As I usually do, this winter I left the snowy blustery northern winter for a break in the southern snow free warmth. Mary Beth is not crazy about winter either, being from Florida originally. In the past I've gone to Texas or the southwest and the cool desert regions instead of the subtropics. But since Mary Beth has many Florida connections, we decided to go there for most of our winter getaway. For me Florida is not the top choice, only because it makes me sad that such a once beautiful place has been turned into suburbia and strip malls that make it look like every other place in this country. But there is the ocean, and the gulf, and despite the efforts of developers to ruin those natural wonders, they still retain some charm. It's not all bad news in Florida as there is some indication that people are trying to recognize the natural world and accommodate it. Where we spent most of our time, in Mary Beth's home town, we were able to find a few nature preserves and a botanical garden in short biking distance, and even a CSA farm that we could volunteer at in exchange for fresh local vegetables and fruit.
That was another great thing about Florida-- the fresh fruit. We drank fresh grapefruit and orange juice almost every day that came from an orchard nearby. We picked key limes off a tree in the front yard and enjoyed lime water and pie whenever we could. On the bike ride to the preserve and the farm we picked coconuts that we cracked open for the milk and meat. The CSA farm gave us fresh grapefruit, oranges, and carambola, or starfruit, that came from a tree in a neighbor's yard. If only we could have that kind of fruit here. Well, I plan to eventually keep a lime tree in a greenhouse.
Our plan had been to try to make some money while in Florida so that we could bring it back to spend on our projects here at DR for this season. Mary Beth had some connections from her work at restaurants in the area and was able to get a job bussing tables at one of the fanciest, most expensive restaurants around on her first attempt at getting a job. After working there for a couple of days she found out the restaurant was looking for a valet. So despite living in an ecovillage where we aren't allowed to own a car, I found myself parking other people's really expensive cars. It was a strange world to have ended up in, but we were able to make a little money. Unfortunately, the economy was affecting even the rich, and the restaurant was not as busy as it normally would be at that time of year, so we weren't getting as much work as we might have otherwise. We were only really making enough to pay for our expenses and for doing some fun things like going to a winery, the Mote Marine Aquarium, Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, and a number of other Florida site seeing adventures.
We also made a few trips to see my Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Zeke, checking out the Dunedin farmer's market and the brewery. Zeke and Elizabeth also fed us stone crab claws and took us sailing one day. It was nice to be so close that we could visit them on a whim and hang out.
After a while we got restless and planned a work exchange on an organic farm in Live Oak Fl. The farm had goats, turkeys, and chickens. We were looking forward to learning about livestock because we have some interest in getting some kind of livestock here at DR in the near future. Unfortunately, after staying at the farm for a few days, we realized that the farmers weren't really a good fit for us, so we went to Gainesville, where Mary Beth went to school and still had a number of friends.
Gainesville was a really fun town, with a farmer's market, an independent film theatre, and a lot of the culture you'd expect to find in a progressive college town. We also checked out the springs in the area, and were able to go on a canoe trip down the Suwanee River, which was beautiful. Had it been warmer we could have gone swimming in the springs, but we'll have to save that for another time.
Our next adventure was to Georgia, which we found to be sort of the bizarro alternate universe to Florida.
Our destination was the Hostel in the Forest, where we'd arranged another work exchange. Different from other hostels, this one is in a forest, and guests stay in treehuts instead of rooms in a big building. Also different from other hostels, there are chickens running around everywhere, and fresh eggs to be eaten every morning.
They had some quaint cabins and there was a lot of focus on aesthetic beauty. It inspired us to want to bring some of this back to DR with us.
We volunteered there in exchange for being able to stay there for a couple weeks. While there we built this bamboo fence around the herb garden.