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EcoReality Co-op Newsletter

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It's been a month of comings and goings at EcoReality. And that means a short newsletter this month!

Hay, what's that you're raking?

Dennis, Sienna, Susie Anne, Justin, Lily, Osha, Jessie, and Morris enjoy a ride in a hay wagon after spending the morning raking hay.

With the advent of machines, agriculture has turned into solitary work. What used to involve the company of horses or oxen is now performed in the company of steel and rubber. What used to involve human interaction out in the sun is now done in air-conditioned cabs with the non-interactive company of talk-radio hosts or country music stars.

And yet, there is a special conviviality that comes from working together in the open air — something that's missing from simply driving machinery around in a circle in a field. We found what was missing at the last Members' Weekend in late June, when a bunch of us brought in an acre's worth of hay in a morning.

Previously, our neighbour, Gavin Johnston, cut the hay with a tractor, and a group of students from SFU turned it by hand so it would dry in the sun. It got a little rain, but not the long, soaking rains that can ruin a hay harvest, and it dried into just the right moisture content for storage in about a week.

Then we armed ourselves with hay forks (three tines), pitch forks (four tines) and manure forks (five tines), put the tractor on auto-pilot (a bungie cord holding the steering wheel), and loaded all the hay into the hay wagon, which had recently received "walls" in the form of discarded pallets that we picked up from an auto parts importer.

It took three trips to load an estimated five tons of hay, and then we piled into the back for a good old-fashioned hay ride back to the barn.

You can see more highlights of our haying via a gallery on our website.

Paula Baker-Laporte presents

Paula and Robert.jpg
In 1994, natural building pioneer Robert Laporte and architect Paula Baker-Laporte teamed up to create the EcoNest concept, in which natural materials such as timber framing, clay, straw, and earthen plaster combine to unite health, ecology, and sustainability in the focal point of most people's lives: their own home. Robert and Paula together authored EcoNest, Creating Sustainable Sanctuaries of Clay, Straw, and Timber and Paula has written Prescriptions for a Healthy House, both available via their website.

On Saturday, July 25th at 7:30pm, We're delighted to have Paula present "Myths of Modern Building and Principles of Building Biology" in the EcoReality classroom. Admission is by donation; $5 to $15 suggested, with an informal social period afterward when you can ask Robert and Paula those burning questions about healthy, natural housing that you've been thinking about — see you there!

EcoReality invited to be on Eco-Living Tour

You'll be able to see Andrew and Adina's completed house on the tour, shown here as it was in the 2006 tour.
For the past few years, the Earth Festival Society (in association with other sponsors) has spearheaded a "tour of eco-homes" on Salt Spring. The tour features exquisite earthen homes, along with demonstrations of rainwater catchment and alternative energy systems.

This year, the focus is expanded to include "eco-living" situations beyond simple single-residence homes. As in the past, this year's tour still includes some of Salt Spring's best examples of green building, energy efficiency, and water conservation, but will also include features such as food production, ecological protection, and small-scale sustainable social systems.

We were quite un-prepared when the hosts approached us about being on the tour. We don't have fancy natural buildings — yet. Except for our biodiesel processor, we don't have alternative energy systems — yet. Until we can get rid of our poisonous asphalt roofs, we don't have rainwater catchement systems — yet.

And yet, Elizabeth White of the Earth Festival Society and Andrew Haigh of Salt Spring Books invited us, with the hope that we can somehow make a compelling case for the largely intangible benefits of intentional community.

How do you demonstrate the advantages of co-operative living to someone who has just been in a fancy rammed-earth house that collects its own water and electric supply? We were not at all sure we could pull it off, but with the encouragement of the event sponsors, we agreed, and plan to have farm tours, biodiesel demonstrations, a "day in the life of EcoReality" presentation, a Permaculture display, and much more.

If you're in the neighbourhood, I hope you'll join the Eco-Living Tour and see what we're all about — as well as visit some two-dozen other eco-living sites!

Membership changes

It is with a broad range of feelings that we accept the resignation of all our non-resident members this month. We're grateful for the insight and help that we've received from Mark, Penny, Justin, and Osha over the past year; we're sad to see them stepping back in their involvement; we're happy to know that they want to remain involved to a lesser extent than the responsibilities of full membership; we're relieved that the tension between resident and non-resident members will end; we're appreciative for their honesty and courage in choosing self-care over being torn between two lives.

In the movie Patch Adams, Robin Williams's character was accused of "excessive happiness." In retrospect, all of us were afflicted with this good fortune when our four off-site members joined. We all fell in love with the idea of living in an ecovillage someday, but vastly underestimated the mental, physical, financial, and temporal toll of the ongoing travel and communications needed to make EcoReality membership work on a part-time basis.

Thank you, Mark, Penny, Justin, and Osha (and Lily!) for the gift of showing us that we have a lot of work to do before we can integrate members who are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the site. Thank you also for being gracious and loving in coming to that realization, and we hope you'll be able to re-involve as members when we're more ready for each other!

Jan Steinman, Communication Steward

Permaculture: What Is It?

Author Dennis Lucarelli practices Permaculture at EcoReality by "stacking functions" while stacking hay.
I am a complete beginner in the study of Permaculture. Knowing myself well, I have set out to write this article following the popular saying, “You teach what you need to learn.” As the most recent resident and prospective applicant for membership at EcoReality I decided to start learning about permaculture writing my first article for this newsletter.

So, dear reader, I invite you to come with me as I explore one mighty big and complicated question: What does Permaculture, that big P-word, stand for?

Let’s go have a look at the lay of the land. That's what a permaculture designer might do first!

What is Permaculture?

A co-founder of the permaculture movement, Bill Mollison, defined permaculture as “an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecosystems.” My brain is shouting out, “What?” That definition seems to raise more questions than it answers.

Mollison has proposed a set of twelve permaculture principles:

  • Observe and Interact
  • Catch and store energy
  • Obtain a yield
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
  • Produce no waste
  • Design from patterns to details
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Use small and slow solutions
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use edges and value the marginal
  • Creatively use and respond to change

After reading that, my brain is now shouting “So What?” Aren't these ideas just plain old common sense? I go a little deeper into my reading, and decide that the first of these twelve will be enough for this article.

Observe and Interact

The first of Mollison's twelve permaculture principles Observe and Interact.

I decided to give my brain a rest and went out to take a walk around the EcoReality land. I wandered past the gardens, past the classrooms, past the goats, the garlic fields, the lower stream, the upper fields near the reservoir, the forested areas, back down across the hay fields, between the small new greenhouse and the large old pear tree, back into the yellow house where I live and am now writing this article. Still feeling stuck, I ran out of time to write any further.

Organic Farming and Permaculture

ING members gather at EcoReality for one of their monthly meetings.
That night happened to be the monthly meeting night of Island Natural Growers (ING), which is the Salt Spring Island chapter of Canadian Organic Growers (COG). The host this month was Bright Farm, the site of one of Salt Spring Island’s oldest family farms, first developed around 1880 and now owned by the Eagle family.

Riding up the dirt driveway at Bright Farm, past the gate where Charlie Eagle and his daughter Bree were welcoming arriving members of ING, I thought to myself, What a gorgeous place! Maybe this farm can teach me something about permaculture! I felt a timeless sense of order and permanence and said out loud to the friend I'd arrived with, “This place would make an ideal location for a Hollywood movie. Life as it was in the good old days, and life I’d like it to be.”

But permaculture is more than just my personal romantic fantasy about a life on a beautiful organic farm. During the farm tour, I did observe several permaculture principles in action.

Salt Spring Island has the potential to become an important laboratory in local and regional permaculture beyond the individual farm. Organic farmers here are already dedicated to the mission of practicing environmentally friendly farming. To that end, the have formed local alliances that not only support their livelihood but advance their commitment to a world where people will eat locally grown food that is pesticide-free and avoids petroleum-based fertilizers, genetic engineering, and the far-flung distribution system of industrialized agriculture.

The movement toward making Salt Spring Island self-sufficient for its food supplies includes farmers markets held on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Salt Spring Seed and Plant Exchange collects and distributes locally successful plant varieties. A publication called Salt Spring Island's Local Organic Food Guide directs island residents and visitors to island food sources. That guide is where I first learned about EcoReality last year. Island Natural Growers (ING) hosts monthly meetings with a potluck supper and farm tour, which brought me to Bright Farm the day I began writing this article.

Charlie Eagle was explaining that the planting beds nearby had stayed weed-free over last winter, a big saving of labour for planting part of this year's tomatoes on beds where last year's quash crop had been grown. Considering this avoidance of turning over the soil to kill weeds, I remembered the leave-the-soil-alone philosophy I had read about in the 1970’s organic farming classic, The One-Straw Revolution. Permaculture does not specifically require leaving the soil alone, but I find similar the underlying motivations of increasing food yield while mimicking natural processes.

Organic farming is not exactly the same thing as permaculture. On an organic farm, artifacts of the industrial world such as plastic sheeting are not as unwelcome as they would be in permaculture. Both organic farming and permaculture land use disavows the use of chemical pesticides or petroleum-based fertilizers.

Only those few rows among the tomato beds at Bright Farm were covered in plastic sheeting. I observed that the vast majority of the beds were covered in mulch, mostly straw. A market farm – one that supports a family by selling its abundant food products to the local area – has to balance the competing priorities of time and labour. So would a permaculture farm, and both might look harder for used or recycled materials to do its work.

It didn't occur to me to ask Charlie where they'd gotten those plastic sheets, but it's quite possible they came used from somewhere else. On the island, we have an email list that allows locals to give away or sell useful stuff such as mulching materials, used machinery, or almost anything else they might have, instead of sending it to a landfill.

Permaculture, then, embraces a much more ecologically comprehensive set of design principles beyond those of producing food in a certifiably organic manner. Its practices cover almost every conceivable ecological interaction that might occur to the plot, farm, or community where it is being applied.

For example, every farmer is probably going to pay attention to the natural flow of water across their site. At EcoReality, water flows during heavy rains and snowmelt from the more sloping areas uphill down toward flatter – and thus habitually more moist – sections of the land. Common sense would tell any good farmer to avoid putting the gardens down in the marshy lowest part of the field.

Permaculture 1.gif
While a money-motivated land developer might well ignore that fact, or tear up the land to lay down a bedroom community without regard to any sense of “natural” land use, a permaculture designer for this site might go beyond the common sense notion of “not planting in the marshy lowlands.” What about fish tanks, raised-bed plantings, or septic fields? A permaculture designer would need to look at the whole of the possible interactions between waste recycling, energy use, respect for the soils, and a host of other design considerations to obtain a maximum efficiency of yield with minimal negative impact on the natural ecosystem of the land in question. Now, the definition offered by Bill Mollison at the beginning of this article begins to make a little more sense to me: Permaculture is “an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecosystems.”

As a design system, permaculture can be sized from a modest kitchen windowbox to a full-blown urban area. Many common-sense farming principles are included – such as planting tomatoes and onions alongside each other as these plants are traditionally each other's friend for pest control. Wasp nests in our EcoReality greenhouse were left undisturbed because the wasps were observed eating aphids moments after they landed upon the tomato leaves.

More organic farms are following permaculture principles as local residents band together to trade locally and reduce dependence on petroleum, coal, nuclear, and large-scale hydro power. At EcoReality we aim to become self-sufficient in energy use and on-site bio-diesel will be a part of that.

Permaculture is a design system and a philosophy of sustainable land use that invites collective participation. Local farmers everywhere have traditions of sharing their knowledge, seeds, cuttings, and growing tips. Expanding our practice and our observation to include awareness of how the natural eco-system works, we will apply these lessons to all ways in which we maintain our presence upon the land. At EcoReality, we invite you to explore our website, attend our public events, and come visit us for some close-up observation and interaction.

Meanwhile, here are a few other topics that the dedicated permaculture student, such as myself, will be exploring in the months to come: zones and sectors in land use design, reading the site, earth works, soils, water filtration, forests and trees, orchards and livestock, food sovereignty, waste and recycling, energy systems, community mapping (of sustainable ecosystems), biodiversity, plant propagation, alternative energy systems, grafting, mushroom cultivation, grey water, herbology, eco-building design, and urban permaculture.

Dennis Lucarelli

Slightly Sinful Summer Sorbet

July is yummy raspberry month! EcoReality members planted a stand of raspberry canes here on the land earlier this year and they are rewarding us with a small but sweet, first crop. Here is a light and refreshing way to serve them on a hot summer night. For this particular recipe you do need an ice cream maker. If you don't have one, you can simply freeze your purée, breaking up ice crystals with a wooden spoon every thirty minutes. If it becomes too hard, you can pulse it in a food processor before serving. This makes a less refined, but still delicious treat called a granita. You can also substitute just about any other berry or fruit, this is a super versatile recipe.

Raspberry Sorbet
Raspberry sorbet.jpg

serves 2-4

1 quart raspberries, hulled and sliced

1 cup light agave nectar or 1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

mint sprigs

Blend the raspberries in a food processor until puréed, about 1 minute. Pour into a large bowl and add the agave nectar or sugar, water, and lemon or lime juice. Strain the mixture through a sieve, using a rubber spatula to help push the purée through. Discard the seeds. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight until ready to freeze. Pour into the ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for freezing. Garnish with mint leaves.

Osha Roller

Recent sightings

Here is a reviewed list of Internet resources and articles of particular significance to EcoReality and our values, vision, mission, and purpose.

Have you come across a link that you think might be of interest to readers of this newsletter? Send it to the editor, together with a few words about why it is important and how it relates to EcoReality, and we'll try to include it in the next newsletter.

More categorized and reviewed links are available via our reviewed links page.

Natural builder Robert Baker-Laport and green architect Paula Baker-Laporte design and build elegant, healthy, and ecologically sustainable homes, using natural, non-toxic materials and finishes. They also teach natural building techniques in workshops. (Paula Baker-Laporte is our featured guest speaker this month, on Saturday, July 25, 7:30 PM, in the classroom. How to get to EcoReality.)
Rex Weyler's personal website 
Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace International, was last month's featured speaker at EcoReality. His website is full of the wisdom gained from 40 years of environmental and political activism.
Fias Co Farm 
One of the best sites about dairy goats, with numerous pages of invaluable information about health, husbandry, feeding, medications, breeding, kidding, milking, and much more.
Hard Times Are Jamming the Ashrams 
This New York Times article talks about people who are drawn to community life during the current economic recession. (The New York Times may require establishing a free account to view some content.)
New law would make it easier to reuse water from appliances 
A new Oregon law would allow Oregonians to flush toilets directly with water from sinks, showers, dishwashers, and washing machines. It would also allow landscape watering with such water, with a permit. Before this law, you couldn't even flush a toilet with un-treated graywater in Oregon. I think it's fascinating that we are so regulated that even after a "new, improved" graywater law, you still need a permit to use graywater on landscaping, and it is still illegal to use it on food producing plants. Sigh.

Jan Steinman

Recent happenings

Past calendar.jpg
Here are some highlights of recent meetings and events. Click any entry for details.
Residents' Meeting 
Rex Weyler plans, Organic Islands Festival staff potluck, goat/chicken scheduling, WWOOFers, possible Elizabeth May visit, more.
Members' Meeting 
Dennis's group experience symposium, shares for piano, Mark & Penny, "family & friends" weekend, more.
Residents' Meeting 
Eco-Living tour, manlift, more.]
Special Members' Meeting 
Rule changes, Mark & Penny, more.
Residents' Meeting 
WWOOFers, hay barn roof, irrigation up, garlic harvest, Residents' Meeting time change, more.
Eco-Living Planning Meeting 
gathering place, venue locations, tours, storyboards, signs, more.
Members' Teleconference 
Shannon's communication model, Mark & Penny, "good standing" definition, piano shares, banking hours, more.

Upcoming events

Busy calendar.jpg
Here are some highlights. For details, please go to the meetings page on our website. All activities are at EcoReality, 2152 Fulford-Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island (directions), unless otherwise noted.

Regular events

every Saturday
5PM farm tour: please bring footwear appropriate for soggy fields!
every Saturday
6PM potluck: Please let us know you're coming, so we have enough seating.
every Saturday
7:30PM movie or program: Call or check meetings to see what's playing. If nothing is planned, bring your favourite movie! (No gratuitous violence, please.)
New.gif every Tuesday 
9:30AM: Residents' meeting, business and work around the farm. Please ask to attend; no drop-ins, please! (Was every Sunday in the past.)
two Fridays before the last Sunday of each month 
7 PM, Members' teleconference. Please ask to participate; no drop-ins, please!
Friday before the last Sunday of each month 
9:30 AM through 4:30 PM: Work party! Lunch provided if you work all day. Please plan to arrive at either 9:30 or 1PM, as we can't stop in the middle of something to orient late-comers. Drop-ins at 9:30 or 1:00 are welcome! Please let us know in advance if you'll be having lunch, so we have enough food.
New.gif last Sunday of the month
members' meeting and other monthly group activities. (Was last Saturday in the past.)
Friday after the last Sunday of each month 
7 PM, Members' teleconference. Please ask to participate; no drop-ins, please!

Specific events

Tuesday, 24 July 
Monthly work party: nothing specific planned this month, but there's always stuff to do!
Saturday, 25 July
Paula Baker-Laporte presents "Myths of Modern Building and Principles of Building Biology."
Sunday, 26 July
Monthly members meeting: "good standing" definition, changes to rules, create a land trust, Mark & Penny, process & communication guidelines, more.
Sunday, 16 August
Salt Spring Eco-living tour, a self-guided tour of houses and sites with prominent ecological features.
Thursday, 1 October
Reclaiming leader Starhawk presents a talk on Making the Transition
Climate change calls us to make an enormous transition very rapidly — changing our economy, our energy systems, our food growing systems, our patterns of work, socializing and play — and doing it now, not sometime in the vague future. One of the most powerful responses to this challenge has been the movement toward relocalization: taking root again in community. The Transition Initiative movement, which started in Britain, is one inspiring example: encouraging people to organize their own communities to plan for a creative descent into a less energy-intensive future. What are the strengths of this movement, and in what ways could it be even more powerful and effective? How do we make the transition into a just, sustainable and abundant world?
Fulford Hall
$25 advance (at Salt Spring Books), $30 at the door

Paula Baker-Laporte.jpg Starhawk photo by Bert Meijer.

Thank you for supporting EcoReality with your interest, ideas, and good thoughts!

Want to write for this newsletter? Or want to see something written about? Contact the Communication Steward with your story ideas!

EcoReality Coop (directions)
2152 Fulford-Ganges Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 1Z7, Canada
+1 250.653.2024
Info AT EcoReality DOT org

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