One of the biggest contrasts that has struck me while at the farm is the difference in what “healthy” means, the fertility and abundance of the farm versus the sterility of our general society. It’s driven home for me how central sterility is in this country and the role it plays in our capitalist, single-use society.
Rishi pointed out in one of our lectures that very few languages outside of English has this semiotic connection between the Earth and unclean (i.e. dirt and dirty), and it has me thinking about how deeply health is tied to this idea of cleanliness in our society and how cleanliness translates essentially to being devoid of as many things as possible. Whereas at the farm, and increasingly in scientific study, we talk about health as a balance of what exists in the world, acknowledging that working with rather than against (the rest of) the natural world is an integral part of our health.
I’ve always thought how we handle eggs in the US is a perfect example of this broken process. In many other parts of the world, eggs are stored at room temperature. Here in the United States, the FDA requires that all eggs that are sold to be washed and sanitized to help prevent Salmonella. Except eggs, specifically dry eggs are essentially impenetrable against Salmonella, which…goes out the window as soon as we wash and sanitize them. Once an egg is wet, the shell becomes porous allowing for bacterial growth and the possibility of a number of pathogens to cross the barrier into the egg. It also destroys the cuticle which is the natural protective barrier produced by the hen when she lays the egg which is meant to protect against contamination. And then, because these eggs have been washed, sanitized, and their natural protective barrier compromised, they now require refrigeration to serve as a manmade substitute for the natural protection we just destroyed.
The ramifications for how we think of health seem far reaching — how many more products we buy, use, discard, and buy more of all in the name of cleanliness.
I think as a society we encourage processes and products that ensure sterility, which by default eschews symbiotic collaboration and re-use.
This week I have experienced a combination of feelings after deciding to continue my time at Sarvodaya as a full-time intern: gratitude, tranquility and excited anticipation.
(Background, and how I’ve arrived in California with interests in farming)
I’ve taken what feels like a 180 degree life transition over the course of the past year. A year ago my future seemed set in stone to work as a full-time musician and “artist” (a word set aside for a select few?). I have been afforded the luxury of time to step aside from this focus. Something felt unfulfilling about the prospect of spending my time largely indoors (an apartment writing and recording). I went home to Vermont after studying music in Boston to “unpack” myself (subconsciously at first) and find a different way. I was raised in Vermont, and love everything about the place. There is a strong sense of community and support for the arts, as well as seasonal variety to enjoy. I have continued to develop my relationship with music since a young age, and recognize how crucial it is to maintain a loving relationship with music and myself as a maker-of-sounds. This “commercial artist path” strained my self-love and self-security. I felt external pressure to become popular, or successful, or some multitude of dreams that had never been my own. I now understand that I was missing the connected experience of putting my hands in the soil (not dirt!) and closing the food loop; growing my own food.
In fairly recent history, the role (or perceptive role) of the artist has changed in society. The artist was once a member of society, rather than a talent we put on a pedestal and quarantined out. So, if art voices the experience, then it would only make sense that the artist be a part of the society it expresses. What do we get when the art is a reflection of itself? For example, the musician who now only knows life on tour and ducking paparazzi.
I would like to be an artist who knows their community, and is able to express a wider range of voices, especially for those who are unable to show their grief, joy, etc. Once I am well-versed in farm practices, I will start farms in my community that provide as a food bank does. Access to an education about food is essential to human wellness. Sarvodaya is in many ways a model of what I would like to start. I am immensely grateful to work with this family of farmers and farmers-to-be. I love the way Rishi, Manju, Katie, and Lynn teach. They will tell you everything they’ve learned, and are forthright that they too are still learning. I find this approach empowering to continue seeking.
There is indeed a lifetime of learning ahead. In California, water seems to be our greatest limitation; but it is by no means a setback. At this point I am also interested in learning how to design and integrate food forest systems that are drought tolerant, despite their inability to provide the foods we have become accustomed to. I sense it is inevitable that we will have to make adjustments in the future. One thing I have been noticing and thinking about since working on the farm are the standards of blemish-free produce that grocery stores and genetically modified varieties have created. I hope that people will become closer to the growing processes and realize that blemishes and abnormalities are normal in any form of life. In the meantime, I will enjoy the food that doesn’t meet the CSA standards!
As I prune the plant, I prune myself
The withered and old, the decayed and dessicated
It remains without attention
The whole will survive, but not thrive
I hang on to it, it does not wish to die
But I am already dead, for I was never born
There is nothing to fear
Let go of the rot, it is not you
Shed the fat, cut the excess
A new leaf, a new life
The same, but different
Hang onto what is living
Let it flow through you
The nutrients support and nourish
Nothing will be forgotten
But only in facing reality
Will you see what is dead, and what is living
Only you can choose life
If someone visits Sarvodaya these days, they will probably notice a peculiar new creature calling the farm home. Large swarms of big, iridescent green June beetles (aka the figeater beetle, Cotinus mutabilis) have dominated the air space around the crops. These things are incredibly clumsy, flying into fences, plants, and other objects, quite frequently smacking you in the face if you’re not careful! They have an interesting habit of swarming on crops, creating big, green beetle mosh piles; I have noticed this on the grape vines and rampicante squash, among other plants.
Researching this insect, I learned that their life cycle begins in the spring. After hatching, they pupate underground for several months until emerging as adults in the summer. I suspect that the large, white larvae that we have been finding in the soil and feeding to the chickens for a while now are probably this beetle. We were pretty good about feeding every larvae we found to the chickens, but the beetle population still managed to explode! According to Katie, this beetle is a farm pest, chowing on soft fruit like peaches, figs, and tomatoes, the latter of which seems to be getting attacked the most lately. Although not as destructive as its cousin (the true June beetle, Cotinus nitida, a southeastern species), our figeaters are still targets for occasional culling, so that the population doesn’t get too out of hand.
Although some would consider this insect an enemy, I rather quite enjoy them. Their beautiful emerald sheen gives a colorful addition to the myriad of colors already on the farm, and their droning buzz almost possesses a meditative quality. The jeweled swarms, while disturbing to some, really are a sight to see! This marvelous natural occurrence can only be enjoyed in the summer season, so I am happily taking in the experience while it lasts.
Two gophers have been trapped and died since I arrived at the farm. They’re terrifically destructive little beasts. One of them took out 15 tomato plants before he succumbed to his love of peanut butter, smeared on a trap. I have uncomfortable, mixed feelings about this.
Food is the result of a cycle of life and death. Plants can manufacture their food from sunlight, soil, and water. We are not so fortunate. Our lives are the result of the death of many, many beings. Even vegans’ lives depend on the death of not only plants, but also of pests. Without control of any kind, gophers, beetles, and caterpillars would consume our crops. Even an organic farm with a respect for life has to consider how it will control its pests so it can yield food for humans.
Still, it’s uncomfortable.
It’s uncomfortable for reasons of both empathy and cognitive dissonance. As a person who is highly empathetic (and also animist, believing all living things – and even some non-living ones – have souls), I feel for the beings I eat. I can imagine their feelings, their suffering, their desire to keep living. All beings have an innate desire to keep living, and my desire to do so takes that capacity from others.
Silly or not to others, with every gopher trap, inside I am saying a little prayer to the gopher. I say I am sorry. I tell the gopher that it could live, if it would leave the farm. And I hope that if it doesn’t leave, and is trapped, that its death is swift and without suffering. A gopher’s death, or a chicken’s death, or a carrot’s death – should make us pause and reflect. We should feel a sense of the sacredness of these beings’ sacrifice for our own lives to continue. Perhaps if we felt this, we would be more insistent on farming in ways that are humane as well as sustainable. We can’t live without death. But we can treat death with the respect, sanctity, and compassion it deserves.
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.