I have never eaten this good for this many days in a row as in the last ten days. And I am sure the kitchen staff did an outstanding job in cooking delicious food, but there is something else about the food here that makes it very special. The immediate locality and freshness, the flavor complexity and the well being of the land, plants and animals around this place. It is impossible to explain because I would need to write in a language that touches all your senses.
We where on morning chores and our group was on moving cows and looking after the broiler chickens which are in the brooder. They are on their eighth day at the farm and get fed five times a day. While our group was in the brooder the group that was on laying hens came back with a weak hen which had a paralysis on one side of its body and could not move. Gustavo and Richard hat noticed it not moving on the days before and Richard said the two options where to kill it or to keep it in quarantine. The group decided on killing it given the slim chances of recovery and having killed a few chickens before I spontaneously volunteered for showing the others.
Learning at Ridgedale is different, it feels natural and easy, Never do I wonder what time it is when learning here and I attribute that to several factors. On the first day of the Permaculture design course when we gathered for the first time as a group of 20 strangers in the teaching Gur (similar structure to a yurt) we sat in a circle and Richard said some organizational things. After that we went around the circle each saying our name, where we are from and what three things we are most excited about. This could be anything and didn’t have to do with farming, although most things where about farming. It was a nice way to get something to connect the name to other than the face and place. After everyone was finished, Richard went around and had already remembered every ones names and he then asked if anyone else wanted to try and repeat every ones names. Some people tried and it went surprisingly well. About five people went around saying the names out loud and each time every other person in the room was following them. Then we played two quick name games to make sure we heard all the names several times. One was with a hot potato ball where you had to throw the ball to someone quickly after catching it but announce their name first. It was amazing to see how easy 20 strangers learned each others names in about 15 minutes.
Today we organized a Barbecue down at the lake for dinner. To get there we walked through the peat bog that belongs to Ridgedale Farm. All farms in the village have a part of the local peat bog which has not been used for at least 50 years. It looked like a swampy forest with birch and other trees in between but actually had lots of moss as ground cover. And when Richard took a piece out of the ground with a spade it was all peat moss. Pure carbon nice and fluffy that has great water holding capabilities. Basically what commercial compost consists of, peat moss, chicken manure and cow manure.
The piece of swamp that belonged to the farm was about 15×40-50 meters I would guess. Richard said they dug down two meters before and it was still pure peat moss and that he would suspect it to go down to even eight meters. This could last the farm practically indefinitely as cow bedding for the winter which could then be used to make compost for the garden beds.
A lot of people argue that peat moss is an unsustainable resource but compared to straw which relies on plowed grain crop monocultures, it is a quite sustainable resource which is readily available for the farm.
The barbecue was a nice way to relax a bit and have amazing food.
To get our blood flowing again before another lecture in the Yurt we played a little game. Richard gave a sheet of paper to each of us to stand on in a random place in the Yurt. He put down one more paper which no one was standing on. Then he went on the other side of the room and explained to us that he would start walking towards the free piece of paper and try and touch it with his feet. We had to make sure someone would walk over and stand on it with both feet before he got there. We where not allowed to block him and he would time our attempts. Then he left us to discuss our strategy. Essentially it is a very simple problem, but it took us quite a few attempts to protect him from touching the free paper for more than 7 seconds. We started by some people jumping on the paper randomly once he got close. That created a free paper where the person that moved jumped from. Then someone had to jump there. Since it was not coordinated at all it was easy for Richard to walk over because somebody would leave their paper right next to him.
Every day the participants rotate to a different area on the farm in order to split the chores. I was in the market gardens in the morning and we spread some more woodchip before breakfast. Then in the morning Richard took us all on a farm tour and showed us around all the different fields. Most impressive was the difference between Ridgedale land and their neighbors land. When Richard and Yohanna arrived and bought the farm six years ago the grass was stunted in growth like it still is on their neighbors land. The reason it is stunted is that there is no more animal interaction with the land. The grass does not get grazed and can’t express it’s true physiology. We could see the grass was thin and there was a lot of dry dead grass matter in between the green grass with a layer of moss under that and very little soil activity. On his land where Richard has been grazing cows and chickens and moving them after a grazing plan that let’s the grass recover it was about 30 cm tall and had thick dark green leaves. And the species of grass where all the same. Cows act as mowing machines and chickens follow them, flattening the grass which creates a shield that keeps moisture in the ground. The chickens also love to peck into the cowpats and eat the fly larvae, which are high in protein and would hatch to bug the cows otherwise. While foraging for larvae the chickens will scratch the cowpat with their feet spreading the manure evenly across the pasture. It’s a nice integrated system.
After lunch we whipped out the big straw chopper and chopped straw. A team collected cow manure of off the padocs and another team collected green matter and Richard showed us how to make compost. The chopper did a good job of chopping up the straw and green matter to create a bigger surface area. Then the material was layered in a cylindrical fashion with taking very good care of having straight edges. First layer was a layer of straw (carbon material) which acts as a buffer for fluids seeping from the top. Then we added a layer green material (higher in nitrogen) and on top of that we spread out cow manure before putting on a layer of straw and so on. After each layer of straw we watered the pile since it was pretty dry material. It is important to keep the edges straight and work with your hands in order to get a feel for the right ratios in the compost. Furthermore Richard pointed out that when the compost is finished half of its mass will consist of life (bacteria, nematodes, athropods, etc.) And the count of life will outnumber the number of humans that have ever lived on this planet so it is important to take care to make it a good process and take time.
The compost is a hot compost which we turn often because the middle part heats up to about 55-65°C and that is what degenerates the material and kills of any pathogens or weed seeds. So we are going to take the outside part and layer it in the middle and take the middle and put it on the outside about every two days depending on the temperature. It was nice to do on the first day since that way the people that are here for the PDC and leave after ten days can still see the most change in the compost. And we interns get to use it later and even make compost tea from it which I am really excited about.
This morning I got to help Gustavo with
the chicken and cow moves. We drove up to the eggmobiles at 06:30 and
let out the hens of one egg mobile and had to move the other one onto
fresh pasture. The hens move around every two days following the cows
over the pasture. That way they get to pick out the maggots and
spread the manure from the cows evenly to fertilize the soil. We
took down the electric fence that surrounds the egg mobile, moved it
over and set it up again after moving the egg mobile with the rhino
(a powerful quad). Then after we let the hens out. It is important to
let them out after moving because otherwise they wont find back into
the egg mobile in the evening.
Then we moved the cows onto fresh grass
and it was incredible to se the difference of just one day of cow mow
machine action. They have four cows here at ridgedale and there will
be a bull coming later in the season so they have four calves this
year. They are kept for pastured beef.
After chores we got breakfast wich
included some incredibly intense smoked ham from last years pigs.
For the rest of the morning I was in
the market garden with Gordon and Rob. This year is the first year
that they have the paperpot transplanter system which is a machine
that is pulled over the beds and transplants into the bed directly.
The plants are started in a paper chain which allows for them to
unravel quickly. Since the system is new there where still some
things to figure out in order to get efficient and quick with it.
There where some rows where the transplants did not sit in the soil
properly after transplanting and we had to go back and bury them by
hand. So I helped with that and moving netting from the peas and I
got to test the transplanter aswell. Since it was still arriving
day for all people from the Permaculture Design course and the
internship I decided to spend the rest of the time with bringing out
woodchips in between the raised beds. That way Rob and Gordon didn’t
have to explain everything to me and then later again and I felt like
I could be helpful.
After lunch Richard arrived with a batch
of 500 day-old chickens around the same time most of the people from
the PDC and Internship arrived aswell. So we got to watch how Richard
settles in the chicks and he explained some key points. The
essentials are clean, good quality water access, a heat source with
temperatures around 32°C and food. To encurage the chicks to get
active and run around, the heat lamps are seperate from the water and
food, which will force them out from the heat lamp to scavange for
food and water.
With the others arriving we spread tha
woodchips way faster now and spent some time in the gardens together
before dinner. After dinner we gathered in the training Yurt to get
to know eachothers names and for Richard to give an overview of the
organisational stuff. Everyone also said three things that they where
most interested in and it was fascinating to see so many different
intersts. I am really excited to learn about all the different
projects people have going on.
To end the day there was sauna which
really is one of the best ways to end a day here on the farm.
Either it is incredibly easy to hitchhike in Sweden or I just got really lucky today, but I arrived at Ridgedale around 20:00 right when Richard, Rob and Gustavo came back from fishing. I had some pretty cool rides and as always only nice people picked me up. The last ride was a Ridgedale neighbor. Since I am early and everyone arrives tomorrow it is still really relaxed here and I got to chose the best bed! All ten interns sleep in one room in a big loft in an old barn house.
After joining Rob, Gordon and Gustavo for dinner we had an incredibly relaxing sauna and I got my stuff unpacked. Tomorrow morning I get to help Gordon move the chickens before breakfast and Richard is leaving to get 500 new day-old chicks. Around 14:00 people will start arriving for the ten day permaculture design course and the internship. There will pe ten participants in the PDC and ten interns.
I’m sitting on the flight to Stockholm,
Sweden on my way to a ten week intensive internship program at
Ridgedale Farm AB. The internship kicks of with a ten day
permaculture design course where I hope to deepen my knowledge about
natural systems and how to interpret and use them. During the course
we will define our holistic context in order to map out which
direction we want to go in our life. This will help us order and use
the knowledge we gain in the course.
I expect the internship
to be very intense with Richard Perkins as the main teacher. He has
experience in coaching thousands of farmers and (re)-designing their
farms with them. I look forward to gain practical experience in
working and living on a farm aswell as gain theoretical knowlegde
about the backend and business side of farming. I am excited to share
my creative process with others and gain a lot of different
perspectives on farming/life.
The plane lands at around 14:30 and I
hope on hitchhiking at least one or two hours towards the farm which
is about four hours driving distance from the airport, before