May – August, 2002
I came to Seven Springs Farm for a learning experience. I wanted to learn about sustainable farming, homesteading, and simplicity. And while I have only been here for a couple months, I feel I have learned a great deal in those areas and others. I have learned about organic gardening, farm maintenance, greenhouse work, building construction, food preservation, and so much more. I feel I have learned about a lifestyle that I had never experienced before, but always yearned for deeply.
I have always been interested in the outdoors and plants, and recently have become more interested in growing my own food. From working in the gardens here at Seven Springs, I feel like I have the experience to get started in doing some of my own gardening. I am majoring in Environmental Biology and Sustainable Development at Appalachian State University where I took a Planning class that focused on sustainability. I realized the need for things like buying locally grown food and the importance of full circle composting. I found that the Community Supported Agriculture here is a great way to do that. I have learned about how a CSA is run and what goes into producing the food. It’s really wonderful to see people supporting a local organic farm by sharing the risks with the farmers by buying a share at the beginning of the growing season and then reaping the benefits of the harvest. It is also a great way to educate sharers about where their food comes from by having them come and work on harvest days before delivering the food to the distribution sites. The farm here also does a good job of composting and I’ve learned about building compost piles so as to return nutrients back to the soil rather than throwing them away. Another aspect of organic farming that I’ve learned about is insect control. I grew up eating food that had been sprayed with pesticides not really knowing there was another way. It was very enlightening to find that there are natural ways of dealing with pests. I’ve learned about the use of beneficial insects that parasitize or eat pest insects. We’ve planted flowers and plants that are food for beneficial insects to attract them to the gardens where they are needed. Using beneficial insects rather than spraying chemicals increases biodiversity and makes use of the natural predator/prey relationship found in the food web. This idea is based on nature and the connections between every living organism.
While learning about growing food, I’ve also picked up some skills in preparing it. Through recipes from books and people we’ve talked to here, as well as through our own creativity, my fellow apprentice, Ezra and I have come up with lots of different ways to cook vegetables. One of our favorites is zucchini bread, which we’ve found to be a good way to use up some of the surplus summer squashes. I’m not a vegetarian and was surprised to find that I hardly missed meat at all. There’s so much good food here that is healthy. We’re never without something to eat. Along with cooking we’ve learned how to can and have made jelly and canned green beans. Ezra and I were also interested in learning about wild edibles. This farm is a wonderful resource for these wild foods. We have found out that some of the weeds in the gardens are edible such as purslane, lamb’s quarter, and wood sorrel. Surrounded by forest, we’ve also been trying to learn to identify edible plants in the woods. We are hoping to purchase a book for future apprentices on wild edibles.
Coming to Seven Springs I knew it was going to be a lesson in simplicity. The apprentice quarters are very modest. Learning to live simply in nature is something I’ve wanted to do ever since reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Here I live in an old camper with not much walking space, which encourages me to spend most of my time outdoors. I have lights in my camper that run off of solar power. We have an outdoor kitchen shelter that is open on one side. The kitchen is my favorite part of the apprentice quarters. We have a stove and oven that use propane gas and our water in the sink comes from rainwater collected in a milk tank from the roof and pumped to the sink using solar power. We can’t drink this water and have to fill up our drinking water containers down at the barn. Since we don’t have running water we don’t have showers or a flush toilet either. Instead we have an outhouse and solar shower bags that we fill in the sink and hang in the sun to get warm. This, I must admit, was the hardest part to get used to, but now I think nothing of it. I like this way of life and feel good about learning to conserve water and living without conventional electricity.
Another part of the apprentice experience is learning to live and work with someone else. I am thankful to have had Ezra as my fellow apprentice. We’ve gotten along very well and I have learned a lot from him. It’s nice to have someone to talk to about the day and with whom to share experiences. We cook our meals together and share in the clean up tasks. We also buy much of our food together and try to buy in bulk to save money and packaging. I think it is good to learn to live and cooperate with someone that may be different from you in a lot of ways, but someone with whom you’re able to find common bonds. It is good to be able to learn from other people and to see different viewpoints.
One of our big projects this summer has been working on a small cabin at the apprentice site to take the place of one of the campers. In what seemed to be a short period of time, we had the subfloor in, the walls framed out, and the roof put on. Now we are working on the insulation for the walls before we put the siding on. Building has been a learning experience for all of us. I have learned to use a bucksaw and have seen what goes into building a house. With some of the grant money we are going to buy a futon bed for the cabin.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed and learned from this summer is the local community. There is a great feeling of community on the farm and in the Floyd area. Floyd is such a great mixture of people, a lot of which are dedicated to preserving the environment and working together to provide each other’s needs, while building the local economy. The farm community is made up of Ron and Polly who own the farm, Ann and Mark who are both paid workers, the apprentices, and CSA members who come to help on harvest days, including Chris and her kids who come every Tuesday to work. People who come to the farm all share a love for this place- for the beauty and the serenity as well as the gifts of the harvest. Something I look forward to is our weekly potluck lunch on the farm. Whoever is here for the day brings something and joins in for a lunch that is always really good. I have also enjoyed getting to work with different people on the farm and getting to know Polly, Ron, Ann, Mark, and Chris. I am thankful that Ron and Polly allow apprentices to come to their beautiful farm and take the time to teach us so many things. Seven Springs Farm is a wonderful place to live, work, and learn.