Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quail Springs - Building An Oasis


According to Merriam Webster:
1 : a fertile or green area in an arid region (as a desert)
2 : something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast

You can easily imagine why ancient people in arid lands would know how to find water. What it might be hard to understand if you live in a place where abundant water falls from the sky or clean water flows from a pipe is the effect and wonder of abundant water on a dry land.  It changes the desert from ashen sea to a fertile island of life. And that's why ancient people cultivated these life sustaining places. An increasing number of people are becoming aware that the world needs places of refuge, relief and a pleasant contrast from the relentless momentum of our Titanic civilization. 

The podcast this week will tell you some of their story and the photos and text will give you some idea of what the Quail Springs project looks like.  But it wasn't until I looked up the definition of oasis that I remembered co-founder Warren Brush telling how the first few years of the project on the ground has been "farming water". That's when I understood the links between past and present and that one person's wasteland can become another person's cultivated place of refuge.

When my friend Lorna came to visit Santa Barbara (and help us pack) she said, "No wonder you get so excited by all the water in PEI."  Indeed.  In much of the world, abundant clean water is an unimaginable luxury.  But a project like Quail Springs demonstrates how a community of people can work together to manage scarce resources and create abundance.

Meals are prepared in an open kitchen in a common area.  The meal we were served (in early April) primarily included whole food from the farm.  It was simple and delicious.

The common room features a bright corner for children and their friends to play and talk.  The building is a converted metal hay barn. Walls are now straw bale and earth - semi finished at this point.  A finished interior is shown in another picture below.  Using natural materials controls cost and eliminates harmful chemicals from the living space.                 

More than just a pond...this pool is a valuable asset.  It collects and holds water from the springs, feeds a newly re-establishing wetland habitat, waters the farm gardens and livestock and holds water in the ground.

Further upstream you see what limited rainfall and years of over-grazing / poor land use looks like. Lot's of erosion, a collapse of the native riparian environment and a stream that floods and then goes dry.  The farm is working on ways to slow runoff and to allow water to move laterally into the soil to create a water "bank" that supports re-growth of the stream habitat.  In the long term, this kind of planning could actually change the micro-climate of this small canyon.      

Using natural earth, stone and local materials, residents have created homes that are simple to live in.  By design this home is easy to heat in the winter and relatively cool in the summer and features "built in's" for shelves and seating in this finished interior.  

The exterior of this home now being built shows straw bale and cobb construction, the mix of traditional earth and modern structural materials, the mountings for solar panels on the roof and the simple means for collecting rain water from the eave-troughs to water a small garden behind the house.

Pastured poultry starts with pasture.  Planting grasses begins the process of creating fertile topsoil in dry sand.  Grass nurtures chickens which manure the grass which grows more chickens and deeper soil. 

Brenton uses mud and straw to build the wall of a new chicken coop.  Inexpensive, easy to add on to and sufficient for securing his charges, this coop will also help moderate extremes of heat and cold.

For more be sure to listen to the podcast.  Special thanks to Kolmi and Warren for allowing me to visit and share this story.  And thanks to my favorite shepherd, Lorna McMaster, for playing her banjo in the "audio shop" at Dunn Creek Farm.

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