A year long self-sustainable calender
Raise your hand if your life hasn’t changed dramatically in the past three months…I have lost my job teaching, contact with private students isn’t possible anymore, contracts that I had with museums and cultural foundations have been suspended indefinetly. Things look dim and we are going to have find a way to overcome this situation and create a more solid foundation for ourselves and for our families. WIth every crisis, in each obstacle there are lessons to be learned, things to work on and keep growing. What I want to share today in this post is that, our realization during the quarantine that this lifestyle for us isn’t a choice anymore. It’s a necessity. If before I was inspired by a revolutionary streak to show a different way to live, today it’s become the only way to support my family. For all the fear that th CO-19 has generated in people, economic difficulties I wanted to point out how we are transforming here in the countryside along with the new economic situation and adapting the way we live.
It dawned on us that we hadn’t been to the supermarket for the entire month of May.
Not going to the supermarket means that your weekly trash( for a family of four) looks like this…
How do we do it? Well, we work hard everyday to grow, forage or store what we need ahead of time. We rely on two big freezers that hold our delicacies from the past summer season, wild asparagus from a month ago, whatever we had access to, we cooked, blanched, put away for another day. This is the lesson we want to send with the Country Living School. it’s time to concentrate on ourselves and take the first steps toward post development. We want to share with others our life mission and a boom to the health and mental well-being for our children and for our clients.
But how, how, how…well I wanted to put together a year long calender of our lives, of our work, coronavirus or not…how we survive and thrive even without going to the grocery store. Come with us on a trip through 12 months of the year and learn more about how we stay healthy and free.
February Why start here, Maybe it’s because it’s the sun of February that gets us out of our houses, there is a tremendous amount of work to do in Sardinia in this period. Wood, wood, wood…if you want to get your firewood stack prepared and have more to sell you got to put in the work during February. It’s the clear blue skies, accompanied by a fresh orange, we can work hours straight on, pushing ourselves as far as our chainsaws can take us. It’s a great time to do the last pruning on fruit trees, plant garbanzo beans, weed, weed, weed everything for we know that as soon as the sun shows itself everything is going to explode.
March-It’s still cold, fires are burning, our little family is happy and full. We feed ourselves on the food stored away in the freezer, things like zuccini soup, minestrone, potatoes, goat, lamb and chicken which are all enhanced by fresh greens that we forage like chicory, corn salad and dandelion greens. It also means the arrival of the first delicious spring delicacy that is wild asparagus. Su sparu in Sardinian. A picture from our walks in the wild:
April– April comes with water. In the past years of drought we had to deal with months at a time without a drop. Not this year, as there is water and a lot of it. In our beekeeping, Sara spends quite a bit of time creating new bee colonies, checking the hives for new queens and starting to place the supers. All through the month, we will be on the lookout for bee swarms that you can often find in this uncontaminated and wild part of the world in trees or rock walls, adventurous bees aspiring for a new home.
It’s also time in the field to plant melons, zucchini and other members of the curcubitacae family. In this field, where we have our winter garden there is no irrigation, so these plants must be planted as early as possible to take advantage of the moisture, still there but always at risk here as the heat increases and the days pass. As melons and watermelons are some of the favorites of our children, the idea is they take part in planting as it’s fundamental for their insertion into the rhythm of the seasons and the slow, patient hope for the arrival of fruit. April also means bringing the firewood home, again here the family helps together and nobody is happier than myself when we finally have it all safe in our courtyard.
Potatoes are hilled up and if necessary more seeds are planted in seed beds of our summer vegetables if the seeds of March don’t make progress.
Due to the quarantine, our supplier of chicks was afraid for us having to travel the fifteen minutes to pick them up. Despite his fears for our own safety, we were forced to bend the rules this April. Something simple as buying little chicks from a local producer now had the feeling of something illegal. Others had been told by the local police that is wasn’t considered a necesity because we had to…
“buy your meat from the supermarket”
the coldly pragmatic local police station says. But think about it dear law enforcement office, the supermarket is right there where we should be encouraging people to avoid, when we buy from a local producer we come into contact with less than 1% of those that we would normally come into contact with, our local communities are supported at a time when they are most vulnerable and for every dollar or euro invested in local producers that amount multiplies itself throughout the community.
May- Here in the middle of the fields, we lay in the green grass and feast on our first fava beans and peas, in a symphony of pulling weeds, tending plants and harvesting as much as nature gives. Seeing the serious economic consequences of this recessional virus, and we feel pushed to rise to our best and to think about one thing…producing food. At this point of the year we have our first lettuce, spinach, zucchini and carrots. Wild food has dried up by now and we have to rely on canned apples, strawberries and the sweet taste of the first honey of the year. As the work continues in the bee hives, more and more honey arrives and we can all feast on fresh comb with pollen and a nectar that takes more like flowers and water than honey. When the day arrives, we get out the old timey centrifuge, delicately lift the supers off the hives and spin the manual handle for as long as the honey flows. Of course our children’s hands are going everywhere and estatic about the arrival of fresh honey, they are allowed to eat from the leftovers when cleaning the combs, what comes out of the centrifuge looks like gold but hands off, what comes out of the centrifuge is destined for our clients and for our long term supply
June- We plant the big field, setting up the irrigation systems, and we are in a rush to plant the first seeds as the house is hungry and provisions are running short. We harvest the sour cherries in our yard that are collected in a celebration of the start of summer as we dust off the jars and preserve once again one of our favorite jams…time for the first trip to the beach, first nights spent sleeping outside with the kids listening to the crickets and watching the skies of the summer…more stars than you can count
In June we harvest a bit of wheat by hand just to not let the tradition die, we want to keep this ancestral tradition alive and we do what we can to do our part for we see first hand the labor and love that comes from threshing wheat. Here we are, on the threshing floor…
Just as it starts getting hot, it’s time to mow the hay and it’s probably the single most exhausting job that I have all year round. It’s tricky to cut at the right time, get my supply under a roof and find a buyer for the hay. I cant sleep at night when the hay is being made, a flash thunder storm threatens to foul the entire supply. Growing up in the suburbs of anytown USA I never learned any of this kind of stuff at home or in college. In addition, being an American in Sardinia it takes a bit to be taken seriously around here.
Why in the world did you leave America to come here?
From the stars to the stall, people tell me. What they don’t see is that it’s here, in the middle of the Mediterranean among olive trees and fields of gold is one of the world’s true treasures. In our fields, the fava beans are drying up as well as garlic, onions…all needed to be get out before summer rains come…
The wheat is harvested, we buy both wheat for bread and for our animals from local, organic farmers. We make our bread and baked goods exclusively with local, organic “grano Capelli” which is an heirloom seed that makes the best bread and when milled fresh in our mill, it contains oils and vitamins that make it healthier and more delicious than the normal “dead” flour that you find at the supermarket. We feel that this is one of the keys for the health of ourselves, our guests and our children. The wheat harvest is incredibly special, think Uncle Scrooge when he goes for a swim through his gold coins…you find yourself sitting on this huge mound of wheat, what you know will feed your family and your animals for the year, Something inside me says that this is indeed more valuable than gold. During this quarantine we have felt so much safer having the bags of wheat in our cellar. Now, in Italy they are rationing the flour in the supermarket and obviously someone out there is taking advantage of the crisis to increase costs.
As for our big vegetable field it requires almost a daily presence, the zucchini start to take over our cellar and you have got so many not even your neighbor wants any because they’ve got the same problem. It means it’s time to start putting away food for this year’s winter. Lettuce, green beans, beets, potatoes, tomatoes and corn color our tables.
Truly, it’s the hard work of July that pays off in the harvest of September and October. We are planting, weeding, harvesting as much as possible all through the month. It’s work done in harmony with Sara’s father, who is the silent, wise boss of the whole operation…It’s time spent with our children as they learn too about the hard work that is behind their own food and can share in the labor as well as the fruits. One thing I have always appreciated when I have been around people like the Mennonites or the German Baptists in the United States is the values of hard work that they are able to instill in their children. We are trying to raise our children inspired by these families and so many others that have been able to show their children an alternative to frenetic materialism.
Teach my children about spirituality and hard work in this world of instant pleasures and mindless distractions…will I seem desperately outdated? It’s going to take a village to instill true values in our children, this includes all of them, let’s put down the distractions and give them our ears and our minds and share with them what once was and forever will be.
Downhill? Things start coming in, orders go out, customers to satisfy, the car comes home full everyday from the truck farm. When we think about how our lives will change if the conditions don’t improve, certainly our ability to sell and earn much needed cash is hindered and in the end what we produce will also have to reflect what we can and cannot sell. It’s a beautiful time to be in Sardinia, the beaches are pristine, there is great food all around and joyous atmosphere. What will this all be like in a world where human contact isn’t possible anymore and we are threatened by the cold pragmatism of scientists and mathemticians who with their pessimstic projections intended to keep us safe are really sending the world into isolation and causing a spike in depression, anxiety and fear. Will there be any rest for our weary minds, perhaps it will be found in August, when the beaches open up and a sense of normalcy can be found. We hope so!
September-This is the month of the year where we harvest most of our goods for the winter. We plant the winter’s supply of greens, salads, we start canning tomato sauce. Figs are here, pears are too, we make jams and transform as many fresh veggies into food that will fill our bellies all the way up to the following spring. It’s also one of the best times to be on the island. The beaches are mostly empty, the pressing and heat of August have passed, evenings on the beach are like something out of a dream…when we can get away.. which is rare. For the local country folk, days off have never been heard of. I understand the pressing schedule of nature but what point is it all if we can’t rest at times, open our eyes to new landscapes and the open road infront of us. In our optimtistic vision we hope to create a new type of farmer, one who can be dynamic, a life that works in harmony with nature, yet not becoming a slave to his land or to the use of chemicals. Will we succeed?
The almond harvest is here, done in cooperation with the owners of the almond groves, small holdings of a hundred or so trees where we do the work and then give part of the harvest to the owners. It’s a fun couple of days working the trees with long poles, collecting the fruit off the ground and sitting in the shade eating melons, pomegranates and more treats of the season that we have taken care of all through the year.
The last gasp of the truck farm, these are the final green beans, corn, tomatoes, eggplants but they give way to the beets, butternut squash and cauliflowers. It’s a good time of the year to be alive as the weather is great and it seems everyday has something that calls you on and pushes you to your best during this last hurrah of the summer gardening.
There is the wine harvest, done together with Sara’s family and neighbors. Here the Blue Zone team comes out, all the 80 year old healthy, active Sardinian old men, doing what they love the most being in the countryside and drinking and making wine. Another of summer’s fruits that is carefully put away and enjoyed throughout winter, spring and summer. The harvest takes place on the top of a nearby mountain, the view is splendid and I find again what made me fall in love with Sardinia in the first place.
Freshness is everything here they say:
“An egg should be an hour old, bread one day and your wine one year”
The olive harvest begins…agreements are made just like with the almonds, to harvest the olive trees for the owners of the plots in exchange for half of each daily harvest. Every afternoon at the end of the day we take the olives to the nearby olive press, we work our hardest and love every minute of it, I am normally in the trees, shaking, hitting, making fall as many as possible and the rest of the family is on the ground moving nets and doing their important part with all the branches that are at arm’s reach. It’s a whole day affair and runs sometimes all the way to December.
The goats are in heat and need to find a romantic partner, normally they go on vacation or a local billy comes here.
Olives……..you go for five days in a row, then you have to stop for a day because you get in a total olive zone, you even see them at night when you close your eyes. You have to stop for a day or two also because there are things at the house, in the fields that are dying for attention, we normally have building projects, home improvement things going on in the fall before the rains come and as hard as it is to seperate you from that ancestral ritual of harvesting olives, you just have to take a break or two. The vegetable field is there too, begging you to get as much as you can before everything starts to rot, you’d always like to do more but time is king and it’s impossible to get it all done.
Hay or wheat is planted and decisions have to be made about what to plant, where and of course how. We normally rely on tractors but we are always working to find a way of freeing ourselves from the dependence on these type of machines by selecting perennial forage crops for our animals and bees reducing our environmental impact and budget..Hemp, buckwheat, green manures…we are trying and experimenting with different techinques. It’s hard to turn a profit in modern agriculture if you don’t have machines. In fact, for us agriculture feeds us, gives us a surplus that we can sell or trade with but it doesn’t come close to covering our economic needs.
December The olive harvest finishes. The first wine is tasted, we hope that rain comes and we can all take a break before beginning a new year. When December comes around we complete a year filled with gratitude and hopes. We also have dreams taking hold for the year to come. As for planting, we sow fava beans, peas, garlic and garbanzo beans in the plot at home near the house. Every year we try to plant more and more and improve our ability to produce our own food and that for others. We go through an evaluation of the past year and learn from what went well and what didn’t. It’s the satisfaction of a year gone well and a chance to dedicate more time to onself and to our family. This is the period we love to go to America to see my family, yeah!!! It’s a chance to lead a different kind of life for a month and to realize what is most important in our lives. We take a suitcase full of food and came back with our suitcases full of maple syrup, peanut butter and goodies from Goodwill. Isn’t cultural exchange great?
January, oo January…It’s dark, it’s rainy, it’s cold…light a fire and lay down the foundation for this year’s work. Whatever of the spring vegetables that we didn’t plant in December we plant it in January for after this date it’s too late for garlic, faba and peas. We prune our fruit trees, we cut tractor loads of wood for our fires, this is the time too, if we have time, to start off some of the first seedlings in greenhouses like hot peppers and herbs. When the land permits, we got to zap…which is Italian for hoeing, we feel tight and warm in our home and give thanks to God for all that he has given us this year and the ability to have another day to breathe, another month to plant, another year to dream. It’s life, a struggle to live and thrive and here attaching ourselves to nature, we look for security for ourselves but at the same time we are attaching ourself to a changing, dangerous world, things are going to go wrong, the frosts will come too late, fruit will be lost, but as of now, it seems that at least something is left, if one thing doesn’t go well, another will take it’s place, if it’s not a wine year, perhaps the wheat will be spectacular, the apricots were lost, it’s a year for grapes or apples…for now we surive on this, for now its one more beautiful year to dance, to believe, to give thanks for another chance at life.
As our world changes, it is our view here that nature/God reign supreme on this planet, not AI or high tech, .dot worlds. We know that in this Coro-virus crisis we are going to be pushed to make changes that some have been pushing for years…robotic doctors, facial recongnition cameras on every street, a blanketing of our wavelengths with 5G…in defiance of this push we publish here a story of our months and activites throughout the year. In this exercise, we hope to have given an inclusive look at what nature calls us to do to live a self-sustainable life and the possibility to re-connect with naure or with our favorite pasttime is a therapy for those of us who are in quarantine and can’t get out like we would want to do.