Sunday, April 13, 2014

Connections That Stay


Goldfinch captured by Richard Hayes of Lee County

***

A THREAD OF LIGHT VII. September 15, 2013

And what is love?  To be human
is to allow It to pierce you with
Its tender arrows, though you
feel certain you will die.
Only we don’t die.  We live
more vividly.  Life without Love
is like a streambed through
which no water runs, like a
house without a clock that
chimes the hours so musically
that you wait eagerly for the
next one.  Or like an afternoon
sitting on the bank of a small
river without sun to intensify
the green of grasses and mosses,
to lift the warm brown of the
sand, patient between the black
hulks of rocks, into view.
Beaver Soul 27, 1992.

Connections that stay also change.
They begin in the unlikeliest way,
persist against a lifetime of odds,
then keep transforming themselves
and us.  The point is: we’re hooked.
There’s no way we will let go
if we’re honest with ourselves.
That’s all that is asked, but it’s
non-negotiable.  You see, if we
deny what we feel, it turns ugly,
and sooner or later our souls die.
Acting on what we feel isn’t 
required, though it helps if we
can find a reasonable, mutually
agreed upon channel where 
feelings may safely move and 
not undo us.  Putting the fire
in a fennel stalk is only a
temporary solution.  Mutual
work for the sake of others
works well.  The fire has to be
delivered.  Use it to wake 
people up.  What else are our
lives for except to give away
everything we’ve learned?  Make
every single suffering step count.
Then die happy.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

That Central Sun



Spring pear blooms, with blooming peach trees behind, in Judy's orchard.  This year they came in March but survived several frosts.

***

A THREAD OF LIGHT VI. September 8, 2013

... The jewel in me,
the fire I have hidden all these years and
guarded, like Prometheus hid the fire
he stole for naked, hungry man, in
a fennel stalk–the fire is safe.  And
my suffering, like his, punished for
sharing with mortal man, a god’s prerogative:
fire: my suffering did not destroy the fire.
The fire is still safe.  I felt, though, how,
as I returned, in thought, to all those
years of being devoured and restored, as
he was–chained–and eaten–but not
destroyed–how I was losing something.
I was losing my hiding place. The fire
was showing.  It was in the bush,
but I knew–I don’t know how–
that it was safe.  Inside this ugly
rock that had clasped a precious stone,
I had been safe, my burden safe;
what I carried; what I was.  And then,
a knocking, breaking; a shattering
of that ugly rock–the rock loose–
and my tears flowed because of the
pain of what I might lose!  I was ready
to fight to the death.  But the pain
instead was a release, and the jewel
which had been mine, had been me,
which I had nearly died to save, to get
through all the dangers, lay in my
hands, yellow–and catching in its
facets, light: the yellow light of the gods,
the light that gives the day, every day,
that gives the spring, every spring;
that takes the grey and brown of winter,
the death, the outside of rock, the leaf
protection, all of it, and releases green,
yellow in its first eager intensity,
and in certain lights, ever afterwards,
when seen and held lovingly, aloft,
lovely always with yellow light.
Susannah, Teach Me to Love/Grace, Sing to Me.  1985. pp. 38-9 

The fears come and go, but I keep
walking past them, through them,
finding again that central sun in me
that casts out fear.  I called it a
jewel thirty years ago.  Many names I’ve
given it: Deep Self, God, My Inner
Voice.  It’s always there, steadying me,
helping me hold on when my spirits
bottom out, when I wake afraid in
the night.  I see it everywhere:
in the perfectly ripened fig that is so
fragile and luscious I have to eat it
on the spot; in the morning glory vine
that has crept up the back porch
railings and now gives me its welcome
with multiple pink trumpets; in the
spider lilies’ carelessly flung rosy 
whiskers suddenly there at ground
level under the high stalks of the 
yellow and orange cosmos suns.
In the hens running across the 
orchard to see what I’ve brought 
them, and if it is afternoon and I’ve
come to weed, they stay and circle 
nearby. If I’m there, they believe
something good is about to happen,
and it does, because they companion
me.  I may feel alone, but this
inner sun, this jewel in me, this
yellow light won’t let me believe it.

***

Look closely and you can see the pears.  Photo by Mark Schmerling

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lois Winston's Anastasia Pollack Mysteries--Interview


Lois Winston's newest craft mystery.

***

1.  When did you begin writing?  Why?

I wasn’t one of those authors who knew from an early age that I wanted to write novels. I had always enjoyed writing when I was in school but hadn’t written any fiction since my mandatory Freshman Comp class back in college. Then one day about twenty years ago I had a dream that unfolded each night like the chapters of a book. I decided to write down the dream. Before I knew it, I’d written a fifty thousand word romance. Those fifty thousand words, after many years and countless revisions, became Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a romantic suspense and the second book I sold.

2.  When and why did you begin writing mysteries?

About ten years ago my agent was speaking with an editor at one of the Big 5 (then the Big 6.) The editor said she was looking for a crafting mystery series. Knowing my background as a craft designer and editor, my agent thought I’d be the perfect person to write such a series. Anastasia popped into my head immediately, and within a few months I had the first draft of Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun




3.  Are you writing a series or a stand-alone?  Explain your basic idea for your series.

Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun was the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series. When her husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Las Vegas, Anastasia’s comfortable middle-class life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her cane-wielding Communist mother-in-law. Not to mention stunned disbelief over her late husband’s secret gambling addiction, and the loan shark who’s demanding fifty thousand dollars.

Anastasia’s job as crafts editor at American Woman magazine proves no respite when she discovers a dead body glued to her desk chair. The victim, fashion editor Marlys Vandenburg, collected enemies and ex-lovers like Jimmy Choos. But when evidence surfaces of an illicit affair between Marlys and Anastasia’s husband, Anastasia becomes the prime suspect.

Subsequent books find Anastasia moonlighting at various jobs to stay one step ahead of the bill collectors, but dead bodies keep getting in her way.

4.  Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.

The editor who requested the crafting mystery loved Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun. Unfortunately, she left the publishing house within weeks of the manuscript being sent to her. Shortly after that, the traditional mystery market crashed, lines folded, and many established authors found themselves orphaned. It took several years before the market turned around and we were able to sell the series.

5.  Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?

As I mentioned above, my background as a craft designer and editor made me a perfect candidate for writing such a series, but I chose to draw upon other experiences as well. Lucille, Anastasia’s communist mother-in-law, is based on my own communist mother-in-law. But I didn’t stop there. I gave Anastasia a mother who’s a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and who also claims to descend from Russian royalty. Both women live with Anastasia and are forced to share a bedroom. Conflict, conflict, conflict! Did I mention this is a humorous mystery series?

6.  How have you found it to be published?  Share that experience.

Loaded question. Let’s just say that after traditionally publishing the first three books in the series, I walked away from a contract for more Anastasia books, as well as for a new series, and am now independently publishing my books. 

7.  Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?

No matter who you are or what you write, some people will love your books; others won’t. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve had more positive comments about my series than negative ones. Most people write to tell me how much I made them laugh. Lucille pushes a lot of buttons. She’s the character readers love to hate. Some want me to kill her off; others would be horrified if I did. Lucille is here to stay. 

The negative comments I’ve received about my books mostly are due to the language I occasionally use. Although my publisher marketed the books as cozy mysteries, they’re not cozies because I do occasionally use four-letter words. That bothers some people. That’s why I prefer to refer to my series as “amateur sleuth” rather than “cozy.” However, I don’t use foul language gratuitously, only when it’s appropriate to the character. As I tell people who ask me to remove the curse words, my Mafia loan shark is not going to say, “Gosh darn it!” I want my dialogue to be true to the characters. However, when one reader complained of my constant use of the F-word, I searched through the manuscript and discovered the word appeared all of eight times out of 75,000 words. Trust me, I’m not writing Beverly Hills Cops.

8.  What other books have you published and where, when?

Talk Gertie to Me, humorous women’s fiction with a romantic subplot, was published in 2006, followed the next year by Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception. After being out of print for several years, both books are now available as ebooks. In additon, I’ve published one chick lit novel and four romances under my Emma Carlyle pen name. There are now four Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries and two Anastasia Pollack Mini-Mysteries. I’ve also published a book of short romance stories and been included in several anthologies and boxed sets. You can find all my books on my website: www.loiswinston.com.



Here's one of Lois's mini-mysteries--longer than a short story, shorter than a novella.  They are very inexpensive.

***

9.  Do you have a work in progress now?  Is it part of a series?

I’m currently working on Patchwork Peril, the next Anastasia Pollack Mini Mystery. As soon as that’s finished, I plan to complete Definitely Dead, the first book in my Empty Nest Mystery series (the other contract I turned down,) and begin work on the next full-length Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery.

10.  If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful?  How?

I belong to both and have been very grateful for the networking opportunities and the friendships I’ve made. Writing is a lonely profession, not to mention one that most of our non-writing friends and relatives don’t understand. It’s important to be able to connect with a group of like-minded people who understand you and support you, who are thrilled by your successes and can commiserate with you when things aren’t going well. Only fellow writers can really do that.

11.  What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?

There’s nothing like being able to connect with fans face-to-face! It’s the ultimate high when a stranger takes the time to tell you how much they love your books. 

12.  What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?

Kirkus Reviews called Anastasia, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum,” and Publishers Weekly compared her to Liz Lemon from 30 Rock. If you like your mysteries dished up with a side of laughter, I hope you’ll give my series a try. I love writing about Anastasia and will continue doing so as long as readers want to read about her and her dysfunctional relatives.






Award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, Lois is an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth and Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/anasleuth

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Storm Clouds of Present Time



Photo of oncoming storm in Lee County by Richard Hayes

***
The Storm Clouds of Present Time

For Elaine Chiosso, Haw Riverkeeper

In recent weeks, we here in Southeast Chatham and Lee County in central North Carolina have learned of a terrible coal ash pollution problem stemming from our only public utilities corporation in the state, Duke Energy, pumping sixty-one million gallons of coal ash wastewater into the Cape Fear River from the closed Cape Fear coal-burning plant in Moncure.  Earlier a huge coal-ash spill occurred near Edenton, North Carolina on the Dan River.  The signs of trouble were obvious for months, but state officials let it slide–colluded with Duke Energy.  

This time our Department of Environment and Natural Resources is citing Duke Energy for the Moncure spill.  The water intake for Sanford is not far below this pumping in of dirty coal ash water, and Southeast Chatham County gets its water from Sanford.  It’s very scary to think that the water coming through the pipes which I drink, bathe in, water my garden with, may have mercury and other heavy metals in it.  This, in addition to the worries related to fracking, which our governor and state legislature seem determined to impose on Lee, Moore, and Chatham Counties by early in 2015, is truly scary.  With fracking, too, our water is threatened and pollution to air, earth, and water is inevitable.

It’s easy to become discouraged. Thank goodness for people like Elaine Chiosso, who is the Haw Riverkeeper, and for the state-wide organization of Riverkeepers, who caught on quickly to what Duke Energy was doing, and fight all the time for our rivers, our drinking water, our lives.  It’s important for all of us to hang on and do our best with all we do, including working to make our communal lives better.  The phrase that is bound to kill us all off?  “What does it matter?”  It always matters.

Sometimes we simply keep holding our place in our small universe. Other people notice we’re there even if we don’t notice them noticing us.  They count on us being there and being ourselves even if they say nothing and don’t call or email.  They want us to go on being ourselves and holding our place. The days can seem ordinary and mundane, but if we are holding our place and doing our best, those days will never be wasted.  Here’s a poem that helps me hold on, written last September 1.

***

Judy's figs last September.

***
A THREAD OF LIGHT V. September 1, 2013

Human light is such a changeable thing.
Like clouds that pass the sea and make it
dark, we also have our days of the
unfathomable dark water moving toward land
relentlessly, with no set aim in view.
And then way out, or closer in, depending
on the ever restless clouds, will come
a pale green patch looking almost like
a hillside brightly lit after a rain, its green
bearing all the burden and the pain of light.
I admit I carry light, at times unwilling.
It makes me love too many people,
see across too many fences, see the place
in the hedge where a path has been made
by animals scuttling through.  What seems
impenetrable to others, looks porous to me.
–Light Food XVII, August 8, 1985, Gower, pp. 40-41


Judy's hens January 2013, Photo by John Ewing, after molting.

***

Living in the present is never easy.
The storm clouds of present time can
put you off balance for weeks.
Yet the resulting rain may save
your livelihood.  The fig trees will
let their hard green fruit swell
to succulent ripeness.  The hens will
delight in the insects and worms that
rise to the surface when the soil
is once again soft and friable.
Present time teaches us patience as
nothing else, and if we look away,
we’ll miss that first ripe pear
on the tree that died and only barely
lived again.  We won’t find
the cucumbers the vines exhausted
and stymied by too much rain
finally produced.  We won’t notice
that under its huge umbrella leaves
okra pods were lengthening,
nor will we see the bumblebee
resting on a broad leaf to scrape
the excess pollen from its legs.
No matter what news it delivers,
every day brings something good
and unexpected.  A neighbor suddenly
speaks in the post office lobby:
“I admire you so much.”  Her words
stumble, then rush out: “Your books,
your teaching, your work against fracking.”
So many things I wasted time and sleep
worrying over have turned out better 
than I dared hope.  The farm recovered 
its resilience when cool, rainy days 
gave way once again to hot August 
sun.  The writing class I doubted 
would have enough students has eight.  
The money I feared wouldn’t come in, 
came early.  I slipped through several 
crises, recovered my spirits, made 
better peace with the stigmata of aging.  
No time like now to enjoy this life, 
here, today.  We have to believe in 
the future in order to ward it off 
when the sky darkens and omens 
fall all around us.  Only the patient
serenity of our spirits, allowing each
day’s exuberance, will do it, will keep
us upright, well-balanced, firmly 
rooted in the miracle of present time.

***


Cosmos on Judy's dining table, September 2011.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Interruptions


Spring is making its way into central North Carolina, witness these daffodils in my flower garden.  Our winter here has been harsher and colder than normal, occasioning many interruptions to our plans and projects. The daffodils began to poke up more than a month ago, but snow, cold, sleet delayed their bloom. It reminded me of an ice storm back in 1988 when I lived in Saxapahaw.  How do we cope with such interruptions?

***
A VILLAGE THAT FELT LIKE HOME I.  January 2, 1988

These interruptions come: ice on the
twigs and branches or on the electric 
wires has caused a power outage.
The village, though it’s still light,
deals with darkness.  The houses
were not built to let in light, but
they can do without electricity.
The log in the woodstove still hums
and cracks, putting out heat, if not
light.  The gas range warms toast
and a tea-kettle.  The woodstove will
keep the tea warm.  At nightfall
there are candles, the flashlight,
and a kerosene lamp.  All strong
enough to read by, as is the daylight 
right beside the door, but I will use
this time to savor the moment any
interruption gives.

Perhaps life is just that:
interruption.  The divine interruption of
the gods, if we have the wits to see it
for what it is.
The interruption itself
gives us only a temporary dislocation,
a brief reminder of what we do and do not
have.  Then the lights return, and we
experience relief.  Creatures of routine
that we are, we welcome back the evidence
that things are back to normal.  The refrigerator
resumes its hum; the page of the book
is easy to see again.  The kerosene lamp
is now extraneous.  But something lingers
in the consciousness.  We almost feel like
turning out the light to recreate that
darkness we saw something else by.  The glow
from the wood fire was more potent then;
even the tea in its red kettle held more meaning.
To eat toast in the dusk of late afternoon,
to suspend the usual; to allow in the new,
the unprecedented thought, was pleasurable,
nourished our spirit some way we do not quite
understand now that we are back to the way
a book turned down at the place, a red teapot
sitting on a black woodstove, the next pine
log on the stove mat, and the sooty shovel handy
for rearranging an occasionally irrepressible
fire–have their ordinary look back.
Outside the trees are iced; twigs, pine 
fronds, the webbed juniper; individual grass
blades; the leaves of turnips and spinach;
stalks of green onion; wild privet bent
to the ground.

Everything is still ordinary;
still its same grey or green or brown self.
Except that down from the sky came ice,
and rain that iced what it touched.  Drops froze
under the eaves and coated the steps.  I took
the dog her food, and saw the grey-white look
the deeper woods have, and are likely to have
tomorrow when the light returns. Full light,
when it comes, will cause a radiance among
all those iced limbs.  An iridescent momentary
beauty.  Not quite natural; beyond routine; yet
given, inexplicably, when seen; or missed
because of the preoccupied condition of the mind
accustomed to things that stay put and are,
in some sense, known, or at least, familiar.

It is the unfamiliar I am learning to
have courage about; the moments not
easily shrugged off.  Another point of view
would call them epiphanies, find them 
sacred, even these dark ones, and even
when no place can be found for them
in a just order of things.

But I wonder
if the gods don’t laugh at us when,
time after time, they cause us a small but
significant interruption, and all we can
think about is getting the lights back on.

***

My new lasagna garden on top of raised beds, which Ana Maria and I worked on as weather permitted, now has carrot, beet, and sugar snap peas planted in it.  Let spring arrive for good!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

New Reviews for Farm Fresh and Fatal



NEW REVIEWS OF FARM FRESH AND FATAL

From Mystery Scene Magazine and Amazon.

In Judy Hogan’s Farm Fresh and Fatal, a small group of North Carolina vegetable farmers take their organic wares to Riverdell Farmers’ Market. Well, make those wares mostly organic. There are a few outlaws among the crowd, such as Giles, who has raised a genetically altered crop, and Kent, an obnoxious poultry inspector who never saw a hormone additive he didn’t like. While the characters in this mostly easygoing mystery couldn’t exactly be described as eccentric, some are definitely odd—especially the argumentative Herman, who describes himself as a “paleo-conservative.” As a group, they embody a small village of mainly like-minded people, but when Kent is poisoned on market day, the infighting begins. Told from the point-of-view of Penny Weaver, who spends part of the year in Wales, with her Welsh husband, we watch this formerly close-knit group fall apart. This mystery is fascinating for several reasons. One, the personal and political infighting that takes place after a murder are indicative of how society at large functions. Two, although the reader first looks at the community as a whole, individuality quickly emerges. And three—but definitely not last—is the fact that vegetables turn out of be a lot more interesting than we’d ever guessed.

—Betty Webb, Small Press Columnist, Mystery Scene Magazine, Winter 2014

***
On Amazon: Five stars.

We live in a changing world whose threats are like nothing experienced in another time. Author Judy Hogan crafts a tale that is at once traditional mystery and exploration of ecological themes. The author's intimate knowledge of farming practices and threats shines through in every word, but it's Hogan's finesse with her characters and the crime they must deal with that makes this mystery rise above the rest of the flock.  –Jenny Milchman, Author of Cover of Snow.

***

5.0 out of 5 stars I could not put this book down!!, February 26, 2014  By Cheryl Green (North Potomac, MD United States)

Penny Weaver and her husband Kenneth Morgan have gotten involved with the neighborhood farmers. They are growing their own lettuce and other vegetables. Now Penny and Leroy will be selling their wares at the new local Riverdell Farmers’ Market. The first market the rains came down and they met all the people selling their goods. The second market started with Penny and Leroy opening the market so the farmers could get set up. Then the board members and the county Poultry agent, Kent Berryman, started fighting because Sibyl Kidd did not get the selling spot she wanted. A lot of pushing and shoving and George moved his plants next to Penny. The market manager, Nora, is making sure this is the last time Kent will be at the market. The third market had Penny and Leroy opening again and hoping all the farmers would abide by the rules. Kent showed up even though he was told to stay away, Nora spots him and tells him to leave or the sheriff will be called. She sets up her stand which includes punch. The sale of the punch will go to buying an ad for the farmers’ market in the local newspaper. That night the Sheriff pays Penny a visit. It seems Kent Berryman is dead. He was poisoned. He got sick right after leaving the farmers’ market. Let’s hope Penny finds the killer before the Riverdell farmers’ market is closed for good.

Things to ponder: What was Kent talking so intently about to Abbie at the first Riverdell famers’ market? Will Penny ever approve of any of Sarah’s boyfriends? Will Penny and Kenneth figure out how to split their time between North Carolina and Wales? Who poisoned the punch?

This was the first book I have read by author Judy Hogan. I can honestly tell you – it will not be my last. The story pulls you right from the beginning. The author brings together a quirky band of characters with only a farmers’ market in common. Penny Weaver is a great protagonist. She likes to find out why things happen and doesn’t let anything stop her. This was a fast-paced fun read. I could not put this book down - I needed to know whodunit. So if you like your mystery with an organic taste, then you should be reading Farm Fresh and Fatal.

I received this title for free in exchange for an honest review.

***

Four stars:  

Judy Hogan presents a mystery with an exciting and surprising final twist, entertaining and highly individualistic characters, and insights into issues facing farmers’ markets today. Knowledgeable as she obviously is about the rewards and pitfalls of such community endeavors, she uses the market setting as a backdrop and keeps the mystery in the foreground.
--Carolyn Mulford, author of Show Me the Deadly Deer.

***

Here is the photo of real vegetables from Rocky River Farm (photo in last blog) at the Pittsboro Farmers Market several years ago (2008).  I sent it to Mainly Murder Press to help design the cover above.

***


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Farming Adaptation in a Changing Climate


Rocky River Farm in 2008 in Chatham County.

***

FARMING ADAPTATION CONFERENCE II.

On Friday, February 7, I attended the Abundance Foundation’s second Farming Adaptation Conference in a Changing Climate, held in Pittsboro, North Carolina, at the Central Carolina Community College.  The previous Thursday evening I went to the related Amuse Bouche event, which provided a panel of four of the conference leaders, with WUNC-FM’s radio host of the “The State of Things,” Frack Stasio moderating.  The panelists were: Albert Bates, author of books on biochar, climate crisis, who heads the Eco-village network; Michiel Doorn, a multi-national sustainability strategist from the Netherlands campus of Webster University; Liane Salgado, who works with Carrboro Greenspace, Piedmont wildlife Center, and Carrboro Community Garden Coalition; and Lyle Estill, a Chatham entrepreneur who started the Bio-Fuels plant in Pittsboro and has published many books on that subject and on how local communities can thrive.

People may argue about climate change, but farmers notice. Consider the reality that it’s getting harder now for farmers to grow food.

That weekend in February I was introduced to three major concepts/practical solutions that farmers and communities may use to help them keep growing food despite our wildly unpredictable weather.  Those three concepts, all new to me, are: permaculture, biochar as a soil amendment, and transitioning/eco-villages. Weather has always been difficult for farmers and sometimes unpredictable, but in recent years, the weather has become even harder and often wildly unpredictable.  

Some years since 2000 we’ve had extremely hot summers.  During the July fourth weekend in 2012 we had here in central North Carolina three days of temperatures of 105 F, and a week of temperatures over 100 F.  The seeds I had recently planted couldn’t germinate.  The flowers on tomato and pepper plants didn’t make fruit.  Fortunately I had put in drip irrigation earlier that season, and that kept the plants alive, but they couldn’t flourish during that excessive heat.  

This winter of 2014, in January and February, has brought more single digit temperatures and more snow and ice to this area than we’ve had for years.  I can usually plant early spring crops in February, but not this year due to the weather.  For awhile the ground was frozen hard–rare here.  I was eager to learn any strategies I could to help me keep growing food.  Mostly I grow for myself, but I also sell a few things as cash crops.  

Two of the sessions were especially helpful to me with specific advice and strategies.  One was led by Cathy Jones of Perry-winkle Farm.  She talked about how to assess which parts of your farm got sun and shade and urged us to consider our farms’ micro-climate. Her farm gets frosts early in the fall and late in the spring.  I have noticed that mine is the opposite.  When it’s 30-32 F at our airport RDU, I don’t get frost.  It has to dip down into the 20s F at the airport before the frost comes here.  So I get my first fall frost later even than people living a few miles away, and I often slip through late spring frosts if they aren’t severe.  Cathy pointed out season extension strategies and urged knowing your energy level and capacity.  Mine is good for my age, but I work more slowly and take more breaks.  Cathy also pointed out that sandier soils and raised beds can be worked earlier in the season, and wet ground collects and radiates more heat to alter the environment.

Laura Lengnick, Director of the Sustainable Agriculture program at Warren Wilson College, also gave a very helpful presentation based on a study she is doing of selected sustainable farmers in various parts of the country, as to how they’re managing with climate change.  It turns out that the Southeast has less climate change than most of the rest of the country.  She said the farmers she spoke to have learned they can’t rely on a plan.  No two years are alike. They have to be flexible and nimble.  One idea is to get beds ready in the fall and then they’re ready when you need them.  Some farmers have moved away from direct seeding and grow all their vegetables as transplants.  A lot of droughts are happening in the summer.  One good solution is drip irrigation, which make maximum use of the available water.  Wind has become a new problem.  When the weather makes a sudden change, this is often accompanied by straight winds.  So farm structures will need to be sturdy to deal with the wind.  She said diversity helps, too, so you’re not dependent on only certain crops.  The hardest time of the year for farmers is the transition from spring to summer and then from summer to fall.  Some farmers aren’t growing crops in the summer any more.

From Albert Bates and others, we learned about biochair, to be distinguished from charcoal.  It’s created when you burn wood or other plant material without oxygen.  It then has to be reduced to particles the size an earthworm could digest before it’s added to the soil, but it enhances plant growth by pulling carbon out of the air and also helping the soil retain both water and nutrients.  Very early indigenous societies on the American continent used it!  As a means of soil enrichment it’s being used all over the world now, and small biochar cookers are available.  It didn’t seem right for me now on my small farm, but it’s good to know about it.

Al also emphasized permaculture as the best farming method now and for the future.  This, too, is an age-old practice.  When I got home, I looked up permaculture in Wikipedia.  

The Australian Bill Mollison defines it: “Permaculture is a philosophy of working with rather than against nature, of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labor, and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions rather than treating any one as a single product system.  Specifically it means (1) care for the earth, provision for all life systems to continue and multiply. (2) care for the people–provision for people to access resources necessary for their existence. (3) return of surplus–this includes returning waste back into the system to recycle into usefulness.  It seeks to minimize waste and maximize useful connections between the components, so that the whole becomes greater than its parts. 
Consider the natural layers in a permaculture farm or community:

1) Canopy–the tallest trees.
2) Understory layer–trees that grow less than forty-five feet high.
3) Shrubs–berry bushes
4) Herbaceous–annuals, biennials, or perennials
5) Soil surface–cover crops to retain soil nutrients and organic matter
6) Root crops–potatoes, beets, carrots, etc.
7) Vertical layer–vines, e.g., peas, runner beans, etc.

Some other recommended practices: rain water harvesting; mulches of organic material, which absorb rainfall, reduce evaporation, provide nutrients, increase organic matter in the soil, and feed and create a habitat for soil organisms; suppressing weed growth and weed seed germination, moderating temperature swings, protecting against frost, and reducing erosion.

The one which puzzled me most and I didn’t find in Wikipedia was Transitioning as it was used at the conference.  Apparently twenty-five towns in the U.S. and more abroad are doing this.  The main idea seems to be trying to do as much as possible locally; supporting local businesses rather than big corporate ones; providing food through permaculture gardens, and then Al and others talked about eco-villages.  I did find a Wikipedia entry for eco-villages.  

Eco-villages are intentional communities whose goal is to become more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable.  United by shared economic, social-economic and cultural or  spiritual values, these villages seek alternatives to ecologically destructive electrical, water, transportation, and water treatment systems. Many see the breakdown of traditional forms of community. Wasteful consumerist lifestyles, the destruction of natural habitats, urban sprawl, factory-farming, and over-reliance on fossil fuels are trends that must be changed to avert ecological disasters and create richer, more fulfilling ways of life.

Robert Gilman defined an eco-village as “a human scale full-featured settlement in which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human development and can be successfully continued into the indefinite future.”

People throughout the world are coming together to try to reduce their carbon footprint, move away from depending on fossil fuels and consumerist practices, producing and consuming locally; forging meaningful relationships and living as sustainably as possible.

I realize now that I have visited an eco-village.  The Community of the Arc in southern France follows the ideas of Gandhi, and is doing what these definitions point to.  They grow their own food, make their clothes from flax and sheep’s wool; have minimal electricity on site from a generator; only one or two cars for forty-fifty people. Their telephone is a pay phone.  They have a spiritual emphasis and celebrate seven major world religions, each on a different day. They all share all the work.  I visited this one in 1988, with my sixteen-year-old daughter, and in 1990, with my twenty-one-year-old son. They didn’t use imports, so no coffee, only their local herb teas.

I haven’t wanted so far to live in an intentional community, but I am trying to live close to this model on my small farm, which I might call a homestead.  I grow and preserve as much food as possible, use hand tools except for lawnmower and weeder.  I do have a pickup. I have chickens, fruit trees, berry bushes, grow vegetables, and drink herb teas I grow (peppermint, lemon balm, and lemon grass).  I also do a lot of trading, mutual gift-giving with friends and neighbors.  My house is well-insulated, and I have solar tubes for extra light.  I also have a wood-burning stove to save electricity in winter, and I keep the air conditioning at 83 F; the heat pump in winter, as needed, at 68F, and adjust myself by more or fewer clothes.  We can all do something toward living more simply and more sustainably, if not everything.  We can ask ourselves: what do we really need and how can we spend less, waste less, study our natural world for clues and connections, and communicate better with, and care more attentively for, the human, animal, and plant beings around us.  Judy Hogan

Read more about this conference, including photos and reports at www.abundancefoundation.org 

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You may also be interested in my novel Farm Fresh and Fatal, which takes place in a farmers' market in my fictional Riverdell, a village based on Saxapahaw, Pittsboro, and Moncure, which takes up another serious issue in farming now:  genetically modified seeds.