Monday, August 31, 2015

A few highlights from Valhalla's Summer 2015

It's been a very busy summer at the Valhalla Project, with our days filled with gardening, tending the animals, and working on countless "Homesteading 101" projects. Time available for blogging and posting up pictures is very limited -- since every minute in front of a computer screen means a minute lost for far more exciting and productive endeavours.

Many Valhallans value their privacy. The veteran wearing the eagle's mask
decided to build a special locker for the backup generator using mostly
salvaged materials. Located by the main electrical box to allow quick
access during any power outages, the little weatherproof locker
looks more like a doghouse than anything else and therefore blends
right in outside the chicken house next to it. Thank you again
Gene Hanratty for donating the generator -- it's still in mint
condition after more than two years, and one of the Valhalla
Project's most prized emergency backup assets.
Valhalla Project participants sometimes choose to work on special projects that they dream up themselves. While help and assistance is always available, some individuals simply love the sheer peace and tranquility that goes with taking on solo challenges.

For example, one particularly camera-shy combat veteran saw that Valhalla's backup generator would be more useful if it was stored next to the main electrical box instead of in the car port. He spent a few days building a simple yet very practical weatherproof house for it using mostly salvaged materials.

Loki helping to celebrate the completion of Loren's Dragon Moat,
which will help keep the turkeys, chickens, and duck down at Hospital
Row dry this winter. He managed to dig deep enough so that water is
forced to defy the normal laws of gravity and flow uphill. Also
notice the big stump at the left of the trench -- Loren claimed
that he enjoyed the physical challenge of hacking away at the roots
with an ax. Sure, Special Forces guys can be a little "different"
all right... although the birds living in the apartments behind
him certainly were impressed and thankful. Great job, Loren.
Likewise, former Special Forces Sergeant First Class Loren from Colorado spent the better part of two weeks digging like a crazed gopher down at Valhalla's Hospital Row after he saw the drainage problems that occasionally flooded parts of the poultry housing units there.

Loren loved going out in the Viking for target practice sessions, playing with the dogs out in the woods, learning some new cooking skills around the kitchen, and just chatting hour after hour at the dining room table... but most of all he loved working on his Dragon Moat. Digging in the rocky ground here in the Ozarks is almost like trying to scrape a hole into solid concrete with a spoon... but there he'd be with a miner's pick swinging away. During one downpour he ran out after borrowing my floppy rain hat to check if the water would drain uphill as he'd so carefully designed his Moat. And it did! Then came the 2am trek out into the forests on a moonless night with Loki at his side to collect and drag 50 pounds of small rocks back to the moat in his rucksack...

As seen through the eyes of new Valhallans: compiled snapshots
that various Ft. Leonard Wood lieutenants took during their
time here this August. 
Of course many other Valhalla Project participants prefer to learn about homesteading in groups, and along these lines this summer we've had the pleasure of hosting some of the Second Lieutenants from Fort Leonard Wood.

These young officers are currently in a very intensive Military Police training program and only beginning their new careers, yet still wanted to come learn more about the issues facing veterans who are retiring back into the civilian world. Some day they too will be veterans, and there is also great value of building their awareness of Valhalla's programs so they can pass the word to other Soldiers over the course of their careers.

Second Lieutenant Dominique guiding the sheep home.
This may look a little odd but the best way to herd
sheep is to simply walk behind them with your arms
out -- never chase them, just walk with purpose
and 99% of the time they will trot to wherever
you need them to go.
Two separate groups of new Lieutenants were completely immersed in hands-on homesteading essentials ranging from milking Roxanne the goat, harvesting potatoes and a bumper-crop of hot peppers, finding and collecting eggs, repairing gates and animal housing units (plus sometimes using power tools for the first time ever), herding sheep, and what it means to get seriously attacked by ticks and chiggers.

The Valhalla Project's budding "Nutrition Through Culinary Arts" program also continued to evolve this summer after we ran out of venison and wild hog a couple of months ago. Wild meats from animals that eat dozens of varieties of herbs, weeds, roots, and wild plants instead of commercially produced grain provide superior nutrition -- yet supplies here on the property are naturally limited, therefore we had to turn to other sources (at least until next hunting season coming this October).
Second Lieutenant Jeff performing "Mise en Place"
for the stir-fried ginger-basil chicken with tinkerbell
peppers and coconut rice that he later made alongside
his buddy Dominique.  Lt. Luke was working at the
other end of the kitchen with Valhalla President
Gordon to make seared salmon and panzanella
with corn, shishito peppers, and Thai basil. 

The gardens provide plenty of vegetables and herbs while the chickens, turkeys, and ducks keep cranking out omega-3 rich eggs. We could have slaughtered some of Valhalla's own poultry and older lambs but instead opted to take advantage of the wonderful bacon, beef, pork chops, and other top-quality meats from the Twin Lakes Meat Packing Company in Gassville (about 25 minutes away). We've also started subscribing to Blue Apron, a service that sends a big box of quality ingredients along with cooking instructions each week. This allows Valhalla to access many ingredients that simply are not available in the Ozarks, for a very reasonable price.

Note that all Valhallans not only learn at least some of basics about the critically important roles of essential amino acids, magnesium and calcium, Vitamin K2, healthful cholesterols and fats, plus naturally occurring probiotics for the daily diet but also how to prepare gourmet-quality meals from scratch that embrace all of the above.

The Valhalla Project's living room with the newly built library
shelves, which contain hundreds of specially selected books on
cooking,  nutrition, food science and history, recipes from all the
different nations and cultures around the world that we could think
of, the uses of herbs and spices in not just recipes but also for the
prevention and treatment of various illnesses and diseases --
as well as hundreds of other books dedicated to homesteading
topics such as farm animal care and housing, off-grid
construction, permaculture, gardening, bare-essential-to
advanced carpentry, soil and water conservation, wildlife
enhancement and management, and there's even a manual
on what to do if you're somehow bored after thoroughly
studying everything as described above (impossible to be
bored after all of that really, although we had to put The Sacred
Book of Poker Variations/Rules/Regulations somewhere).
Along these same lines, Valhalla's living room floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were finally completed in July -- and it was then discovered that the cooking and nutrition books alone took up a full half of all the shelving! It has taken four years to research and purchase a significant library that can answer just about any food craving.

As an example of such a special library, ask yourself: are you craving chocolate right now? The confectionary books provide hundreds of recipes for homemade candies, fudge, bon-bons, and much more -- while at the same time the nutrition books go on to explain that chocolate cravings are often caused by magnesium deficiencies.

Valhalla's approach to teaching about both the equally relevant chocolate craving *plus* nutrition lessons at the same time is perhaps unique.

Cheese buns are not a sin: they are packed
with essential amino acids, omega-3 and
Vitamin K2-rich eggs, and other life
sustaining nutrients provided here at the
Valhalla Project property by free ranging
farm animals. These buns are absolutely
delicious with stews, soups, and chilis. This
specific batch of cheese buns was successfully
baked by retired Special Forces Sergeant
First Class Loren -- who had helped install
a desperately needed brand new oven into
Valhalla's kitchen only two days before.
First, when a chocolate craving is duly announced by a suffering participant, all interested Valhallans will then spend some time making chocolate candy from scratch with pure, traditional, unprocessed ingredients (high fructose corn syrup and other bulk filler ingredients are never allowed here at Valhalla). Afterwards, while everyone who participated is still licking their fingers in sheer ecstasy, comes the more serious discussion of why magnesium deficiencies cause chocolate cravings, why eating even the most delicious pure chocolate goodies will never make those cravings go away, what magnesium really is and what it does for a healthy body, and finally how to incorporate more magnesium into delicious main meals so only a tiny chocolate treat will be "...needed..." the next time.

In short (and continuing on with the magnesium-oriented example), it's far better to first fill up on a rich and satisfying dinner of Valhalla's chili made with grass-fed beef stewed in wild venison broth and sprouted magnesium-rich black beans that are spiked with raw cocoa, pure raw molasses, various herbs plus tomatoes and hot peppers harvested from the garden, in addition to organic spices (of course including cumin, coriander and fennel seeds) over rice. Veterans and other Valhalla participants who *still* have room for their already-satisfied cravings are still welcome to indulge in desserts -- summer usually brings plenty of peach crisps with crunchy almond toppings or from-scratch apple pies -- and only after that, eat all the homemade chocolate treats that you want. That said, it's been our repeated experience here on the Valhalla Project property that cravings for sweets (or, GASP! Junk food!!) is almost always resolved by simply enjoying pure, satisfying, rich traditional foods that are jam-packed with not just nutrition but also the tastes that we all instinctively crave.

Melonie the turkey hen with her poults. Most chicks and poults are
raised in the living room brooder to protect them, yet Melonie
was doing such an exceptional job in keeping track of them that
we let her stay with them in the heavily fortified Turkey Chalet.

Another neat story from this summer came from Melonie, one of the turkey hens, who managed to hatch nine poults right in the middle of the vegetable gardens. She was so obsessively attached to them that we didn't have the heart to take them to the safety of the living room brooder. Sure enough, three tiny poults eventually lost their lives despite every attempt to keep them safe.

However, we did get to observe a semi-wild free-ranging turkey raise her young with minimal human intervention. It turns out that poults spend a great deal of time riding on their mother's back and shoulders. Then one day we noticed Melonie bleeding from a terrible wound on her side. Perhaps a weasel managed to sneak past the dogs and somehow wiggle into the Chalet. The six remaining poults didn't have a scratch on them so it was clear that Melonie purposely took the hit while protecting them. We treated the 5" gash under her wing several times a day for about a week (it continued bleeding on and off for the first two days) and the wound finally closed without any infections. It was a close call, and today she is currently escorting her now teenie-bopper offspring around the edge of the forest as I write this. A happy ending!

*  *  *

Subtle: instead of 6' lifesized statue
that costs tens of thousands of dollars
we were very happy to add this 2'
high concrete figurine into Valhalla's
Welcome Island flower garden
this summer instead. 
Please remember that as a relatively small nonprofit organization, there are simply a very limited number of hours available for describing what typically goes on at the Valhalla Project's 200 acre homesteading retreat for transitioning veterans.

Why is that? Because every day our operations require all available hands on deck to focus on the animals and tasks right in front of them. Put down those smart phones, quit taking pictures, and actively live 100% in the real world (rather than on Facebook or in cyberspace) for at least a while has become a key part of the Valhalla Project's core programs. 

The mark of a small yet very busy nonprofit often translates into a limited number of blog entries, website updates, and other internet-visible signs of life... due to the fact that there aren't any paid public relations professionals, social media coordinators, or advertising experts on staff. 

Obviously this puts smaller outfits like the Valhalla Project at a severe disadvantage with fundraising and outreach efforts. On the other hand, where would you like your dollars to go? Into actual activities and programs for the benefit of America's veterans, or to administrative/publicity/fundraising/staffing costs? We strongly believe that every penny of your donations should go directly to supporting the programs here, so we need your help to spread the word about Valhalla.

If you know a post-9/11 combat veteran who's having a tough time adjusting after leaving the military, please tell him (or her) about our programs. We offer qualified veterans and war zone civilian workers beautiful wild spaces, peer support, and the opportunity to actively participate in the creation of a truly unique facility while they at the same time regroup and prepare for their new lives as civilians.

Some of this year's flowers inside Valhalla's Welcome Island garden.

* * *
The Valhalla Project needs your help and support!!!
We need YOUR help to keep Valhalla functioning efficiently - while at the same time expanding vitally important programs to assist post-9/11 combat veterans 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, period. 

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