Category: Chika Kondo

“I think what we owe each other is the celebration of life and to replace fear and hopelessness with fearlessness and joy.” –Vandana Shiva

For a while, I’ve been struggling with the concept of stability.  It’s never really been my style but as I grow closer to yet another birthday I do get concerned about balanced health and financial stability and things like: will I be able to take care of my parents and aunt/uncle (they don’t have any children) when they are much older? Suburban lifestyles seem to center on stability as the thing I should be doing and what I should be aiming for.

However, I came to the realization that maybe my ups and downs in intellectual thought, emotional health, physical well-being, and spiritual reflection isn’t such a bad thing. They oscillate back and forth like a sine or cosine curve and so maybe there’s a sense of stability in the oscillation; it just keeps flowing. The joy and fulfillment I feel at the farm intertwines with the struggle of how do I come up with the $$ to buy land and make farming a viable livelihood for myself and help take care of my family + future family. Or at work, there is this contrast I feel between the struggle of feeling beat down with tiredness as a minimum wage laborer + dealing with passive aggressive co-workers + the high influx of orders and the learning I’m taking in as I think about how to build a cooperative restaurant enterprise that can still be financially solvent when the success rate of most restaurants is like less than 30%.

Even though thinking about all of this can turn into a headache, I’ve been trying to take the approach of stepping away from the word “should” and moving into a place of “be.” I’ve been super grateful to my teammates at the farm: Laurette, Melissa, Maya, and honorary member Sabriel.

The amount of laughter and chuckling over just the smallest things creates so much joy. We’ve created a whole other world for ourselves at the farm. We’ve slowly been establishing our underground radio network WHOO 37.1 centered on whoo.. is coming to the farm or is already at the farm. We got a special segment called ooo D2 we listen to you… So much beauty that comes from imagination and the plethora of streams, tributaries, and side segments it gives birth to. Just the other day we had a little circle gathering where Sabi prepped us some daikon we found in the pasture as we shared our taste buds and experiences.

I’ve never really engaged in that kind of fun on a farm. It makes me regret some moments I’ve had on the previous farm I was working at where I was much more focused on the work that had to be done or felt overwhelmed with how much had to be done.  However there’s also a kind of “productivity” that also happens with just having fun and enJOYing each other and the farm. What a sanctuary and sacred place Sarvodaya Farm is. Thank you to all who have contributed to its magic. Joy and the celebration of life are active pieces in the future I am working to bring to reality. The more I stay my course and engage and leverage resources from what is around me, I’m confident I will slowly keep building towards a future that hopefully will benefit generations beyond me.

 

(there was also a video but the file size was too big… sorry!)

Happy International Women’s Day. I chuckled at this Vandana Shiva quote: “Patriarchy is based on appropriating rights and leaving responsibility to others”- I think she’s being too polite here when really it tends to lean towards appropriating rights and taking credit while leaving the responsibility and burden/work to women; or it’s something I’ve definitely experienced in many settings including work and home. 

“…is also a way for us to learn to see clearly.” –bell hooks

WARNING… it’s a long post so I’ve decided to save the reader’s need to scroll forever to get to other people’s lovely posts.

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Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to go to the Compost/Coffee/Heart medicine workshop and the facilitator Celena de Luna walked us through a dope tea ceremony where we sat with the tea and imagined what the herb looked like and what our hearts looked like. She later asked us what did we see in our hearts and I was too embarrassed/ felt kind of too vulnerable to share. But lol I’m willing to share here.

For me, this particularly tea and looking into my heart was actually kind of scary/painful. At first I felt a big bold jolt maybe a boom and I could sense that that was the first barrier being released. Then, I felt a silent stillness and slowly all I could feel and see were scars, some old but some new. Those scars slowly pulsed into a sort of grounding rhythm. I had no idea what the herb was or looked like, I assumed it was like a berry/flower thing and felt that I was just trying to project that into my vision… I have a horrible habit of pressuring myself to think or act in a certain way, I have a very hard time just letting myself be free. It’s almost like the more I try to be free, the more I analyze and judge myself for how free was I really being… (a very strange mean girls-esque habit that I’m working on).

Later in the class we learned that the herb was hawthorne and is in the rose family and helps to protect our heart. It can replace aspirin and helps lower blood pressure and allows for focus as it clears our arteries and holds a strong energy that helps to bring us to safety. We learned about so many other herbs and their relationship to the heart and I was just blown away with how all of these plant medicines work together to give so much to us humans. Each plant she explained has so many characteristics and healing properties. It was also very cool to learn things from other people in the workshop that also shared their different knowledges about the herbs and plants. The CCC was enlightening in that the space created for synergistic relationship building. Synergy is a key theme in Elinor’s nutrition class where we are learning about how everything in the ecosystem works together to bring nutrients to one another.

I often hear the phrase, Food is Medicine, but this week this phrase has deepened its significance and roots inside me. even though I’m sure corps like Whole Foods commodify the phrase to boost its profits… remember that food as medicine doesn’t have to be inaccessible! it never was in the past…

Cooking Project:

I’ve been a bit behind/ to tell you the truth… exhausted. My heart and compassion goes out to all the servers, busboys, cooks, dishwashers, and service workers who work that min. wage/hardly no tip/40+ hours life. These past few weeks I was presented the challenge of cooking for my family while my mom worked late… my family in particular my dad, is one hard person to please. His palette despises garlic and anything that veers away from traditional Japanese flavors… (even though a lot of Japanese food is adapted from other cultures!) I love garlic and love to eat other cuisines and my cooking just kind of reflects that.

But here’s some things that passed my dad’s taste test:

  • Sara-udon: originally a Chinese dish. In Japanese it just mean plate noodles. lol so lame. In Vietnamese it is called mỳ xào tôm thịt– which translates to bird’s nest with shrimp and pork- which totally makes better sense. The noodles create a birds nest and on top you have your stir fry that is thickened with starch water. For this dish I feature pak choi from Sarvodaya farms!
  • I tried to make braised pork: Buta-no-kakuni 豚の角煮 which translates to cubed pork lol another lame one. I used garlic chives from the farm as a substitute for green onions to stew the meat. The dish also uses ginger. So because I was using loin and not the belly…. the meat wasn’t as soft as I would have liked it but it was eaten.

  • Still working on that dressing… haven’t had time to be creative.

“…is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” – Masanobu Fukuoka

One thing that I truly appreciate about Fukuoka-san was his determination and drive to live out his philosophy of nothingness and humanity knowing nothing through farming. I agree with him that the significance of natural farming goes beyond producing high quality food but also inevitably changes your perspective and allows for greater clarity in seeing how modern society is destroying mother earth.

The role of the farmer and farming is invaluable and many will say it is the reason for the birth of modern civilization.  While I applaud the invention of farming and humans’ ability to cultivate the land and provide its own food source, farming/agriculture carries a dark history. I’m only going to provide a very loose chika’s perspective on the dark side of agriculture, so bear with me… (so don’t quote me on any of this..) Basically, as farming turned more into a science and as scientists and researchers began to dissect and specialize in different parts of the big picture, they began to break down and concoct various synthetic replacements. This helped lead to the birth of the green revolution, as the prized solution to the problem of how farmers were going to be able to feed the “exponential” growth of human beings.

In reality, I believe the green revolution was just another market for war weapons/chemical weapons manufacturers post WWII. Companies like Dupoont and Monsanto started as war chemical manufacturers and took leftover bombs and created fertilizers. (side note: this is why weapons like agent orange (which was used in the Vietnam War) were manufactured by Monsanto.)  Anywho, this green revolution also went hand in hand with the creation of the World Bank and IMF who were giving out loans and credits to developing countries particularly in Latin America.

I had the opportunity last summer to go to Nicaragua as part of a food sovereignty delegation and I learned that many of the farmers there only know how to grow with chemicals because long periods of war had killed many of the elders who had knowledge of natural farming. Consequently, these young populations were introduced to the fertilizers and pesticides to grow the coffee, bananas, and tobacco to feed the western world. There’s more to the story and things like the Latin American Debt Crisis also play a role but long story short… money and politics play a significant role in how modern farming became like this. Even today, many of the top officials in the USDA have direct ties to Monsanto and many universities and research institutions are funded by these multi-billion dollar corporations to push for the R+D of GMOs, super sterile seed, etc. to boost their markets. This is dangerous because this technology is then pushed down to the local levels where your local FSA agency only carries posters about GMO rice or university agriculture extension programs assist farmers by recommending which pesticide spray to use. This was particularly the case when I lived in the south.

I think what is interesting in all of this is that Monsanto would probably agree with Fukuoka’s quote above and full-heartedly stands behind the notion that their products also aim to cultivate and perfect human beings. Their rhetoric is all about sustainability and providing food for the people. However, Monsanto only provides a narrow perspective and therefore a dead-end product that actually creates more negative impact than positive. I believe that the ultimate goal of farming is the cultivation and perfection of human beings so that we can become more fully aware and clearly see the greater whole. The greater whole including how we learn from nature, how political/economic/historical/social/etc. connections impact our reality, and how we as people react and interact with each other and different institutions.

“… is to free someone else.” – Toni Morrison #nobannowall #sanctuary_for_all

For quite some time now, I’ve been pondering this question: “What does my duty to fight for freedom really look like?” It is a value I live by but I am constantly evaluating on whether or not I am truly making progress. In times like this where discriminatory executive orders are being legalized and destroying families, I cannot help but feel that I’m not doing enough. Last night, I had a conversation with my parents about fear, greed, and power and we correlated a lot of Trump’s actions to the mindset of Zionists in Israel who have occupied and displaced so many Palestinian families. This was a surprisingly good conversation considering that my dad is a long-standing Republican and gets free stuff from the Heritage Foundation (smh :0!). There is power to dialogue and I appreciate it for what it can bring. However, I still feel this defeat inside me that I should/need to contribute to the movement even more.

At my former job, rethink, we organize through 5 platforms based on the concept of:

Free the Mind. Free the People. Free the Land.

While I’ve only been with Sarvodaya Farms for a short time, I feel that their work also aligns with this fight for freedom.

Free the Mind: We had Elinor’s first nutrition class this past week and it helped to reconfirm my own beliefs around the need to decolonize our diets. She showed us data from the diets of hunters and gatherers and Dr. Prices’ teeth data. Modern technology and imperialistic greed have pushed unhealthy foods into the traditional diets. We were never meant to eat so many white things!

Free the People: I cannot speak for all, but I believe Sarvodaya Farms serves as a sanctuary for many people. I’ve had the honor of having some deeper conversations with my fellow trainees and it’s super awesome to see how we evolve and transform together. The work here is important as the people who learn from here will go to other places and help transform other communities. This week I just finished my graduate school application and fingers crossed I get in so I can continue to spread and share knowledge around sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty.

Free the Land: We all live on stolen land in this country. Therefore, it is that much more important that we give respect to the land and also to those who tended the land with mutual respect for nature. The work of this farm is vital because we are engaged in farming that does as much as it can to give back to the land. We as farmers are not just extracting from the land but tending to the land so that we can build micro-climates of diversity and more lush eco-systems. This is how much of the farming world used to sustain each other and the land before the injection of the green revolution and the push for big machinery and chemical fertilizers.

Cooking Project: I’ve realized that my body isn’t as superhuman as I imagine it to be and that it needs its rest. So- nothing really new this week.

-But, I’ve been working on a new salad item for the restaurant I work at… it’s been a work in progress. Still experimenting with different salad dressings.

– I made my best friend, SK, almost vegan cinnamon rolls and sweet and spicy garlic edamame for their revolution around the sun.

This week marks my first official week with sarvodaya farms! As I’m sure the same might be true for a lot of folks who become part of the sarvodaya farm, I really feel as though so many of my prayers, intentions I’ve been trying to set for myself, and dreams have catalyzed here. This isn’t some hyperbolic statement I’m making; I believe it to be very true.

I grew a passion for farming back in college when I did a short stay at an organic farm in the sierra nevadas during a winter break. Back then I was just excited to be away from home and wanted it to continue even in my time off.

Back at school, I became more involved with issues around environmental justice, rights for people of color, waste sustainability, etc. (my friends say I was a hyperactive type in college). To further add to my overstimulation: I worked up the courage to do an honors thesis during my senior year. My thesis was on the USDA’s  discrimination against minority farmers: Black, Native American, Latinx, and Women farmers. Even though I thought it was absurd to spend a whole year writing, it is the one paper I am most proud of and have continued to build upon to this day.

Post graduation is where I have most thrived in my non-conventional, unorthodox style. My mom wrote otherwise in her responses to her friend’s New Years letters asking if I was a (社会人/ literal translation: society member which translates to does she have a career yet). I spent a summer in Japan and had the opportunity to wwoof for a month at a small farm near Kobe. It was my first time experiencing a more rural lifestyle. (My grandparents moved from rural to urban and my parents have only experienced an urban lifestyle). While the summer was hot and the work was never ending, I had never felt so much joy, intrigue, and mystery all at the same time.

After returning, I moved to New Orleans. This time I made a choice, not because I didn’t want to go back home, but to extend a commitment I had made while in school. During the last 3 years of my time in school, I was organizing service learning trips to New Orleans since the school’s public service center had made a 10 year commitment to helping rebuild New Orleans post Katrina. During my short stays in New Orleans, I developed a strong bond with one of our community partners, Mack McClendon, who was just an “ordinary” resident in the Lower 9th Ward: the hardest hit neighborhood of New Orleans. After losing almost everything including 10+ antique cars, he and his community members turned his warehouse into a community center. He envisioned it to serve as a hub to help bring back his neighbors who had been displaced all over. During my senior year, we exchanged long phone conversations and I decided that I wanted to find some way to give back to him and I knew somehow that I needed to keep learning from him. He held more knowledge and wisdom than any professor I had ever talked to. So I applied for some fellowships  to pitch projects centered around building community resilience and disaster recovery. I didn’t get any of them as many organizations felt that my project was too grassroots and therefore unreliable. Actually I didn’t get into any of the other types of fellowships I applied for. So I moved to New Orleans, inspite of. I moved in with Mack and another friend, Becka, who was on a similar journey as me. The 3 of us worked hard to continue the project of documenting/interviewing people who had been displaced from the storm and building the template for a blueprint that could be shared with people around the world as a way to never repeat what had happened in the Lower 9. We also worked on a food access campaign to bring more fresh produce into the hands of neighbors who would take 3 different buses just to reach the closest grocery store… Walmart in the racist parish of St. Bernard.

The food access work was a collaborative effort that came about kind of organically. I randomly met someone at a dinner party I had crashed and she was working with a Lebanese urban farmer in the neighborhood. At the same time I was getting to know Daniel from the VEGGI farmers cooperative (in New Orleans east with the Vietnamese population) better and we all kinda came together and joined forces. New Orleans East faces similar issues to the lower 9 and is part of the same neglected district. We threw block parties, carried out surveys, and was working with a man who was trying to build his own grocery store. We weren’t entirely sustainable in our efforts but that same man does now operate a small grocery store.

I don’t remember when it was but Daniel had offered me a job to work for VEGGI and also another organization rethink, a black youth organizer org as they were starting to collaborate on a youth farming project. It was hard to say no but also hard to share the news to my mentor Mack. When I told him he said, “you really are my adopted daughter, always trying to do your own thing.” We still lived together but I soon started working with both rethink and VEGGI. Shuffling between the farm and 2 offices and always driving young people places, we somehow managed to build a curriculum and youth cohort ages 13-22. We built a multiethnic youth of color farmers cooperative and studied solidarity economies, natural farming, food justice, white supremacy, capitalism, decolonization, financial literacy, etc.  and put it to practice through our Monsanto free zone campaign and tending to a small plot as a way to generate revenue for the cooperative.   We called ourselves fjc: food justice collective, now named: maroon seed collective :). My time with fjc, rethink, and VEGGI created countless moments of growth, compassion, patience, ingenuity, and self analysis. The people I worked with were truly amazing, especially the young people. Mack and I always talked about that and I firmly realized that young people hold the future and we as adult supporters must help support and foster their growth and ability to carry things forward for 7 generations to come.

Mack passed away during my time in New Orleans; I had the great honor and privilege to serve as one of his caretakers as he endured the pains from 3 cancers. It was my first time I had helped someone transition, and never to a best friend like Mack.

For a number of reasons, I decided to move back home. It was almost 8 years since I lived with my parents. It was different this time around though. I’m not as irritated (I still get annoyed that they don’t rely more on my little brother) when they ask me to call this bill company or doctor… learning English as a second language is hard work and even harder when you must navigate your survival with it. I’m trying to start a family book club with them and the first book we’re going to read is about a farmer who spent over 10 years trying to get his apple orchard to produce through natural farming techniques to aid his sick wife. It will be my first time trying to read a book in Japanese. Thankfully there’s also an English version. It’s called the miracle apple.

My time with fjc and the young people also has deepened my passion around cooking. There was a simple bliss and joy that came when we took the mornings harvest and made food that we could share with each other. Eating together built the strongest bond in our cooperative and helped to bridge across our different cultures and ways of being. Nothing can surpass the level of taste from nutrient rich produce.

I’m working at a Japanese restaurant now. It’s been a good learning space for me to understand the mechanics of a restaurant: food ordering, prep, coworker teamwork, marketing, customer base, and knife skills! I wish to one day help structure a farmers-restaurant worker- cooperative. Even though I work late, usually until 2, I always feel energized as I drive to Pomona watching the sun rise through the clouds. I am eternally grateful to be a part of the growing club and sarvodaya farm fam. It’s really dope that it is majority women.

This week is the whole country will be marching together for, by, and with women. I will dedicate my marching to all women farmers in the world. 80% of farmworkers (globally) are women, yet less than 2% are farm operators, owners, or managers. We can be a part of changing those numbers. Excited for what’s in store.

Peace,
Chika

Cooking project: I’m also going to try and make it a weekly goal to make at least one thing from as scratch as I can get.

Week 1:

fresh squeezed orange juice with honey + veg stock + pea tendril soup. #eatyourcompost

Sourcing:
-oranges: from an orange tree in Granada Hills tended by an elderly Japanese lady: Noriko-San.
-honey: from a small farm in Nicaragua working to produce value-added products to sell to foreigners. (They struggle with value added because of cost of containers and no customer base locally)
-pea tendrils: Sarvodaya farms D-5. These tendrils were cut to thin out the row and were cut from the bottom side branches.
-veg stock: daikon (s). kabocha- (s). burdock. carrots. tomatoes. dried shiitake. frozen corn. onion. shallots. green onions. celery. bay leaves. salt. parsley. peppercorns. thyme. (Most produce from conventional ag some organic)