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"D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead" By: Bethann Weick, Published: Small Farmers Journal; Spring 2009:Vol. 33 #2

D Acres: An Introduction
Near the crest of Streeter Woods Road, sits D Acres Organic Farm & Educational Homestead. Begun in 1997, these 180 acres in Dorchester, N.H. now showcase a successful permaculture experiment. D Acres - Development Aimed at Creating Rural Ecological Society – is a non-profit service organization that operates as a small-scale farm, homestead, and education center. A fluctuating number of staff, residents, interns, and apprentices live at the farm, working together to improve the human relationship to the environment. Our goals are to develop a farm system sustainable and suitable to this climate which acts as a demonstration and experimental model; to increase consciousness about human impact on the environment by limiting our consumption of fossil fuels and other resources; to interact with and contribute to the community at large by providing goods, services and educational opportunities; to serve as a training center for the skills related to organic farming, forestry, eco-friendly construction and cottage crafts; to develop economic viability through cottage style industry; and to build the skills of a consensus decision-making process.

The Framework for a Vision
A plethora of activities occur here at D Acres. Our various gardens (annual, perennial, forest-garden, herbal, medicinal, and ornamental) represent a significant portion of our work. We follow the principles of permaculture, visible in the layout and diversity of our gardens, the presence of animals, our organic philosophy, and our no-till practices. Believing in the holism of a healthy and balanced ecologic system, we strive to work with nature. This translates to cultivating soil fertility and stability by practicing no-till agriculture; encouraging perennial edible landscapes through forest gardens and perennial crops; using vigilance and complementary plantings to ward off insects and pests rather than spraying; using pigs, oxen, and chickens to assist in the transformation from woodland to pasture to garden bed; and fertilizing with compost mulch from on-site food waste, animal waste, and woodchips from selective timbering.

Gardening is not the only endeavor here at the farm, however. Our goal is sustainability on a number of fronts – a way of life, not just our work. Thus we are engaged in a continual process of living simply, locally, and from our own ingenuity and self-sufficiency. Examples include a simple but extensive water catchment system, a solar shower, a solar dehydrator, a solar cooker, a cob oven, a cob multi-function greenhouse/chicken house/pig house, clivus composting toilets, outdoor composting privies, a trail system built with the aid of oxen, a bicycle-powered veggie oil pump, maple sugaring, pig slaughtering, mobile chicken tractors, and bee-keeping. The list goes on.

Furthermore, as a service organization aimed at educating the public and propagating a message of sustainability, we put on a number of community food events, public workshops, demonstrations, and educational programs directed at local schools. For example: workshops such as wooden spoon carving, root cellaring, fermentation and preservation of food, season extension, herbal remedies, bird identification, tree identification, treehouse construction, and veggie oil conversion; more extensive classes such as composting and tree grafting with Mark Fulford, and mushroom cultivation with Dave Wichland; regular programs such as yoga classes and reiki sessions; Kid's Week, a youth education summer program; and community food events such as pizza night (first Friday of each month, followed by a film), farm feast breakfast (first Sunday of each month), soup night (third Saturday of each month), full moon potlucks, and open mic nights (final Friday of each month).

We also run an on-site hostel, offering both indoor accommodations and outdoor camping, plus optional meals. While this is a significant source of income for the farm, it is also a means of carrying forward our educational mission and creating a larger community.

Community bonds are an integral piece of sustainable living, as it is these reciprocal bonds of friendship, neighborly assistance, knowledge, and economy that enlivens our endeavors and enables our region to assist itself. In the past year our farm logged 3391 visitors, plus an additional 847 hostel guests. While the strength of our immediate community resides within the Pemi-Baker River Valley, we have ties and connections up and down the East Coast.

The community of staff, residents, interns, and apprentices that live and work at D Acres changes from year to year. Interns and apprentices are accepted via an application process, generally spending only a few months at the farm. Residents are interns who elect to dedicate themselves to D Acres for a longer portion of time and are able to pursue independent projects within the communal framework of the farm. Staff are skilled individuals who receive a stipend in exchange for their work. This spectrum of knowledge and experience is brought together and shared through an ongoing process of education and experiential learning. Short-term plans are laid out during consensus-based meetings that occur each week. These include: garden meeting (nine months of the year), staff meeting, and community meeting. Long-term planning occurs each winter via additional meetings regarding projects, goals, vision, and mission. Responsibility for facilitating and for writing meeting minutes is rotated amongst group members. Through this format, work is shared and accountability ensured. Each individual is also expected to share responsibility for communal dinners and completing community chores.

As to our larger community of members, friends, guests, workshop attendees, etc., communication is maintained via a monthly newsletter e-mail, twice-yearly fundraising requests, and an Annual Report mailing, not to mention updates on the D Acres website (www.dacres.org). Furthermore, D Acres announces a guiding theme each year as a means of focusing our educational efforts.

For the year 2009 our theme is Traditional Arts and Ecology. We are envisioning a cultural vitalization of sustainable art by providing the public an opportunity to develop art-related skills that are functional and local resource based. Our society's contemporary conception of art is increasingly separated from the land, and increasingly homogenous across various regions. We hope to counter this by highlighting local art and functional art, encouraging an awareness of the tie between land use and creativity. For example, wooden spoons carved by D Acres residents from butternut, apple, cherry, and birch are the artistic facet to sustainable forestry done with our team of oxen; blacksmith products such as hooks, handles, pokers, and rings made from recycled and scrap metals showcase the artistry within a very practical skill. Art, too, is a piece of the sustainability puzzle – art as local, distinctive, and functional.

Thus, throughout the year we are approaching local, sustainable living from a variety of perspectives. Our work with the land, with the animals, with the resources around us, with each other, and with the public is all pursued with the goal of reflecting an interrelated and sustainable lifestyle.

Organic Gardening
Gardening at D Acres is an ode to organic processes, no-till practices, and the principles of permaculture. Despite a New England climate that has depleted soils, cool summers, and long winters, we are able to eat garden food year-round, and garden-fresh food almost nine months of the year. The seasons dictate what we eat, and how we eat it. We engage in minimal in-season processing, and focus on suitable storage crops for the winter months. We have approximately three acres under edible cultivation and are continually increasing our food independence, grains and legumes being our most significant hurdle. Not only is much of our diet farm-raised (this includes eggs from our chickens and pork from our pigs), our harvest feeds the hostel guests, workshop attendees, and educational programming participants who pass through the farm each year.

A seasonal play-by-play would proceed as follows: Although snow begins appearing in October, and is still around in May, it is mid-December through March that is the quietest time around D Acres. Jerusalem artichokes and carrots over-winter in the ground, as well as (this year) some forgotten turnips and radishes, and perhaps an overlooked potato or two. Through these months, the root cellar is our best reminder of what once was before the snow descended. In March, we'll begin indoor seeding of a host of greens, tomatoes, peppers, brassicas, melons, and squashes. By spring the sun is shining more than eight hours a day and we begin to utilize cold frames and greenhouses. These allow us to grow a surfeit of greens, enough for ourselves and for spring farmer's markets. By beginning plants such as tomatoes and peppers indoors, then transferring them to the warmth of a greenhouse, we are able to provide sufficient warmth, sun, and a full-length growing season for plants that would otherwise struggle this far north. Other plants, for example, brassicas (i.e. broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, brussel sprouts), are begun inside then transplanted to outdoor beds. With snow coverage well into spring, direct seeding isn't an option until May, sometimes June. But as soon as the sun melts winter's remains, carrots, beets, peas, potatoes, and greens are tucked into the soil. From that point it is a rush to lushness, with a host of vegetables and fruits spilling out of the earth over the course of the summer: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, cucumbers, radishes, zucchini, green beans, garlic, milkweed, squashes, pumpkins, peaches, apples, and kiwis to name a mere fraction. As temperatures cool, greenhouses and cold frames are utilized again, extending the growing season for a few additional weeks. Autumn comes and a similar flurry ensues as the process of harvesting, storing, and preserving begins. We have a root cellar in the basement of our community building; it quickly becomes choc full, the fruits of our labor. What can't be stored in bins or buckets of sand, is canned, pickled, or fermented as applicable – our shelves are an ode to the rainbow-spectrum of a garden's colors. By the time winter once again arrives, we are – with hard work and some good fortune – ready to wait out the snow and the cold.

Though our annual beds receive the most attention and demand the most work, the perennial gardens are, perhaps, the more significant story. Edible trees and shrubs are planted throughout our gardens, and indeed throughout the property, the goal being increased annual production as these species mature. Mushrooms and herbaceous edibles are additional long-term ventures. With an eye to future generations, we make an annual investment in planting small fruit and nut trees that will not produce maximum yields for many years.

The intention is to build a garden system that perpetuates instead of an annual system that requires massive inputs of energy each year. Between starting seeds under fluorescent lights in March, working the soil at ground level in New Hampshire bug season, and painstakingly collecting seeds over the fall and winter months, there is significant labor and energy involved with annuals. Perennials are cultivated with maintenance, whereas annuals must be started anew each year. Permanency and self-sufficiency are encouraged, allowing food independence to become a reflection of the landscape.

Sustainable Forestry
D Acres requires roughly twenty cords of wood each year. The bulk of this is for firewood to heat the main community building (including water), plus additional living space in the barn, studio, and certain treehouses. Wood is also used for maple sugaring, outdoor cooking (cob oven), construction, artisan woodworking, mulch for garden pathways and new beds, bedding for the oxen, pigs, and chickens, and humanure composting. As the latter three uses demonstrate, woodchips are an integral component in the process of building soil in our gardens. As such, our land uses are interrelated and co-dependent.

Wood is a mix of hard and soft wood, felled with a chainsaw and pulled out of the woods by our team of oxen. Large logs are brought to a local forester and milled for lumber while limbs and tops are chipped on-site for mulch and bedding. The rest is stacked and cut with a chainsaw, then split with an axe and stored in one of a number of woodsheds.

Trees are harvested where a change in land use is decided upon. Be it space for the construction of a new structure, or the conversion of woodland to pasture to garden/forest garden, wood is cut selectively and judiciously. Though wood is a renewable resource and one we have in abundance, we are careful to use it with a long-term vision in mind.

Cottage Industry
Integrated into D Acres' ideals of sustainability is the goal of creating economic alternatives and viable local trade at the community level. Skills based in local resources and therefore reflective of a regional style are encouraged at the farm. We see cottage industries such as woodworking, blacksmithing, fiber arts, printmaking, and bread baking – all of which are being done by current staff and residents – as an important means of recreating a local economy in our area. As our theme for 2009 highlights, Traditional Arts & Ecology, there are strong ties between artistic cottage industries, distinctive regional art, and rural ecologic living. Creativity and sustainability are mutually beneficial and reflect a balanced connection to the local environment. While cottage industries contribute, relatively, a small source of income, they are a large source of identity and regional distinctiveness.

Living a Philosophy
In living on a small scale we are choosing to work the land with a minimum of mechanization. A common theme across the diversity of projects underway at D Acres is that of shrinking the human impact on our environment. We are striving to live as simply as possible, decreasing the degrees of separation between ourselves, our needs, and the satisfying of those needs. This is in an effort to reduce our fossil fuel footprint, as well as curtail our physical disturbance of the land. Chainsaws are present on the farm, as are extension cords and generators; but when it comes to coaxing food from the soil, garden forks and hand claws are the extent of our mechanization. We use neither tractors nor rototillers; even our oxen team stay out of the gardens as they are used for forestry work and not for plowing. With an ear towards peak oil, resource wars, and carbon footprints, energy independence goes hand-in-hand with food independence. Sustainability, in this sense, means being able to produce our own food with our own energy. Working the land by hand is also for the best health of the soil. The greater the soil disturbance, the more likely it is that nutrients will be lost and that the water retention ability of the soil will decrease. Additionally, farming by hand ensures that each garden plot is grown at an appropriate scale – acres of monoculture planted in long rows is not feasible in our model. Rather, our gardens are a series of mulched beds, shaped by the terrain. We avoid rows, as nature rarely reproduces so geometrically. Soil compaction is precluded by the use of stepping stones. Compost piles, turned weekly and applied as needed, ensure that the fertility of the soil is maintained. We use trellises to grow vertically and to provide shade, windbreaks, and control evaporation where desired. There is inter-planting [EAT1]of species where they are compatible, and dynamic accumulators like comfrey and dandelion are encouraged, using their long taproots to bring nutrients to the surface where other plants can use them. Overall diversity is significant. Each garden bed is asked, if you will, to be its own micro-ecosystem: diverse, hardy, resilient.

We are attempting to revitalize the local economy and community identity of our region, but pursuing this in the globalized twenty-first century requires more than fair weather tenacity. In the words of Wendell Berry, "without prosperous local economies, the people have no power, and the land no voice." As communities, regions, and indeed nations become increasingly homogenous under the influence of an international economy, the ability of a local community to be both distinct and self-sufficient is erased.

To this end, we are working to connect area farmers and consumers through a Local Food Guide ('07, '08), a Local Food & Craft Guide ('09), and Local Foods Plymouth (an online farmers market begun in 2006, http://lfp.dacres.org/). We are also encouraging local artists through the creation of Artistic Roots (http://artisticroots.com/) and our participation in the Cardigan Mountain Art Association (http://www.cardiganart.org/).

Farming at D Acres is, then, not simply an affirmation of supporting oneself from the land, an idyllic green thumb image, but a political statement against the throes of a corporate globalism that negates local independence. Yet living locally, acting in the name of a regional culture and community, is an effort of David-and-Goliath proportions. Neither governmental systems, nor market modus operandi, nor public habit are directed in favor of the David figure.

Sharing Success
We've been largely successful at D Acres, but that is not to say we are unique. Our farm, like our community, is small-scale, neither mechanized nor industrial. What we accomplish here is easily reproducible at the scale of a home garden. D Acres stands out, perhaps, because we are doing it, learning and improving our skills, techniques, and self-reliance. But our success is intended to be shared. Sustainability, gardening, and food independence begin along your windowsill, or inside pots on your back porch, or within a corner of your yard. Seed some plants indoors, start a compost pile, build a cold frame. Consider your garden one aspect of a holistic ecologic cycle; work with nature, not against it.


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