Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner – The Transition Network – October 12, 2011

CFN –An invitation was received to participate in some “afternoon harvest activities” at the Homestead of Bill & Karen Carrière near Newington, Ontario.  The Carrières are involved in The Transition Network which aims to inspire communities “to work together to increase our community’s capacity to thrive in the face of peak oil, climate change and global economic instability.Their hospitality was extended in the interest of working towards this goal.   The demonstrations and talks were to include information about shelling beans, milling grain by hand, drying fruit such as apples, fruit trees such as Asian pear, heart nut trees and hardy pecan, solar dehydrators, solar ovens and something called a chicken tractor with laying hens.  (Images related to the activities discussed here can be viewed in the following videoed slideshow.)

There were several work areas set up for people to see, learn and partake in some of the activities.  The first place visited was an outbuilding which had a hand cranked wheat mill set up on a work bench.  The mill was a wonderful piece of equipment which had a crank wheel with a groove which could possibly be hooked up with a belt to crank while riding a stationary bicycle and a handle for turning by hand.  I took the opportunity to try the mill to get an idea of the effort and time required to mill a cup of flour.  Taking on this task on a regular basis would certainly tone the muscles.I had a keen interest in the solar dehydrator and solar oven.  The solar oven was a store purchase (approximately $250.00) which was in use during the tour.  The oven was in the process of cooking a curry soup; the aroma was marvelous.  Karen shared that the solar oven operated much like a slow cooker; great for taking on the task of anything that you might cook in a slow cooker, without the electricity cost.  How great is that?  This is an item that can be easily transported from location to location and can be used all seasons.  Sun is the only requirement.  F.Y.I…there are various plans for solar cookers on-line for all the “do-it-yourselfers” out there and it is impossible to burn anything with these cookers.

The solar dehydrators, which were built by Bill, were constructed with on-line plans.  The dehydrators measured about 4’ x 3’ with a depth of about 6”.   The Carriere’s had four which are put into use as soon as the vegetables and fruit are ripe for the picking.  The produce is then sliced uniformly for placement into the dehydrator; this process takes about 48 hours to attain product for storage. Fruits which have been blended in a food processor are dried in a pan to obtain fruit leathers.  I tasted samples of tomato and strawberry leathers and dried sliced apples and pears.  They were very good and naturally sweet.

There were several work stations involved in cider pressing.  Firstly the apples needed to be picked from the tree.  I picked a couple of bushels myself having to give the odd swat to “lady bug looking” bugs trying to eat the apples and giving me the odd nip in protest for taking away their lunch.  These were then taken to a washing station where a few people were set up to wash and cut the apples for pressing at the cider press. The juice ran from the press into a bucket through a towel which acted as a filter, which was then taken to the kitchen for canning.  Fresh samples of the juice were absolute sweetness.

The last work station involved half a dozen folks gleaning bean pods from the vines; in to a bucket to be taken to the crew for shelling, then to the kitchen for dividing between jars for storage.  The beans were bright, beautiful and provided inspiration for a homemade soup or salad.

We were also introduced to a beautiful specimen of chicken, bred for colder climates, the Gold Laced Wyandotte.  These were housed in a fenced enclosure, with the shade of an expansive apple tree.  The fenced area also included a chicken tractor (meaning an enclosure for the chickens on wheels which can be easily moved by hand) which safely housed the chickens in the evening from predators such as foxes.

Apart from learning about these activities which put healthy nutritious food on our tables, I noticed something else….conversation, community.  While the group was shucking the beans, there was a circle to converse, laugh and support.  The group of five cleaning and pressing the apples had opportunity for an exchange; an opportunity to listen and to be heard.  There was real interaction.  A supportive community was being birthed in the process.

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