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Brokenfoot Ranch: A proposed agrarian community in Carroll County, Georgia
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
In the summer of 2000, while working at a fasting clinic in northern California, I met a woman named Myra Bailes. Over the course of about three weeks, I had several conversations with Myra, and found her to be memorably genuine, thoughtful, and kind. Myra and I stayed in touch over the years, and this past January, I learned that Myra has been working on establishing an agrarian community in Georgia. Her plans for a small, environmentally-sound, community-based, agricultural community are extremely appealing to my wife and me, and if we didn't have the family ties that we do here in Ontario, we would seriously consider being a part of Myra's proposed community.
If you have interest in the sort of community that Myra is looking to create on her 66 acres of land in rural Georgia, I encourage you to read the information that she has provided below. There will be a meeting at her ranch on February 23, 2008 for those who are interested in learning more. If you are interested in visiting Myra but aren't able to make the scheduled meeting, please contact her via e-mail or phone, as her door is always open for people who are eager to gather more information on this wonderful project.
Update on September 15, 2010: Please note that Myra is now in Cosolapa, Oaxaca, Mexico. More to come on her circumtances soon.
By Myra Bailes
Community has always made sense to me. Instead of the prevalent me-me mine society that seems to condemn us to a lifetime struggle to personally acquire and maintain all the paraphernalia of the "American Dream" (and to suffering the social isolation this often entails), why not live in small, relatively self-sustaining communities where people share, cooperate, conserve, communicate and celebrate together? Especially now, as humanity faces the myriad perils of climate change, peak oil, water shortages, environmental contamination, etc.; as all around us we see societal collapse in the form of devastating wars, the dislocation of entire populations, increasing poverty, injustice, and oppression - doesn't it make sense now to put our hearts, minds, and muscles together to create a way of life that helps solve these problems, instead of blindly continuing with "business as usual" until disaster is upon us?
For me, now is without a doubt the time. With some experience of community living, and the good fortune to live on 66 acres of rural land in Carroll County, Georgia (about 50 miles west/southwest of Atlanta not far from the Alabama line), I am working to create Brokenfoot Ranch, a small organic farm community whose members will share the work, responsibilities, and rewards of an agrarian, environmentally-friendly, humane, and socially-just way of life.
Village Habitat Design, Inc., a small group of experienced "green" planners and architects based in Atlanta, is assisting me to develop the design for this community, which will conserve 90% of the land in forest and organic agriculture, with buildings clustered on the remaining 10%. Houses and other structures will be built to conserve natural resources as well as to provide a pleasant mix of public and private spaces. Motor vehicles will be parked in a community parking area near the entrance to the farm. Virtually all transportation inside the community will be by foot, along paths and nature trails designed for this purpose.
Brokenfoot Ranch won't appeal to everyone. For example, it won't be a co-housing development, although some of the design principles are similar. It won't be a hippie commune, a religious institution, a haven for malcontents, or a place for people who like to talk about what ought to be done, but suddenly disappear when it's time to "git'r done".
Brokenfoot Ranch will make sense to people who aspire to a more environmentally-sound, community-based, agricultural way of life - and are committed to investing themselves personally, socially, economically to make this a reality. Brokenfoot Ranch is about the genuine spirit of sharing, cooperation, and careful stewardship of the Earth's gifts. It is about the hard work, sincerity, humility, and joyfulness needed to create a sane way of life over the long term.
On February 23, 2008, Brokenfoot Ranch will hold an informational meeting open to all those interested in learning more about the project. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. and will feature a presentation by Village Habitat Design, a tour of the land, and plenty of opportunities to ask questions, which will be answered sincerely, truthfully, and as completely as possible (as we may not know the answer to every question!).
For more information and travel directions, please call Myra Bailes at 770-258-3344 or 404-895-7057. Or send an e-mail inquiry to verdolagas (at) toast.net. Please replace the (at) with the @ symbol - it is presented like this here to prevent spamming robots from picking up this e-mail address.
Current Status of Brokenfoot Ranch
1. One two-story, four-bedroom, two-bath, passive solar, energy-efficient house, about 3000 square feet which includes a full basement; with a covered back porch, an open front porch, a large covered carport with a slab floor, a Phoenix composting toilet, a branched drain greywater system, and a high-efficiency wood stove. The upstairs bathroom is only half finished (toilet and sink area usable and complete except for minor trim; shower and tub area not usable yet).
2. One large metal shed for storing farm equipment.
3. One 2006 model John Deer 790 tractor with front-end loader, rotary mower, tiller, all-purpose plow, stone rake, and box blade attachments.
4. Other farm tools and equipment consisting of:
- An Echo string trimmer and brush cutter
- A Poulan rototiller
- A riding lawnmower
- A 1997 Ford F150 pickup truck
- A single-axle flatbed utility trailer
- A trio of small structures for keeping a flock of laying hens (a laying house on wheels, a roosting hut, and a feeding station, plus electric net fencing to create a movable enclosure to protect the flock)
- In the bottom field, a one-acre area vegetable production plot surrounded by a semi-permanent electric fence
- A deep drilled well
- A solar panel which drives the well pump on DC electricity (and with power to spare)
- A nearly complete rainwater harvesting and storage system to capture roof runoff from the house
- A County water connection plus nine hose bibs to facilitate access to irrigation in the upper field
- An assortment of garden tools, hoses, and nozzles
- A small greenhouse with lots of plastic flats and pots of many sizes for starting and raising seedlings
Crop production overview to date
Both the bottom land and upper field areas were cultivated off and on for many years previous to the property's current ownership. Typical crops included a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, okra, beans, squash, and melons, as well as cotton, Southern peas, and corn. Animals such as cows, pigs, and chickens were raised. The details of growing methods used here in the past are unknown but probably were similar to those commonly employed by other local farmers in the region. Artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides were probably little used, due to their relative expense and the agricultural customs of the time.
Since the current ownership began in 2001, the one-acre fenced plot in the bottomlands has been used to grow a variety of vegetables organically. These have included many kinds of tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, summer and winter squashes, lettuce, cabbage, collards, kale, onions, Asian and other specialty salad greens, okra, eggplant, cucumbers, potatoes, melons, flowers, and herbs. All inputs have been according to OMRI and NOP standards, although organic certification has not been sought. In the upper field, a blueberry patch of 140 plants was planted. Unfortunately, the severe droughts of 2006 and 2007 decimated this planting; many will need to be replaced this year. The upper field also has the beginning of a muscadine grape vineyard, which has also suffered to esome extent from the drought. In addition, a number of fruit trees have been planted on the property, including 2 figs, 2 mulberries, 2 che fruit, 5 goumis, 2 sour cherries, 2 cornelian cherries, 2 mayhaws, 2 pawpaws, 2 flowering quinces, and a persimmon. So far, we have had fruit from the blueberries, the figs, the ches, the mulberries, the goumis, and the cornelian cherries.
1. Install adaptable irrigation systems using drip and micro-sprinkler technologies, to conserve labor and water as well as to target delivery of water to specific plants or crop areas. Technical and financial assistance in the form of a USDA "EQIP" cost-share program has been sought through the local office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service. We understand this has been approved for 2008, and we are currently awaiting assignment of a USDA engineer to help design the systems.
2. Replace the clear plastic sheet material which covers the greenhouse.
3. Replant the blueberries and muscadine grapes to replace those lost to the drought.
4. Turn the large shed structure into a fully-enclosed barn. The open shed is neither big enough nor secure enough to adequately house and protect all the farm equipment. (A living unit and/or craft studio could be added as a second story.)
5. Grade and gravel the main path to the bottomland field, so that this route is secure and passable for the truck, trailer, and tractor regardless of weather and soil conditions.
6. Begin raising earthworms to produce wormcastings, an immensely valuable soil amendment.
7. Plant cover crops and develop a good crop rotation sequence.
8. Raise a flock of laying hens; this could be up to 50 birds.
Longer-term farming objectives
1. Gradual restoration of some of the scrubby, previously cut-over woodland areas to create more biologically-diverse, natural native forest habitat.
2. Gradual conversion of other scrubby areas to create permaculture areas of fruit and nut species interplanted with other perennial and annual crops, wildlife forage plants, and cover crops.
3. A small dairy goat herd to produce milk, cheese, and other fermented milk products for the community.
4. Develop other value-added crafts such as food preservation (canning, drying, pickling), whole grain bakery, handcrafted herbal soaps and cosmetics, spinning and weaving, quilting, cabinetry, etc..
5. Expand cropping area and increase production of vegetable crops, blueberries, muscadine grapes, and other fruit and nut species.
Brokenfoot Ranch community objectives
1. Build and equip a wood shop and a shelter to store scavenged and recycled construction materials. This will be essential to facilitate building of the community's residences and other outbuildings, as well as smaller construction projects for the farm and other uses.
2. Build a shelter to protect, dry, and store a supply of firewood.
3. Finish the upstairs bathroom in the existing house. This will facilitate use of this house as temporary quarters for new members awaiting construction of their own house.
4. Select and attend relevant workshops to expand our knowledge and skills in areas such as green building and eco-village design, rainwater cachement and storage, greywater systems, organic agriculture, forest restoration, and permaculture.
4. Commit to and engage in ongoing education and practice of vital community social skills such as leadership and non-leadership roles, consensus decision-making, and interpersonal awareness.
5. Site work to develop the housing sites and other infrastructure needed for people to move here. This should include provision for water supply, ecologically-sound waste handling, solar access, and energy efficient design.
6. Develop an appropriate community legal framework and financial structure.
7. Organize the farming enterprise and other on-site businesses as appropriate to reflect the skills and interests of community members.
For more information about Brokenfoot Ranch, please contact Myra Bailes at 770-258-3344 or 404-895-7057. E-mail: verdolagas (at) toast.net
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