Sheep Shipping

There is a herd of sheep grazing in our valley (including on some of our land). During this time of year the herds expand since many lambs are born. At this time herd owners that want to make an income from milk (used to produce dairy products) need to separate the lambs from the rest of the herd (because they consume much of the milk). Herd owners that do not want to expand the flock (substantially) need to get rid of the lambs. In Romania some are butchered and their meat especially for the Easter holiday. But most are sold.

A couple of days ago a truck pulled up in front of our house. It was a lamb-merchant who came to buy lambs from the herd staying with us. The road is covered with stones up to our property, beyond that it is an earth road … which the heavy truck could not negotiate. So it stopped right in front of our house. It was a great opportunity to watch and take some pictures.

By the time I got out (boots, raincoat …) negotiations had begun. My Romanian is still limited so I only partially understand what is going on … a lot of interpretation and guessing on my part 🙂 A lamb was being weighed.

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This is important because the price is based on weight. There seemed to be a debate about the precision of the scales and what followed is what I like to call a Romanian callibration process. Representatives of both sides (buyer and seller) stood on the weight to assess? it’s precision.

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When they didn’t seem to reach an agreement a second (manual) scale was brought out for comparison. Again, both parties stood on it … and a lamb.

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When that was set there was more debate maybe on the price per kg. The buyer took the seller to the truck (which was already loaded with some lambs) and fingered one of the animals as if to say “you see this is a meaty animals, yours are all bones”. But that too was settled (somewhat grudingly) … and it was time to start gathering lambs. A demanding and pretty aggressive venture. I wouldn’t want to be a lamb!

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Once caught, each lamb is weighed and then placed in the truck.

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This truck will also be loaded with some pigs and is then headed to Holland.

In this picture you can see our dogs “helping out”. The large dog (Indy) seems to have some herding in her genetics and is very good at it and very happy to do it. The smaller dog (Ricky) is more of a follower and imitates Indy, though clearly does not really know what she is doing.

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Its hillarious when one of the sheep turns to face Ricky … and:

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Indy is also a passionate car chaser-barker (unless its a car she is used to). She chases rear tires and if the car is moving slowly enough (as is sometimes the case with horse carriages) she will try to actually bite a rear tire … as if she is trying to herd the vehicle (to join the car herd?) … an unpleasant site for us (I’d hate to see what happens if she manages to latch a tooth onto a moving tire). The crazy thing is that Ricky learned this behaviour from her … but she applies it completely wrong. When Indy chases a moving tire Ricky chases and barks after Indy and bites Indy’s hind legs. Its obvious she picked up this behavior but has absolutely no idea what it is for. The craziest thing is that Indy, as her teacher, accepts this behavior as normal and to our suprise never turns to bite off Ricky’s head. Hillarious to watch 🙂

Biosan Hit by Hail

We just heard from Mihaela and Kinga of Biosan that a hail storm destroyed most of their crops. It tore through their greenhouse covers and slammed into the plants below. We had a bit of hail in our area but nothing so destructive. It is amazing that this kind of devastation can occur in minutes:

They worked efficiently to get an early start this year and had already made a few deliveries of wonderful (we know because we got a taste) fresh greens to their members … and now this. The deliveries will stop. They will get started on new plants but recuperation will take some time.

There isn’t much (that I know of) to protect a garden from a hail storm. I believe that answers can only be found from a more macro view of things … diversity comes to me as a keyword. Diversity in a garden, diversity in the wider eco-system in which the garden lives … diversity increases the odds in your favor when nature strikes (somethings may be lost, but not all).

With Cutia Taranului diveristy gains additional context. Cutia Taranului transforms a hail storm into an experience of community in a very practical way:

  • Members of the Biosan box who just started to enjoy the fresh foods will have to find another source until Mihaela & Kinga can get back on track.
  • Mihaela & Kinga have invested care, time, work and money in their gardens and are experiencing losses.
  • Andreea and I were sad to hear about the damage and the frustrations Mihaela & Kinga are experiencing. We were very happy to watch them grow from a small experiment last year (when they shipped just a few boxes) to a small producer this year.

I should say that this isn’t the first time that Cutia Taranului has experienced casualties of nature. Last year, Farkas family also joined Cutia Taranului, they had a list of members who had joined and … they lost their entire crop to last year’s drought (which, unlike hail, can be mitigated, but that is another story). We saw the small plants when they were growing … they were all transplanted into the fields … and almost all the plants died (there wasn’t enough variety or quantity for box deliveries). The Farkas family may offer a box this year … their fields are planted, but this year they are more cautious and waiting to see how events unfold before extending an invigation for members to join.

I do believe that there are things that can be done to protect a community … and again the answer comes in the form of diversity. There are currently 5 peasant-families who will be delivering (some have not yet started, and more may yet join)  over 150 boxes of vegetables this season. The boxes are all sold out. However if (and we hope that in the future this will be the case) there were more producers and members then as a community we should be able to better cope with such events.

For example, Biosan members could temporarily (for a couple of months, or if necessary, the rest of the season) join other producers and continue to enjoy fresh produce. Peasant families could each (with what I believe would be little effort) commit to growing (at the start of the season when plants are still very vulnerable and there is time for re-establishing gardens)  additional seedlings as a kind of mutual insurance policy to help each other quickly restart when something like this happens.

As I am writing these words we are having a very rainy day … quickly alternating between radiant sun and downpours of water. We are conducting a few experiments with water so when there is a substantial downfall I go outside to have a look around. When I went outside a few minutes ago I realized that if such prolific rains would continue much longer (we’ve had a week of plentiful rain) they may cause flat and open fields to flood … drowning the still fragile plants (we are not worried about this because our gardens are built as raised beds which are naturally more flood tolerant).

Sidenote: I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again. It isn’t overall global warming that is a threat to food production, it is the increasing frequency of singular extreme events (a few minutes of hail, a few hours of heavy rainfail, a few weeks of drought) which do the greatest damage. This instability is most likely going to be a constant for many years to come. It is one example of the price we are paying for the ecological neglect we’ve been tolerating.

There is work to do in our food gardens to prepare for such events but there is also work to do as a community. I am sorry for the difficulty this event has brought to Mihaela & Kinga. At the same time I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the potential for Cutia Taranului to become a more resilient community.

Soils & Forestry

A great talk conversation (it is a very interactive session where audience questions both inform and direct the talk) with Mark Vander Meer about soils and soil restoration. Though he specializes in forestry his talk does provide general insights and touches on pasture and garden soils.   Most memorable phrase from the talk “soil is a living organism”.

The resources mentioned in the talk are available for download here – both the video and the resources compliments of Permies.com

Sunset on a Stormy Day

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Sacred Economics

I wrote about a precious book called Sacred Economics on my personal blog. I invite you to check it out.

Maramures in the 1960’s

A unique view into traditional Romanian village life with honorable mentions of:

  • hemp: grown and processed by hand for clothing.
  • financial wisdom: a commons approach to land
  • wooden wheels … wow!
  • wood-planks: the fluidity with which a log is transferred (by two men and a very long saw) into planks
  • gypsies: with a disctinct role in Romanian society suitable for their nomadic lifestyle

… and two more things:

  • 50 years later, things in Romania haven’t changed too much. Though I haven’t visited Mara Mures (which is still supposed to be a distinct area in today’s Romania) the general aura of the film rings true with what I see around me.
  • The cold, supposedly scientific/objective/documentary viewpoint from which the film was produced offers a glimpse into another (very different) society far away from Romania.

Two clips totalling ~20 minutes:

On a personal note: a few months ago I learned that if my name (Ronen) was translated (from Hebrew) into Romanian … it would be … Radu!

Thank you Craig from Bucharest Life for bringing this to my attention.

Water First

I really need to get this short post out of my system because its stuck in my throat …

When I first learned about Permaculture I got lost in a bad way. So many bits and pieces of information are associated with Permaculture that I could not make sense of it all. Particularly I couldn’t find any point of origin … something that provides a view I could relate to. A first crystallization came when I finally understood something about soil fertility … that the main crop on any farm should be fertile soil. Food that you can eat or sell or feed to animals is an extra layer … what is left after soil fertility has been improved (as opposed to the cycle of depletion typical of standard agriculture).

It is said that labyrinth puzzles are easier to solve from the end to the beginning. Soil fertility is now an obvious part of my consciousness (simply put: hugelkultur beds and forest gardening). In that spirit over the last few months I feel as if I’ve taken another step back towards the beginning of this puzzle. The new step is water. It is impossible to do anything without water.

We have a well that supplies our house needs but is not enough to water plants and gardens. Some people in our area dig large water holes that tap into the aquifer and they rely on it heavily (last year we saw quite a depletion during the drought) … we prefer not to do that (for numerous reasons).

The thing to understand about water here isn’t that there isn’t enough … but that it comes in unpredictable bursts. The trick is how to store water when it is available in such a way that it can be used when it isn’t.

They say that when you buy a certain brand of car that you suddenly see many more similar cars on the road. I don’t know if that is the case, but since my consciousness has opened up to water I seem to be flooded (no pun intended) with information about water … as if everyone has awoken with/for me.

So until I find the next first step … water is it!

When to Get Food?

When it’s available! That seems like an obvious answer but if you have gotten used to super-market mentality then that answer is not so obvious. If you shop in super-markets you can probably get pretty much whatever you want whenever you want it (though prices may fluctuate) … and you are used to it being that way.

Members of Cutia Taranului experience a different reality. Food is delivered when it beomes available. When it comes to vegetables, the boxes in spring are light and fluffy as they contain a lot of salad leaves, the boxes get heavier in summer when tomatoes and peppers appear and even heavier in fall as potatoes and other root vegetables become available. For the most part this cycle is governed by nature and it provides, when it comes to vegetables, a continuous supply of fresh food for 6-8 months (in Romania). We know it isn’t obvious because many (happy!) members were surprised when, last fall, the vegetable-box deliveries ended.

However there are other kinds of cycles in nature that are less continuous and more concentrated. We’ve recently launched a box with lamb-meat. This is a unique box since it is only available once a year.

In Romania (maybe also in other places, I am not a religious scholar so I don’t know) it coincides with the Easter holiday. However, and more importantly, it coincides with a natural flow. This is the time of year when lambs are born. Most local-Romanian sheep-herd owners, who have established herds, do not want to expand (potentially doubling) their herd (they have limited resources available for their herd and need to maintain it accordingly). This is also a time when sheep-milk-based dairy products are revived (sheep milk is available after lambs are born) and if the lambs consume all (or most) of the milk, then very little is left for producing cheeses. So the lambs need to be butchered (or sold!) now.

If you like lamb-meat then this is the time to get it. If you want it available for a longer period of time then you can purchase more, cut it up into servings, freeze it and thaw it as needed. Healthy, grass fed, organic lamb-meat (in the above mentioned box the lambs are slaughtered in the pre-dawn hours and delivered in the morning hours – it doesn’t get any fresher then that) is only available at this time of year. It won’t be available again until next year.

A similar cycle exists with pig-meat. In villages pigs are butchered for the Christmas holiday season. However there are practical reasons for that too. By that time pigs have matured and grown to provide plenty of meat and the cold weather conditions make it easier and safer to deal with fresh meat (which would spoil much faster in hot weather).

Even in our own small homestead where we grow Muscovite-ducks and chickens and we could theoretically butcher fresh meet whenever we want it (and sometimes we do), our freezer is filled in cycles. After the mating season we will cull some mature males (keeping only ones we wish to breed again next year). In early winter we cull the flock so that we don’t have to feed too many animals throughout winter (we keep good mothers and healthy males).

So keep your eyes open for these special boxes. Food is available when nature provides not when you want it. Consume it when it is available and preserve it for when it isn’t.

How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

Cuba has gotten a head start (due to artificial scarcity) on dealing with peak oil and this movie is offered in the spirit of learning from their experiences. One lesson that is never quite stated in the movie but stuck with me was that their awakening came only when crisis hit them. Their response to the crisis was impressive – even and especially the government’s response (which puts to shame many if not most of the modern governments). Yet there was no motivation to do something until crisis hit.

I also continued to reflect on the circumstances which make Romania different. There is much to be done to bring Romania into a sustainable existence. Most of “sustainability credit” exists due to its past peasant-based culture. These “sustainability credits” are being eroded by both time (a natural erosion) and man (an induced erosion) as unsustainable practices carrying false-promises penetrate Romanian society.

Whenever I watch such movies and contemplate Romania I find myself feeling (1) that there is much to do and (2) that Romania is a relatively safe place to be … it is somewhere in the middle … generally a good place to be … when a crisis comes the fall will be shorter and the crash will be softer.

A very interesting movie to watch:

Complements of Permies.com

March 2013 Snow

Yesterday morning we went outside to move the electric fencing and the flock. It isn’t too long a task and yet by the time we finished temperatures dropped noticeably and wind set in. Later in the evening the sharp-biting cold seemed to disappear and shortly after that … snow appeared. It came in silence, we only noticed it when we opened the door to see if Ricky wants to come inside … and there were flakes falling from the sky and a thin white cover already established on the ground.

This morning we found a wintery landscape with 8-10cm of fresh soft snow. Bhudeva is once again covered in white:

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… and the forecast tells us that a warm 17-18c weekend is expected … climate has become unstable and extreme … now … not 20 or 50 years from now.