January 25, 2014

From Vision into Action

Minus 12 this morning, the windows frosted with beautiful jewels and the snow vivid and blinding. Doing the round for the animals felt more like tucking them up for a cosy hibernation as opposed to the usual squawking, bleating, begging to be let out at all costs. The old bread that we get from a local bakery for the ducks was so hard I had to use a hatchet to break it up and the kitchen waste that we collect from an organic catering company in Görlitz was frozen solid into a layer-cake of peelings, pasta and apple cores.

I have a week with the girls whilst Flo is in England. It feels like a good opportunity to consolidate loose ends, catch up on emails and focus on our written work.

In the middle of December we had our first open meeting in Görlitz to introduce our idea of setting up a Community Supported Agriculture scheme here at the Heckenhof. Many new projects are brewing in Germany (and further afield) and it feels like the time is ripe for a radical rethink of how we do business, how we create livelihood and how we support one another.

The nearest initiatives to the west are in Dresden and to the north around Berlin, so for the Oberlausitz we are certainly breaking new ground. It is challenging, but the risk is small as we have little to lose:

Our handful of veg boxes last year attracted a solid core of supporters and showed us that even with existing schemes in the area, there is a hunger for more. We will plan for forty shares (each calculated to cover the needs of one adult and one child) and however many members we attract, the rest will be taken to market or sold to caterers with the funds going back into the project.

A challenge facing many growers is the raising of seedlings. The quantity is often too high for most project's greenhouse capacity. One Dresden project has them delivered from Baden-Württemberg as nothing of scale exists nearby that commits to organic principles.

Flo had the idea to approach a local garden centre in Reichenbach (4kms away). They have struck a deal that he buys the seed and comes over occasionally to help whilst they oversee the healthy progress of the plants in their greenhouses. Amazingly, it turns out that, although not certified, they are committed to organic methods! We have struck gold on this one, and it has reaffirmed once again how a bit of lateral thinking and a good dose of gumption, along with a firm belief in the vision, can make anything possible!

Here out in the sticks it is crucial that we nurture a social and cultural community of like-minded folk. This project carries the potential to establish both a cultural and economic livelihood for ourselves. We trust that over time more skills and ideas will emerge from our member community to enrich and grow this into something we can all be proud of.

This space is for that outer layer of community, you folk who have been following our progress over time and whose input and ideas are just as valuable. Please use this space freely to bring out your thoughts and share your insights and experiences.

December 21, 2013

Solstice Muse

Looking back over the last year, the biggest impact on progress on all fronts was the unbelievably long winter. It just went on and on, with spring teasing and beckoning but never quite arriving until well into April. 

Then suddenly it burst into a high speed transition into summer. Delicate blossom appeared for the briefest of moments and vegetation shot up on all fronts, making for bumper hay crops and endless weeding. 

June brought action to the farm, as many hands made light work of our crumbling stable - now the perfect hibernation for our two goats (and of course the chickens).
Throughout the summer, trips to the lake were plentiful making up for all the sun lost during the dull winter months. The vegetable harvest was once again abundant, although fruit certainly suffered from the short spring.

Autumn has remained mostly mild and fresh and we look set to have a brown Christmas.

Bracing ourselves for winter proper at the start of the new year, we look ahead to plans for beginning a CSA here on our farm. We envisage a small group of up to 40 individuals (approximately twenty families) from Görlitz and surrounding villages ready to nurture a culture of seasonal celebration and appreciation of the abundance of nature through their involvement with the farm.

This time is all about drawing down the details of how exactly this thing can take shape. The level of interest is high enough to give some confidence, but the challenge is to maintain sufficient momentum to keep the interest flowing.

As we continue to chip away at our kitchen and our future plans whilst stoking the many fires that keep our little flat cosy and warm, we look forward to all the surprises ahead of us and to spontaneous visitors, both regular and new.

October 14, 2013

Making Time

It has been a ridiculously long time since I have posted. I am sad not to have found more time for it, but that is also an indication of how busy the summers have become. It is now very definitely in the past, with autumn in full throttle, the trees on fire with colour and the animals on heat.

We now have a beautiful ram to join our five timid sheep. He has settled in very well, quietly raising his magnificent horns to observe his domain.

The goats are next in line, but the compatible billies are all out on loan, so patience is the order of the day.

Another quirky addition to our motley crew are seven Indian Running ducks! We acquired ten back in August as a swap for vegetables with a local Swabian restaurant. Three then made their way to our persistent mentor Merziowsky in exchange for two fat 'wart ducks'! They are a curious pair but apparently ideal for a Christmas roast!

Our hens have stopped laying for now but our colourful harvest makes up for rationing eggs. We have been inundated with huge courgettes and I have discovered that they make just as good Bread & Butter Pickles as the cucumbers did last year. Harissa has been another abundant preserve and both have sold well. We have to rely on selling preserves to get our cashflow higher over the coming months. Throughout the summer and early autumn a handful of veg boxes have kept some Görlitz families very satisfied and our coffers lined, if only a little.

The new kitchen is now tangibly close, with the double glass doors fitted at last, just in time for the onset of cold. The floor tiles are set to arrive this week, ordered from Poland and an attractive compromise for not being able to afford the ancient-looking hand-crafted terracotta slabs so beloved by restorers and people of the South.

Electricity and water cables have also been laid between the two dwellings, the mammoth digger job courtesy of a visiting friend. Electric cables now run throughout the little house – a job carried out willingly by the boyfriend of one of my English students in lieu of future private lessons. So all that remains is a willing workforce to plaster the place and fit it with the necessities of life to enable guests to stay in style. Any experienced and hard-working volunteers... you know where to come!

All eyes on impending winter, and the sincere hope that it won't be quite as long as last year...

Let the dreaming continue (whilst we 'dig' for all we're worth)!

July 16, 2013

A New Friend

Our broody hen has now been sitting for just over two weeks. We have had to separate her from the others to give her some peace. They would try at every opportunity to add eggs to her nest and (perhaps out of jealousy) to nudge her off. She is now in the neighbouring stable room in the rabbit's old hutch and sits - calm and unperturbed - for days on end.

We have been told to lift her off every few days (if she doesn't try to do so herself) so she can stretch and offload. It feels counter-intuitive to interfere at all, but she seemed grateful for it.

Advice comes in abundance these days from a new acquaintance, an old man who lives at the far end of the village. He knows everything about everyone in the village, and if some new folk turn up, he makes it his business to know about them too.

He lives in a ramshackle old place with no obvious entrance. The first thing you see from the road is a creatively stacked wall of old bricks, tiles, rusted metal and wood, useful for something, some day...

Then a tidy path flanked by freshly cut hay, strawberry beds and lettuces - all neatly maintained – and a beautifully oiled, sturdy frame for peas.

Through a little gate, the chaos begins: stacks of potentially useful objects litter the space filling every available corner with something to attract your attention and make your head spin! A few hanging baskets with flowers decorate the junk and lead you deeper into the labyrinth of narrow, makeshift gates and skinny pathways snaking off into what feels like a neverending back yard. All kinds of ducks and chickens reside in unexpected enclosures as we pass, making agitated noises and busying themselves about, making the best of their quirky little homes.

We came to look at Laufenten (Indian 'running ducks') - reputedly the best slug-eaters around. We had heard of Mersiowsky through the vague description of a neighbour, but couldn't work out exactly where he lived. Then an ad for ducks in the local paper gave the address but no contact number.

Our presence on the old Halle Hof had somehow escaped Mersiowsky's attention, but now he is making up for lost time.