We all get up really early to be at the farm. I know I try really hard to get there at 7am even though I wake up at 5am. We start at 7am and put in our hours so we have the luxury of cutting out at 11am when it’s not blazing hot. We made that switch from 8am to 7am on those 105 degree days when it was unbearable to walk down the farm in a light t-shirt. That switch made a difference on the back end (11am), but it also made a huge difference on the front end (7am). On the first day of my internship I was terrified of being a few minutes late. That’s eased up a bit now simply because I have a pretty reliable morning routine at home before I get to the farm. My start time has pushed back about 30 minutes just because of life and habits, but there is something so refreshing about being at the farm and clocking in at 7am. I feel connected to all those farmers in California, in the Midwest and all over the whole world when I’m up early and digging into the soil when they are (minus the time difference). There’s this sense of community and this generosity of sharing a web of knowledge about the earth that seems to blossom at that hour. I feel like the crops have bigger ears in the morning and every wish we carry for them sinks into each veiny leaf just a little deeper. Like when we discuss how the earth and plants have changed overnight carries a little more weight in the morning than at any other time of day. It’s that 7am hour on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday that feels so fleeting and yet so special. It’s special because we are all trying to grow food, we are all trying to wake up, and we are all trying to figure out where to put our feet. But I learned that we are also just trying to BE together. Hearts to my fellow Farmies. <3
Something I’ve come back to a lot recently is what the farm has taught me about cycles.
I think especially at the beginning of the program it was really sad for me when we cleared a bed. I’d feel bad for the crop we were taking out, mourning the loss of what was there rather than being able to be excited and present for the new crop we were putting in.
I would pity the plants being removed, hoping that if they stayed just a little longer in the bed, they might bounce back. Of course, that would have just delayed the inevitable and doing so would have sacrificed precious time for new plants to get rooted and start growing. It was time to give something new a chance.
As I’ve come to understand at the farm, everything is a cycle. The stages of generation, growth, and eventually decline are not only natural but necessary. We plant things and sometimes they don’t work out for a variety of reasons (weather fluctuations, pests, water issues, etc.) and sometimes they do work out but even then, there comes a time where it makes sense to move on. As the seasons change, as our context changes, so must we.
Being cognizant of this cycle has made me better appreciate the process as a whole. The end of something means the start of something new and to acknowledge the temporariness of that something makes the time of that thing all the more valuable and precious. Everything is a cycle, life is a cycle, which I guess makes the winding down of our program a little less sad (BUT ONLY A LITTLE). It reminds me that we all have our own cycles and we are evolving and changing. Soon it will be time for a new stage in each of our respective cycles, whatever that may be and wherever it may lead us.
I make a huge carbon footprint. I don’t like to admit it, but my awareness of my footprint has grown and I see how I make a lot more garbage than I think I do. Every day I come to the farm I dutifully bring my loaded compost bucket and I harvest food with my bare hands and transport my delivery box to and from the farm and drink out of a reusable mug, recycle plastics that cannot be reused and minimize a lot of my packaging. But there’s another side to my life. That is the long distance driving (fossil fuel burning), almond milk drinking (water and refrigerated transport and consumption maintenance), plastic bag lining, dish water wasting, central heated living lifestyle I have. Now a lot of that is changing, but it has sparked a larger internal discussion (with myself) about the processes I rely on to life the life I do. The environmentally harmful processes I enable and subscribe to live alongside all my idealistic notions of planet loving behaviors too. It’s this marriage that I don’t understand completely and it causes a lot of confusion, but it’s there. What it is is a constant conversation about what systems I need and what systems I have been taught to need to live the way my peers and society live. Today I decided to forego visiting the farmers market and driving all the way there because I have a lot of food in the house that I need to figure out how to make (see my “Cooked” blog post entry for more on that.) So the time it will take for me to figure out how to eat this food is probably a more useful and less carbon impacting behavior than shopping for yummy farmers market foods. It’s a small change, but it’s part of a larger conversation. I try to have these conversations with friends outside of the farm and while some of them are open to it, it’s honestly quite uncomfortable to get people to change their minds about adjustments to their lifestyle. I see it in myself that I’m so dependent on my car and so dependent the throw away system that I have a hard time snapping out of the cycle too. But it’s worth snapping out of and into a new non-carbon impacting system. Ohhh, but it’s so easy to just do what everyone else is doing! And it’s so hard to see how horrible these behaviors are. And so this conversation (towards small improvement) goes.
Cooking is one of my biggest challenges these days. I eat practically the same thing everyday and I have other food, but I just don’t know what to do with it. I love getting cool, new produce in my weekly box. I feel so good getting it and eating it. But after dutifully persevering it in the right places in my kitchen, I then stare at it until some idea pops into my head to do something with it. Whenever I’ve participated in organic produce delivery, I’ve come across this problem and it’s a good problem to have. It forces me to research, to ask friends and colleagues for ideas, and to scuffle with this question again and again, “What am I going to make now?” The “now” part is key here too because I rarely make something well in advance that I know is for sometime in the future. I always procrastinate until NOW is right in my face. My stomach is growling and sometimes that vacant expression washes so thick over my face I just don’t know what to do. I’ve gotten into the regular habit of making beans in the crockpot, which is good, and to have hard boiled eggs ready for snack time. Being on the farm has forced me into questioning what to do with this food and to actually do something with it. In this day and age when I think about transferable skills, COOKING IS THE ONE. I’m no chef, but you can be sure that I ask that question everyday and I try to get as creative as I can with the food I harvest every week. It’s a work in progress. Every water spinach I slice or carrot I unearth, I think “hmm, how am I going to get this in my belly and make it tasty?” And I think that’s a pretty good challenge to take on.
I’m looking at my food differently these days. This week, I harvested carrots for the first time ever. It was so much fun and something I hope everyone gets to experience. Funny thing is, every carrot I pulled out of the ground had a funny shape. Not one of them was the perfect canonical shape we see in major food stores and you know what?..I loved it! I loved how they weren’t straight, or cone shaped or that they didn’t even taste like the carrots in stores. I pulled one out that was wrapped and twisted around another carrot and I loved it. I wanted more ugly fruit, more unconventional shapes, more “rejects”. And then I thought, how come I don’t see any of these weird shapes at the supermarket? How many carrots do they have to grow to get only the perfect looking ones in the store? And how many more do they throw out because they look funny? It made me upset. We throw away so much food that doesn’t look pretty and they are perfectly healthy, but they just don’t fit the “look” of the ideal looking crop. Do we as a nation really throw away foods that don’t look hot? So I decided to look into this and so many sources claim that we, and I’m focusing on Americans, throw away food that doesn’t live up to our aesthetic standards (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/13/us-food-waste-ugly-fruit-vegetables-perfect?CMP=share_btn_tw). We throw away $160 billion worth of produce away annually which is roughly half of the food we obtain (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/07/american-food-waste/491513/). I’m floored and I just can’t stand those numbers. Why does hot food even matter when there are so many people who are undernourished in the developed world? What does health really mean if we are not eating food? Why are we not eating the real food and wasting half of it? These are questions I’m curious to get to the bottom of and I’m sure that food is not the only thing I’ll be looking at differently.
This week we got the lowdown on the inner workings of CSA and the financial viability of a farm. To say the least, it was a tough nut to swallow. That said, there are other joys that come with farming, much like the joys of raising children. After watching Roger Dioran’s Ted Talk on growing your own vegetables, he claims that “to keep up with population growth, more food will have to be produced worldwide over the next 50 years than has been during the past 10,000 years combined.” He also said that over the course of that time frame, we need to grow all this food with less oil, farmland, water, climate stability, time and genetic diversity. As I’ve been thinking about how operating a farm seems to be 100% not in our favor, I can’t help but think, “But this is FOOD we’re talking about.” This isn’t a project of manufacturing plastic toys from China. This is stuff we actually need it to survive as a species. And we burden farmers to provide it all for us so that we don’t have to grow it ourselves. But, and there’s a big but here…we CAN grow it ourselves. Maybe not all of it, but that’s exactly why Sarvodaya Farms is here. To teach us how to grow food. I’m grateful to have learned how to grow vegetables here and my curiosity has only grown. I see how challenging it is to have and manage an urban farm. I see how education and creating systems of financial support have to go hand in hand to make this all work. And I see how a small group of very dedicated people are crucial to making this operation stay alive and well. And the joy of seeing all that happen well is the sweet spot.
The Ted Talk by Roger Dioran:
Thinking about weather changes these days. The weather has dropped nearly 40 degrees on the farm and it changes not only what I plant but it changes the whole mood of the farm. In one sense I feel like I’m more calm and since I don’t feel beads of sweat rolling down my back, I feel less uncomfortable. Even being under the central tent feels different. It’s darker and your eyes adjust to the shadows and light. It looks like a different place. Just gets me to think about how the same things we look at day in and day out, appear to be different in the absence of sunlight. Sometimes good things appear less good in the dark. And bad things don’t appear that bad in the light. Even the crops appear different to the eye under this overcast light. They appear more healthy to me, like they have an added glow. But that’s just me. What about what everyone else perceives? Do things appear healthier to them under the marine layer? I wonder how many times we all see the same way? Probably very few times. And yet, I feel like we expect others to see things the way we see them way more than can be actually possible. That’s a pretty unrealistic expectation, right? So as I reflect on how light influences my perception I see that not seeing things in the same way kinda sucks because we lose that chance to share. But it’s also kinda great because there’s more life to experience than meets the eye.
Last week’s class about tree management, particularly the part about pruning, made me marvel yet again at how much we have to learn from plants.
In tree pruning, it’s important to cut off the things that we don’t want, that we know won’t develop into anything we want. Only if we cut those things off, can we grow what we know we do want. By cutting off unwanted branches and limbs, it allows the tree to focus the energy into what’s important. Pruning is what gives the tree its shape and its direction.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this…
It reminded me of how important it is to acknowledge ourselves as physical bodies, and how universally important it is to clear the things we don’t want, so that we can focus on what we do want.
Up until recently, I fully bought into the myth that you can do it all, all the time, firing on all cylinders. You just have to want it bad enough. You need to persevere and push past your limits, and if you can’t, this is a failing of character or strength or…something.
But in the last few years, I’ve slowly awakened to the truth or at least what is true for me. I have come to acknowledge and embrace the fact that I am a finite being with finite resources. I can’t magically produce more than I am generating. I’ve had to focus my energy on what’s important and to be more thoughtful about what I do want and what I don’t want.
Trees require intentional care that utilizes the finite amount of energy it produces to grow in an ideal way. Just as we require intentional care that utilizes the finite amount of energy we produce to grow in an ideal way. It’s such a simple concept, but easy to forget, I suppose.
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.
A few weeks ago, I learned how to lacto-ferment my first jar of peppers. Like so many other things at the farm, it was something I had always been curious about, wanted to try, but seemed so daunting that I always found an excuse to shelve it for another time.
And like so many other things at the farm, it was actually far easier, far more possible than I had thought.
We cut up a bunch of peppers and onions, threw those into a quart jar with some ginger and turmeric, inoculated the jar with brine from a previous batch Elinor had, and then filled it up with filtered water and a tablespoon of pink salt.
And then…I waited. For five anxious days, I hovered around my jar of potentially pickling peppers, looking out for any signs of mold or danger.
Finally, the day of reckoning was at hand. I twisted the top off, peered in, and…
There was my thriving colony of bubbling bacteria! I, with some trepidation I must admit, forked out a few peppers to see how they tasted.
Y’ALL, they were great. Still a little salty for my taste, but nothing a few more days of fermenting wouldn’t take care of. After about five more days, my peppers had the perfect amount of sourness to them, and so into the fridge they went.
It was such a revelation to me how easy the whole process was, and it reinforced for me yet again how distorted people’s idea of clean is, how distorted my idea of clean was before I started this program. A big lesson for me throughout this program has been to rethink what words like “clean” and “healthy” really mean, and to break my association of those words with the idea of sterility. Instead of needing to kill everything to make it “safe,” the process of lacto-fermenting reminded me that working with nature to create the right conditions often produces better and healthier outcomes.