Category: Farmers Journal

Plain Peaches. For Will. Reshama Laughed.

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.

National and international events this year have been increasingly stressful.  Unlike many people, I can’t unplug and ignore them.  My job as a social scientist and educator means that I have to stay engaged, even when I find the world anxiety-producing.

The farm has been my anti-anxiety medication.  I often arrive at the farm with muscle tension and a sense of stress, my mind mulling over all the issues of the world and my small place in it all.  And then I pick up my pruners and harvest some squash or plant some kale and I feel better.

Gardening for food is a whole sensory experience that demands presence.  It makes mindfulness easier.  I don’t have to push away distracting thoughts if my mind is already engrossed in a farm task.  Yet these tasks are repetitive and soothing, and so they become a form of moving meditation.

One of these days in the summer, in the height of plum production, I was having a difficult day.  National news was disturbing and my own family was having some challenges as well.  I went back to the orchard with my bucket to pick plums.  The anxiety melted away as I reached up and stretched toward the sun, looking at the plums for the perfect color, touching their smooth taut skin to feel for ripeness.  Beetles buzzed occasionally past, their hum momentarily taking over.  Midmorning hunger was soothed by a bite into the perfect plum: sweet but tart, juicy, with crisp skin.

red, purple, and yellow plums

Delicious plums at Sarvodaya Farms

There is increasing research that suggests that soil microbes help our bodies stave off anxiety and depression.  At least for more mild anxiety, the cure may lie literally in the earth.  But in my experience at the farm, gardening is offering us more than just contact with soil.  It’s a total sensory experience that gives us moments of being fully present and joyful.  It reminds us, with just the right balance of ease and demand, to notice the earth and to be grateful for it.

The world’s stressful events, large and small, march onward.  But so does the garden.  I’ll keep looking for those perfect plums and in finding them, find inner peace.

I am but a part of the whole,

a single piece of the grand, living organism we call nature.

I flow with the dance of life,

carried by ancient and eternal energies,

extending infinitely into the past and future.

Who am I but an observer of this great spectacle,

a dancer in this cosmic dance?

 

I am infused with the responsibilities of a human being,

but I am not in control.

As an animal has an intrinsic nature,

so too do I have my place in this scheme.

I am here to assist in the will of the divine,

and so granted abilities of the heavens.

But I recognize my limited capacities,

my necessary finitude.

With understanding comes the unknowable.

Always, there will be a higher power.

 

My body is mortal, and one day it will die.

The patterns of nature are ever in flux, going and returning.

I am not separate from these realities,

and my being will go just as it has come.

But as I flow from life into death,

the energy given to me on loan will be transferred

back into the reservoir of abundance from whence it came.

And by this transmutation, new life will emerge,

as alive and conscious as I am when I record these words.

I will pick up where I left off,

continuing the flame of being, the will of the eternal.

 

Death is only real

to the extent you identify with your current permutation.

Do not be afraid,

we are part of the greatest show the universe has yet seen,

and the best adventures are always yet to come!

 

This week Katie taught us interns about the magical world of honey bees. And I have only one thing to say – bees are trippy! This is not the first time I have learned about these fantastic little insects, but this time I was able to see them with a new perspective. Not only do I appreciate them much more after learning about their crucial function in any healthy ecosystem (as well as our human food production) as major pollinators, but I am also fascinated by how they display characteristics of a “super-organism.” This term not only implies that a single bee cannot survive on its own, separated from the colony, but also that each “unit” of the organism exists for the survival and benefit of the whole, rather than itself. The worker bees, the most numerous of the three major categories of bees, work non-stop their whole lives, executing the major functions that allow the hive to survive. Two behaviors (or beehaviors, as Katie would put it) in particular amaze me. The first is that each bee larvae, upon hatching from its birth cell, gets right to work! They have such deep-rooted instinct that they know exactly what to do the second they are alive – no training needed. This phenomenon gave me the impression of the super-organism as being an incredibly well-oiled, efficient machine. How impressive! The other behavior that amazed me was that when swarming and looking for a new hive site, bees will do a little “waggle dance” to communicate potential locations to other bees. This dance contains directional information relative to the sun so that other bees can go check out the location. When enough bees have seen the location and a consensus is reached, the whole swarm will move to the new site. WHAAATT??? Amazing…

Obviously, bees are incredibly intelligent creatures. Life continues to amaze me with its variety, complexity, and dazzling beauty. This particular example gives me ever more certainty that nature is intelligently organized beyond all human comprehension, and that we should trust its abilities to thrive and provide our needs!

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.

What should be done with a Rooster who is repeatedly attacking its human care taker?

Beyond being an early morning alarm clock, a Rooster does have other functions, one of which is to protect it’s flock from would be daytime predators like hawks, rodents, cats, dogs or whatever else.  You see, chicken nor roosters can see at night without light so otherwise, the rooster can only protect during the day. Perhaps that is why as soon as the day breaks he makes his presence known.

Lately, as soon as Roosty, as affectionately named by Reshama is released from the pen, he goes on the attack. That might be okay if he weren’t attacking his bigger, stronger and not to mention hungry human custodian. As soon as Reshama starts collecting the eggs, Roosty charges towards her very aggressively. Is he telling us that he doesn’t want us in the coop taking his girls’ eggs? Maybe, but when I collect eggs why doesn’t he charge me? Sometimes when Reshama is not near the pen nor the eggs, he targets her and boldly goes where no rooster should go. Perhaps her shrieks can be heard across the farm, sorry partner. But in her defense, Roosty can be intimidating when he stands at attention, flairs his neck feathers and darts towards you faster than you’re expecting. In fact, I have recently started standing on guard as she collects to prevent any surprise attacks.

Today however, Roosty has gotten feisty one too many times. I usually let him knows who’s boss but today he didn’t seem to care. He didn’t care about my size, stature nor my fearlessness and charged towards me, not once but twice! Oh no he didn’t! Well, yes. Yes, he did! I quickly put my boot in his face but luckily there was no run-in between the two. As I resumed a normal stance he tried it again. Where was Reshama to see that he wasn’t just picking on her, but that he was an equal opportunity annoyance? This time I took up arms. I grabbed the rake and charged him, chasing him far into the orchard. The nerve of him! I don’t even eat yardbird, but I know plenty who do.

If the culling should start soon, I nominate him, who we have lost our affection for. I don’t even eat yard-bird, but I know plenty who do!

 

 

After our last nutrition class, there was a collective feeling of unresolve. There is a massive amount of information to process about the issues and possible issues regarding our current society’s food systems and suffering health. If the issues are not in the chemicals used to grow food, it’s in the resources and waste created to distribute the food, or marketing propaganda, etc., etc. At times it can feel productive sorting through the science and literature, but lately it leaves me with a hopelessness. How can I live a healthy life? How will I know that I am healthy? What does health even mean when life is an unfolding of decomposition? Gahhh!!!

I would surely be lost and cascading without the support of others.

I sense that the majority of people are “asleep” to these realities. It’s no fault of theirs. But as an individual who feels the need to stay exposed to the issues (with whatever limited perspective one can have) it is overwhelming. I want to use the energy I have to make differences where it will count most. I am sure that beginning to learn self-reliance by growing food is the way forward. If nothing else, I hope to live a life that may be an example for our posterity that leans in the direction of balance. Sadly, it’s difficult to imagine humans actually helping our natural systems. A morbid thought has been circulating for awhile: the greatest offering we could give the planet is to die off.

Nick Hummingbird’s class has been streaming through my awareness since last week. It was greatly moving. The native people have been horrifically oppressed, and their culture has been largely wiped out; their sense of balance is needed more than ever. I feel compelled to focus on learning native plants and cultivating them. It should be a no-brainer; we can regain lost “wild” nutrition, save water (as they are drought tolerant), and also respect and reconnect with the native environment.

There are a couple of solutions cropping up: bring back the natives and shift value to building community. Some more music around the farm would be fun too! ;0