight out of the garden. We also share all cooking and cleaning duties. The simplest solution here was just to post a sign-up sheet on the refrigerator, so that people can choose what shifts they would like to cover during the week.

Not only are we saving resources by cooking together, we're learning so much from each other and having fun in the process. Five different people with five different sets of skills in the kitchen makes for a wonderful variety of dishes. Take last night for example. We hosted out first Second Saturday Potluck here and our contribution was made by an apprentice, Rich. He made a big ol' batch of vegetarian bean chilli with sweet potatoes in it! The smokey spice of the chilli really brought out the caramel sweetness of the potatoes. Yum!

We're also enjoying inviting other people to participate in the cooperative on a more temporary basis. The ETC plays host to a continual stream of travelers interested in sustainability and green living. I never know what I'm going to hear when I ask the question, "So, what brings you to The Farm?" People open up and feel free to share their stories over the welcoming, family-like atmosphere of a table filled with good food and good company. And that, as a well known pop-culture food guru would say, is a good thing.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

We Welcome Our First Group of Apprentices

Our Permaculture Immersion Apprenticeship program is now in full swing. These two month apprenticeships combine organic gardening, natural building and community living in order to give the apprentices a taste of what it is like to live and work in an ecovillage setting.

Our goal in creating this program is to promote systemic social changes towards sustainable human habitats and to encourage loving personal growth, free artistic expression, caring relationships, deep environmental awareness, and celebration of cultural and individual differences. We hope to inspire people to work for something bigger than themselves.

Here's Cliff, our apprenticeship coordinator.

Our first group of apprentices will be staying with us through the end of May.

Nilsa: I'm from Cape Coral, FL and volunteer at ECHO in North Fort Myers,FL. It's an awesome organization. I'm here to learn all I can regarding permaculture and natural building to utilize these skills in a third wold application, sustainability. I also am involved with local area community gardening. In a nutshell, I would love to learn these skills well enough to teach them to others in the near future, God willing.

Rich: Thirty year old explorer of life, Rich, is looking forward to getting some chickens laying eggs at the Ecovillage Training Center. This, of course, will require a chicken tractor (or two) being built, but Cliff and the ETC apprentices seem gung ho about the idea. The project will be a great learning experience for Rich to take back to Twin Oaks, when he returns there for membership in June.
Rich was also excited to find a potential solar cooker today in the dome near the ETC, but more investigation is necessary. A little over 24 hours into his apprenticeship, the northern Virginia native is excited about the swimming hole, the abundance of items at the The Farm Store, the potential for a soccer game on the big field and whatever else The Farm may bring.
Although this is the 7th community Rich visited in the past two months, traveling Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, there lay many possibilities in what should be the longest visit this year, at The Farm.

Garrison: Garrison F. Creamer originates from Panama City, FL and serves as the director and founder of the Gulf Coastal Free Currency Coalition and BeachForest Harmony, an investment bank which seeks to redistribute capital to sustainable communal development through private and voluntary currencies. Co* has experienced firsthand the effects of the housing boom caused by artificially injected capital into circulation and witnessed the destruction of co's natural environment at a time when the Florida panhandle was the most viable and desired real estate investment. After completing this internship co plans to devote the rest of co's life to the practices of permaculture and Austrian economics. Co is also an avid surfer who loves to travel and find new waves!


*Co, which stands for community member, is a non gender specific pronoun commonly used in intentional communities which support gender identification freedom of choice.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Big Plans at the Ecovillage Training Center for 2010

Hi, I’m Merry, the new innkeeper of the ecohostel at the ETC. I lived here on The Farm for four months last summer, both apprenticing and working. I was tickled pink to accept the position of innkeeper for this summer, and am looking forward to an amazing season!

We’ve got a lot of exciting things planned this year at the Ecovillage Training Center. Cliff is heading up our Permaculture Immersion Apprenticeship, with plans for organic gardening and natural building. I’ll be helping him to integrate the garden and the kitchen by working with the apprentices on things like food preparation and preservation. He’s already started micro greens and radishes in the green house, and the garlic is really doing its thing in the garden. I’m having visions of marinated chard, roasted garlic, and radish butter spread on fresh bread. Yum!

Jason and Alayne are back again this year, as site manager and inn manager. They are in the process of building a home here on The Farm, and are using natural building techniques such as cordwood and light clay straw. They both look forward to welcoming the apprentices and have plans for fun work days out at their place. Later this season Jason, along with other builders on The Farm, will be giving the inn a big face lift. The renovation will give us new sleeping quarters, new inside and outside common areas, and a brand new kitchen.

We also welcome a new face to the ETC this year. KMO, who produces a weekly podcast called the c-realm, is joining the crew. He’ll be managing the bookstore, and setting up an online presence for it. Pretty soon you’ll be able to order titles like Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities by Diana Leafe Christian, or The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook by Albert Bates, either directly from us or through our Amazon store. There’s even talk of possibly setting up an shop for Farm residents to sell their crafts through.

Speaking of Albert, he’s been traveling and staying in other ecohostels lately, and has some great ideas for creating a relaxed, fun, inviting atmosphere here at the inn. I can’t wait to chat with him on his vision for the hostel. (I’ve heard mumblings about planned canoe trips.)

And if those aren’t enough plans for the summer, I’ll also be hosting a regular vegetarian potluck at the hostel. If you’re in the area on the second Saturday of the month, drop by with some food. (Eggs and dairy are ok, but no meat or broth based dishes, please.) Things will get rolling about 6:30pm. Hope to see you soon!