On the day of my departure from Keene, New Hampshire, I stopped by the coop for some food from the deli. I generally spend a moment to peruse bulletin boards when I see them, especially in health food stores. As I was looking at the board that morning something caught my eye. A permaculture course at an educational farm? Where? I looked up the name of the town, hoping it wouldn’t be too far out of my way. I wouldn’t be around for the permaculture course, but from the flyer, I could tell that the venue was just the kind of place that I should visit.
D Acres was the name of the farm. Upon seeing that it would be easy for me to shoot over to Portland, Maine from where this place was, I called them right up. My call was answered by Bree, who booked me for two nights and two meals with the community. It was an impromptu stop, but just the sort of place that I was looking to get to know a bit.
The land of central New Hampshire is beautiful, with breathtaking views of mountains and thick forests. D Acres was on a small road with very little traffic. I pulled in at about six o’clock, with time for a quick tour while dinner was being completed. A delightful and enthusiastic girl named Isla led the tour, thrilled to be getting a chance to show off her home. Isla was eight, and she very much reminded me of my own daughters, who also get very into what they do. Isla took us (another lady went along on the tour as well) through the gardens, the outdoor kitchen, around the pond, and out to where the pigs were kept. She was particularly excited to show us her horse, whom she brought over for introductions.
I was given a separate tour of the main building, which was certainly one of the most impressive multi-use buildings I have seen in the ecovillage world. A large main room had a kitchen, dining area, and living area with a wood stove. To the south was a very large sun room full of plants and seed trays. The ground floor also had a large woodshop, which was next to a five vehicle garage that doubled as storage. The upstairs housed a library, several guest rooms, a smaller common area, a craft center, and a yoga room.
The basement had a game area, several food storage areas, including a root cellar. It also housed the furnace and the humanure holding tanks. Something that is often a challenge for people leaving the matrix and going down the eco-path is the issue of flushing poop versus composting it. Composting our manure has so many advantages, with only one major disadvantage, which is convenience. Having indoor compost toilets is usually a smelly business, so most places that don’t use flush toilets keep the humanure site separate from the rest of the living areas. This is inconvenient, of course.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a good system as they had there at D Acres. The two composting toilets were in ordinary, indoor bathrooms with showers and sinks. One was on the second floor. They each had a chute going straight into the holding tank, which was totally sealed and vented straight to the roof. The tank did have to be emptied from time to time, but it was large enough so that much time could pass, and all that comes out of the clean out would be old and closer to finished compost. Of course, cleaning out finished humanure is not exactly a desirable task, but it does indeed become a valuable addition to the soil building process, rather than an expense.
The hot water system was also very well designed. It was a simple wood fired furnace, with a complex control station and a large holding tank for storing hot water. I wanted to take more time to see what all was going on with all of those lines and valves, but we continued on the tour after a brief look into the furnace room.
I was led on this tour of the house by Mo, who was living in a tiny house on the land and working as a coordinator and administrator for D Acres. She gave me some very good perspective about the project. I got more perspective when I met Josh, the founder and owner of the whole operation. D Acres was created on Josh’s family land by his initiative. The quality of the infrastructure was indicative of ample financing, though the small, hard-working crew and basic housing situation also suggested a certain frugality. The main lodge was very nice, but the crew mostly lived in small cabins or treehouses. Josh told me of plans to develop a miniature ecovillage on one part of the land, where some nice, fully equipped houses could be built. These would be occupied by more permanent settlers, close enough to the main campus to make home economic endeavors in the main house and inner zones a short walk away.
For those of you who don’t know me, this is very exciting stuff for me. This is the exact vision I have been mulling over for close to a decade now. I can think of no better way of life than living on the land with good people and creating a living from cottage industry and home economics. Our current infrastructure, as far as cities and buildings go, is designed for industrial economics. Places like D Acres are designed for a modern variation of the old ways, where people crafted things. Natural economics.
I very much enjoyed the meal we had that first night, and I enjoyed meeting several others, including Bree, who had prepared the food, Virginia, the head gardener, Will, a work trader who had only recently arrived, and another hostel guest. I talked with Josh for a while about what all they were up to, and about the days to come. I wanted to have a full day on the land, and I told him I would be happy to work with them for a bit, though I also had plenty of work to do on the computer. I also wanted to take a walk, and to explore the grounds with the camera so I could show everybody what the new paradigm looks like as it emerges.
The weather was overcast, cool, and sporadically rainy, which made for less than ideal conditions for photography, but it was good weather for transplanting veggies, which Josh and Will were working on in the main farm field. I got into my working clothes and offered to help out. I had a nice conversation with Will, who told me a bit of his story. Previously a construction worker, he began to question the purpose of life and the meaning of his lifestyle, which eventually led him to quit his job, leave a long relationship, and pursue education and experience in permaculture and intentional community.
We planted kale and cabbage and I seeded a whole row of peas. We took a break at lunch time, after which point I let the guys get back to their work and I went for a walk through the woods. I also spent time in the library, perusing the many awesome books D Acres has in its collection. It’s worth noting that Josh wrote a book outlining the project and discussing the process of building a homestead and permaculture farm. I looked through it during my stay, which gave me good insight into the development of the project over the years.
Edith and Delbert Gray bought 200 acres near Dorchester, New Hampshire. In 1948 electricity arrived to the area and they were able to make a home out of a dilapidated old barn.
The property was passed on to Edith’s brother and his wife, Bill and Betty Trought. It wasn’t until 1997 that their son Joshua embarked on the project of turning the old place into a farm. With a crew of friends, he set out to develop a market garden and a CSA program.
The project developed and grew over the years. Many challenges were encountered, but progress built slowly on sustained efforts and the vision grew. By 1998, Josh raised the funds to build a large community house, which would be needed to take things to the next level. Space for hosting events, guests, and resident volunteers is essential for the eco-educational model that many ecovillages and permaculture projects adopt.
In 2002 a new team member, Abby, came aboard and helped get the project 501(c) status. A legal battle with the local government almost shut everything down (you know how governments are) but eventually D Acres was able to get the state’s definition of agriculture broadened to include the diverse model of operations that permaculture projects often entail.
D Acres is a great example of home economics in action, with a wide variety of programs and models of production. Much of what they grow, food wise, goes to feeding their own people, but they also take certain vegetables to market, and they host a big breakfast every Sunday to bring people out to the farm. They are also working on developing trails on their land on a massive tract of privately owned wild land adjacent to D Acres, which are open to hikers, bicyclists, and cross country skiers. The use the campus for educational events like permaculture design courses and other homestead skills workshops. The woodshop produces a diverse product line, and they also sell value added products like teas, dried fruits and herbs, and preserves. Also, the accommodations of the main building allow them to rent out rooms and floor space as a hostel, whenever the space is not filled with students or interns during educational events.
D Acres is very well built. I have visited many ecovillages, and though D Acres is thinly populated and is not yet a proper ecovillage (they have plans to develop housing and become one) they have one of the best set ups I have ever seen for cottage industry agorism.
My walk through the forest was a nice change of pace, after many weeks of road tripping and flash visits to places where I seldom have time to consider taking a leisurely walk. The highlight of the walk was when the trail went by some beaver ponds, several in a row, each a foot or two lower than the one before it. The water was perfectly still, reflecting the sky and trees, and the dams seemed so thin in places that it looked impossible for them to be holding back so much water. I did my best to capture the look of this with the camera, but none of the pictures were able to catch enough of the image to really convey what it looked like.
That afternoon and evening I spent mostly on the computer, having tons of work to catch up on. I enjoyed another nice meal with everybody, and I enjoyed playing the piano in the main lodge. The next day was to be my departure, though I stayed for most of the morning, not being in much of a hurry. To my delight, the sun came out. I went around the main part of the grounds one more time to retake some of my pictures with good light.
I very much enjoyed my stay at D Acres, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in seeing sustainable systems in action. Also, the opportunity for work trade there is worth looking into, for anyone considering getting a taste of ecovillage life. The future is being formed by our collective thoughts, and the more of us who begin to envision a future full of flowers, fruits, ponds, and ecologically responsible systems, the faster we can ditch our failing industrial culture and re-create paradise!