Tonight I’m thinking about progress. I just came home from a gig tonight (I’m learning to become a DJ), which went poorly. To an outsider, it might seem like nothing bad happened. But to me, they were glitches that were a result of preventing major ones, and major ones did happened tonight. None of which should have happened in the first place, but they did. I’ll spare you the details on what exactly they were, but it was an emotional night to say the least. I was thrown into the deep end and totally in over my head. Was it a good thing? Probably. Was it a bad thing? Probably. But it got me to thinking about how all living things (plants included) show stress and how they progress. Part of being a DJ is never showing your stress, which may be true for many high stress jobs. I usually wear my heart on my sleeve and I have a terrible poker face, but after being in the entertainment industry for so long (in my case, dance), you learn to smile big through pain, stress, abuse, and being chewed out. I definitely put on my best poker face tonight and smiled throughout the whole thing. This got me to wonder about the flora and fauna on the farm that take a lot of crap from the weather, people, animals, bacteria, thirst, and lack of nutrients. The plant world gets the life beaten out of it everyday because of people, animals and the environment. It really is survival of the fittest and those who are fit will have a better chance to make it. They will live to see another day of sunshine, the quest for water, and protection from pain. Maybe the lesson in that is that every day we pick up our fallen pieces or fall short of our best or strike out spectacularly, those moments are the real gifts of progress. The privilege to struggle is progress. It’s not always supposed to feel good. It’s the privilege to try again.
The experience tonight really turned my old thought pattern on its head. It goes back to the saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Whether your a fruit or a human, survival is a bit subjective, but it’s still about getting through it. And progress is all of that and more.
I know, I still have 6 weeks to go until the end of my farmer training. But I’m feeling it. I know good things are ahead and there’s a lot of work still left to be done, but I’m feeling it. I’ve made these friendships and learned more than I ever thought I would and this space and time will soon be a memory like all other great memories I’ve had. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting on Sunday, I feel like it’s such a gift to come back to the farm and see everyone. Every workday, at noon, we say goodbye and assume that we’ll all be back the next time. It’s a fairly reasonable expectation and certainly absurd to be constantly worried if it doesn’t happen. Why? Because we have to let go. We don’t have control over where we all move around after the farm or what life hands us. We just show up and do the best we can and then we leave and hope to see one another again. It’s bittersweet for me. I genuinely wonder about what my peers are learning off the farm, what they will reveal about their journey, and how it will change them now and beyond. I also wonder about our farm in this way. I wonder, how did nightfall treat them? What was lurking in bed B-6? What died near the Barkman berm? What does sunset look like from the farm? Did the chickens learn anything about the Mooch’s behavior and how they’ll beat him at his own game? What did the heat do to the poor long beans and how are they adapting to all of this? I do. I honestly do think about this. Not all the time (that would be just exhausting), but the thought does cross my mind. I care about the farm and I care about the people on the farm. This isn’t just a place we go to work each week. It’s a time capsule where we lose and gain, we grow and shrink, we pay debts and we overspend, we see and become blind to. It’s a fountain of youth and a black hole. It’s a tabula rasa and total chaos and it’s this beautiful mess where gratitude grows.
I’m blown away with how much I’ve learned by being on the farm. Every day I come to the farm I feel like I want to do more, feed the earth, plant another tree, spend more time digging in the dirt and over all lean into being more zero waste. The farm is a magical place. It attracts the most amazing like-minded people. My cohort of fellow farmer trainees blow me away every day. In small, special ways, I feel I want to be more like each and every one of them. At the same time, I also want to be more like the earth and the trees and the little crops that we grow each week. I feel like I’m more connected to the lifestyle of a plant and of living things than I have ever felt working with a team of people at a large company. We’ve lost touch. It’s true. We’ve lost touch with living things and I feel that pull to be stronger every day I’m not on the farm. Every bug, weed, pod, shell, furball, or mulch fiber on the farm reveals a little more about the rhythm of nature and how living things are a part of a larger whole. Rishi laughs whenever he hears that things are unnatural. I thought he was looney at first and thought about all the unnatural things in the world out there, but now I feel like he’s right. I mean, if it’s on planet Earth, it has come from nature at some point. How can it be unnatural?! Sure it’s been pulled and tugged and transformed and diluted and manipulated, but it’s still here on this earth. It exists on our planet. The problem I think is that there are too many middlemen between the soil and ourselves. Too much middle management that have their hand in delivering products and services. I’m getting a bit off topic, but at the end of the day, that direct experience with the soil, air, water and heat (or fire) makes me feel more complete. Almost as if little gaps that were too small to the naked eye are getting filled in. It’s nice.
Puffer mushrooms are popping up on the farm these days. Darren was one of the first to taste test them and now they are the latest delicacy of farm life. I’ve been thinking about what mushrooms on the farm mean. I hear that they are good for the farm. The indicate that the space under our feet is communicating and mushrooms are the fiber optic highway of the soil world. As a kid they were just my soccer and kickball practice. Whenever I saw one, I’d run up to it and kick it over for fun and to see how far I could hurl the tops into the air. I also used to think that they were just signs that the soil was diseased and that the soil was dying….in other words, they were bad. In my defense, in a way I was right, the soil is constantly dying, but it’s also regenerating. Mushrooms were a sign of something bad, I thought. It made me wonder, what if all those things we assign as “bad” were actually “not so bad” or even, (gasp) “good”? We’ve all heard that story about eating our vegetables. As kids, many of us felt they were bad, and then we came to understand that they were the exact opposite. What if people we thought were bad were actually good? Or vice versa, what if good people are actually bad? It’s a disservice to think in binary terms of course, but humor me with this little flip of the switch. Lately, I’ve been applying this mushroom principle to circumstances on the farm. For example, how to properly prepare and turn over a bed. Is there one way that surpasses all ways? (In my opinion, No.) Should we care more about quality over efficiency? (Perhaps.) Can we let go of our own personal preferences for the sake of learning? (In my opinion, a resounding Yes.!) All things aside, there is another perspective that isn’t popular. But does popularity mean it’s right? I don’t think so. What I learned from the farm this week is that binaries just don’t reveal anything about how the world really is. There isn’t just one way or one explanation and when I get so adamant about things or people being “good” or “bad”, I’m usually totally wrong or worse, unempathetic. The next time I get the urge to scoff at something I think is “bad”, I hope it will inspire a greater internal dialogue and curiosity that goes something like this…”
Ugg, there’s a mushroom. They are bad. Well, I guess that’s what I used to think when I was a kid and I’ve learned a few things along the way. The farm tells me that they are actually good, helpful, supportive, vital to life and growth. Maybe I didn’t look into it that hard before and just believed what other people told me. Maybe there’s more to the eye than what I’ve been fed. I could be wrong, but it just looks so gross, so it must BE gross. That’s not true for everything. So are mushrooms really bad? I don’t know. Let’s find out for sure.
I learned to can fruit a few weeks ago. I was shown to wipe the rim of the jar for the sake of cleanliness and to allow the lid to seal properly when it’s being pressurized. It’s such a small detail, and not really a necessity, but for some reason, it made sense to me and it felt like a punctuation of completeness. This tiny, ritualistic step stuck with me that day and as I walked to my car that day I started to think about all the little things we all do that make us feel complete. Whether they are necessary or not, big or small, crucial in this moment or not, we still do them for some reason or another. I wondered, do little things like wiping the rim of a glass jar REALLY matter? I mean, WHO cares? They probably make no difference to the naked eye, but for some reason, for me, wiping that rim marks a sense of completion and a presence of quality and love.
I began to reel through a list of small things I do on the farm and for each one, I felt a sense of wholehearted engagement. It completes me to whisper sweet nothings to the farm crops, to tickle each fertile fig, pat down the kale leaves to the beat of a pop song, or tousle the tresses of yard long beans. I have no proof that my actions make a difference to the crops, but I feel more whole, more alive, and more like I’ve left my love-print on each sprawling vine when I do these small, ritualistic things.
So, is it needed? Probably not. Do I do it anyway. Yes. Why? Because it fills in gaps where there were dry crevices, it makes me giggle on the inside, and it makes me feel like I’m connected to a larger rhythm of nature. Here are just a few more of the ritualistic sweet nothings I do on the farm.
To the chickens I say “Hi Cookies” and blow them air kisses.
When I transfer tomatoes into four inch pots, I drop soil and turn the pot counter clockwise eight times before I move onto the next.
I do all of these things on the farm. They are part of my ritualistic routine. They may not have real purpose or any real impact on the ROI of the farm, but they make me feel complete, intentional and whole hearted. I figure, if nothing else than my own quirky relationship to the farm, these could be the signs of a tender, loving existence.
Last week, the ram picante trellises came crashing down. The wind and freak storm behavior we experienced in the Pomona Valley and surrounding areas did quite a number to these beds. In 100 degree heat at 9am on Friday morning, in addition to doing our own tasks on the farm, 8 of us pulled together to lift and secure these towering poles.
I started to think about why these two came down and the other trellises remained stable. They could have been top heavy and therefore easy to topple over (probable). An animal might have jumped on them (unlikely). Whatever the reason, they came down. What’s more important is that whatever our jobs were that day, we all came together. I’ve been thinking about how so many things can go wrong on a farm. Pests, weather, our own mistakes, not enough time to maintain, irrigation explosions or tearing, chickens acting up and rooster attacks. It’s all part of the job of being on a farm. It’s also, incidentally, the same ingredients of any relationship or any commitment.
Things go wrong. Seemingly strong structures just fall over. Big and small pests burrow through your system and eat away at our prized possessions. But part of being in a relationship is working together to make things right again. Setting traps on those pests or sneaky feelings of uncertainty and looking at them head on, together. As I hear stories of my friends and their lessons in love, I wonder if our generation realizes that their relationships don’t even last as long as it takes to seed and harvest a head of lettuce. So when the Ram Picante beds came crashing down, it was kind of a gift. To notice that we helped something grow for so long and it had the luxury of being fed, nurtured, and tended to. That it produced so much good for so many people and we learned from its strengths and weaknesses. Even if things don’t work out or they come crashing down, it’s okay. It always teaches us something, but only if we let it.
I said this yesterday while creating a fresh compost pile. I’m on the compost team and it smells. I’m not complaining, that’s just the truth. Will told me to just get in there and do it. Iris told me that “it will get better”. I hear their words echoing in my ear every Monday morning. I’ve been on the compost team now for about 3 weeks and yesterday it occurred to me that they were right, but I’m also waiting for the smell and gross factor to, finally, not hit me so hard. But I have to admit that despite my bellyaching, and puckered face, and gross factor goosebumps, I love it. It snuck up on me. Those things I hate, I secretly am attracted to. They make me feel alive and youthful. I want more of it and I want less of it always, and all the time. And so I decided to list some of these reasons out for you, dear reader.
Oh, compost, how do I love/hate thee. Let me count the ways.
We’ve switched teams here on the farm. I’m exiting the chicken coop duties and entering the land of compost. Oh compost…You…seven…letter…word..with equally stenchy attributes as the four letter ones. I’m two weeks in and I still have a gross factor reflux when I work in the compost piles. I’ve been watching my fellow trainees (Iris, Kim, and Will) tend to this department from afar, somewhat dreading my inevitable journey into it and thinking about my strategy to deal with the stench, sounds and looks of rotting fruit and veggies. Will told me to just dive in. Iris cheered me on and swears I’ll be the compost queen by the end of it. Kim ensures that it’s not so bad once you get over the hump. I believe all of them, but in the meantime I try to think of it as a chance to practice sitting with discomfort. I figure it’s a skill I could definitely benefit from at any point in my life. To not trying to resist the discomfort, but to welcome it and accept it subjectively (foul) state. Not gonna lie, it’s difficult, but there’s something Elinor said to me yesterday that made sense. Essentially, she said, the compost is just another form of something we value so much, Food! It’s first this nice, tasty piece of nourishment, then decomposes and rots, and then after a process is turned back into this hearty smelling earth that will once again be fruit or some other food and that’s a beautiful cycle. It’s true. I’ve been thinking about the things in my life that appear so juicy and tasty at first, then break down and decompose into what feels like rotting flesh, only to reappear again in this new form that builds the foundation of a world of new possibility. Could breaking down be a blessing? Could all that green, moldy, back-of-your throat gripping stench be the necessary components to the best stuff on earth? Before Monday composting days on the farm, I never thought I’d agree with this. But, I do…now. Well okay, what I really mean is that I play ping pong with this idea from moment to moment. When I’m on the farm, I ask myself “What the FARM I doing in a compost pit! FARM this!” (*note* FARM: an alternate four letter epithet…for the kids) and when I’m off the farm, I turn into a philosopher.
So, at present, I’m wearing my philosopher hat, but deep down I know that composting is the Mecca for human existence and understanding its process is the blueprint that will probably solve most of the problems we create on earth, be it environmental, social, or emotional.
I saved a baby…tortoise, today. And he actually isn’t even a baby as he’s about 100 years old and one of the few family pets of my next door neighbor. I heard it’s nails scraping the cement and saw a weird ganging up of reptilian flesh out of the corner of my eye as I passed the gate. He was turned over on his shell and two other tortoises were beating up and snapping at my poor flipped friend. My neighbors weren’t home at the time, so I tried to slide a broom through the slits of the gate to lever him over. No luck. So I just left it alone. I figured this couldn’t be the first time he’s ever been flipped over. He’s in a big backyard with two other male tortoises and they are all bickering and fighting all the time anyway. They push up against each other and some how, somebody falls first and flips over. It’s fine. They’ll live. That’s all he’s been doing for 100 years anyway. He’s turned himself around before at least once in this last century, right?
Resolved, I ignored their kerfuffle and decided that nature would probably allow him to find a way to flip over. And then I heard this squirt. I looked over to a pool of liquid coming out of him and he sat there, still squirming. Oh no. That doesn’t sound right. I mean, a 100 year old tortoise that’s trying to keep his water conserved under this heat and in his little body and all of a sudden it comes squiring out. Hmmm. No, that’s not good. I decided I had to do something and I went in to rescue my little friend. I climbed my neighbor’s fence (like I used to do when I was 12 years old), shooed the bully tortoises away, flipped his rock hard shell, and patted his leathery head before he crawled away. As I climbed back over the fence, I couldn’t help but wonder, what would have happened had I not seen this little guy struggling for help? And on a larger note, what would happen if humans weren’t here at all, looking after the earth and animals and the lot? It’s a question I’ve been dancing around with at the farm too. What if we weren’t there to tend to the vegetables on the farm? What other forms of food would arise otherwise? Well, the answer is that humans can do a lot of good and a lot of bad and we can make a lot of work for ourselves if we plant really high maintenance foods (or diva dicots as I like to call them) or we could work with nature as part of a relationship to the earth. We can do our job and then let it do its job. We can work as a team together and encourage growth, feed it nutrition, give it space and time, and act as equal partners rather than as dominators with the earth. I often think about how to make life more pleasant, productive and revolutionary by learning to maximize my partner’s (in the case of the farm, the earth’s) strengths. I think opportunities for partnership are often masked as conflict or hurt feelings or negative thoughts and are always out there waiting to be turned around.
Like the flipped tortoise, we could just turn a blind eye to the conflicts around us assuming that it will all just work out. That nature will “take its course.” Sometimes that might be the answer. It’s entirely true that “staying out of it” is loads better than “getting involved”. But in my experience, there are also many moments when we remain blissfully blind until a small, but noticeable change occurs and we realize that we need to get in there, flip it over and rescue that life form from a slow and painful reality that they can’t handle on their own. I feel it’s part of my role here on the farm and also my role in the world. As I move into the field team duties, I think of about my role quite often. My role to love, care, give thanks and encourage wholehearted progress. I mean, that’s why we’re all here, right? To help make things better than the way we found them.
The chickens are heat stressed. They are producing premature eggs, not eating the feed as much, and “Roosty” is driving us all crazy, but that part could be a normal thing. I’m loving this whole experience of the chickens, even if Roosty is attacking me. It’s so real! It’s painful and fearsome at times, but it’s real. Chickens aren’t faking it. They are upset, or stressed, or happy, and cool or satisfied or sweet, but they are never fake. In this world of fake news, they produce 100% real tweets and sometimes they are real pains in my neck, but they make this experience so wonderfully simple.
I started to think about how the chickens stay cool and how they feel in this heat. It’s close to unbearable for me and as I watch the chickens cool off in a dust bath or waddle in a wading pool, it occurs to me how similar they are to me. They need water to cool off, just like me. They need to walk around and get all their frustrations out, pecking at each other or getting smacked, just like I would if I was cooped up all day. (Ha! No pun intended.) They need to jump and get a drink at the pond and move their legs around and eat and peck and dig up the lot and peck at little bugs too. I do the same, minus the pecking at bugs. So to the industrial chicken farmers out there…How can chickens possibly be happy and produce great products when they are stuck in a box and stuffed with other birds where they can’t move around or their breasts are so big that they can’t even get up off the floor? It makes no sense. Those industrial birds can’t be happy! Those birds don’t get a swimming pool or a rambunctious rooster giving them exercise or even a chance to eat a grub or caterpillar once in a while. But our chicks do. They get all of that, and a side of greens from time to time, plenty of water and pill bugs, and a protected and shaded area just so they can have dirt baths in peace.
Aside from ad hoc heat wave from time to time, they are doing pretty well. They are working it out and living their real life, living their ups and downs and then getting over it by the end of the day. And that, makes a real, good egg.