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.
Dating apps make the process of finding love efficient. In our efficient obsessed world, I understand that this would be appealing, but on a farm, efficiency can be a four letter word. For example, when we talk about irrigation. By its very nature, emitting a little water to 40 spots in a bed ensures that all the seedlings will be given sustained and predictable nourishment and water (love). When we’re talking about dating, giving a little love (water) to 40 potential dates, all spaced out evenly, but predictably is kind of…well, gross. This is supposed to be a quest for love, not a quest for an average sized, but sustainable head of lettuce! Judgement aside, while folks are experiencing dating success with this methodology, “Emitter love” (as I like to call it) or spreading a little bit of equal and predictable love (water) to a line of takers just doesn’t seem in alignment with my soul. That is, until I heard about flood irrigation.
We learned about flood irrigation this week and while it is time and water heavy, it makes a whole lot more sense on and off the farm. The cons of flood irrigation are that watering the soil all at once for a long period of time is resource intense. It doesn’t evenly give out water to measured spots, nor does it use the least amount of water to deliver. But flood irrigation has so much more to offer. Sure, it doesn’t deliver the minimum of what the plant needs, but it fully hydrates the soil around it. It feeds the top soil roots, absorbs way down into the earth and hydrates the soil that’s reaches the tips of roots, it contributes to the bank of groundwater, it becomes a part of the larger cycle of water on the planet (though condensation, rain, absorption) and spreads out far and wide to reach plants that may or may not have had water in a long time. When whole plants are nourished deep down in the soil, those root networks have far more nice things to say about how happy and hydrated and nourished they are. It’s communicated to the rest of the soil world and water gets transferred to places that we never knew existed. So to give a ton of water (love) to the immediate circle, flooding them with nourishment, letting their cup runneth over, allowing them to transmit and share that message spread far and wide through the root (social) network has a lot more reach and provides for/sustains broader life systems along the way. It requires giving a steady consistent stream of effort to flood your circle (friends, family, relationships) with so much nourishment that there’s an abundance of heart. And yet, aren’t those the best friendships? When you give freely and effortlessly without measuring how much you might get in return? Isn’t that the way love operates too?
Emitter irrigation serves a specific purpose. To breed and nourish a particular seedling. It’s not designed to water all or serve all. That’s not the goal. While this is good for agriculture, it is problematic in a larger humanitarian way. I’ve never been talented at giving just a little bit to a lot of people. It’s probably why I struggle with small talk. I’ll be the first to admit that flooding my circle with love, attention, care is a lot more effort, time and sweat. In the end, however, it’s better for the soil of my friendships and relationships. I can’t help but wonder, what if we all spent a little time flood irrigating our social circles with love, not knowing if it ever will come back and reap rewards, but trusting that it sinks deep into their soil, nourishes their root systems, and travels far and wide so that maybe, just maybe, it may touch a special heart.
Perhaps it’s the heat that’s convoluting my thinking patterns or the extra chocolate I’ve been sneaking into my dinners during this birthday week, but now that I’ve had some space and time and reflection, I realized that I’m…how should I put this…not killing it!…so to speak. I am taking this time on the farm to really look at my career direction and to observe my strengths and weaknesses in my life, because currently I’m not killing it in every department of life. I am, however, happy to say that I’m not a perfectionist anymore as I used to be as it was miserable. But part of my New Year’s Resolution for 2017 is to let go and trust my intuition. So here’s a rundown of the shortcomings, letting them go and trusting my intuition on the farm. In other words, here’s where I’m not killing it and here’s why that’s okay.
#1 I’m not killing it in the fields. I learned I’m kind of a slow harvester. Lasciato Kale just doesn’t surrender itself to me easily, nor have I been able to harvest, sort, and weigh them under 30 minutes. And so I’m letting go of the fact that I am not a worker who “thrives in a fast-paced environment”, but then again, neither was Einstein. I mean he was clerk for a clock shop and he took some of that time to get E=mc 2 (squared) together. I got time and I take a long time, but it’s meaningful and well done in the end. Here’s how I see it…Reshama=Einstein, in her own way.
#2 I’m also not killing it in the catching chickens department. I spent close to 20 minutes just running after the rooster before giving up and letting my chicken mates (Angelita and Darren) do the catching, while I did the video documentation and Instagramming of their efforts. These feather brains are fast and I’m not accustomed to waving my arms around like a drunk basketball player or snatching tail like a swashbuckler on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland (as of this week, Disney has actually motioned to change that scene as it is offensive to women among other things). But this is also okay because chicken catching is a niche skill and while I could use it to hone my skills as a new mother too rambunctious toddlers someday, I’m ahead of the curve in a way to all the other future moms/aunts/uncles/fathers/caretakers. Score for Resh.
#3 I’m not killing it in the “I look impossibly fresh and bright eyed as if awake since birth” category either. Farming is hard and sweaty and smelly and compromising. I’d like to think I’m this cute spring chicken prancing along the farm in cute pig tails and in even cuter daisy dukes a la Jessica Simpson circa Dukes of Hazard, but I’m just not. By the time I leave, my neck is burned, beads of sweat are running in every direction, and the braid in my hair resembles a bird’s nest rather than slender feminine artwork. But….this is also okay because this builds character, resilience, and inner beauty. We all can’t look like Wonder Woman does after her fight scene. Why? Because she is wonderfully fake and basically only an apparition of the image of Wonder-ness. I am real and breathing and interacting with the world and all its temperatures and while I LOVED the movie and every door it’s swinging open just because of it’s existence, I will not look, feel or smell impossibly fresh like she appears to be.
So there are positives and negatives everywhere. Connections to life, love and the pursuit. Perspective is all that really matters. While I can’t ace it all at once, I can get better little by little and day by day. Of late, however, I am harnessing my inner Wonder Woman on the farm especially when it comes to the swarm of fig beetles which are now buzzing all up in my ears. Angelita (my farm partner) will attest to this as she’ll witness firsthand the improvement of my backhand as this will be the one area where I WILL be killing it!
This week I’ve noticed that some of my nursery seedlings are wilting. It’s just too hot. I give them more water and they totally dried out. No matter how much more, the water just gets sucked up into the air and just never sinks in. We feed them with water only once in the morning three times a week and then they get misted at set times in between. I’ve been thinking about water use more in the last few weeks because of Rishi’s explanation of water conservation and how to Use Water More (that once) if you really want to conserve it. And then I thought of my farm partner, Angelita, and how she made it through a full month of observing Ramadan while working on the farm. She pulled off not drinking a drop of water for the whole day, each and every day. In a way, these nursery seedlings are observing perpetual Ramadan. Provisions (or liquids in this case) must be consumed at only certain times of day and, like Angelita, they probably feel super parched and they’ve really gotta dig deep and hold it in until we can buy them a round of shots. Angelita could have cheated and just bathed in a few misty mouthfuls, as we are parched in the nursery, but she didn’t. She and those tiny seedlings are duking it out in the nursery, training themselves to live without, exercise survival of the fittest, and imprint a new sense of resourcefulness to conserve energy and water for the next feast. I, on the other hand, watched this unfold before me. I saw the struggle closely and offered encouragement and support in the form of words (mostly jokes and corny oral DJ skills to Angelita) and water trickles (to the seedling babes). I did not practice conservation nor flout it, but appreciation for how plants and people tough it out everyday definitely sunk in.
I went to the City of Pomona’s public hearing on June 19. I never thought I’d say this about politics or community development, but, boy was I riveted! It was my first city public hearing ever and really made me admire the process of bringing issues to the attention of politicians. These politicians actually did listen to their community and while I did notice formalized biases built into the hearing process, I also saw an allegiance to hearing both sides. I had never seen a mayor stick to the issue at hand and respond to the case as it was originally presented as I’m more used to hearing politicians pivot for the sake of pivoting and spew out prescribed bite-sized clips of information that neither address nor acknowledge the claims presented. The future of Sarvodaya Farms is at stake and it occurred to me that members of the community really can make change. I was inspired, to say the least, to do the same in every area of my life.
I came home that night around midnight and couldn’t fall asleep until about 3 am because I kept hearing one thing over and over in my head. A point was made that one councilmember believed that had select veteran residents of the city attended this particular hearing, their voice would carry more weight in favor of the Farm. Was I hearing this right?!! I was shocked and I felt it was completely biased and unfair. Then I wondered, does a person’s presence help or hurt in any given situation? Does having a hand written note or recommendations on behalf of one’s presence matter at all? Should my vote count more than your vote? If I’m not in the inner circle, but something has impacted me in a profound way, doesn’t that have any weight? And how many of these external voices would equal the weight of a resident!
A few years ago, while I was heading up an annual non-profit event, I would have given a black and white answer to this. If you weren’t slaving away at making the event great, you just didn’t have the right to criticize what you didn’t like and couldn’t vote on what you wanted to do differently the next time. There were complications at every step and criticism just seems like a waste of information and arresting progress. But I see the grey now. I see that external voices must be “taken with a grain of salt” along with the local voices. With the case of the public hearing, there were people at the public hearing, who were not local residents, that care about the farm’s future and were willing to step out of their comfort zone to support an issue in another city! I should think that should carry even more weight! But now I feel that the weight (or perhaps I should say vote) should be equal. Each voice counts and we’ve got to strive to measure subjectivity as equally as possible and maintain a level playing field. So to measure things from a quantitative viewpoint is not enough and to see things from a qualitative viewpoint is incomplete. It’s a constant struggle and to bring it back to agriculture, it’s not an exclusive concept off the farm. I mean, you have a variety of veggies growing and their quality varies from leaf to leaf. When we harvest and choose the best produce for the CSA, which produce says “I’m a beauty! Come pluck me because I’m fresh and ready” more? Meh. They are all pretty good and they all speak of their community (stem). They are all striving for better and need lots of support and attention. Not unlike what was presented at the public hearing, some voices speak loud and others soft. Some were present, others were not. But does that change the message?
While the political saga continues, on some level I am glad this isn’t over because this deserves more attention, more conversation, and more opportunities to hear. As Back to the Future’s Biff might say in some alternate agricultural universe, we need to make like maturing sweet corn and keep our ears open.