Friday, October 30, 2009

Hitchin' to Reno for Halloween

Most cool people around these parts either stick around Ashland for the scariest night on the Calender, or head to the bigger cities like Portland. Me, I'm headed to Reno, Nevada, to see my friend Kat. We met a few months ago at the homestead. I'm sure I'll have a ghoulish time.

Ah, hitchhiking! One of the greater way to feel truly free that I know of. The act of sticking your thumb out on the side of the road says that you don't need a car, don't need anything at all to keep you going. You just need a ride. And seeing as how everybody is driving these huge cars and SUVs, with only the drivers behind the wheels as cargo, couldn't you see fit to a little bit of company while going whereever you're headed?

Reno is five hours away from Ashland, so wish me luck and that I get the perfect ride. From here, to there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


"The conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems to create the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. This form of agriculture seeks the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and nonmaterial needs in a sustainable way."

Yes, that's right, I've found a place! It's a four bedroom house with wood burning stoves, two full bathrooms, one and a half kitchens, on a decent sized property, including fruit and nut orchard, greenhouse, two hops to a creek, at the edge of Talent, Oregon, 3 miles from the center of Ashland. I'm ridiculously excited.

My roommates are three really cool grownups(over 30), one is an all around handyman, the other two woman are great gardeners, all of them students of Permaculture. Another gentleman has a shop on the property where he does wood working, round timber stuff etc. So I'll be surrounded by skills, and hopefully I'll pick up a few myself this year. It's great to know that I'll be in a place with lots of support for the ideas and projects that I have.

List of projects of interest:

The gardens- This one is the big one. I am going to be mapping out the properties sectors like sun,wind, figuring out what plants will go well with the trees and vegetation already growing there. How can we utilize the perimeter fence to grow food. If we want some chickens, where should they go? I'll be going into more detail about Permaculture design as I progress.

Gourmet and Medicinal mushroom cultivation- The orchard is a great spot for that. Just a layer of sawdust, compost, coffee grounds and straw then inoculate the whole thing with a msuhroom spawn, of varieties like oyster, shitake, crimini/portobello.
This is also a big one for me. I need to do lots more research and talk to people. I really want to make some money from this, selling mushrooms.

Worms- This one's easy. Vermicompost, having red wigglers, turn organic waste into beautiful nitrogen rich castings. It's just a couple og boxes with holes. Easy peasy.

Microbrew- Yeah, Yeah! Let's make some beer! Also fairly easy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Hard Night's Day in Ashland

I spent the day biking to town to look at two different housing options, one of which looks really great. A working single mother lives with her 8 year old son right in town in 3 bedroom house with an average sized backyard. There's a studio room behind the garage, which would be mine. It has a bathroom, shower, fridge, and hot plate. Pretty basic. But what makes this place appealing is that she is looking for somebody to help her watch her son when she's working. Walk him to school in the morning, pick him up in the afternoon. Some babysitting every now and then. I could stay there for free, no rent, and grow food in the backyard as well. That's amazing.

Tomorrow I am going to look at another option, a house 3 miles north of Ashland, on a property that belongs to a woman who is very active in the Permaculture scene here. I would be sharing the house with some friends of Chuck, the guy who I wwoofed for in Ashland two months ago, all of whom i met before, and are really cool and into gardening etc. The property already had a greenhouse, a workshop, and other things that make it garden/permaculture ready. There would be rent and utilities, about $300 altogether, which is a good price for the area, but it would mean I would have to find enough work to pay for it. Which is reasonable. I can probably make $600 a month fairly easily. I just don't know how yet. We'll see.

We all had dinner tonight here at Chuck's, all of us interested in this house. Chuck and I made lasagna, and the others brought greens for a stirfry and lentils and chips and salsa. And I had a bottle of really good beer. And fresh apple cider which they made two days ago. So after that, and a good nights rest tonight, I should be ready to meet whatever challenges wait for me tomorrow!

Monday, October 26, 2009

I made it, I'm here, in Ashland, Oregon. Now what?

Finally, after a bus to New York City from my hometown of West orange, NJ, a weekend with my friend Rueben and his Upper West Side Jew Scene, another bus to Boston where I spent the night at my friend Diane's, a flight to Denver, another to San Francisco, and one more to Medford, Oregon, I got picked up by my friend Chuck, who I wwoofed for the last week of August, and drove back to his Farm outside of Ashland. Phew!!

I'm staying in his barn which he just finished renovating, really nicely I should add. The upstairs has a kitchen, bathroom, and plenty of space, not that I need much right now. Just a place to put my sleeping bag down, a desk to do internet stuff, a fridge for some food...

Tomorrow, oh tomorrow, things start to happen. My to do list:

Visit possible housing options- I've got a few places to look at. Three are really promising. One, a professional couple has a house in town with some outdoor space. I talked to the guy, they do massage and other body treatments along with clowning for kids. He says it's a really cool house, and they sound like really nice people. They are really keen on improving the outdoor spaces, gardens etc. I could probably get the rent reduced based on how much work I put into the gardens, which I would do anyway.

The second is a single mother and her 8 year old son. Also a house in town, similarly interested in having a garden. She also needs help watching the kid, and I could reduce the rent by babysitting, which is awesome.

Third, and very interesting. This morning I got an email from Chuck's neighbor and friend, who I had met in August. She, her partner, and Karen, who used to live at Chuck's are looking at a place in South Talent, only six miles north of Ashland. It's a house on the property of a woman who's very active in the Permaculture scene here, already has some gardens, a green house, hoop house, workshop, orchard. Just needs some TLC. I like the fact that it's people i already know, who are really keen on doing Permaculture stuff too.

There are a couple of other options, but they are further away from Ashland than I'd like. I need to be within biking distance of town, social activities, educational activities, etc. I don't have a driver's licence, and i don't have a car, so bikability is key. Which brings me to...

Get a driver's license- About fucking time! Yes, I'm 26 years old and I've never had a driver's license. Truth is, I never really needed one, didn't lead a lifestyle that called for it. Now, with an interest in providing for my needs, including access to resources(i.e. organic material, building materials, plants, supplies of all sorts) and the ability to transport them back home, along with a desire to visit lands for possible purchase, and to just visit people, places, and events, having a license, and possibly a vehicle make a lot of sense. So I'll go to the DMV tomorrow and pick up a study guide for the written exam.

Open up a local bank account- I have some funds which I want to use for some of my projects this year, including growing mushrooms, and I also want to get a credit card so I can begin to build a healthy credit score. When it comes to buying land, I've always thought that I would never get a mortgage, despised the idea. And it's very possible that I won't have to, if i can get an interest free loan from my family. But if that doesn't happen, I will have to make a lot of money in the next couple of years, which isn't entirely impossible, or I can get a mortgage. The USDA offers loans for purchasing houses and land in rural areas, which is exactly what I'm looking for, to the tune of 1% interest up to $250,000. That figure is much higher than anything I'm looking to purchase, especially if I go in on some land with partners. So a 1% interest loan of $100,000 is more than manageable, right? So build up your credit, Daniel Kra. Get a credit card, use it, and pay it off every month. I think I'm up to the challenge.

Sign up for some free health care- The Oregon Department of Human Service is having a lottery to pick people to recieve health care benefits. All I have to do is sign up, if i start making enough money to afford rent, food, and a private health care service, I might switch I might not. I might not even get it, who knows? But I got to try.

Find payed work- I thing this will probably have to wait until I find a permanent housing situation. Sure, if someone offered me to do a day's work for pay I might take it, but my Number One priority is to find a place to live.

Well, it's 12:30 in the morning and I've got a big day ahead of me, so good night and please send some postive vibes my way!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On the road again

I'm riding on a bus right now, headed to Boston. The foliage along the highway is gorgeous, shades of orange, and green. And you wan to know something interesting about me? It's when I'm traveling, when I'm on the move, going from one place to the next which is the story of my life, that I truly understand how I could be terribly happy spending the rest of my life in one place and that it could be any place in this whole world. If only I will give myself that oppurtunity. That time hasn't come yet, but it's coming soon, I feel it in my bones.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fuck Hydroponics, Aquaponics is the new cool thing!

So I've heard of Aquaponics before, but lately I've been getting very excited about the possibilities of growing vegetables and fruit in a symbiotic relationship fish. The idea is pretty simple. Poopy water from fish tanks, which are rich in all the things that plants love is fed to plants in methods that are similar to hydroponic systems(no soil, rather a medium like gravel etc). The plants grow well fed by the fertilizers and nutrients form the fish poop simultaneously cleaning the water before it is returned clean and fresh to the fish tanks. The only real input is fish food, which can be comprised of worms and larvae raised on site, duckweed(a water plant) and other organic wastes.

Chemical based hydroponics is already big business in Israel and the rest of the world. I'm thinking about starting a small Aquaponics operation to sell organic, mercury free fish, and organic hydroponic vegetables(hydroponics is nice because you can control the environment of the plants and they are less prone to disease and pests).

Now Aquaponics doesn't have to be in a green house cut off from the environment. The advantageous relationship between fish and plants have been used before in Agriculture both in Central American Chinampas, and Asian rice paddies.

On a small scale home level, people can have a small fish pond on their property and recycle it through an adjacent hydroponic bed and then back to the pond. and it can all look quite beautiful, with the water babbling over the rocks. Commercially, on a small scale, I see a lot of potential. Especially when I think about connecting a fish system to a Volksgarden Hydroponic system. It's a Rotating Cylinder of plants, with the plants dipping in fertilizer rich water every rotation. Because plants are constantly turning, the plants put more energy into growth to support themselves. This is one of the smallest systems I've ever seen for the amount of plants it can grow at one time. the company also sells a carousel, basically a system to house a number of these cylinders vertically, growing 660 square feet of greenhouse plants, in only 100 square feet taken up by the carousel holding six cylinders(the whole thing is like 25 feet high, not crazy). These things are very energy efficient too, because very little light is wasted, unlike in overhead hydroponic operations.

The only limitations on a system like this is electricity and plant food. Perhaps these systems could use poopy fish water and recycle it back to the fish. Maybe maybe not. Still, if I ever have a hydroponic system, i would get something like this, and jsut use compost teas and the like in the water. pretty cool huh?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My friends, My friends

The last few weeks in Israel has been so much fun. I visited all my friends I worked with last year on Chava V'Adam, an educational farm in the center of Israel. That whole year was truly a time of growth and learning for me. As well as a heck of a good time. Let's face it, you put a bunch of 18 to 25 year olds in a outdoorsy communal environment, they're gonna have a good time. We danced the nights away, outdoors on the stage/water tank, and indoors in the salon area, even the kitchen. While one person would be cooking dinner in this tiny room, four or five girls would be breaking down to the sounds of Balkan Beat Box and other cool Israeli music. Most of the Israelis were 18, right between high school and army. So there was lots of energy.

Anyway, fast forward to last week. I spent the first nights of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at the farm. Most of my friends from last year are no longer there. Some are in the army, other's are doing things in elsewhere. But there's a new group of people there, particularly, a new group of Americans doing the farm's Eco Israel program . I helped out with the first session of the program last year, and boy have they come along way. These American kids split there time between learning and practicing permaculture, learning about israel, judaism, and hebrew. All in a beautiful organic setting. The current group is really great, and I especially enjoyed jamming with Eliot(guitar) and Anna(violin).

I took some time to visit farm friends in Haifa, who had were selling their wares at the Haifa Film Festival. Gali makes clay art and jewelry from clay and pigments that she harvests herself. Neta makes felted wool bags and jewelry from wool that people were throwing away. Felted wool is so cool!!!

I also visited my friend Hadas, who is now working at a Medicinal Herb farm in the middle of nowhere near beer sheva in the desert. I was really wary about going to the desert, seeing as how I don't really like the climate. I lived in Israel's Negev desert for half a year and it's not really my cup of tea. Anyway, I had a blast. The farm is really cool. There's a very small medicinal herb plot, which they supplement wth wild harvests of local herbs to make all sorts of tinctures,creams, etc, in their lab. The owners live in a beautiful cob house surrounded by all sorts of fruit trees, olives planted everywhere, a dome covered in grapes. They have 80 goats as well. The owners were having a Succot festival for their friends, so there was little work to do, asides from playing music around the bonfire, eating good food, playing with babies, and relaxing in the strawbale sauna. That was particularly enjoyable. I also had the oppurtunity to ride a one eyed horse. Don't worry, I was gentle.

After the southern desert, it was off to the North on a road trip with my friend Naomi. We spent a night on the shore of the Sea of Galillee, swam naked under the stars in Israel's main source of water and the worlds lowest fresh water lake. In the morning I got to ride on an innertube pulled by a motorboat belonging to some new friends I made the night before on the beach. What fun! Then it was off to Tzfat(or Safed as some people call it), the Northern Israeli city where many of the great Kabbalists lived and studied. I myself studied for a year in a religous seminary in tzfat back in 2002, so it was nice to visit my old haunting grounds. We stayed in a thousand year old Mamluk period donkey stables, what's called in hebrew a Khan, kind of like a inn/manger, nestled in the heart of the old city. Friends in Tzfat are improving the Khan and turning it into a Center for Holistic Medicine, like natural births and other therapies, along with a community center for events and workshops. It is being restored using natural building techniques including lime plaster and cob, and will also include an indoor greyewater system, sort of artificial wetlands.

Besides visiting friends I also made some movements toward inquiring about land availability in Israel, particularly the Upper Galillee near Tzfat. That's where the most rains are ,30 inches or so, aside from the Mt. Hermon region in the Golan Heights. Land is not cheap in Israel, even agricultural land, which cannot be used for commercial or residential construction. But in the peripheries of Israel, the North and South away from the densely populated center, land is cheaper. Renting agricultural land in a good option for me to start with and one I probably will do. Then there's growing on land for free. A friend of mine told me about a friend of his who posted signs in agricultural communities asking if anybody had unused land he could grow food on. Bingo! Free use of land. I've seen this before in California. A woman I wwoofed for had a market garden but needed more growing space and a neighbor let her use her front yard. For free! So that could be an option too.

I'm back in New Jersey now, headed to Ashland, Oregon on monday. I've got a bunch of people I'm looking to rent a room from, along with space on the property for a garden. I've got all these projects I want to start working on. i want to start designing and building the garden ASAP, including raised beds,cold frames, greenhouse, self watering containers, collect plenty of organic matter for making compost, want to make a worm composting bin, and get some mushroom kits started. And that's just the beginning! Besides that I have to find some payed work, take some more guitar lessons, and be a busy permaculturist in the garden and home. How exciting!!!