I lived for most of my 20s in rural or semi-rural locations. Exercise was built into my routine: shoveling snow or horse manure, carrying firewood, hiking right outside my front door, carrying hay bales – the endless tasks of keeping the household alive. I spent two years in Seattle, but I commuted on public transit. Miles of walking was built into every day. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I struggled. Suddenly, I was neither in a dense, public-transit friendly environment – so walking was out – but I also wasn’t living a rural lifestyle anymore. The hours each day of low-impact, high-repetition, varied exercise that characterizes many rural lives suddenly ended and was replaced by me working on a computer 60-70 hours per week as I began my professorship. Within a few years, my sciatica flared, my neck and shoulders pinched, and my anxious stress-related energy mounted. I tried joining a gym and doing Crossfit. The result was a torn oblique abdominal muscle, frustration, and a growing realization that I hate exercising indoors and I dislike having no purpose being physical labor.
Then I came to the farm. I’ve been here a month now. And I can feel my body returning to its former state, before I moved to LA six years ago. My neck and hip pain have receded. I expend anxious energy pruning tomatoes, harvesting cauliflower, and focusing on how soil feels. I expected to feel really tired in returning to 13 hours of physical activity each week, often in heat. But I don’t. Instead, I feel buoyant and energetic. I get home and still have lots of energy to clean, tend my small but growing home garden, and write. The type of activity I’m doing is just right: it’s low-impact, it is natural and semi-repetitive motion (but not too repetitious), and it incorporates lots of different muscles. But it’s more than this: it makes sense to my brain, and it makes me happy rather than resentful or tired.
As human beings, we evolved to do physical activity in order to procure food. There is something deeply satisfying in doing so. It makes sense to us on an intuitive level. Recent studies are also pointing to increasing evidence that our mental health and our gut health are entwined, and that encountering microbes that exist in healthy soil – on our bare hands or feet – help generate a healthier GI tract and improve our mood. An organic, sustainable small farm like Sarvodaya Farms is a holistic health plan: the right kind of physical labor is expended as an input, and the farm provides returns in the form of healthy, fresh, whole food. So many of our health issues in the United States – heart disease, diabetes, depression – are linked to not sedentary lifestyles and poor quality food. A return to the garden, the small farm is just what Nature ordered: providing the right balance of exercise, sunlight, soil microbes, focused activity, and healthy whole foods to make us not only healthier, but happier.
Costata Romanesco Squash to be exact!
For the last week or so, I’ve been harvesting and becoming unendingly obsessed with this miraculous plant that seems to produce a new batch of harvestable zucchinis every two days. It grows to an impressive size, a mini jungle within our fields that often make me feel like a child on a forest treasure hunt when I’m down below harvesting.
I figure it’d only be right to devote a post to finding out more about my beloved squash and share with all.
Costata squash was developed in Italy (although zucchinis can trace their ancestry back to the Americas) and then brought to North America by Italian immigrants starting in the late 1800s.
This Italian heirloom variety is known for its tenderness and nutty flavor. It’s considered to be one of the tastiest, if not THE tastiest zucchini out there. “By whom?” you might ask. And the answer is THE INTERNET (and me)!
Like this website that…does a zucchini blind taste test apparently:
Or this review in which someone’s husband has a zucchini breakthrough(?!?!):
The seeds take 62 days to mature and should generally be harvested before the zucchini exceeds 10″ but will still be delicious long after, should some of the zucchini manage to elude you.
Which they probably will! They’re wily little buggers. I’ve discovered several massive zucchini and almost always they’re hiding at the very bottom of a cluster of ripening zucchini, using them for cover. At first glance, they simply look like part of the vine, but don’t let them fool you!
While these plants are sure to grow like mad, there are a few things to watch out for to make sure they stay healthy. Keep your eyes peeled for powdery mildew, squash bugs, and squash vine borers. Catching them early is key!
My only complaint is the squash’s bristles. Even in a long sleeved shirt and gloves, I somehow manage to get pricked and have been playing a game of “what weird place will I break out in next?”
Still, I’d say it’s a small price to pay for such a prolific and delicious plant. And because it’s an open-pollinated plant, meaning the seeds will generally “breed true”, you can save the seeds to plant again next season.
I’m sure there are a million ways to enjoy these delights but I wanted to close out with a super easy weekday concoction that I’ve been making.
** Add in your optional items either before or after the zucchini depending on what it is and how much time it needs to cook.
Being on the farm forces me to reprogram my brain. So many things happened this week like music and song being introduced to the farm, reassessing the value of nuts into a diet plan, considering the big picture of managing a farm and producing quality CSA boxes, and being resourceful in making new pesticides out of old…bugs. It’s a lot to take in and I’m loving every minute of it, but more importantly, it makes me think about our role as urban farmer trainees and how learning to care for a nursery, or support plants in the field, or raise and manage chickens really has such a profound impact on the community. It essentially reprograms our ability to survive and provide for our immediate circle. I mean, how many of us can say that and really believe it. We are learning to make food! And when I think about how I’ve spent so much of my life buying food, preparing food, eating food, and throwing away food (which is a huge part of the food equation), I’ve personally been missing that first part, that growing part. And yet, every single one of us depends on this first part. Every tune, every power packed seed, every bug, and every decision to bring it all together in the CSA box is programmed into that head of cabbage or carrot. My mother always told me not to cook when I’m angry or sad or otherwise negative because all those emotions will transfer into that food and get carried onto whoever eats it. In other words, that emotionally energetic programming becomes the DNA of that cooked food and then it spreads into others. But I would argue that this programming happens much earlier, way before we begin cooking it. It happens from seed, then soil, rain/shine, in laughter and music, bugs and gophers, wrapped up a colorful box, and delivered with a smile. Sure, I’m learning to be an urban farmer, but really I’m learning to be a real life programmer.
What is it that we have lost? Can you feel it? We have forgotten something. A collective cultural amnesia, it seems. When did the head trauma occur? The “fall,” some call it. Was it when we became conscious of time and our own mortality? When we began to divide the world with symbols? Or was it perhaps later, when our ancestors forwent a life of tending and gathering the wild and began to till and clear the earth instead? When comparing the human condition to that of animals, one can only envy the latter’s state – an effortless, carefree existence, spared from the haunting troubles of the human mind. But indeed, this is our natural place, for we exist to be aware of ourselves and our environment, and it is perhaps a fundamental quality of existence itself. This is not such a terrible thing, after all, when one considers the beauty, love, and joy that accompanies experiential life, and the deep satisfaction drawn from the dedication to meaningful purpose.
But the Western mind seems to be struggling the most, as of late, with this existential dilemma. Like most cultures, the West had at its foundation a spiritual tradition – Christianity – which rooted its individuals in a mythological framework in which they could understand the world. But in the pursuit of its highest ideal – truth- Christianity destroyed itself. By the time the philosophies of scientific materialism, empiricism, and rationality saturated Western culture in the 19th century, the existentialist philosopher Nietzsche had proclaimed, with much concern, that “God is dead.” He and other existentialists predicted, with frighteningly accurate prophecy, that the 20th century would see the deaths of millions as people attempted to cope with their loss of spiritual grounding and the inevitable nihilism which would soon follow. Without a spiritual foundation to orient itself from, the West turned to such crude replacements as Utopian ideology and empty hedonistic materialism.
Since then, our culture has been wandering like a lost child, stubbornly denying the need for an orienting philosophy, hoping that it can survive on its own arbitrarily defined values. In what appears to be a desperate attempt at self-justification, we have marched steadfastly forward in the pursuit of natural domination and material omnipotence. The achievements of such aims, especially the industrial, technological, “green,” and information revolutions, have been heralded as incontrovertible evidence for the progress of modern man…
And yet there is something missing. We all feel it, no matter how hard we try to suppress those feelings. What is it? To me it seems clear that human beings have a spiritual need as intrinsic and relevant as social, food, and environmental needs. I believe that our culture needs to be reconnected with a spiritual tradition, or at least regain a broad sense of interconnectedness (which is really the same thing). I think this is what we’re missing at a deep, fundamental level. No amount of rationality, Utopian vision, or material wealth can replace it, and we are slowly waking up to that fact.
What is the path towards regaining such a thing? The answer, it seems clear to me, lies in the natural world. For only there do we remember who we really are – sacred beings inseparably connected to the cosmos. Only in nature do we become filled with a sense of connection and meaning powerful enough to sustain the human condition. We remember that we are co-creators and caretakers of life on earth, and that ultimate fulfillment lies in carrying out this purpose. We observe that nature, although awesomely vast and complex, retains an intelligent order that does not need improvement. And we come to see that although we might not be capable of consciously understanding this process, it works within and through us, nurturing and giving all that we require.
Each day at Sarvodaya, I am incredibly thankful that I have been given an opportunity to partake in this life-giving process. Despite the suffering and confusion that so many of us feel in this bizarre world, I have faith in the healing potential that places like Sarvodaya have to restore a deeply needed sense of connection, and in life in general to maintain a state of balance even in the midst of such cultural chaos as we are now experiencing. Each day at the farm, my worries become less and less, while my optimism for a bright future grows ever stronger.
Apologize I am so late with all of my entries been going through some technical difficulties but excited to travel back to the beginning. 🙂
My name is Dawn Quintanilla and I am one of the 8 fortunate interns at Sarvoyada. I recently moved to California and immediately wanted to get back in the farming world. I had worked one season at an organic-sustainable farm in Pepperell, MA. Farming here was a great experience. I did something I had always wanted to do and I am grateful to them for a beginning into farming; however, I often wanted to know why we were doing certain things and how we were affecting the environment around us. I left knowing a new skill but not really having gain much knowledge as to the why. Working on the farm was one of the best things I ever did for myself and quickly wanted to get back to it when I landed in Cali, but I soon learned there was a lot for me to learn before jumping right back into working at farm. When my roommate told me about the internship at Sarvodaya I knew it’s where I would gain the knowledge I had been looking for. Farming is both a passion and necessity to me. I have experienced the magic and healing that comes from farming and want to be able to know how to do it in the most ecological way so that others and the planet can heal as well. From the moment I stepped on to Sarvodaya I felt and saw life, a life I wanted to be apart of.
While going to the farm I would jam out to the Nicki Minaj song, “Moment For Life.” I would often repeat this one lyric to myself, “Cause in this moment I just feel so alive, alive, alive. This moment I wish I could have for live…” I would say this as I was doing various task or noticing all aliveness around me. In the first week I could feel and both see the aliveness of the farm. The many armies of ants marching about on the drip lines. The birds flying in and out the trees. Chickens clucking about-making strange sounds I had never heard. Being shown the importance of ponds and seeing the bees take a drink from them along with the cats. The fruit growing from the trees, the abundance of produce being harvested and then new plants being planted in their place. The many earthworms and rollie pollies deep in the earth. Eager pinter bugs and gophers wanting to take what Sarvodaya has to offer. The people doing various jobs throughout the farm. New friends to be made mixed with old friends completing their time at the farm.
During the first week, we learned about farming as an ecosystem and compared the difference to agricultural farming. An ecosystem relies on the environment to work with each other and to create food. In ecological farming there is more receiving than taking. In agricultural farming it is more about taking or getting produce. Nothing else seems to matter besides getting the food and destruction often occurs. The sense of aliveness at the farm is because it is alive. The soil is alive, the chickens are alive, the trees are alive, the ponds are alive, the earthworms are alive, and everything is working together to give to and receive from each other.
I continue to feel alive and look forward to writing about the life of the farm. Knowing this journey is only getting started. 🙂
This week has me thinking a lot about time and the way I perceive it. So much of every day life feels like a sort of hypertime, everything is mediated and often in a way that’s designed to make us lose track of time. I’ve noticed that being at the farm has helped me to slow down my time and made it more possible to be present.
It’s also made it that much more apparent to me how our lives can be so divorced from the Earth and its rhythms. When I was living in New York, a friend pointed out to me that it was possible to go weeks, maybe even months without touching the Earth. You could go from your apartment to the street to the subway to another street to your office, and you’d never touch something that wasn’t manmade. Ever since this realization, I’ve gone out of my way to make sure I touch some piece of Earth, however small, every day.
At the farm, it’s crucial to use all of our senses to connect with the land to figure out when to plant, when to harvest, and how to take care of the crops in-between. It has been so healing and so heartening to be in a space where I get to be a physical body who uses all of her senses to help tend to something with value that can be separated from symbolic worth. It stands in contrast with our current society, where our work and our lives exist in a digital landscape and the primary sense we use is sight. And that sense of sight is utilized to produce as many things as possible, prioritizing an efficiency of quantity over quality.
In many ways, Sarvodaya feels like the gateway to another world. A world that imagines a different way to live and a more engaged relationship to our world and our planet. As the program continues, I’m curious to see what sort of changes I’ll start to notice in myself, not only in my body (which is currently soft and sad from years as an office body) but in my way of thinking too.
My team partner recently asked, “So, what do you do when you’re not here?” With NO hesitation I said, “Dream about being here!” At the risk of sounding lovesick and infatuated, I LOVE THIS PLACE and I miss it when I’m not here. The labor, although tough at times is so rewarding. For this reason, I feel useful but not used. And because I learn something every time I’m here, I’m eager to do more. It’s even hard to pull away at noon, so I usually keep working until a natural stopping point occurs. I’m living the dream. Mine, anyway.
I feel as though I have been initiated as a farmer, yet another reason I feel all warm and fuzzy inside. “Why,” you ask? Well, last week my fingertips began splitting. First, my right index, middle and ring finger developed small painful fissures. I thought, perhaps I had cut myself while preparing a meal. It wasn’t until later in the week when the same fingers on the left hand started cracking in the same way, that I thought differently. After doing some surface-level research, I learned that I have farmer’s hands. Well, that’s not really a condition but, I just made it one. The sweet pain of hardworking hands. Although I try to keep gloves on, sometimes they just come off. Apparently the soil and various amendments are drying to the skin and can cause this condition. While I appreciate this experience, I will be mindful of gloves and moisturizer.
My team partner Reshama and I, are like children in the nursery. Pun Intended. We are actually being trained in the plant nursery in this first rotation. I love it! The nursery is so full of budding new life and potential. One can’t help but to be excited in this environment. As a result, any given farm day we can be found sharing and laughing and learning from the great Farmer Rishi, of course!
Gilbert Gottfried was an ordinary gopher living in the land they call Pomona. Here it is not an easy life for a scavenging rodent; Gilbert had to scrounge around the bleak landscape of concrete and waste to find a meager sustenance, and competition with rats and other large birds and mammals made for a tough existence. One day (or rather night, as gophers are nocturnal), Gilbert was scurrying around the city, when he stumbled upon an impossible surprise: Sarvodaya Farm, an oasis in the concrete desert. Gilbert could not believe his eyes. Plants of every edible variety stood before him, stretching as far as the gopher eye could see; a veritable gopher paradise. “My troubles are over!” Gilbert thought to himself, “I shall live like a gopher king until the end of my days.” He did not know how right he was…
So Gilbert set out immediately to scope out a new home. Eventually after much thought, he decided on burrowing under one of the tomato beds. “These shall make a fine meal!” he thought. After a couple days, the construction of his burrow was well underway. One night, much to the consternation of Gilbert, the other resident gophers made their presence known. They were generally very friendly, welcoming Gilbert to the farm (although gophers are normally solitary, these found utility in forming communal relations in order to survive in the harsh Pomonan landscape). But Gilbert, hoping to have found a territory for himself, was not happy. He did not show his displeasure, however, and instead feigned a cordial demeanor. “I’ll just steal their food when they aren’t looking,” he thought to himself. After many introductions and welcomes, the resident gophers gave Gilbert a single warning: “This place is abundant and very habitable for the gopher kind, but do not get greedy. If you take too much from the land, the iron snake will enter your burrow and remove you from the earth.” Gilbert thought this was nonsense, believing that the other gophers simply were greedy and trying to scare him from having plenty of food. Gilbert pretended to heed the advice, said farewell, and went on his way.
A few days passed, and by this time Gilbert’s burrow was completely dug out. He had several corridors leading throughout the tomato bed, and even a couple venturing into neighboring ones. “The land of milk and honey!” Life was good, he thought. So good, in fact, that he decided to have a private celebration. “I will need to stock up on several tomato roots, and after I have collected a bountiful larder, I will feast on my good fortune.” On the first night, Gilbert ravaged a single tomato plant. Taking a small bite, he rejoiced in the delightfully swell taste of the roots. On the second night, Gilbert took another plant. At this point, he could have survived for days without further scavenging, but he could not stop himself from taking even more. On the last night, Gilbert took a third and final plant. “Hah! I now have collected the delicious roots of three tomatoes! And not once has a silly iron snake given me any trouble.” As Gilbert finally began to feast on his hoard in the safety of his main feeding den, he noticed a peculiar smell. “What’s that?” he querried, “It almost smells like…peanut butter?” Intrigued by the possibility of a novel food, Gilbert dropped his roots and followed the scent. Scurrying around for a few minutes, he tracked it to one of the longest corridors in his burrow. Facing him was a plate smeared with a fat helping of, as he guessed, peanut butter. “What luck! This will make a terrific desert!” In one swift movement, the thrilled gopher lunged forward and sunk his teeth into the scrumptious mass, and as soon as his little rodent brain was able to process the taste of the treat, two great iron fangs snapped together, embracing Gilbert’s throat and removing him, as the other gophers had warned, from the earth that he so willingly pillaged.
Among the Sarvodaya gophers, Gilbert’s fate is well remembered. As legend has it, his corpse was fed by the great giants to cats. His story is enshrined in the local culture as a warning to all, that gophers must live in balance and harmony with the land, lest they should face a cold, sudden death at the hands of the iron snake.
This week, I pruned and trellised tomatoes for the third time. On one of my very first days on the farm, I learned how to remove the lower branches that touch the ground and to select one strong shoot and trim the others, so the plant can put its energy into producing more tomatoes. So far, I have a (very imperfect) experiment going: my two tomato plants at home (which are unpruned) and the farm tomato plants. The farm is winning. In one of those first days, I also learned how to use string to wrap the plant loosely and provide it with support as it grew toward the trellis.
In that very first session, I was unsure of myself. Was this a branch or a shoot? How low is too low for a branch before I prune it? Was I wrapping this plant correctly? This last week, I found myself noticing on my own when the tomatoes needed more pruning and trellising, and leaping in with doing the task. It felt gratifying to be able to complete it on my own, and I also noticed that I was less clumsy in doing it: my body was beginning to have its own memory of the task.
As this sense of knowledge – in both mind and body – washed over me, it dawned on me that farm labor is skilled labor. So often, in the justification of the exploitation of migrant farm workers and physical laborers in general, the argument is offered that it is somehow justifiable to pay them so little because they are “unskilled” labor. But this is not true. They are skilled labor. Take it from anyone who has ever tried to garden or farm: even without factoring in efficiency and overall productivity, gardening and farming involves many tasks that mobilize an array of knowledge and embodied skill. I have a doctorate degree, but it still took me a few weeks to feel like I really understood how to prune and trellis tomatoes. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of tasks on the farm I still do not understand well enough to do independently – and at which my body is still clumsy. These are skills I am just beginning to learn. We need to stop justifying low wages and poor benefits for farm workers with the argument that they are unskilled. Aside from the questionable ethics of arguing that some workers deserve to live in poverty (for any reason), the argument is a false one. It takes skill to farm, and food is the foundation of human life. It’s time we recognize and value it!
I got sick and missed being on the farm this Friday. It’s only been three weeks since I started Urban Farmer Training at Sarvodaya and I feel the effects of my absence. I feel it in my body. The disconnectedness of not touching leaves of dinosaur kale or “baking” fresh potting soil in the nursery or greeting the chickens in the morning really got to me. It just took one day, and all this happens. The upside is that this is only one feeling that comes with being cut off from something. One of many, such as that feeling of being totally alive and happy when you’re cut off from something that doesn’t work. And then I thought of the tomatoes on the farm.
Manju told us that to help the tomato plants grow strong, you have to cut off those in-between “sucker” appendages. The ones in between two strong arms of the plant are those parts that actually suck away nutrients that could have led to the head of the plant, the main artery, if you will. I started to think about how cutting away distracting parts of the plant actually benefits the life of the main stem. It enhances the stem, reorganizes the nutrient supply chain, and delivers much needed vitamins and minerals needed to make that plant thrive from head to toe. As I cut off each “sucker”, I thought of all those times I held onto unfulfilling relationships, useless habits, and worthless possessions which I thought were so vital to my survival and happiness. Instead, they were actually the “suckers” in my otherwise thriving tomato plant self. And so they were the first to go, along with many other people, ideas and things that didn’t bring value to my main stem. Instead of profound loss, I felt uncharacteristically light and happy. How could this be?!
Well, the difference lies in what you cut away from. Even though it seems scary or crazy to cut off a relationship that you’ve hung onto for a long time, when it’s done, it’s surprising how quickly that wound heals and how little it hurts. Inversely, there are those days when missing out, sends a subtle, but real shock through your body that says, “Something’s not right!? You’re missing something you love! Go get it!” (It’s usually the subtle feelings that are the toughest to process). Problem is, you can’t predict how you will feel. You have to just cut that sucker off, trust you made the right move, and wait and see. It’s not so bad considering it’s just another ending (among many) and what started out sour and green will turn juicy and red.