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.
Over the course of our program, I’ve really enjoyed our deep dive into how we grow food and why it matters.
We’ve talked about the types of plants that are chosen in commercial growing and how an emphasis on appearance and shelf life is often at the expense of nutrition or taste.
We’ve talked about how soil health influences plant health. We’ve talked about the differences between organically grown crops and non-organically grown crops.
It is a constant revelation for me at the farm of how things are grown and how they can taste, and it has made me more mindful about what I put into my body.
Until I read an article the other day that made me want to throw all of that out the window. Just kidding…sort of. It was about a mathematician, Irakli Loladze, whose research looks at how rising CO2 levels are impacting the nutrition levels of plants.
Loladze’s own interest in this first started when he was taking a tour of a biology lab where an experiment was being conducted on zooplankton. The researchers were altering the zooplankton’s food supply of algae by shining a light on the algae. The added light helped the algae to grow much faster, giving the zooplankton more to eat but at a certain point the zooplankton would start struggling to survive. More food should have meant more growth but what the researchers believe happened was that the algae was growing quicker but with less of its original nutrition. “By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food.” Loladze helped the researchers create a model that could measure and track this phenomenon. It also set him down a path to explore the scale of this problem.
That was in 2000 and apparently there is still very little research being done in this field of inquiry but the research that does exist suggests that with rising CO2 levels plants are producing more and more sugars at the expense of other nutrients.
Reading this article, I was somehow both shocked and not surprised. I had never thought about the possibility of something like this and yet, it makes sense in a lot of ways. It was a reminder that there are so many potential consequences or effects that will come from climate change that we haven’t even begun to really grasp.
It started with Houston. And for me, mostly because I’m from Houston, it hit close to home. When Hurricane Harvey made landfall, I spent the next few days obsessively texting my parents and hitting refresh on a myriad of news sites I had up. My parents were safe but the area where I grew up was hit pretty hard.
There were countless images and videos of places I knew well suddenly made foreign by the rising waters.
The National Weather Service had to update their color charts to reflect how much water was coming down.
It was upsetting to watch. It was even more upsetting to start digging into why the flooding hit Houston so hard.
The quote at the top of my post links to an illuminating investigation done by Propublica. It looks into how Houston’s lack of zoning laws as well as its refusal to acknowledge climate change has played a major role in its flooding issues.
In Houston, you can basically build anything anywhere you want. It’s something I remember hearing a lot growing up, usually said with a certain amount of pride. The argument being, people will be smart enough to build in a way that makes sense for the landscape. What that has meant, particularly in the last few years as Houston has experienced a boom in population, is unchecked development. It’s meant the removal of prairie grasses that once helped to soak and hold water in its vast root networks. In its place, developers have put in concrete that simply redirects the water elsewhere.
So Houston has been slowly chipping away at its natural defenses against flooding. At the same time, it has been doing nothing to adapt to increasing rainfall and evolving weather patterns. The government officials in charge of flood planning in Houston still refuse to acknowledge climate change and don’t see any need to change their flood planning strategies.
This event, in this city seems like such a perfect example of the intersection of issues that we’ll increasingly have to deal with.
Here is a city that because of its location AND how it has chosen to built AND because of its refusal to adapt has been hit by one of the worst floods in this country’s history.
Houston has had three “500 year floods” in the last three years (technically Harvey counts as a “1000 year flood” event). The odds of that happening are less than 0.2%.
For me, it feels like part of a dangerous and outdated framework that many people are still clinging onto. A certain kind of hubris in which people believe that they can and should be able to conquer nature. That we can build wherever we want. That we can do whatever we want to the land without consequence.
But as Nature continues to remind us and increasingly so, that is not the case.
That’s what I kept thinking as the water started to subside and the talk of rebuilding began.
And of course, after Hurricane Harvey came Hurricane Irma. And then Hurricane Jose. And now Hurricane Maria.
I’m not necessarily saying that this barrage of natural disasters is out of the ordinary. After all, hurricane season is hurricane season. But I am questioning the scale and the severity of damage caused by them.
As I mentioned at our check-in awhile ago, the only silver lining in all of this for me has been how useful our lectures and conversations have been, particularly around water use and reuse. It’s helped me to see things more clearly and to help me be more discerning in what I’ve been reading.
I think we need to evolve the way we think about natural disasters and what to do about them. And I am grateful for the farm as a space to think more deeply about that.
A couple of months ago, three other women and I moved approximately 2300 pounds of food waste into compost piles. By hand. And afterward, I wasn’t alone in feeling a surge of pride, strength, and self-sufficiency as a woman – as well as a sense of kinship with all the amazing women out there feeding the world.
Women are, and always have been, the givers of food. Around the world and throughout human history, they’ve usually been the ones who provide most of the food for their families – not only in cooking, but in production. Women are also intimately tied to water procurement. In regions without in-home water supply, it is women and children who usually haul water from community wells, springs, or rivers.
In the United States, our cultural conditioning teaches us that women are physically weak and delicate. Despite women doing crossfit, mixed martial arts, and marathons, the general pervasive cultural attitude is one that acts as though these women are the exception, not the rule. But this gendered way of looking at strength and endurance isn’t held up by history. All over the world, throughout human history, women have demonstrated strength and endurance – usually through demanding routines for procuring and providing the basic necessities for their families.
There is something very satisfying in the feeling of connection to this history and to all the women in the world at any given moment who are planting, harvesting, hauling water, processing and preserving food, tending animals, and (often) managing children at the same time. Composting in the heat, just us women, helped me remember our collective strength.
A short while ago, I was reassigned to the nursery and chickens. In the nursery, we water baby plants. Very baby plants get a soft misting spray. Older, adolescent plants get a rain shower. We were told that it is really important, whether watering a tree, a vegetable, or anything else, that water must be delivered slowly. A torrential downpour flattens baby plants, even uproots them. It can wash away soil. And most importantly, it doesn’t percolate properly down into the soil. Much of it runs off and is wasted.
As I slowly and methodically water plants, I meditate on slow living. Slow cooking, slow waking, slow weekends. So much of our culture’s unhealthy patterns is because we are too busy… and not just too busy, we’re too fast. We wolf down food that was cooked in minutes as we drive on the freeway. We don’t give any attention to the food we’re eating and ensuring its full nutrition is given to our bodies, and we scarcely pay mind to the beings who gave their lives and labor to nourish ours. We eat densely-calorically-packed fast food so quickly that our stomachs don’t have time to signal to our brains that we are full.
We hop out of bed in the morning to a strident alarm, often sleeping as late as possible, and rushing to get ready in the morning. People bustle from sleeping to waking, two very different brain states – rushing their children through showers and backpack-packing and lunch-packing and breakfast and into the car. We don’t pause to let our brains fully wake up, to gently process dreams and envision the day we want to have. We don’t sit quietly with a cup of tea and gaze at the sunrise, or the dew, or the opening flowers. Quick, quick, we tell ourselves – we must get to the job, clock in, and start to labor.
On the weekends, we attempt to cram most of our personal lives into two days. We clean our homes, we run our errands, we try to connect to our spouses and children and family and friends… we rush from this social event, scheduled activity, or child’s extracurricular to that one. No relaxing is allowed, life is too busy for this. There is too much living to cram in too small a window of time.
We pour activity over ourselves like turning the hose on full blast, day after day, week after week. Some of our babies and adolescents are flattened by the deluge. Some manage to cling on. We do it until our soil is eroded and we feel uprooted and unmoored and lost, deeply unsatisfied despite all our events, activities, material goods, and achievements. Our water table isn’t replenished, and we wonder why, deep down, we’re always thirsty.
Somehow, we have to resist a culture that strips us of our joy and peace, because joy and peace don’t increase our Gross Domestic Product much. We need to learn how to let our time collect and pool so that we can renew ourselves and care for others. We need to learn again how to live slowly: how to let our minutes and days trickle gently into the roots of our soul.
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.