Category: Farmers Journal

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.

To catch up on my blog posts, I’ve been scrolling through my calendar to recall what had happened in my chronology of events. Family and birthday events, dinners and lunches catching up with old friends and it occurred to me that at every one of these events, I’ve been talking about the farm. I realize that my circle isn’t quite into my farm life, but they can see a difference in me. They see that dirt is always under my nails, I look slightly more tan (which is a miracle), and my smile is wider. It’s that soil, sun and greenery that make all this happen. My mother told me this week that my “face looks so fresh and alive”. This is a huge compliment coming from my mom, as her backhanded compliments warm my heart in this uniquely genuine way. But it’s a cycle really because at each step I feel I’m changing for the better. I go to the farm, work it (hehe), recover from the physical aspect of it, tell others about it, rinse, and repeat. This week I remember telling my friend at lunch about how we had a chicken egg pecker in the coop. He looked at me like I had lost my marbles and asked me what I was doing for income instead. I didn’t continue with my mini lecture on root systems and just left it there. I understand that my community isn’t completely on board with me, but that’s okay! They see that there’s something cooking on the farm and it’s not just bugs and lettuce and soil because they see me happy.

Little by little, the farm’s message now lives on me and for an introvert, like myself, to be blabbering all about the farm to folks says quite a lot.

Muslims if physically able, are obligated to fast during the month of Ramadan, which is the name of the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The lunar calendar has 12 months like it’s solar counterpart Gregorian calendar however, being based on the phases of the moon. Each month having approximately 29 days makes this calendar 10 or 11 days shy of the solar calendar. With each year Ramadan arrives 10 or so days earlier than the last, and when it falls in the intense heat and long days of summer the practice of abstaining from food, water, arguing or becoming angry, is in my opinion most challenging yet most rewarding.

 

As you might imagine, fasting can make one quiet and deeply reflective. During one of these treasured moments the thought  came to me that the farm(Sarvodaya) was an equalizer. From the least educated to the highly educated, little means to the comfortable, from the disadvantaged to the privileged, we all have an equal exchange on the farm during this training. No matter the status or station in life, each of us must labor in order to receive the fruits of our labor. In this case, the fruit is the skill set of farming. Likened unto Ramadan, farming is a skill that requires discipline that is challenging yet rewarding.

 

 

As the summer heat comes around, I am reminded of the the cycle of seasons. These are so important to the life of a farmer, or indeed anyone who must live in a natural environment, as the availability of solar energy and consequently of plant life change so dramatically. Living in an artificially air-conditioned, easy food-access environment such as many of us live in, it is easy to forget about these cycles. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to experience them.

Observing other phenomena of nature, like day and night, life and death, and growth and decay, I can see that all of nature is cyclical. One cycle in particular that I have come to terms with recently is that of action and rest. Over the past few of months, I have been trying to push myself to accomplish as much as possible in the time I have. I think this is because of a sense of urgency, as well as mild guilt at the thought of eschewing productive work. But this came at a detriment to my own health, and I could definitely feel myself burning out these past couple of weeks. I am now giving myself a much needed period of rest.

Another, more grand, cycle that I have been thinking about lately is that of cosmic time in relation to human civilization and consciousness. During this week’s intern class, Rishi commented on his belief that our current societal ills were part of a larger cycle, and that he was not worried about “saving” it. Immediately I thought of the Yuga doctrine of classical Hindu religion. Briefly, it is a cosmology that lays out four great periods of time, or “yugas,” marked by the rising and falling of human consciousness, specifically the prevalence of virtue, intelligence, truth, and harmony with the universe. According to the Vedic texts, this cycle lasts approximately 12,000 years and repeats itself going up and down, for a total of 24,000. Many believe that it is directly linked to the precession of the equinoxes, our earth’s cycle of rotational axis movement, which lasts approximately 26,000 years. Interestingly, this is not an exclusively Hindu idea, and can be found in religions and cultures around the world. The Greeks had a strikingly similar model – a four-period cycle of human “races,” labeled with the metals of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. Although the exact dates are disputed, almost everyone agrees that we are somewhere in or near the Kali Yuga, the lowest and least virtuous period. This would explain much about the systematic problems that we see around us, as well as the generally pessimistic attitude toward human nature that so many hold. The good news is that we are on the upswing, headed toward increased levels of consciousness and virtue, and in fact about to experience a major upheaval and transition into the next period. Whether or not this is “true” in any scientific sense, I find that this view of time, in comparison to the linear one our Western culture offers, makes a lot more sense. It provides a sense of context that allows me to let go of so many things that are ultimately outside of my control, and it also gives me hope that we are not headed for total annihilation, but rather a slow process of learning and growth. I am consoled by the notion that our very own minds, and the external patterns that manifest from them, are in tune with cosmic cycles in a way similar to the rising and falling patterns of plant growth that one observes throughout the changing seasons.

I would describe myself as someone who is highly intuitive. I prefer to lead with my internal emotions rather than thoughts (although I have many of those as well) in both perceiving the world and making decisions about how to act in it. This is both a strength and a weakness. Although it allows me to feel and experience the world in an incredibly beautiful and deep way, and often gives me very keen observational capacities, it can also hinder my ability to move forward. More often than not, I am inclined toward impulsivity, emotion, and laziness when confronted with responsibilities that I do not enjoy. Discipline is a skill that I have learned to cultivate in order to live in this world, but it does not come naturally.

Many people talk about the need for resistance in life, the need for struggle and challenge in order for growth. I tend to agree with this proposition, but I often think about the premises underlying it. It seems to me that this growth is only worthwhile, and ultimately possible, if there is a meaning in it. There must be a reason, a passion, a vision contained in the struggle in order for it to be productive and transformative. Otherwise, it’s just…stagnant. So often I feel a struggle inside of myself between my logical identity and my intuitive experience, when what I believe I should be doing does not feel like what I should be doing, or at least does not  bring me the enjoyment that I expected. Am I simply impatient, pain aversive, and unrealistic? Or is my intuition telling me something, that perhaps this is not what I need to be doing at the moment, that I need to keep looking for that passion? Resolving this conundrum is tricky, to say the least.

If anything can be learned from the Taoists in this matter, it is that discipline for the sake of discipline is draining and depleting. Forcing oneself to be what one is not – fighting one’s own nature – is certainly destructive. And yet, humans are in this peculiar predicament of self-conscious participation. We must exert conscious effort towards some end; the question only remains, to which one? It is the lifelong purpose of every individual to integrate that which he feels with that which he knows, a development which I feel I am only just beginning.

I wonder if other life forms feel this kind of resistance. Looking at our basil plants, for example, some of them are vibrantly alive, healthy, and productive. Others seem to struggle, barely able to put forth any considerable amount of foliage. What is the difference? A scientist would give a rational explanation: some plants have more nutrition than others. A naturalist would give an environmental explanation: some plants are supported by their surroundings more than others. What would the mystic or the shaman offer as an explanation? Perhaps things like nutrition and environment play critical roles in the outcome of a plants health, but is it possible that there is also an element of conscious mind? I have to wonder whether each plant, when suddenly faced with external adversity, also must make a decision to fight, to overcome the resistance. Does health in a plant reflect the attributes of will and self-determination, while sickness that of resignment? Reflecting on this idea, I have to laugh at my overly-anthropomorphized and dualistic view of nature. Indeed, the plant, conscious or not, must be so in tune with its own natural rhythms that it doesn’t have to “choose” whether or not to struggle. It simply happens, or it doesn’t, and the plant doesn’t worries one way or the other. I could learn something from that basil…

It is Summer Solstice, which is a holiday in my religion.  But I’m a bit on the tired side (it’s been over 100 degrees, and I’ve also had a lot going on), and I have a 6 am wake-up for hydrating adequately before I arrive at the farm tomorrow.  Usually, when I overwork myself, as I have so far this week – and it comes at the cost of my meditative and ceremonial time – I feel much more of a sense of inner resistance and discord.  But tonight, I keep thinking – there is no need for ceremony.  God is in the garden.

You see, I’m an animist and a pantheist.  For me, the divine is in everything.  It’s everywhere in nature.  Divine wisdom is in every being, from rocks to tomato plants to bears.  Divine connection is in my own heartbeat if I choose to feel its pulse resonate in the other surges in nature – the tides, the ocean waves, the drop-drop-drop of water in a dripline, the purring of my cats.  All beings are miraculously and vibrantly alive and conscious for me.  They are willing teachers, and I need only listen.

So, God is in the garden.  And it is OK that I am tired, and instead of doing my prayers and meditations, I will go to sleep.  Because in the morning, as I wind trellis string around tomato shoots, I will be attending to God.  As I water newly planted pepper plants, I will be showering the green veil of God with the nourishing water of God.  As I sweat in the sun as the temperature soars, I will feel the heat and fire of God, and my body will respond with its own microcosm of a whole world of cells working together in unison.  And I will feel the connection to my ancestors, who farmed for thousands of years until my grandparents decided to leave the soil… before my mother, my aunt, my sister, and I started to reclaim it as our inheritance.

I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate Summer Solstice.

sunflowers in vases on a buffet

Sunflowers from the Farm gracing my kitchen.

I recently listened to an interesting podcast with the co-director of the war documentary “Restrepo,” Sebastian Junger, who talked about his experience filming in Korengal valley, one of the most active combat zones during the height of the Afghan war. His most salient feeling and observation from living with a close-knit group of army infantry was the sense of intense communal brotherhood. Despite (and probably due to) the incredible danger of living in a constant life-or-death situation, these men grew closer to each other than would have been possible in a stress-free environment. Junger described how more often than not, soldiers returning home from combat become depressed, not necessarily because of trauma, but because of losing a sense of purposeful community. Back in the heat of battle, they existed in a community of individuals who viscerally relied on each other for survival and were united towards a cohesive goal, but in the nerfed safety and complacency of America, they suddenly lost a sense of meaning. A similar phenomenon, he noted, was observed in post-hurricane New Orleans, where people would sometimes express a nostalgia for the period of devastation, but concurrent communal bonding, that occurred during the storm.

It seems that human beings are designed to exist under a certain amount of stress, which if completely removed, can result in imbalances in our psyche. Our ancestors lived in survival conditions much harsher than our own, surviving through the resiliency of social connection, helping each other when times were tough. Perhaps the most poignant ability that sets ourselves apart from other animals is not our intelligence, but our incredible sociality. Two brains are better than one, after all. You would think that living in a city like Los Angeles, where millions of souls live in such proximity to one another, that this sense of community would be stronger than ever. But sadly, the opposite is true. Currently, rates of depression, loneliness, anxiety, and suicide are at record highs, despite our ever more “connected” digital networks.

I think that the reasons for this are fairly straightforward. Our social networks (not the digital kind), have become completely disintegrated. Traditionally, people lived in more or less self-sufficient communities of about 50-150 people (or a few hundred in larger villages), where every individual was needed, relied on, valued, and appreciated. Living in such an interdependent community, you served a very important function, whatever it may have been. People needed you, and you needed them. You were all imbued with the same sense of meaning and purpose; it might have been spiritual and lofty, or perhaps simply practical, but it was shared. Each individual living in such a community certainly felt a deep sense of well-being, even if there were significant external challenges. In fact, these challenges may have been a crucial component for health. Even if this community was not fighting off bears, arctic temperatures, or chronic disease in order to survive, it still would have been intimately connected to and involved with the earth and the cycles of nature which supported it.

Nowadays we have managed to construct a world in which none of that is necessary in order for your physical organism to continue living. One no longer needs to rely on family, friends, and neighbors in order to eat, obtain shelter, or provide any number of basic living necessities. One can rely on completely externalized, hidden systems of support that require only a bare minimum of contact with other human beings. And if you are clever enough to generate some income through the internet, you don’t even need to leave your apartment. Living in this manner, I doubt that people can feel a deep sense of well-being or any kind of true meaning in life. No wonder our society faces an epidemic of mental illness…

Indeed, the happiest moments of my life have been when I felt I was a valuable part of some community. It is often hard to prioritize friends and family over such apparently important things as knowledge, money, or self-improvement, but these are truly secondary. The Blue Zones, a group of five geo-ethnic populations around the world with the longest lived people on the planet, share a few key components for health and well-being. A strong sense of purposeful community is one of them. Gardening is another. Regular combat stress thankfully is not :). Local community self-reliance through sustainable agriculture, a sense of interconnected purpose or meaning, and deep social connection is the future of humanity. Our technological toys may not need to be disposed of completely, and the the dream of a globally connected society through them may still be salvageable, but without local community, it will be impossible.

A farm is like a start-up incubator. A variety of projects, all under one “roof” and produce an ROI. I kept thinking about this analogy this week. Each group of plants is a new company and all plants in all beds are subject to the same potential problems (weather, insects, animals, etc). Sometimes we can cast wide solutions to these problems, other times we cannot. The situations remain though. Week after week, there seems to be a new set of plans to improve a bed, hoist a trellis, or mulch the pathway and it’s all so dynamic! We use every resource possible to create the best conditions for each plant. It seems like every week I learn a completely new truth about each bed, because each bed is actually different from the week prior. Duh! Namely, everything has grown so much! How about that.

Growth seems to be so much more visible when you’re talking about young things, whether it’s people, animals, plants, or businesses. It reminded me that the early stages are so important and they express themselves the loudest. If a seed is not germinating in the nursery, most likely the others aren’t either. If there seem to be earwig bites on a leaf, others are being eaten. If the soil is not right, it complicates the root system development. But that’s what’s so great about it too. It’s wonderfully complex and equally satisfying understand this operation and make adjustments to each plant, get back to optimal growth, and figure out how to predict and offset trouble. I’d assume that’s similar to what major start-up incubators do too, minus the insects, animals and weather. Tech start-ups deal with plenty of bugs.