By Julia Loman, Phase I Fellow
For a full week in August, we came down from the mountain and hit the road, participating in workshops, and experiencing life away from the small county of Highland. It was great to get some perspective on what we’re doing and to meet lots of new and inspiring people!
Our first stop was Polyface Farm. This was incredibly exciting, as many of us had heard and read about Polyface and Joel Salatin even before we began the Fellowship. The tour group was huge, but there was room for all of us to pile onto two giant, tractor-pulled trailers covered in hay bales. Joel led the tour, and under his guidance, we saw his systems for broiler chickens, laying hens, pigs, and cattle. It was especially interesting to hear about his strategy for dealing with winter manure from his cows: throughout the season, they add hay and corn to the manure, which the cows trample down. In the spring, they bring in their “pig-aerators” to dig through the manure for the corn and, in the process, aerate it in preparation to spread it on their fields.
On Tuesday, we spent the day in a workshop with the Fellows from Tricycle, an urban gardening non-profit in Richmond that, similar to AMI, teaches young people farming practices, empowering them to farm themselves or work in areas of food justice. Our workshop leader, Alicia Nance, came from New Orleans where she works with youth to make sure their voices are heard amid issues of racism and inequality. She worked with us to create a space to discuss the systemic processes that create inequality, and how to approach them as we work with food systems. It was very inspiring to explore these issues from a place of openness and curiosity, and it left us all with a lot to think about.
In the afternoon, we explored Tricycle's garden sites around the city.
Each of their gardens was equipped with an impressive water catchment system that allows the crops to be irrigated without pumping water. On the mountain, we get a lot of rain and have access to a spring that provides the rest of the water we need, so it was useful to see how people manage the issue of water when it isn’t so abundant.
On Tuesday evening, we shared a meal with the fellows at Tricycle at their main production garden. It was great to connect with another group of young people who are interested in growing vegetables and shifting the dynamics of our food system-- all around a beautiful potluck! As we toured the garden, it was interesting to notice the similarities and differences between our farm and methods, and theirs.
We spent the day on Wednesday helping Tricycle and working alongside their Fellows as part of their normal workday. It also happened to be the big harvest day for the week, so we helped harvest and pack vegetables and make flower bouquets. We also did some planting, weeding, mowing, and laying landscape fabric - it was a busy morning and we accomplished a lot as a group!
In the afternoon, we made our way to Shirefolk Farm in Palmyra, where we camped for the evening in anticipation of our workshop the next day.
Logan and Emilie Tweardy of Shirefolk Farm gave us a tour of their farm in the morning. They currently focus mostly on livestock farming, including layer hens, broiler chickens, turkeys and sheep. They’ve been farming on their land for about three years, using sustainable rotational grazing practices similar to those at Polyface.
As a relatively new farm, it was interesting to talk with them about some of the challenges they’ve been facing as they figure out what works for them. It was also interesting to see how their methods differed from Polyface, such as using Freedom Rangers for their broiler chickens rather than Cornish Cross, and giving their birds more room to roam around.
They also use a shipping container as a coop for their turkeys to keep out predators, which was a new system for most of us.
In the afternoon, we discussed principles of Permaculture and how they relate to the work we do. We spent a good deal of time making connections between Permaculture and human systems, which is a different approach than the usual plant-centered view. Principles like “use and value diversity,” “apply self-regulation and accept feedback,” and “use small and slow solutions,” are important in land management, but are also very applicable to working with people and communities.
Emilie then shared their farm's future silvopasture system plans - a way of farming that combines grazing animals and productive forested land in a rotational system that serves both the plants, the animals, and the people of Shirefolk (which includes Emilie, Logan, their son Emmett, and occasionally a WWOOFer)! This was a part in the process of farm management that we hadn’t yet been exposed to during the Fellowship: making a plan and working through the grants and logistical steps that make it possible to fulfill it.
Afterward, we did a design experiment of our own, focusing on a small area of land near their home, a spot where Emily and Logan are planning to build a rain garden. In groups, we brainstormed ways to design the land, working with the plants and infrastructure already there, and adding or subtracting to create a cohesive design. We did several very quick sketches and then presented them to each other. This practical experience of coming up with ideas the way we might on our own land or working with clients was especially valuable.
On Friday, we visited Project Grows, one of our partner nonprofits that is an option as a Phase II placement. We toured their gardens, learned more about the job opportunities there, and helped them weed. As an educational garden especially geared towards young children, they focus a lot on the sensory experience that comes with gardening. While they do have a CSA and sell at the farmer’s market - and need to grow produce that is marketable in those avenues - they are also able to grow lots of vegetables and flowers that are particularly interesting for their colors, textures, tastes, and smells.
We finished off our week joining the Project Grows staff for a picnic lunch. Afterwards, we went our separate ways, to join family or head back home for the weekend. It was a great week of learning, meeting new people, and visiting farms!