Our highest consideration is always the health of the ecosystem that is Ardea. This comes with a deep embracing of the fact that, as humans animals, we are an integral part of this ecosystem. And by recognizing the immense power we have to destroy and create when making decisions, we are very aware of our role as an emerging keystone species here. Therefore, it is our ecological responsibility to interact with the land where we dwell with rooted respect, humble intelligence, complex awareness, and constant gratitude. In this way we uphold the lives of countless other beings. Our experience here is of an incredibly profound sense of connection, knowing that when we eat from and interact with this land, it is this land that is creating our bodies and molding our minds to this place. Feralwood is and continues to be our most complete expression of this.
The Feralwood project begin in 2014, at a time when our main focus was to work within the microclimate at the edge of a forest dominated by the Eastern white oak. This edge, where forest and field meet, is analogous to a backbone or spinal cord. It is a place where signals and messages of both the forest and field are gathered, concentrated, and intermingled before being passed on to elsewhere. Being an edge, it is a narrow swath, smaller than either the forest or field. Yet, it is often much busier than the two it is composed of. Being regularly visited by creatures of both habitats, it generally has greater biodiversity. This is where many birds gather in the branches to sing, leaving their mark on the soil below in fertility, building the richness of the edge. It is the space that brings seemingly opposing realms together, so that they can exchange information about the world that they live in. One could say that the edge is where all else emerges from, and for Feralwood this holds true.
Today, along this forest edge, you can see our stewardship in the indigenous perennial plants of numerous functions within the landscape: American hazelnut, groundnut, rabbiteye blueberry, common milkweed, sochan, witch-hazel, elderberry, wild strawberry, pawpaw, aronia, spikenard, sweet fern, new jersey tea...
Since the start of the project we have moved farther away from the edge of the forest, driving our broadfork 16 inches deep into the compaction of a fallow field, setting the soil free. Here we have continued to plant indigenous perennials into a soil once removed of them, repeatedly plowed under, drenched in 10-10-10, and liberally dusted with toxaphene and other agricultural chemicals. Decades later, after a long period of rest, this area is being repopulated with old friends such as American persimmon, passionflower, American plum, and red mulberry, to name a few. The Chinese chestnut finds a home here as an analog species to the blight-stricken American chestnut. The American chestnut was once a dominant canopy tree of the Eastern United States. Each autumn it rained down starch-laden minerals and b-vitamins to keep the beings of the land with a clear, strong mind and well-functioning body through the lean months of winter.
This winter and throughout the coming year, with the help of the recent grant funding, we will be expanding Feralwood to stretch its ecological webbing deeper into the forest and farther into the field. Below is a simplified and hand-drawn map of Feralwood. The areas highlighted are aspects of the project that were included in the grant proposal.
And here are the details of what we are obtaining through our proposal:
Forest edge and understory expansion
And here is a linear aid to understanding all of this as a system:
So, as we work within the white oak forest, we will be gathering the acorns for use as food for humans and pigs. In order to plant spicebush and red mulberry within the understory, we will be thinning out young trees such as red maple and using them to expand mushroom production. Red mulberry will be coppiced regularly, never attaining full size. Spicebush is a small tree that will be planted closer to the edge and in gaps within the canopy to obtain optimal sunlight for berry production. Having these smaller trees make up the understory, as opposed to growing full-size trees such as red maple, should increase the acorn production of the white oaks.
The ostrich ferns will be located downslope from our mushroom log area. Here they will take advantage of the thousands of gallons of rainwater that will be drained each year from the tanks where we soak our mushroom logs. They will be planted in hugelkultur berms on the contour of a slope that is prone to erosion in heavy rains. Here they will increase soil stability, as well as moisture retention.
In the fallow field we will be rotating the pigs using solar-powered polywire. We will be moving them in a timely fashion, leaving them in one spot only long enough for them to do a good bit of tillage and fertilization. After they have done this work, we will follow behind them to seed a soil-building cover crop, and put the yaupon holly and Washington hawthorn into the Earth.
All of this brings us to the processing equipment, which will allow us to transform these ecological interactions into marketable amounts of native tea blends, native spices, acorn flour and baked goods, acorn-finished pork, edible fiddleheads, and log-grown mushrooms. We are enthusiastic to get this new chapter in the Feralwood project underway. Providing for our local community beneath tenets of deep ecology, bioregionalism, permaculture, agroforesty, and indigenous wisdom is something that keeps our hearts strong and our minds at peace.
As many of you know, we have been in the process of creating a new name for our land and business for quite a while now. We have been searching for something that would capture our shared vision for living on this land for the rest of our lives. Needless to say, it has felt like one of the biggest and most complicated processes we have ever engaged with! While expectations and frustrations of the ego have reared their heads at times, more often it has felt like we have been patiently waiting. It is as if the land herself has been holding a name, waiting for us to discover it.
We thought we had done just that when we landed on Living Earth Sanctuary. However, a series of events in 2015 reminded us that this is not the land’s name. Rather, it was our acknowledgement of her inherent sacred aspect that captivates us to no end. As we learned of many other organizations who had already found their way to a similar name, we realized that we had not captured the unique essence of this place and our relationship to it. Having discovered this, we paused early in 2015, waiting to complete our grant project (whose funding was received through Wild Dahlia Homestead), and listening for the land to sing her song to us.
It did not happen in one romantic moment of clarity and enlightenment. Instead, it was a process that ebbed and flowed as we got to know this land, ourselves, and our vision in a deeper way. And now, with calm eyes, we are thrilled to announce that we have heard the song of the land. Her name will be Ardea.
Ardea is the latin name of a genus of birds commonly referred to as Herons (the picture above is an example of a heron species - our only personal photograph, though there have been many encounters). The Great Blue Heron, in particular, has been a guide to us on this land and beyond. There is no other presence on the earth, be it plant, animal, fungi or stone, that has had such significance in our lives as a couple. And this word – Ardea – speaks to us both.
To us, Ardea is a place on Earth, located in the foothills of the southern Appalachians. Here a red-tailed hawk perches atop a towering white oak on the forest edge, in search of food. Gentle hills roll off from a field, into the forest, carrying white-tailed deer with them. Within the humus of the forest, near the trickling waters of a stream, is where the red salamander sleeps, insulated from the cold. Above is the large s-necked form of a great blue heron heading towards the waters of the pond to fish. In the damp of the forest, large sandy domes mark the homes of crayfish. And from there a vast ecological abundance - magic medicines, sour berries, ancient memories, oily nuts, sweet flowers, fog-laden fields - a dynamic wildness moving in and out of equilibrium.
Since our life’s work is entirely integrated into this place, we will incorporate the name Ardea into our business entity as well. For business purposes we will be Ardea Homestead Sanctuary. The words “homestead sanctuary” convey our intention, as human animals, to exist and meet our needs within the sanctity of nature. We will spend the month of January preparing to step into this new business identity. Look for updates along the way and expect to meet a fresh and cohesive Ardea Homestead Sanctuary in February.
We are absolutely thrilled to be relating to this land, ourselves, and our vision with more clarity, gratitude, and love than ever before. Many thanks to each of you for continuing to support us along this journey. Blessings!