Thursday, February 25, 2010

compost tea recipe

This recipes will brew a 50 gallon batch of compost tea. After being brewed, the resulting tea should be diluted either 3:1 for weak tea or 2:1 for strong tea. Remember to use non-chlorinated water for the dilution.

Of course you can reduce this recipe proportionally if you want to brew smaller batches. While brewing compost tea is nothing new, Brad Hinckley helped with the timing and suggested the addition of Humic Acid.

Compost Tea


50 gallon drum
Aquarium Air Pump and Air Stone
Mesh Bag


50 gallons of non-chlorinated water
12 oz compost
4 oz. corn gluten or corn starch
8 oz molasses
1 oz. humic acid


1. Position container where it will receive NO direct sunlight and fill it with non-chlorinated water

2. Add all ingredients directly into the water except the compost.
3. Fill the mesh bag (old pantyhose?) with compost to keep it contained.
4. Position air stone from air pump below the submerged mesh bag of compost and turn it on.
5. Let the compost tea brew for 16 hours. Microorganism growth is now at its peak.
6. Distribute all the tea within 6 hours. Remember to dilute.

Note: the tea should smell sweet after 16 hours. If it smells bad something went wrong. Discard and try again.

Monday, February 22, 2010

cabarrus county nc :: sustainable local food system planning

The following was written by Debbie Bost, our friendly neighborhood Cabarrus County Cooperative Extension Director. She had help from County Commissioners and John Day, Cabarrus County Manager. It was adopted by Cabarrus County Commissioners in November of 2007.

I've posted it so people within my community and people in other parts of the country can take a look at this comprehensive approach to rebuilding a healthy local food system. As individual components of the plan get web presence (the incubator farm website is underdevelopment) I'll post links.

One link to share, our incubator farm was recently written up in 'Out Here' magazine. pdf warning: Out Here



Sustainable Community-Cabarrus County
A concept paper
County Commissioners’ Meeting

Imagine what our community could look like if issues are being addressed in an interconnected manner. Together we can demonstrate how innovative strategies can produce communities that are more environmentally sound, economically prosperous, and socially equitable. One component of a sustainable community is an active and viable agricultural system to produce, harvest and market local, natural food to local consumers. Productive farms create open space, generate taxes, and produce important local, healthy food. They are better for the environment through reducing transportation for access to food thereby reducing fuel consumption and increasing air quality. Sustainable agriculture integrates environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity, while a Sustainable community is meeting the needs of the present and future without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

We are at an important junction within our community toward a transition to a food system driven by the desire for healthy, safe, high quality food and for connections to the food source/production method of that food. This involves stakeholders across the whole food chain.

Goals for this agricultural component of a Sustainable Community could include: increased business sales, increased individual farmer sales, improved farmer profitability and operational efficiency, increased purchase of community-based foods, increased jobs, leveraged additional funds, increased consumption of fresh produce, etc.

The idea is that local food strengthens agriculture, connects consumers with local producers' products, and allows producers to remain economically viable.

A holistic approach to a sustainable agricultural system includes 5 interrelated concepts:

1-Developing a local Food Council that could focus on the economic and community impact of local and regional food value in order to better make use of, and the case for local, regional and state investments. Identify key elements that create vibrant and sustainable food systems, work with leaders and businesses to support key elements not yet developed, identify and measure key indicators, and implement a process for continuous learning across the county, region, and state. Ideally, the role of the Food Council would be to ‘translate’ the sometimes disconnected areas of community food security into common terms and then transform situations into opportunities to improve a community’s health, economy and environment. It’s a network of partners all working together to put the technical and financial resources together for a better community.

2-Delivering local Community Assessments which include an institutional survey that looks at current and future purchasing patterns of institutions including schools, the hospital, the jail, care centers, restaurants, etc. A household survey will assess the current and potential purchasing patterns of local food products by household consumers. The asset map will outline where local fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry, and meat products are currently and historically produced. The economic impact of growing these products will be assessed. These together will establish our base-line consumption data in dollars of healthy, locally grown foods.

3-Developing an Incubator Farm because Agriculture is a tough business, and the situation demands that the next generation of farmers know how to produce and market food, as well as manage a viable business. Critical elements for beginning farmers include access to land, capital to start farming, and knowledge to be able to produce something. An Incubator Farm is one way to help beginning farmers establish their businesses. The ‘program’ hosts and trains farmers as they grow food, share equipment, establish their markets, and learn from their mistakes, successes and fellow producers. Once the businesses are viable, they spin off of the incubator farm and find their own land. This program helps farmers build track records, implement business plans, gain a good sense of the market and their own farming skills before they venture off and have their own farm.

We are proposing to create an Incubator Farm at the County’s Atando Road Park property. There are approximately 32 acres available at the site. We would need to build a common storage building, small greenhouse to start plants, small individual storage sheds, purchase some farm equipment, develop the irrigation plan, and develop educational programs for the individuals involved in the Incubator project. Each participant signs a 12 month lease that allows them use of 1-2 acres of land for their individual farm, equipment, greenhouse space, utilities and water. Usually a participant stays with the Incubator Farm from 1-5 years depending upon how their plan develops.

4-Building a Harvesting facility in conjunction with a current meat processing/packaging plant in the Rimer community. Many local producers are asking for the opportunity to direct market the sale of their meat to consumers and the nearest local harvest facility is in North Wilkesboro. This creates additional investment and cost for the producer and makes the idea impossible to implement. We are proposing to build a harvest floor at the site of Cruse Meat Processing on Rimer Road to ensure a place for our local producers to get their meat processed.

5-Developing a Marketing Strategy, including Piedmont Farmer’s Market, will be a key element in making the entire system work. We must reach out and let our community know about the many readily available products. Developing a comprehensive marketing plan will be critical in creating the viability for agricultural producers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Farm & Garden Planning and Design Class

Sharon and I will be teaching another Farm & Garden Planning and Design Class starting later this week. We still have a few spots open if anyone would like to participate. I'm currently designing an urban farm in Charlotte, NC and helping to create a multi-congregational community garden to serve local hunger relief needs. The class will use these and other real world projects to help facilitate discussion about what you can do to get more food growing locally.

The focus of the class is to help you maximize the value of your property or the land you are growing on, whether a small courtyard or balcony or a larger farm. We all know that tough times are acomin’, so it makes sense to get our soil and perennial plantings, our plans and experience now!

The goal of the class is for you to come out with a full design plan that takes into account the realities of your site, and with the tools to implement it. The design plan will serve you over multiple years, and help you maximize your potential.

The class is offered online, asynchronously over six weeks. We will offer new material, homework and new ideas on Thursdays, but it will be available over the course of the week – you are free to participate as much or as little as you like – some people have tons of questions, others take a while to absorb information – both styles are just fine. This should be productive and pleasurable, not high pressure!

The class consists of several components – readings, which we’ll put up on our blog or link to through the discussion group, the discussion group where we pool our knowledge, answer questions and try to work through issues, homework, in which you’ll get the tools to build a site plan for your own space, and phone calls – each student gets one 15 minute phone consultation with one of us to answer any specific questions they have. The class begins on February 18th, and runs until March 25th.

The cost of the class is $180 and can be paid either with a check addressed to Aaron Newton at 14 Oakland Ave SE, Concord NC or by paypal to If you’d like to make a donation to our scholarship fund, 100% of which goes to making the class available to low income students who can’t otherwise afford it, you can do that as well at the same address.
Before the class begins, you should register for the yahoo discussion group and post an introduction there – tell us about yourself, your gardening experience and your goals, and also about where you are gardening – your climate, your specific site, what you’ve done already and what needs doing, the challenges you face.

Here’s the syllabus:

Thursday, February 18: Sun, Soil, Water; Taking Measurements; The Project of Design, Meet Your Graph Paper ; Small Space and Urban challenges, Container Gardening, Getting Started,

Thursday, February 25: Soil Preparation, Perennial Plantings, Orcharding and Woody Agriculture; Permaculture, Seed Starting and Variety Selection, Calorie Crops, Beginning to Plan, Design Project 1 - A Courtyard Garden

Thursday, March 4: Transforming a City or Suburban Lot, Dealing with Zoning, Small Livestock and Polyculture; Finding More Land; Gardening Cheaply, Gardening in an Unstable Climate, Design Project 2 - A Suburban Yard

Thursday, March 11: Community and Garden; The CSA Model, Making Money, Children’s Gardens, Year-Round Gardening, Maximizing the Harvest Garden Design Project, 3: An Urban Farm - in Many Yards

Thursday, March 18: The CSA Model, Farm vs. Garden, Making Shade Productive, Vertical Gardening, Succession and Long term Planning, Deep Food Security. Garden Design Project 4: A Larger Farm - In Smaller Pieces

Thursday March 25: Visions for the Future, Long Term Fertility, Larger Livestock, Becoming a Victory Farmer; After the Design Phase

Come join us!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Agriculturally Supported Community (ASC)

More people are eating locally grown food and many have become familiar with the concept of Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short. Farms that offer CSA programs recruit members who pay farmers for food in advance of the growing season and received a certain amount of food each week for a designated period of time. Or more broadly described by UMassAmherst,
CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food.
I have experience both as a CSA member and a provider. Last year I partnered with two other farmers and operated a 50 family CSA program here in North Carolina and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I've left that partnership and this year I will be offering my own smaller CSA program or at least that's what I thought I was going to do.

Then, just about the time I started to consider what this new CSA program of mine might look like, a conversation broke out in the peak oil scene regarding community. It started with John Michael Greer, followed by Sharon Astyk, then over to Rob Hopkins and Dmitry Orlov. It's worth your time to read each piece but in summary Greer suggests communities of people are necessary to harness political power and those communities take a lot work to create and maintain. Astyk agrees but thinks one of the reasons we don't make time for the work of such communities is because we're already really busy with our work-all-day world. Hopkins suggests that a social enterprise model within the context of the Transition Movement might coalesce communities. Orlov mentions that it isn't so much a question of creating community as it is stopping all the destructive efforts aimed at destroying community. (This is a vast oversimplification of the conversation and I've left lots out. Links above for the whole shebang)

I agree with Astyk and Orlov that there are many effort working against the creation and maintenance of community. I also think it's true that we can't force people back into communities. Some people, possessing a disproportionately large sense of autonomy coupled with too much pride and an overabundance of hubris, just aren't going to come round to the idea of increased community. There is an entire segment of the American population that thinks our problems are a result not of failed ideas and policies but unfaithfulness to the very ideas and policies that got us in a mess. There are people on whom effort can be wasted, especially those in denial or swooned by demagogues.

Anyway so there I am thinking about how to create my own Community Support Agriculture program and who I should focus my time on and I'm reading all this good stuff about what community is and might be and what it will take to create more and better communities and it dawned on me that it could work the other way around. That's when I decided not to create a CSA but to create an ASC, an Agriculturally Supported Community. I would use food to bring together a community of people living near me.

Of the 50 families that participated in my CSA last year there were many who used it as an opportunity to eat differently. I'm guessing I introduced half of them to Swiss Chard. But the group was big and somewhat disconnected. It was full of well meaning, supportive people but I didn't connect with many of the CSA members in the way I would have liked. So with this in mind, and with a conversation about community buzzing in my ear I decided what I really wanted was a tribe. That is, I wanted a group of people who wanted to come together around great local food and become a community within our greater community, a small force of folks working together for the betterment and enjoyment of each other, spurred on by eating locally- an Agriculturally Supported Community.

Part of this comes out of the idea that I should focus more of my time with those people ready to make change. That's not to say I don't still do my share of raising awareness. I speak to small groups throughout my region almost weekly but that is just the planting of seeds. So many have already sprouted. It seems to me that I can be more useful in fostering the growth of individuals already making change by becoming a part of their community and inviting them to join mine. I could do the work of creating community by providing a catalyst historically proven to begin people together, food.

Rob makes an excellent point when he suggests that community isn't entirety but rather groups within groups.
...actually [my] street... is an overlay of different webs of relationships. The person at No. 7 knows people at 8, 10, 4, 3, 15 and 18, the person at No. 8 knows the people at 7, 6, 12, 13, 20 and 2, and so on. I maybe know a whole different group of people again. If our expectation is that the entire street can only be classed as being a ‘community’ only when they have all held a street party or made compost together, we are going to wallow in disappointment for some considerable time. What happens though, is that certain projects emerge, usually driven by a few committed and passionate characters, around which that community can coalesce, and begin to take ownership of.
This last part is especially useful. He's suggesting that key projects with a small number of participants can create the energy necessary for a greater level of overall community. When I read that I thought, "Right, and what gets people more excited than food?" Surely there are other projects around which a community of people might come together but food has a magical property that seems to bind us together as human beings. The main purpose of a CSA program is the financial support of the farmer. In an ASC program the main focus is on coalescing community.

Some might argue this is just semantics but I think the language we use effects the decisions we make. The driving elements of a community-building project are different from those of a traditional CSA. The goals would be different too even if some of the strategies for reaching those goals were similar to those of a CSA.

This idea, of creating an Agriculturally Supported Community is still undercooked. I'll keep it simmering and perhaps share more later...


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

self defense

If you think you'll ever be threatened by physical violence (and odds are many of us will) and you've never hit another person you probably should. I don't mean that you should punch the next person that walks by or that you should take up inflicting physical violence as a hobby but I believe everyone should know how to defend himself or herself. And part of that process means getting comfortable with your body and with the other weapons that might make up your self defense strategy.

I suggest learning how to use your body to defend yourself in the same manner I suggest that people who own a gun should learn how to handle it. The human body can be used as a very effective weapon of self defense. You don't need to master any particular form of martial arts to be able to defend yourself but just as with a gun you do need to learn techniques and practice them to increase the likelihood that you'll be able to defend yourself safely and effectively if attacked.

It seems that whenever I talk to other people about defending themselves with their own body specific situations tend to come. "Well what if someone surprises you in a dark alley or a small band of thieves with knives breaks into your home in the middle of the night?" I think I can keep from getting overly mystic and still suggest that learning the art of self defense is a journey, not simply information you can download from the Web. In my opinion everyone should take self defense classes but you're not going to learn how to successfully defend yourself from that band of knife-wielding thieves during week one. It's a process.

Most introductory self defense classes will start by teaching you ways you can begin to use your body to defend yourself as well as weapons you can carry to handle situations you are not yet able to deal with using only your body. For instances, it's fairly easy to learn how to break another person's nose. A properly thrown punch will do the trick even if the attacker is a big man and the person being attacked is a small woman. The great things about a broken nose (or even a bloodied nose) from a self defense standpoint is that it floods the face with blood and tears. Even an enraged attacker (and the big man with a broken nose is going to be angry) won't be unable to see well enough afterwards, let alone operate through the initial pain to be able to chase down the small woman who threw the punch.

*HOWEVER*, the very important question to everyone, including all of the small women who are reading this post is, can you successfully throw that punch? This is where self defense training is useful, not just as a way to learn how to throw that punch (and what to do if you fail to land it on target or with sufficient force) but also what weapon might be appropriate to carry if you are not in fact certain you could throw that punch.

This is especially important to people who have disabilities or for other reasons are not able to physically defend themselves. Learning how to defend yourself isn't just about learning the proper technique or weapon to handle particular situations but rather it's like outfitting a toolbox with all the tools necessary to reliably handle any task that might come up. And it will be specific to each person and their individual needs.

The great thing about this approach is that once you stock your self defense toolbox with a particular tool, you will be able to pull it out at any time in the future and use it. At the risk of taking the metaphor to far it is possible to lose tools, to forget a significant part of a particular self defense strategy but if you properly learn to throw a punch or handle pepper spray it's likely to be an experience there for you to call on if the need arises in the future.

Some tools, like screwdrivers are a useful when taking on any number of tasks. Learning how to throw a punch and how it feels to land it or learning how to responsibly carry and use pepper spray are nice screwdrivers to have in your toolbox. Other more specialized tools like learning how to handle nunchucks are useful but in fewer situations and the consequences of using them improperly could mean greater bodily harm to yourself or others. If you throw a punch incorrectly (the thumb stays outside the fingers when making a fist) you could break your own hand. If you don't properly carry or know how to use your pepper spray you could wind up disabling yourself. This necessity of training is especially true of guns where improper storage or handling could likely lead to death. It's best to start with simple techniques and with strategies that you can safely control and work your way up to more rigorous forms of training and weapons that can do greater harm.

Training to be able to defend yourself with your own body also has other great benefits. Tai Chi is a martial art practiced primarily for health benefits. It's wonderful exercise along with the endorphin release that accompanies any physical activity. It and other forms of physical self defense training will also help you develop balance, flexibility, strength and reflexes. These are useful in situations in which you need to defend yourself but they are also useful in everyday life.

I also don't want to disqualify weapons including guns as effective means of self defense. They can be properly used not only as tools of self defense but also for fun (target practice, shooting skeet) or as a way to hunt for food. Guns are like any human tool, only as useful and as dangerous as the hands in which they're held. I suggest everyone concerned with their own self defense start by training those hands and learning the skills of fighting back with your body. It's training you hope never to need but cold prove priceless if violence threatens you in the future.

Actionable Items:

1. Sign up for a basic self defense class that bills itself as a broad education in what's available.

2. Use this opportunity to explore a self defense system you've always been interested in like Boxing, Kickboxing, Tai Kwan Do, Kung Fu, Goju Ryu, Karate, Judo, Jujutsu, or Aikido.

3. Take up training with a particular weapon like pepper spray, the bow, nunchucks, knives, or a gun.

4. Get a friend, spouse or partner to take a class and train with you. Practice safely on each other.

5. Remember that physical violence is dangerous and that when faced with a confrontation you almost always you have other options. Talking, walking or running out of a dangerous situation are all thought of as cowardly in our culture but they are actually very intelligent choices.