Updates From The Three Of Us On What We’ve Been Up To Lately On The Land…
Jessica: Helter Skelter Shelter
As you walk through the gate to Terra Cultura’s new home, you are greeted by two wooden structures, strangely charming in their haphazard construction. We’re not exactly sure who built them, but they are an odd combination of great attention to detail, and thrown together, shoddy construction methods. The first has a welcoming front porch and vinyl flooring. Everything else, though, seems to be constructed of recycled shipping crates, rotting 2x4s, and knotted masses of chicken wire held in place with rusted protruding nails and old staples. A week ago, when you opened the doors to either of them you would have been greeted with several feet of soggy straw, large amounts of rabbit droppings, and a less than pleasant aroma. We’ve heard from neighbors that the sheds had been used first for raising turkeys, and more recently for raising rabbits. If you are brave enough to dig down through the layers, there is still evidence of both. We know, because over the past week that is exactly what we’ve been doing. Our first thought was that we would just demolish these structures and start fresh. On closer inspection, though, we decided that the bones of both are actually pretty good. Why create a brand new structure when there’s already something here that just needs a little love? Least change for greatest effect has been our motto here, after all. So, we’ve set to work mucking out and deconstructing the innards of both structures. Yes, we are all up to date on our tetanus shots. Yes, we’ve researched hantavirus. No, there are not any known cases in San Benito, and yes, we are wearing the proper face masks and gloves, and using the proper cleaning products, just in case. We’ll use these structures for storage to begin with, since we’ve quickly learned the necessity of having safe, dry places to store our belongings. One might become the short-term outhouse. Our newly enclosed outdoor shower is currently situated in the covered back-area, and we’re thinking about making it the home of our composting toilet (whom our mother recently named Charlotte). The other might become our first office, since it’s perfectly situated for greeting new arrivals. They might turn into storage sheds, or even residences if we are able to get them up to code. The possibilities are endless, as is the case with so much of this land.
Travis: Water You Waiting For?
After our first two weeks on the land, I will never take clean running water for granted again. Before we moved up to Aromas at the beginning of April, we weren’t 100% sure that the spigot and city water connection at the bottom of the property was connected to anything. Jessica had called the Aromas Water District to have them check our meter and set up our account a couple days before our trip, but we hadn’t seen actual running water with our own eyes yet. Once we arrived, I headed down to the spigot, and turned the valve. After a few seconds, we were delighted to hear a gurgling sound, followed by a rush of water spouting onto the sandy ground!
Our excitement fizzled somewhat after we connected about 200 feet of hose to bring the water up the hill to the water tank by the hutch, and quickly learned that our spigot doesn’t produce nearly enough water pressure to carry water up the 40 feet in elevation to where the water would actually be useful. After considerable research, reading countless horror stories in message boards online about $8000+ water pressure booster systems, I finally came across a simple temporary solution for just a bit more than $200. Our water pump (fondly named Mabel), can bring water up over 100 feet of water head, much more than what we need to pump up to the hutch. After one additional trip to Home Depot to find the right hose connectors, we made quick work of assembling the tankless hot water shower, and got down to the business of taking our first outdoor showers on the land! Ah, the comforts of the modern world. It’s remarkable how much running water and hot showers can change your perspective. It makes getting down and dirty in our mucking and demolition all the more palatable to know that at the end of the day, you can stand under a hot stream of clean water.
Rachel: On The Level
Life on a slope shifts one’s perspective. It makes you realize how much of the world has been levelled by humans (and often fossil fuels), and how much we take it for granted. On our slope, water canteens are always rolling off tables. The dogs chase soccer balls down the hill and carry them up, only to roll them down again in their new favorite sisyphean game. Jessica says she sometimes gets disoriented at night, and feels like she’s sleeping upside down. Doing lunges and squats becomes much easier, when the ground rises up to meet you, but also unnecessary with all the hill trekking exercise we’re getting. Water runoff and erosion is a huge issue.
Terra Cultura’s new home is on the crest of a hill. The elevation from the bottom of the property to the top is 120 feet. The views are pretty exquisite in all directions. But living, working, and growing food on a slope presents certain challenges. We chose this property for many reasons, including location and existing infrastructure. The fact that flat arable land in the location we wanted is super expensive was certainly a factor. Also, I guess we like a challenge. Since Terra Cultura is not just a farm, but a community hub, education center, and artists’ oasis, a beautiful and inspiring spot was key, and this was the place that most tickled our creative instincts. Since land access has increasingly become a challenge for aspiring farmers, we hope to experiment with, and eventually model, methods for growing food on land not traditionally considered ideal for farming. Of course though, farmers in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Mediterranean have been doing terrace farming for thousands of years. Inevitably, there will be a lot of levelling work to do here at Terra Cultura. Or should we call it Terrace Cultura?
Using shovels and pickaxes, we’ve levelled a few sites for tents, a fire pit, and a picnic table. We were clumsy and slow at first, but we’ve learned some tricks and become more efficient. Our bodies are starting to remember the habit of being well-used in this way. Now our water canteens don’t roll away as much. We’re trying to find ways to work with the land, not against it. We’ve considered retaining walls, but prefer other methods to prevent erosion and redirect water runoff, such as plants with deep roots to hold the soil, and swales to direct the water to where it will be most beneficial. Last weekend we had our first little land-warming event where board and advisory board members volunteered to help us dig berms and swales to help spread, slow, and sink the water to keep it on site, and prevent runoff. After some recent rains, we’re already seeing some positive results. When it comes to leveling ground for future building sites, parking, switchback trails, and terraced vegetable beds, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We’ll continue to use hand tools for some projects, for others, we might well decide a diesel engine wins the cost analysis once we factor in time, and the toll on our bodies. Now that we’ve leveled with you, come level with us anytime!