Sunday, August 4, 2013

Spotlight on -- Sissy Taylor-Maloy

Siss Taylor-Maloy in her spiral garden

Permaculture Designer Sissy Taylor-Maloy feels a close connection to the earth, particularly where she and her husband, Noah Maloy, live and work on their 80-acre family farm in Southwest Jefferson County, Florida.   Their home sits right in the middle of what was formerly the 1800s settlement of Delph, now known as Fanlew.  Delph was named for its postmaster, Warren Delph.  It was a logging town in its heyday, a thriving town with two railroad lines, saw mills and turpentine stills, a boarding house, churches, and many small shanty shacks lining the dirt roads.  The people lived hard off the land and the Maloy/Grantham family made a living free ranging cows and hogs, farming, and they ran the local country store.
Remains of 1905 homestead

Noah’s family has lived in the area for over 150 years, and the remains of his grandparents’ old homestead (1905) and the little country store they operated are in the middle of Sissy and Noah's homestead. The country store also sold gasoline and kerosene. Noah's Grandmother had the second gas station in Jefferson County and sold under the Sinclair brand.

Noah's grandfather in front of homestead
The farm is set up the way it was when it was operated by Noah’s family generations ago, with various functions extending in zones out from their home.  Zone 1 includes Sissy’s extensive gardens, orchards, greenhouse, chicken and goat pens, and animals which need daily care.  These are in an area where the original homestead, smoke house, syrup house, and other outbuildings were located.  Zone 2 includes their Paso Fino horses and some cows, including three Zebus.  Zones 3 and 4 include pastures for horses and cows.  Sissy calls the animals "expensive compost machines," for the Maloys mine the compost from the pens to use in the gardens and around the fruit trees, in turn growing food for themselves and their animals.  But the farm is far from being self-sufficient; both Noah and Sissy work outside the farm to support the animals, several of which are rescues.  

Sissy's greenhouse
Young goats
In operating their farm they are honoring the land and Noah’s family legacy by taking things back a step and following patterns established by Noah’s ancestors over a century ago when they had to be self-sustaining.  There was no electricity at the site until the 1960s and Noah grew up with his family providing everything they needed to survive from the land. 
Sissy and Noah, however, use modernized techniques in a permaculture way.  They don’t plow, they use compost and mulch to sustain their crops, and they create no waste, using everything produced on the farm in some way, including the “expensive” manure fertilizer.   
Grapes and Figs
They have fruit trees (grapes, wild plums, wild blueberries, figs, citrus, olives, pears, and kiwis), beehives, and worm beds.  They have large annual gardens and herbs.  Most of what they eat is produced on the farm.  Sissy also rescues unwanted seedlings and plants from her workplace.  She donates what she can to family, students, neighbors, and friends, but planted a whole new garden bed this year for rescued seedlings.

Sissy’s personal permaculture adventure started six years ago and is a lesson for all of us.  The first year they turned the soil from pasture and put up an eight foot fence to protect the garden from deer.  The garden produced a good crop that year.  The second year, her garden did not produce much, and the third year it was terrible, even with horse manure fertilizer.  The soil is mostly sand with very little organic matter and there is little water retention.  But Sissy didn’t give up. The fourth year, she started over with permaculture techniques using sheet mulching by adding compost, cardboard, and heavy layers of mulch.  Her sheet-mulched garden has thrived, and weeds are kept at bay.  Her gardens are designed in interconnecting spirals, and the newest bed is just for vines in an eight-spoke pattern for vertical gardening.

Sheet-mulched vine garden
Sissy, too, has a farming background.  Her family owned Monticello Seed Company and 500 acres of farm land just outside Monticello, Florida.  When I-10 was constructed across North Florida, it split the family property in half.  During its heyday, Monticello Seed Company shipped over 100 varieties of watermelon seeds all over the world, as well as corn and other seeds.  She remembers the early process of harvesting the watermelons.  Rinds were discarded in the fields, seeds and pulp were separated in washing machines, and the pulp was dumped in a pond on the property.  The seeds were then dried on large belt dryers and made ready for packing and shipping.    Modern seed techniques and farming practices eventually forced the family business to close in the late 70s. 

Sissy started her journey to earth activism and permaculture when she worked at the St. Marks Powder Plant for 22 years, retiring from there in 2004.  There she began a volunteer recycling program for the entire company.  Over the years she became more and more involved in community activism and attended a lot of different workshops on earth activism, spirituality, and permaculture.  Earth activist, Starhawk, became a mentor and in 2010 Sissy made a commitment to pursue permaculture as a lifestyle and attended Earth Activist Training in 2011 in Quebec, Canada, receiving her Permaculture Designer certificate.  She also became a Master Gardener that year. 

Sissy is a teacher at heart.  Her mother, grandmother, and aunt were all teachers.  While not in a public school setting, she has been teaching all her life.  She co-taught the Permaculture Design classes at the Leon County Extension Office in 2012 and 2013.  
Sissy’s approach to permaculture at her homestead includes preserving, canning, drying, freezing, making cheese with goats’ milk, and sharing her surplus with others.  In a very personal way, for Sissy and Noah, permaculture means putting a meal on the table for their family, eating food their land produced, as it has for generations upon generations.  It’s not just gardening, the people and the land are all connected.  It’s living what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, back to the basics of life, but always learning, always safeguarding the earth, feeling the sacredness of Mother Earth, and teaching others--taking the stewardship of the land to heart.

Sissy will continues to learn and grow, continue to educate herself and learn permaculture and practices. Her love for teaching others will forever be on her agenda, for this is what she is here on Earth to do.

Read more about Sissy's journey on her Blog, Southern Style Permaculture.

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