Category Archives: General

Featured in Mother Earth News

Digging in the GardenAfter a recent first-time visit to the Ploughshare campus and Homestead Heritage community, Bryan Welch wrote the insightful article:

Homestead Heritage: Self-Sufficient Living in Action

which was published in the June/July 2013 issue of Mother Earth News. Bryan is the Publisher and Editorial Director of Mother Earth News.

In the article, Bryan describes the desire he had as a child to be Amish. He was inspired by their farming with draft animals, their growing of their own food and their modest, cooperative lifestyle. He describes the Homestead Heritage community and gives a picture of what you will experience on a visit: “industrious activity, friendly faces and a pervading sense of happy people doing work they enjoy.” Bryan recognizes the beauty and importance of a traditional lifestyle that emphasizes simplicity, modesty and working in close relationship with the land and in harmony with one another. From his perspective, Homestead Heritage is a “genuine example of a self-sufficient group of people providing sustenance to each other.”






The LaRue Barn

This article is an excerpt from the Spring 2012 issue of the SustainLife journal.
The LaRue Barn

The LaRue Barn

We found the LaRue barn through a phone call from a woman in northern New Jersey who had heard about our work of moving and restoring barns. She wanted to know if we would possibly want to move an old barn that was in danger of being demolished to make way for a new suburban development.

At the time this was only our second barn to move, so we did not know entirely what we were getting into, except that we wanted to restore more barns. As it turned out, this unique barn was originally built about 1760 in the northern New Jersey town of Mahwah, close to the New York state border on Route 202, an old Colonial road that runs from Boston to Philadelphia, skirting to the west around New York City. It is what is known as an English-framed barn, though the LaRue family who built it was of French Huguenot descent. The timbers are oak and chestnut, felled by ax from the surrounding virgin forest and hewed by hand. It was moved in 1876 to where we found it, about a half mile from its original location. Moving barns was a common occurrence, as they were meant to last for centuries and could be readily unpegged, disassembled and relocated to another farm.

Crooked Braces

As you look overhead in the LaRue barn you will see unusual curved and dovetailed wind braces connecting the long overhead tie beams to the outside wall posts. These are called “crooked braces” because they were cut from the crook or curved limb of a tree. This feature is unusual to find in an American barn because there was so much good, straight wood available for building timbers that it was not necessary to use such curved pieces of wood. The use of such tree “crucks” indicates that the barn was probably built by a barn framer who learned his trade in Europe, where crucks were often used due to the shortage of straight timber.

Crooked braces

Crooked braces (cruks)

A Role in the American Revolution

Early in its history, the LaRue barn played a role in the American Revolution. During the cold winter of 1780, General George Washington spent two days at the LaRue house, and undoubtedly Continental soldiers under General Washington spent nights in this barn. The soldiers would have been part of a Virginia regiment of “light horse” cavalry under the command of Colonel George Baylor, and were also known as Washington’s “Life Guard,” soldiers whose job it was to protect the commander-in-chief. They accompanied Washington wherever he traveled. It was not far from this barn in 1778, when temporarily detached from the main army, that Colonel Baylor and his cavalrymen were sleeping in barns and were massacred by a British surprise attack in the middle of the night. It was part of a deadly rivalry fomented by a young British officer and spy, Major John Andre, who was later hanged as Benedict Arnold’s accomplice in attempting to sell the important American fort of West Point to the British.

We can imagine these soldiers’ conversation about the war and their families as they settled down in the barn loft for the night. But one thought that definitely did not cross their minds was the fact that one day, over two hundred and twenty years later, some young men from a place called Texas would come to New Jersey and dismantle the barn they were sleeping in and move and rebuild it nearly two thousand miles away—much less that they would fly through the air to get there! We can also most likely claim that “George Washington’s horse slept here!”

We have placed the LaRue barn with a log cabin in a small homestead setting. They are a combination of homestead elements from different times and places: a 1760 New Jersey barn, an 1830 Missouri cabin, an 1860 New York smokehouse, an 1890 New York silo and a 1930 Texas windmill. Yet somehow they all complement one another. If you can, visit in the late afternoon as the sunset casts a golden light across the fields and over the homestead.

Visit SustainLife journal for more information about the journal.


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Ploughshare’s New Classes for 2012

We’ve greatly expanded our class offerings for 2012.  Below is a list of new classes. To find out more about a class or register for it, click the class name.


This comprehensive series of gardening classes will teach you how to raise a large portion of your family’s food, sustainably.

  • Gardening I – In this workshop, you’ll learn the foundational concepts and principles involved in gardening and how to select the best site for your garden. You’ll learn about soil and soil fertility, compost, growing beds, watering your garden, and pest control.
  • Gardening II – In this class, you will learn how to plan your garden, how to keep journals and records to improve your results, proper crop spacing, crop rotation, cover crops, how to start seeds, how to transplant, and ways to protect your crops in order to extend the gardening season.
  • Gardening III – The third class builds on the previous two classes. You’ll learn about saving seed from your current garden for next year’s or next season’s garden along with companion planting. We’ll also cover greenhouse design and how to do year-round gardening, so that you can get a food supply from your garden in all seasons.


  • Beginning Garment Sewing – This three day class builds on our Sewing 101-103 class. You’ll learn to make an elastic waist skirt. In this project, you’ll begin developing skills that you’ll be able to apply to other sewing projects. Next, you’ll learn hemming. We’ll teach you four ways to finish raw edges and four different hemming stitches.  Closures are next. You’ll learn how to insert both regular and invisible zippers, make button holes, sew on buttons, attach snaps, and use hooks and eyes. At the end of this class, you’ll have the skirt that you sewed, along with the pattern, a hemming sample book, a closures sample book, and step-by-step instructions for both hemming and closures.
  • Baby Jumper with Pantaloons – In this two day class you will further strengthen and develop your sewing skills.  You’ll make a baby jumper and matching pantaloons.  In making these projects, you will learn more about cutting out sewing projects, sewing a crotch seam, making a French seam, and other skills.
  • Paneled Skirt and Vest with a Collar – In this three day class, you’ll learn simple ways to adjust patterns for proper fit, how to make a one piece collar, and how to insert an invisible zipper. You’ll also learn about facing, understitching, and darts.  At the end of the class, you’ll take home your completed skirt and vest, along with the patterns and well-illustrated instructions.


  • Baby quiltBaby Quilt – In this two day class, you’ll learn the basic quilt making skills of fabric selection, rotary cutting, chain sewing, piecing squares, adding borders, laying-up, hand quilting, and making and applying a binding as you begin making a 36″ x 36″ baby quilt.  You will cut out, piece, and lay up your quilt in the class, and we’ll teach you hand quilting and binding, so that you can complete your quilt at home.
  • Table Runner – This one day class is a nice introduction to quiltmaking on a small project.  You’ll learn several quilt making skills, including fabric selection and rotary cutting as you sew an 11 1/2″ x 38 1/2″ table runner. In the class, you will cut out, piece, and lay up the table runner, and you will learn all the skills needed in order for you to complete the project at home.


We are offering three new half-day crocheting classes that will you teach you the basics of crochet along with the three primary crochet stitches. After completing these three classes, you’ll know how to follow any basic crochet pattern.

  • Crocheting 101 – This class is an introduction to crocheting. Learn single crochet then use this stitch to make a potholder, beginning the project with a chain stitch and completing it with a whipstitch.
  • Crocheting 102 – Further your skills as you learn half-double crochet to crochet a cotton dishcloth.  In addition, you will learn to read and follow a crochet pattern.
  • Crocheting 103 – Learn double crochet and make a baby hat using this stitch. In this workshop, you’ll also learn how to increase stitches, check gauge, and make a pompom (for the top of the hat).


  • Pottery Basics – This three day workshop is a great introduction to the art and craft of making pots on the potter’s wheel. You will learn to make a cylinder and a bowl first. Then we will teach you some simple shaping techniques and ways to make handles.

Rigid Heddle Weaving

In this series of classes, you will learn a variety of skills and patterns that you can then use as you weave attractive scarves and other projects, such as shawls, cushions, towels, and fabric.

  • Buffalo Check Scarf – In this class, you’ll be weaving a two-color buffalo check scarf and finishing it with an overcast stitch. The scarf will be made of merino wool/tencel yarn.
  • Houndstooth Scarf – You’ll use two shuttles to weave a traditional houndstooth patterned scarf made of merino wool/tencel yarn.  We will also demonstrate fringe twisting.
  • Brooks Bouquet Scarf – In this class, you’ll learn how to make a beautiful Brooks Bouquet lace pattern scarf (Brooks Bouquet is a finishing technique that can be used to weave lace). You’ll be weaving the scarf from cotton/bamboo yarn.
  • Chenille Scarf – The project for this class is a variegated scarf woven from rayon chenille. Chenille makes a soft, attractive fabric that drapes well.  Weaving with chenille requires proper techniques, which we’ll teach you in the class.
  • Pick up Stick Scarf – The pick-up stick is a tool that you can use to manipulate the threads to make complex patterns on your rigid heddle loom. We’ll teach you how to use the pick-up stick, then you’ll weave a scarf using your new skills.  You can use one of three finishing techniques to start and complete the scarf. For this project, you will use pima cotton/modal/silk yarn.
  • Spot Weave Lace Scarf – This class will further your skills with the pick-up stick, as you learn to use two pick-up sticks to weave a scarf using a 5-thread lace (spot weave) design from baby alpaca and silk yarn.

You can also learn to weave a dish towel on your rigid heddle loom:

  • Cotton Bouclé Dish Towel – In this class, you will weave a multi-colored, striped, cotton dishtowel using a slub yarn for the weft.  You’ll learn how to hemstitch both ends of the towel. Hemstitching is a skill that will be useful to you in other types of projects.

Welcome to our new website and blog!

We’d love to hear from you―any questions or comments about our classes, products or website―this is the place. We’ll keep you posted on upcoming classes and events and you can let us know how we’re doing and how we can help you in your journey to a sustainable life!