On November 13th I gave a talk at the Georgia Organics conference in Tifton, GA, an hour and a half south of where we were living, and the town in which I was born. The talk was about home-scale integrated poultry systems, chicken tractors being sort of my specialty. I could sense that the first public lecture of my adult life had gone well, but I had no idea that a couple in their mid-50s sitting in the audience was about to change my life. My wife pointed out to me later that my talk was really my resume' in a sense, offered up for a position I had never even considered, and certainly didn't know was available.
For the next month, life went by in the usual way on our little urban farm. I was busier than normal, but that was only because our old ratty house was cold, and my wife and I had started thinking about getting the hell out of dodge as soon as we could manage to get the house sold. And that meant a lot of cosmetic work. Which is part of the reason I haven't posted in several weeks: cold fingers and a determination to get out of the hood.
Then the offer came. It was about three weeks ago, and we were having dinner with my grandparents. They told us that they had been at a party with a farming couple about my parents' age a couple nights earlier, who had informed them that they had been at my talk back in November. Would we like to come live in their old farmhouse in exchange for some renovation work? Um...you betcha! They lived in a newer house on the other side of their 300 acre farm, about 3/4 of a mile away from the one they were offering us, and really connected with what I had to say in my talk. The farm is currently producing industrial cotton, hay, and weanling beef cattle for sale to finishers. I want several of the young angus calves to stay on under my care, but the rest is what we were brought on to help transition. The owners would like to push the petro-production off of their land slowly, and are open to lots of new ideas. New ideas you say? My specialty!
Of course we'd like to leave the ghetto behind and come live in your old farmhouse in exchange for renovation work! And we get a 4-acre fenced pasture, woods, barns, and a mature pecan grove dotting a two-acre yard to play with? OK. We had 1/4 acre and a crappy 1000 s.f. house in a sketchy neighborhood to our credit at that point. It didn't take too much mulling over. We finalized the details over a delicious Thai dinner out, conversing constantly for two and a half hours with refreshingly like-minds. They had been battling a proposed new coal-fired power plant nearby for the last year, and were delighted to hear about my take on the situation in light of peak oil. Not surprisingly, the news that the International Energy Agency recently stated in their annual report that peak oil had occurred in 2006 was a bit of a shock. My interpretation, based on that information, that their coal plant was probably a non-starter anyway, was definitely viewed as a silver lining. These things obviously need to be opposed by real people on the ground, but it definitely doesn't hurt to have the Laws of Nature on your side. And the Laws of Nature are currently proclaiming from the mountaintop that Americans will be using less energy every generation from here on out. Probably a lot less.
We spent our first night in the farmhouse last night. Built our first fire in the wood stove. Cooked our first bacon and eggs in our own cast iron skillet for our first breakfast this morning. Lost our first chicken to a fox. Somewhere along the way I woke up and looked around, saw all the birds chasing bugs in the early morning light under the pecan trees out the bedroom window, and yelled Yeehaw!! just to try out my rural lungs. No neighbors close enough to hear, nobody casing the joint, just the four of us and a whole lot of room to grow food. My wife laughed hard and smiled a joyful smile I haven't seen in a while. It was one of the most promising mornings in a long time.
In the week or so before we moved in I started designing and planting the garden. Most of you know that just planting a perennial garden is work enough, but this baby was a desperately blank canvas, and every plant had more than one job to do. The little bay tree in the middle of the kitchen garden required that all the pathways get laid out first. My pineapple guava needed to borrow a space from an existing boxwood. The pomegranates needed a fenceline to be visioned so that I could plant them along it. I wanted the daily tea herbs right outside the kitchen door, along with a few rain barrels that have a place in my mind's eye, but aren't physically there yet. And a brick floor for access. How about a garden entry gate? Parking spaces? A sign to let guests know what we have and what we're out of? Where were Oliver's olives going to go? Will it be too shady for them there?
Oh, and those 2 old windows I brought from Spokane could be built into a jasmine wall on the south end of the back porch to provide some shade and seclusion from the fruit nursery that would evolve under the old pecan tree on that side of the house! And if the nursery was going here we needed a few pretty trees that pushed the climate envelope to serve as showpieces in the background. The Puget Gold apricot found a shady home near the front porch in just the right spot and angle to lean against while I write out imaginary future purchase tickets by the brick stairs and rocking chairs. Neither of which exist. The loquat is already 15 feet tall and blocking the view into our bedroom in my head, but in reality it's only 3 little stems with a couple dozen leaves. Two or three citrus trees will replace the holly bushes between the loquat and apricot, up against the house on the south side when the time is right. Oh, and how about a few tea olives near the bedroom window? Just for smell. I don't know that a finer smell exists on Earth. The rarified aroma of blooming citrus and tea olives in the early spring wafting in the window as we wake up on a warm February morning! Divine. I can already see the tidy little rows of fruit trees and bushes for sale on the black landscaping fabric as I get dressed on that imaginary morning, slipping on my muck boots to go take care of the watering.
My blueberry patch has expanded from 10 to 20 bushes in the last day. I have 10 varieties now, and hopes for another 10. The blackberries will come soon, as will the new fig and pomegranate varieties. I have one lonely tea bush that needs 4 more, and from those 5 I hope to propagate an entire plantation. Between the two new conservation easements we'll be installing under the high tension lines I envision a cutting edge agroforestry setup. I close my eyes and see expansive tree fruit nurseries planted on contour in the worn out old cotton field north of the house. A black walnut guild to demonstrate how to neutralize their toxic juglone secretions. Cattle, goats, and sheep, mob-grazing the pastures, building fertility and sequestering carbon in the soil where it belongs. An olive grove producing a private label olive oil. Gourmet mushrooms. And I beam when I think about employing 10 times as many people on this big permaculture site as it employs now.
Within the decade I see hundreds, maybe thousands, of people touring our rolling plantations, gleaning not only world-class produce and nursery stock, but, more importantly, valuable knowledge to apply in their own systems as well. Maybe one day we'll teach permaculture design courses here too.
We're busy, and happy, and absolutely thrilled and humbled to have been asked to guide this transition. 2010 was a memorable year to say the least, but 2011 is shaping up to be something special indeed. And I can't wait to share it with you all as it unfolds.
From Tonic Permaculture in south GA, we wish you the very best the new year has to offer. May it be interesting and breath-taking, and may we all benefit from each other's experience and tenacity as our energy descent world takes shape.
Happy New Year! Now go grow something yummy.
All our best.