Friday, March 23, 2012

Building a Keyhole Garden

Since my interest in local food has begun to develop, I've been taken with the idea of planting a backyard garden. I really like the idea, as my friend, Ed Funkhouser once described his family doing when he was younger, of going into the backyard and picking vegetables and eating them fresh for dinner.

The Party of the Shires has been a wonderful outlet for ideas on how to transition to a more locally-based economy, and from this group I have learned about hugelkultur, aquaponics, lasagna gardening and keyhole gardening.

The idea with a keyhole garden is to build a garden that centers on a compost heap. The only water that is put into the garden goes onto the compost heap, and the plants, which are planted around this, send their roots toward the water and nutrients in the center.

Keyhole gardens have proven to be drought-beating sources of nutritious vegetables in Lesotho and Texas. I had been planning to build a hugelkultur garden on a concrete pad in my backyard that at one time served as a dog run for a previous owner. This pad had become a junk collecting spot, and I would like to turn it into a useful space. Inspired by the notion of using found materials described in keyhole gardening, I (with the help of my son) started the process of building a keyhole garden in this space last night. The following photos represent about three hours of work. While I did not follow Dr. Deb's plan exactly (my garden is about 9' in diameter and currently has broken bricks, concrete, steel wire, dirt, green vegetation and dead wood--not in any particular layering--and I'm using the plasic compost bin I already had), it does tie together some of the benefits of hugelkultur and keyhole gardening. I'm hopeful that the organic material in this raised-bed garden will provide a great source of moisture through our hot Texas summer! And there's the added benefit that my backyard is now a lot cleaner. I still need to add some more height to the wall and add layers of cardboard and soil. Once I get ready to plant, I'll be referencing Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening.

Forgiveness Vespers

My stepdad recently sent me the following note in an email entitled "Forgiveness Sunday in Peru. Sort of...":

Each year, the town of Chumbivilcas, Peru, celebrates the new year with what to Americans might seem "Festivus"-inspired (from the Seinfeld TV show), but is actually drawn from Incan tradition. For "Takanakuy," with a background of singing and dancing, all townspeople with grudges from the previous 12 months (men, women, children) settle them with sometimes-bloody fistfights so that they start the new year clean. Said one villager to a Reuters reporter, "Everything is solved here, and after(ward) we are all friends." [Reuters via CBS News, 12-14-2011]

I quipped, "I wonder if that might not work better in some parishes?"

All joking aside, Forgiveness Vespers is among the most beautiful services of the Church. By some trick of scheduling, I rarely manage to be with my parish for this important service, but I still recall the first Forgiveness Vespers I ever attended, at St. Joseph's in Houston while I was a catechumen. I remember watching in amazement as each member of the congregation approached the priest, Fr. Matthew; they made mutual prostrations and asked and gave forgiveness: "Forgive me, a sinner." "God forgives and I forgive." They began to line up across the front of the iconostasis and around the edge of the nave, each asking and giving forgiveness to each other: "Forgive me, a sinner." "God forgives and I forgive." Though I was something of an outsider, I was unmistakably drawn into the community by participating. I felt, very acutely, what it meant to be in communion.

I think that this rite of forgiveness and reconciliation is central to the evangelistic mission of the Church. Though I have not been present for Forgiveness Vespers, I do seek out members of my parish at the start of Lent to seek their forgiveness, but I've also begun to bring others into my practice of this rite. Last year I worked with two Catholic men with whom I often had conversations about religion. Because I knew that we shared some common understanding of faith, I sought their forgiveness. This year, I am working with a whole new group of people; I do not know the faith background of any of them. It has been a particularly trying couple of months, and our small group has begun to mesh very well. I did not feel as though I could leave this work "family" out of my practice.

While I refrained from making prostrations, I did approach each in turn and explain that as part of my Lenten practice I wanted to seek their forgiveness for wrongs, perceived or unperceived, committed against them. The response has truly been amazing, and I can't help but recognize in their embarrassed, dismissive, emotional and grateful responses some of my own feeling of being welcomed at that first Forgiveness Vespers that I attended.

Christ's salvific work certainly includes atonement, but (I think) that was more a concession to us than anything else. The beauty of the Orthodox Christian teaching about salvation is the emphasis on our reunion with God. The acts of reconciliation, forgiveness, and hospitality are truly vectors for grace because they anticipate and remind that the purpose of our existence is that union with God, and by His grace, extending that love to all.

I have been humbled not only by the response from my co-workers this year, but also by the enormity of the task in front of me. Forgive me my transgressions, as I forgive those who transgress against me. If I truly inhabited the task of working out my salvation in fear and trembling, there would be no end to the seeking of forgiveness. Perhaps that is the lesson.

Why Local Food? Where Do I Find It?

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants." - Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

I'm putting this post up as a reference to the local food resources that we have discovered near our home. My first foray into local food was when a friend, Susan, gifted me with a bar of goat's milk soap and suggested that I might want to buy eggs from the farmers who made it. Since then, we've bought eggs and goat's milk soap from the Osth Family Farm. We were members of the HomeSweet Farm CSA (community supported agriculture) for a short time, but it was a tough time to acclimate to eating seasonally because of my wife's pregnancy. We have visited the monthly market day that HomeSweet Farm hosts since then, and recommend it as a great family outing.

Eating seasonally has been one of the most rewarding aspects of eating locally. It is hard to understand how much food we eat regularly from other places (and how that might affect one's carbon footprint) until you see what is available from local farms at any given time. Becoming attuned to seasonal foods has also helped me dig into Shirism (and Distributism), which has been another recent interest.

My interest in eating local, in-season, whole food has been fed by several sources which I can recommend:
Osth Family Farm
As noted above, we buy eggs, goat's milk soap (our favorite scents are Wellness and Patchouli Citrus), and occasionally vegetables from the Osth's. Our boys also really enjoy visiting the farm and learning where food comes from!

Cox Family Farm (on Facebook)
We  have begun buying vegetables from the Cox's. Our friend, Fr. Cassian Sibley, works on the farm and introduced us to this CSA opportunity. As of this writing, the vegetable shares are full, but eggs are available, as is some grass-fed beef. We look forward to the day when milk shares will be available again, too!

HomeSweet Farm
I am fond of HomeSweet Farm, but as it is almost an hour away, it is really too far to be truly "local." Nevertheless, their monthly market day is unparelleled for access to great local products like cheese, wine, poultry, and cajeta! Farmer Brad is also a great educator about local food; his blog is a great way to delve into this subject.

Brazos Natural Foods (on Facebook)
A local grocery dedicated to supplying nutritious, whole, local food.

Brazos Valley Farmer's Market (on Facebook)
Provides a way for the local community to easily access locally-grown food.

Brazos Locavores (on Facebook)
Also provides information about finding local food, including which restaurants in the area serve locally-grown food.

Howdy! Farm (on Facebook)
CSA run by Texas A&M students and faculty.

For those that are not in the Brazos Valley, check out what resources might be available to you locally at Local Harvest: