When a very large project needs to be done, in traditional communities, everyone gets together for a day or a weekend, to do it together.
The Amish or Menonites in this country still do this. A small community of skilled people can build an entire barn in just a weekend (see the chapter on this in a lovely book by an MIT grad who goes to live with a Menonite community for a year: Better Off). In the permaculture community (can we call it that?), we do something similar. A group of people gets together and spends the afternoon making a big push on a garden project. Call it a permablitz, or a garden raising, or raising the food forest.
Last November, I participated in my first garden raising with the Boston Food Forest, when we planted out 40 trees and more at the Ellington Street Food Forest. Yesterday, I went to another one in Dorchester. Just last week, we had one of our own at Big Foot. It was posted as an event by the Boston Food Forest Coalition (thank you!). Who would have believed it: ten people – 7 adults and 3 kids – who I had never met before, who had no relation to me, showed up on a beautiful Sunday, based on nothing more than the promise of working hard together outside, and getting lunch. There was Mark with his daughter Ruby, who often goes to gardenraisings; Alison, who’s interested in healthy food; Lana, who was in Newton and just checked out what good Meetups were around; Monica and her family who are starting a food forest in Canton; Taylor who is moving back to West Virginia to start a food forest there; and Alex, who splits his time between helping to set up the next FIFA World Cup and doing permaculture. Ruby and Izzy from Olin came as well. And Mark said he would make us all lunch.
I had expected just two people to show up but at the last minute found out via Facebook that many more were interested. A little frantic rush around the neighborhood procured more shovels and wheelbarrows – thank you neighbors!
It was fantastic! There is such an energy buzz when a group of human beings get together on a joint project. We are hard-wired to do this. It sets off a gzillion positive neurons, firing all over our bodies, sending the message, Yes, this is good! What we raised is Hugelkultur beds — more on those in another post (basically, these are raised beds with a core of wood to increase moisture retention and soil fertility). I put out all the tools together in a clear location and added a little “sign-in” table, where you could list tools you brought (to be sure you took them home) and give us an email so we could stay in touch. Then, together, we dug out lilies and asters where the Hugelkultur beds were going (putting the plants in a pile to be transplanted on to the hazel hill). Some of us dug out a base of one Hugelkultur bed, then brought in wood and discussed how to best arrange it. Another group of us went to the base of the hazel hill where we arranged large pieces of trunks to create a long ridge that will ease the end of the slope. We talked, we dug, we laughed. We moved piles of stuff that we thought “No way!” could we move those. Appropriate technology indeed: many helping human hands. Someone always kept an eye out for the kids. At about 1 o’ clock, Mark called us all in for lunch and we sat on the deck, eating piles of food, and all of us happy with our work, happy to be eating, and doing lots and lots of talking. Then we went out for a few more hours and did some more work finishing our Hugelkulturs. Really, it was pretty cool. This day deserves LOTS of pictures. Here they are.