|Some of the Veterans Day Weekend 2013 participants outside|
the Valhalla Main House after an exciting day building a swale,
constructing the new DeToy Sheep Chalet, preparing and sharing
delicious meals from scratch, and taking care of the farm animals.
Retired Special Forces NCO Jimbo and his wife Debbie, a former Army helicopter pilot, had come over a couple of weeks ago to help butcher a deer that had been very generously donated by neighbors Doug and Dorothy Royston in preparation for Valhalla's Veterans Day luncheon. This was the first real test of the new Valhalla Park Lounge (click here to read about it) with it's long counters, oversized cutting boards, overhead task lighting, and stainless steel sink. Four of us were able to work very comfortably with plenty of elbow room while cutting up steaks and roasts, vacuum packing the meat for the freezer, and also stewing dog food using the scraps, cartilage, and bones in crock pots right on the counter.
Kate then drove all the way from Illinois and arrived on Thursday evening to help out. Kate, the oldest of seven Army "brats," brought an entire library for Valhalla with hundreds of novels, how-to books, and other books covering every imaginable topic from gardening to history to plant identification and much, much more.
Kate had first noticed the Valhalla Project just months ago on Pinterest and then Facebook.
|Retired Air Force pilot Matt meeting|
King, Valhalla's lead turkey tom, for
the first time. King wasn't too sure
about Matt at first but the two
bonded pretty quickly.
Then when she saw our recent article on Valhalla's new permaculture program she alerted brother Matt, a retired Air Force pilot in Oklahoma City who is intensely interested in all homesteading topics. Matt in turn tipped off his buddy Neil, also from the Oklahoma City area, who had taken the very same online permaculture course as Valhalla Project President Gordon Cucullu did this past summer. Neil was literally champing at the bit to pitch in with an extensive permaculture effort and Valhalla's new program fit the bill perfectly. Which in turn led to Bill, their mutual friend who also works as a civilian contractor at Tinker Air Force Base, joining in.
Weeks in advance the upcoming Veterans Day Weekend then blossomed into a complete permaculture symposium event when heavy equipment operator Jim Brown suggested building a second swale at the top of Valhalla's upper pasture. Army Sergeant First Class Carola, a Master Gardener from Ft. Leonard Wood who has been studying permaculture for a few years now, immediately reserved her favorite spot in the Green Room of the Valhalla Main House for the weekend. Former Special Forces NCO Jimbo and his wife, retired Army helicopter pilot Debbie, quickly jumped on board along with retired Navy NCO Jim and his wife Cynde, who have a homestead of their own in the local area.
It was much easier for everyone in attendance to visualize the desired results and related techniques involved since the first swale had already been completed (click here to see Valhalla's overall permaculture plan along with the story of constructing the first swale). Jim and Gordon gave an extensive briefing on the finer points of building a swale that will capture, hold, and slowly release rainwater while dramatically reducing erosion across large areas of land.
Then out came the survey lasers and landscape stakes. After Matt, Neil, and Bill traced the natural contours of the land and marked them, Jim carefully removed the top soil and began forming the swale using a bulldozer.
And then there were the sheep. The long term forecast predicted freezing conditions just days ahead, while Inga the livestock guardian dog and two of her sheep desperately needed a warm, dry place place to hunker down in bad weather. Even with the weekend's permaculture symposium in progress, the homestead side of Valhalla's operations required building a covered structure for them right away, right now.
Matt and Bill stepped up to the challenge, running back and forth between the permaculture activities and what quickly became new DeToy Sheep Chalet. In less than 24 hours they managed to design, frame, and build a wonderful mini-barn using rough-cut lumber harvested from Valhalla's own forests and five tin roofing panels that had been reserved for the task - not quite enough, but enough to finish a 12x12' section of roof for the 12x18' Chalet!
Meanwhile, a race against time ensued back at the new second swale. When completed it will stretch across approximately two to three city blocks in length, a massive growing area for future food forests, although it became apparent that even with a lot of people working in concert, only 40% or so could be completed in one weekend. Everyone on scene grabbed buckets of rye and began hand-seeded the swale, throwing the very precious seeds inch-by-inch as they walked.
Then came the really fun (albeit messy) part: hand-mulching the swale and the freshly sown seeds with chunks of a huge years-old round-bale of rotting hay. Unfortunately Valhalla's tractor decided to take the day off (dead battery, argh) so the hay had to be peeled off and hand carried by the armload across the new swale.
Kate had been very busy back at the Main House rolling out dough and making rustic apple tarts for lunch. Roasts had already been stewing in the crockpot overnight for the shredded Italian venison main course and Kate had also found a wonderful recipe for "funeral potatoes" with cheese, homemade yogurt, white sauce, onions and garlic. We made a big bowl of salad with arugula from the garden and lentil sprouts grown in the pantry tossed with a walnut oil lemon dressing; then Debbie and Jimbo arrived with apple cake, banana bread, and German chocolate cake to join the apple tarts on the dessert buffet!
It was a very successful and educational weekend for one and all, although even after everyone left the weekend certainly wasn't over. Jim Brown noted that temperatures would drop into the 20's on Tuesday night and subsequently spent many hours installing panels for the roof of the new green house on the front deck just outside the Main House living room to help trap some heat. I built a door for the new DeToy Sheep Chalet and lined the northern wall with stacks of straw bales while Gordon winterized the chicken house, the turkey palace, and the housing around Valhalla's well.
An important note: if you are a post-9/11 combat veteran interested in homesteading, permaculture, animal husbandry, and forest and wildlife management, the Valhalla Project is currently taking applications while offering comfortable accommodations and excellent chow for up to 90 days at a time. Interested veterans who are transitioning out of the military into civilian lives are invited to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and an application.
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Remember: the Valhalla Project needs your help and supportJust getting a project like Valhalla up and running has required a significant investment in time, money, and labor. With roughly $500,000 already invested over the last two years into the Valhalla Project for property acquisition, feeding and housing Soldier participants, infrastructure and facility improvements, animal purchases and feed, tools and building supplies, forest and pasture management expenses, and much much more, resources are running thin. We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat Soldiers and war zone civilian workers to transition back into the civilian world.
The Valhalla Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity recognized by the IRS.
Nobody, including cadre or board members, draws a paycheck here, nor will they ever: we simply give everything we have to make Valhalla possible. 100% of your donation via Paypal will go directly to program expenses and building materials, period.