Over the weekend (November 23rd 2014) a group of caring and engaged citizens gathered at Smiling Hogshead Ranch for our Biodynamic Compost Hugelkulture Memorial Windrow build. I am personally so pleased about how this event came together and the convergance of the many different things to make this event a community building, earth loving, fun, educational, empathathic, endearing and participatory happening.
There was wood wall building, a weigh station, food scrap container brigade, leaf distribution, leveling team, branch deconstruction, wood chipping, food and drinks, a compost and biodynamic gardening lesson, Mood Cookies and Tea, a container cleaning crew and so much more.
The seeds for this event where planted in my mind back in late April 2014 when I spoke on a Brooklyn SWAP hosted panel entitled “The Future of Composting” at Brooklyn’s Boro Hall. There I met Melissa Provenza (who helped organize the panel), she introduced me to David Hurd, who works for GrowNYC and organizes distribution of organics collected at GreenMarkets to local farms and gardens to be composted locally. Marissa encouraged me to create a large windrow at Hogshead and offered support of her composting buddies. I have been wanting to make this happen at Hogshead ever since.
The completed windrow
I really enjoy putting multiple ideas together to make one workshop. Jennie Pea is the active Hogshead member who bottom lined this workday. She has a special interest and focus on composting and biodynamic practices. Jennie has been making regular pilgrimages out to Southold, Long Island to visit a biodynamic farm run by KK Haspel and her husband. I joined Jennie on a trip out to KK’s Farm on the weekend after the Brooklyn SWAB event.
The following Monday, I received a text from Marissa:
It was a lot of behind the scenes work to create this day and it didn’t all come together in the timeframe I suggested in the above text. Then came October 2014, it was a month of unexpected loss in which two important people passed away. This is why we decided to dedicate this windrow in loving memory of both Melissa Provenza and KK Haspel. These two held a reverence for the natural world and understood the cycles and rhythms of nature. It only made since for us to create this living memorial in their honor.
Creating this event took some amount of effort from, Marissa connecting me with the BK|SWAB folks to KK putting love and intention into the creation of the biodydnamic preparations we used. After the Hogshead members agreed that receiving tons of organic byproduct to our site would be a good idea, we partnered with some wonderful groups to pull the whole off. During the days leading up to the event we received 117 containers of kitchen scraps containing over four tons (9022.2 lbs to be exact!) of residential kitchen scraps from GrowNYC collected at various GreenMarkets throughout the city. We also worked with Build It Green (BIG!) Compost to get about 16 cubic yards of leaves collected at local parks, and we hosted our own Project LeafDrop for local residents to come by and drop off leaves and yard debris from their own yards during the event. We even had our artist friend Maria D. come and host a Winter Mood Cookies and Tea in the back gathering area after the heavy lifting was all over.
I was traveling during the two weeks leading up to the event and Jennie really took the reigns and made all of this come together so nicely. Coordinating all the other things needed to ensure this would be a proper biodynamic windrow, including a trip to the beach in Long Island to collect seaweed and shells, two trips to our friends at the Hellgate Farm Collective to clean their chicken coop, harvest hen poop and deliver it to the Ranch. She also printed out lots of info and brought plenty of items that describe more about biodynamic preparations and principles. Dee Dee reached out to her networks and Shig came through with a shredder, Colin went to pick it up. So many moving parts came together so seamlessly!
One of the things we are constantly doing at the Ranch is clearing out new areas and folding them back into the master plan of the garden. We had cut a lot of Ailanthus trees and some other dead/dying trees at the beginning of the month and I wanted to make a hugelkuture berm with them. For this workday we used these trunks and branches to create a bit of a retaining wall on the low side of a fairly steep slope leading up to the inactive railroad tracks behind the building adjacent to our site. We leveraged these branches to build our windrow on so it wouldn’t just slump off and roll down the hill. After we had built our windrow, we stuffed leaves in between any exposed branches on the back side of the hill (I later found some myceliated coffee grinds from an earlier experiment and crumbled it up between the leaves and branches as well). In this way we now have a 45′-50′ windrow that will not be turned, it simply rots in place, the wood will absorb the nitrogen over time and we will plant nitrogen fixing plants on it over the next few years to increase nitrogen uptake. After awhile, the wood will be sufficiently rotten and it will soak up lots of water, acting lice a sponge at the bottom of our berm, all the while slowly releasing that nitrogen it has been sucking up in the first few years of decomposition. Slowly, we will begin planting fruit tress and shrubs, groundcovers and pollinator attractors, eventually planting productive vines next to the maturing trees to create a full on food forest. As if all that was not enough, Jennie taught a lesson about biodynamic preparations and we incorporated these into the windrow as well. She gathered lots of research for this one and I will be posting that in a later post, which I will also link to here (https://verdantcities.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/biodynamic-compost-preprations-info/).
This is more than a simple compost pile or windrow. It is beyond biodynamic or permaculture. This is how we cultivate community at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. We are inspired by loved ones, we come together to toil and show our respect for those who have moved on from our realm. In the name of love we have taken “waste” products and are turning them into earth, which, in turn will continue the life cycle and provide nourishment for many plants and animals to come. This is a powerful living memorial. The most miraculous things happened as Jennie and I finished up the workday and put the finishing touches on the windrow. We sat and read aloud, the poem that Marissa had written, and Oliver lovingly transcribed onto a wooden sign and posted at the end of the windrow. There was absolute silence as we read and our hearts swelled to immense proportions, the air was full and alive.
Grey to red and back again.
Ashes to Birth,
Blood to Earth.
and large knives
or the tomatoes
gleaming in the sun,
the sun weening
off the tops of buildings,
I imagined dying here,
how beautiful to succumb to the fear
in a red dress and mirrors reflecting rivers of blood—
but how this prison,
now heals me,
and all the leaves yearn
to fall with the changing seasons…
Knowledge is a glass half full.
A rotting apple core.
The compostable heart heaves forward.
And all the little children,
Reaching for the apples.
As we read the final verse we were silent, but a strange and beautiful sound began to ring from what seemed like nearby but had to have been far away. It was a high pitch frequency but not sharp or abrasive, a perfectly tuned slow melody. I thought it could have been the train wheels grinding against the tracks in the rail-yard across the street but I have heard that sound many times and it definitely was not that. The sound was far too sweet and melodically sustained to be any of that racket. As Jennie and I began to catch ourselves in the dizzying beauty we spoke aloud to one another asking if we could each hear the sound. Yes we confirmed, and the wondrous music came to a poetic and decided end. We went on to speak aloud about the beauty of these two women. Jennie knew KK and I spoke of Marissa. As we did a riot of what sounded like fireworks began to sound off in the distance, maybe it was in Manhattan or over the East River. There was a distinct break in the calamity as Jennie ended here remembrance of KK and I began to recall Marissa. As we spoke and began walking around the cadence and volume of the distant rumbling increased. It was uncanny. As the rumbling subsided, we decided to find the broom which we had made and used to sprinkle on one of the biodynamic preps. We took it apart to distribute it’s grass parts onto the windrow. As we began laying the intention infused grass stalks onto the windrow the rumbling began again. This time it sounded more like a military shelling happening just over the hill. It was so close and loud, Jennie ask, not in jest, if there was a military action happening, but we both knew we had nothing to fear. It rose to a crescendo, and I recall very clearly, as I went to lay the final straw on the end of the row, it was akin to the grand finale of a pyrotechnic show, a deep, continuous rumble coming from the sky and the darkened horizon, yet somehow from the earth itself, all at once. Jennie and I looked at one another with absolutely no doubt in either of our minds. “The two ladies are here” we said to one another. It was the most transcendental thing I have ever experienced, it was absolutely real and positively radiant. The air seemed to vibrate and everything was alive. I don’t know why I am trying to use these words to describe the moments and the energy of the place. But it was amazing and I wish nothing more than to convey it. I beg you to visit, to read the sign Oliver made with Marissa’s poem, to sit and listen to the winds and feel the earth under foot.
I know that they are there, as the windrow turns to rich soil, as the plants take over, as the abundance springs forth. It will be their lives and spirit that are honored. A living memorial, for those we love. You are missed but not forgotten.