Welcome to S.S. No 4 Uxbridge, formerly The Webb School, where my family and I are restoring and reviving an historic building and it's landscape to it’s glorious nurturing roots. Our beautiful building was built in 1924, but the Webb School dates back to the 1850s when local rural families educated their children at kitchen tables with whomever could get away from farm chores. They learned the things that they needed to reach out beyond the farm and into a mechanizing world. In my opinion, our educational mission today is to return inward and to seek guidance and learning from nature, the landscape and the lessons our grandparents had handed down to them. Perhaps it is a time of synthesis. Here are some of the ways in which we are blending education/innovation and the priceless knowledge passed down at kitchen tables to keep ourselves and our planet in balance.
OUR OFF-THE-GRID SCHOOLHOUSE VISION
The schoolhouse building is perhaps the most literal embodiment of synthesis as we combine technology and old-school methods of doing things that use less or no energy (i.e. no oven, no dishwasher, no dryer). Our mission is to take this 4,500sq ft building off the grid and have it function as a completely sustainable homestead. So far, we’ve stuck to the plan. In year one we replaced oil heat with geothermal, so the entire building is heated and cooled by the earth. Being out in the country, we are on well water, which we test and filter. The flat roof has been outfit with solar panels that work to offset our electricity usage, but anything we generate must be sold back to the grid because we can’t store it yet. So, until we can afford a second set of panels and a battery storage solution, we are tied to the grid in this one final, yet important way. Either money or innovation with solve this one eventually.
One of my heart projects. A catalogue of what is growing wild here on our two-acre square. I’m sure I’ve only seen a quarter of the biodiversity we custodian over, but I have every intention of meeting each and every species and loving them by name :) Have a look! You may recognize these usual suspects. By this time next year a half acre will be dedicated to growing & seeding native species and medicinal plants.
BUILDING ORGANIC SEED COLLECTIONS
An important part of being sustainable is having a solid seed collection that you can plant and replace each year. My grandfather and father have been the seed-savers for decades and now it’s my turn to inherit their seeds, their crops and take on their work as the ones who feed. It’s an honour really. We’ve collected our vegetable, herb and wildflower seeds from certified growers who have taken the Safe Seed Pledge and who care about seed-saving, biodiversity and food security. My goal is to turn some seeds into many seeds and share them with as many people as I can. Keeping organic seed collections and sharing them with others ensures that we can all grow what we need from healthy seed. It’s all the medicine we need!
GROWING ORGANIC FOOD
László and I both grew up with parents connected to growing, seed-saving and eating from the garden in the dead of winter. It seems that most of our generation can say this too - that their parents or grandparents participated in their own food production in some way and yet, we seem to have lost the traditions that link us to good food. We’re relearning our way back to having a relationship with our food that is about integrity and symbiosis. Having inherited a property with layers of damage, the no-dig, mulching approach to gardening is how we’ve chosen to focus on building the soil instead of digging into it and augmenting it. Our chicken troop is a big part of this project as they clear, till, and fertilize the soil back to health, so it can feed our crops. We’re growing organic vegetables out in the bee field, alongside wild species using only compost and chicken manure as fertilizer. And we’re testing out growing in bags and containers in the courtyard closer to the house, simulating suburban space. You might be surprised what we’re finding! Our chickens are eating organic feed, a switch which at least doubles the cost or raising your own organic chicken. We supplement their feed with kitchen scraps and clover we planted last year, and of course, they’re roaming outdoors eating bugs and greens all day. So, keeping their food organic, keeps our food organic.
László has bravely embarked on the bee-keeping adventure and I am simply a happy tag-alonger, sticky harvest cleaner-upper and inspired admirer of the bees who live in our yard. Even if you don’t love honey, the bees are formidable, team-playing creatures who are a vital part of our ecosystem. The pollinate as they travel collecting nectar, making it possible for our vegetation to grow big, beautiful fruit, naturally. Our well-being is based on their well-being. We take care of one another!
We love our creative country home and we love to share it with others who appreciate nature, peace and country life. We’ve converted the schoolhouse gymnasium into a Bed & Breakfast, where hammocks, hanging beds and chirping birds soothe our guests back into balance. If you’d like to visit our schoolhouse B&B, click here and join us for a rest.