I’ve so often been told that there is no way to feed the earth’s people through organic, small-scale horticulture. How would we feed 7 billion people (or more) without the bread basket states’ monocultures? The rice paddies in China? The plantations of Central and South America? Farming is so land intensive, and there isn’t enough land for everyone… right? On Sarvodaya Farms, I am beginning to see a vision for the future that bends these commonly assumed parameters, and that vision begins in the nursery.
Using a nursery, the farm can propagate plants under ideal conditions for the first half of their lives so that most plants spend minimal time in the vegetable beds, thereby maximizing the space available for close-to-mature crops. In doing these, they manage to support produce for dozens of families on only a half-acre. Planted seeds are carefully tended in the nursery, which provides diffuse sunlight, protection from excessive heat and cold, regular fertilizing with organic materials (using seaweed and fish), and frequent efficient watering (both by hand and by misters). This womb-like space keeps the plants as protected and nourished as possible, ensuring that more of them start growing and reach an age for transplantation. In this way, the garden beds are maximized for close-to-maturity crops – but there also is minimal loss of seeds, which reduces cost.
Rishi explained that no process is perfect, however. In propagating plants this way, the selective pressures that would usually operate on the plants, causing weaker plants to fail to come to maturity, are removed. Therefore, the mature plants that result may harbor genes that are suboptimal for surviving in harsher conditions. Rishi emphasized that there must be different selective pressures on plants you save for seed than those you eat. There is an elegance to such a system that is striking to me: we can imagine many home and community-based urban farms that use small spaces and individual or collective nurseries to maximize food production, while nearby, a larger community seed farm and seed bank could ensure the maintenance of the strongest, most resilient plants. Working on Sarvodaya Farms is more than providing me with knowledge and skills I didn’t have before. It’s providing me with a vision of the future that I hadn’t thought possible. We need to dream big through dreaming small, knowing that we could be much more self-sufficient in urban areas if we use our space carefully and efficiently, keeping in mind all the goals important to farm (and ecosystem) health.
Last week wrapped up the bulk of our orientation as new trainees at Sarvodaya. We got a rundown of the nursery, assisted in building a big, beautiful compost pile, and learned how to take care of the chickens and their grazing rotation in the orchard. The first position bestowed upon my team and I is field operation, and I am excited to take on this new responsibility. I feel like a real intern already!
Some days, when I am around friends and family who are less aware of the problems (and likely solutions) that I see in our world, I get down about the prospects of our culture remedying its errors. But I am always re-heartened by individuals who are showing us how we can live in harmony with the earth through creative example. One such individual, Ernst Gotsch, was the subject of a video that Traci shared with us last week (thanks again Traci!). He is actively involved in restoring Amazonian rainforest in Brazil, using dynamic agroforestry techniques to turn denuded mining and logging land into productive, healthy, and life-supporting food forests. This was one of the most inspiring regenerative agriculture projects that I have seen to date, and I hope that one day I will be a part of a similarly incredible endeavor to heal the earth. Ernst says that this type of agriculture can be applied anywhere on the planet…why not here?
Having such grand dreams for the future, however, mixed with an unfortunately American sense of rush and urgency, can make me feel impatient. I often feel as though I am not developing my knowledge quickly enough to “save the planet,” as it were. I must remind myself that I am still at the beginning of my journey, and that these things take time. Trees do not grow to full maturity in a season, and a lifetime of work, study, and dedication may be necessary to truly master the skills I am after. I must let go of my human limitations, and accept that not all is up to me. Perhaps that is a good thing, lol….In the meantime, however, working at Sarvodaya satisfies my thirst for meaningful action. At the farm, I am centered and grounded in place where the universe works through me to achieve its purpose. Here I belong. Already I am gaining confidence in my abilities and intutions. Every day, the plants grow inside me a new sense of connection, and I as well in them; I am sure of it!
Well, it’s now been 2 weeks and I am surviving, BARELY, but I am surviving! We’ll see what happens after taking care of the chickens, which I am afraid of, by the way! They just seem to KNOW and sense fear! I’ve been pecked before when I was a child, so I have some anxiety.
The composting worm bin has been doing great! My goal is to have a thriving one by graduation (this will be my legacy to the farm). I, myself started with a handful of worms at my house. Now I have 3 thriving bins that I am always in need of giving my worms away. They make GREAT gifts! 👍😀
I’ll keep y’all updated on my progress…at least that’s what I’m hoping for! Until next week…
I am so ready to rise at Sarvodaya’s Urban Farmer Training. I am just one of many Sarvodaya future farmer hopefuls willing to improve our communities and beyond through urban farming practices. I am so excited to make this 42 mile journey, three days a week for the next six months in order to be a student of an urban farmer family. For those who may not know, let’s explore what an urban farm is or can be and why it is important.
By definition, urban farming is the practice of growing, cultivating, processing and distributing food in an urban environment. This practice can also include animal husbandry aquaculture be keeping and more. I have been dreaming about my involvement in this practice for years because I realize the critical importance of becoming a food producer on a local level. For me the biggest and most important draw is food security. Have you ever paid attention to where your food comes from and what it takes to get it where you are? Have you given thought to how a labor strike or natural disaster anywhere in the world may affect or even disrupt service to your local markets? Considering these questions and answers perhaps you will have a new appreciation for the importance of an urban farm.
Urban farms like Sarvodaya are usually small lots more or less 1 to 3 acres dab smack in the middle of a residential, business or industrial area, schoolyards and rooftops. I have visited a few and what I love about them all is the incredible amount of diversity living in these densely packed farms. So many plant, fungus, animal, aquaculture, bug and insect species to delight the senses. And not to be overlooked, the diversity in people at each urban farm that I have seen has been inspiring and impactful. I have worked and studied along side various ages, races and nationalities, professions and socioeconomic backgrounds. As all of these different species of people converge from near and far to observe, study and learn Urban Farming and Agriculture I am hopeful that we will also learn how to work together so that ALL will be uplifted to help create and maintain food security for ALL!
There’s so much I’m learning on the farm, I can’t seem to keep up. The minute I hear something, I want to write it down and then while writing something else comes up that I want to make note of. Either I need to learn to remember things better or smoke will start to lift from the lead.
One of the most important lessons I learned this week was that if you don’t fill the bed with something to grow, weeds or other things will. I could take this to a philosophical place about how every thought and intention you have is like a seed in a bed. A rich, positive seed will bring positive results. Same goes for the opposite. But I’m not going to go down that road and instead just focus on planting good seeds into good soil. Soil is king, here at Sarvodaya, and that in and of itself changes my perception of growth. I used to think that the success of a plant was mostly due to the seeds intrinsic strenghth and whether it got enough sunlight and water. Soil was an afterthought, before Sarvodaya. I figured, it’s in the ground and so it will grow with sun, water, and then the seed will germinate and do it’s thing. I recall my elementary science classes where we germinated lemon seeds in plastic baggies and taped them onto the window. The limited soil in there, was just background, at the time. I mean, look, you could see the seed germinating in the bag! It’s not that I didn’t think soil was necessary, but just that it was simply a supporting role. The Stanley Tucci to my “Lovely Bones” seeds. I hadn’t remembered that moment until this week at the farm when it became more and more clear that plants didn’t make it if the soil was too dried out. With the earwig infestation in full force, I also noticed how their little bug homes aerated in very dry soil and were in close proximity to the plants. Dried out soil is not moist soil, and therefore it’s not carrying out its nutrient channeling duties.
My biggest takeaway this week is this: Soil is king. Soil is Wonder Woman! Soil makes the world go ’round. It always comes back to soil and its condition. And if we did want to get philosophical, I’d say, we can create anything on Earth, but if our minds are too dry, too wet, too thick, or too aerated, our physical space is just making weeds.
First of all…wishing all of the moms an Awesomely Blessed Happy Mother’s Day!
I had a wonderful, but painful week! It’s incredible how I not only am a grandma, but “feel like a grandma”! This week was a killer for me! I woke up Thursday morning wondering if I could actually make it through this program! 😰 EVERYTHING literally hurt! I stayed in bed all day, not being able to move.
Friday, I think everyone felt sorry for me, so my job was to “simply observe”. I felt useless. Thank God someone suggested that I could water, so I felt as if I was contributing. LOL!
Hopefully, I’ll be able to survive the next few weeks so my subsequent entries will be of more substance.
Have a great week everyone! 👍😀
At the end of my first week at Sarvodaya Farms, I think what is most striking about my shift in myself is my heightened awareness of waste. It’s a shift in perceptual awareness, and it is uncomfortable – but necessary. At Sarvodaya Farms, almost nothing is wasted. Everything has a purpose, a way to give back to the earth and the cycle of food production and consumption. Because people are encouraged to bring reusable water bottles and dishes are provided, there are no trash bins filled with disposable cups, forks, or food containers. People bring their plastic containers that held tomatoes or small cucumbers from the store to house microgreens and berries on the farm. Used egg cartons are reused for new eggs. Unlike the other CSAs I’ve been a part of, produce is stored in reusable plastic bins. To keep the produce fresh, moist beach towels shade them from the summer sun, rather than paper towels. Vegetable waste is composted. Everything feeds back into life.
I am finding a deep sense of peace in this when I am at the farm. It appeals to my minimalism, my earth-centric spirituality. There is a beauty to it: the plywood bins of green waste, the neat stacks of plastic bins and egg cartons, the little lessons about how to use parts of vegetables I hadn’t known were good for anything. It feels good not to waste. It feels respectful toward all the lives that are involved in the process of my living another day. It also appeals to my sense of efficiency.
Now, I think what is striking to me is that I already knew this. I’ve taught sustainability classes, and yet it was extremely difficult for me to shift my everyday lived perceptions and actions. In one week at Sarvodaya Farms, this is rapidly changing for me. I am spending time in an environment in which waste is planned for such that it is no longer waste – but rather an input. If it can’t be an input, it is creatively worked around such that it doesn’t need to exist at all. There is no substitute, at least for me, in the process of being in such a place, seeing it work, helping it work.
It is causing me to rethink waste in my household – not from a theoretical or intellectual space, but directly as the waste occurs, because I notice it, and it makes me uncomfortable. When I would have thrown out the decaying celery, I find that with some processing, half of it can be salvaged. The other half bothers me as I throw it away. I need to figure out a way to compost at my house in a very space-efficient manner. When I look at take-out containers from a restaurant, I realize that this could be circumvented if I simply brought my own glass food storage with me. We already have a large system of reusable spill-proof glass containers. Why don’t I take one or two with me when we dine out for the inevitable leftovers? I realize that the yard waste filling my bin each week – most of it leaves from my large, historic live oak – would be great high-carbon material for compost. And what’s amazing me is that, though it all adds up to a substantial shift toward zero waste, it’s not hard or time-consuming. It just requires an extra minute or two and some creativity.
Waste doesn’t need to be waste. Waste could be thought of as an opportunity: either the item is an input, and we haven’t recognized it, or the item isn’t necessary. All I know is that at my house, one major summer project will be starting compost. I can’t bear to throw out any more inedible vegetable bits. They’re practically screaming at me to have a second life in the soil, in the land. It’s up to me to honor this shift in my ability to hear that call.
I’ve worked in media making documentary films for…what feels like a long time now. I graduated on a Sunday, moved to New York Monday, and started working that Tuesday. And I hadn’t stopped…until now. This is the first time in my entire life that I don’t have A Plan. I’ve been trying to sit with that uncertainty and really embrace it, to embrace the fact that I’m walking into the unknown and trying to trust that I will figure it out.
I started working in documentaries because I was interested in how different mediums could alter the dynamics and conversations of power. In my work, I’ve tried to focus on stories that dealt with environmental or social justice issues, more often than not the stories sat at the intersection of both. What I learned through my travels and meeting people from across the US and the world was how important equitable access to clean air, clean water, and healthy food really is; and as Manju and Rishi have said many times, how rethinking those systems can help us to rethink our entire communities.
I loved this aspect of my work, being able to constantly learn new things and being able to learn it from not only traditional experts (academics, policy makers, etc.) but the experts who were living it. There were also things that I didn’t like and over the years they started to snowball. I didn’t like that it felt like I was throwing my stories into a digital blackhole with no inkling of whether or not it was making an impact. I didn’t like that when I wasn’t in the field, my job was to sit glued to a laptop and often I’d spend the day forgetting that I was a physical body. I didn’t like that everything I did ultimately was part of a creative economy that traded in the intangible. I often found myself questioning the ultimate value of what I was doing. It just felt like there should be more.
At the same time, over the last few years, I’ve begun to experience this slow creeping feeling of dread and even a little doom. I started playing this game with my friends where we would talk about the things we wanted to learn or wanted to do before the apocalypse came. And I think this feeling was informed by a lot of things, seeing how global warming was already drastically altering our landscapes and ecosystems, feeling like the polarization of wealth was making it harder and harder to live if you weren’t already wealthy, and understanding that both of those things were going to compound on one another to make it increasingly difficult to ensure the basic rights of all people.
Ultimately, I think this game was a way for me to begin imagining a new kind of future, albeit a dark one. Stepping away from my work has led me in search of how to go beyond imagining to build something more tangible and hopeful. And while my fear and anxiety still make appearances in my daily inner monologues of WHATAMIDOINGWITHMYLIFE, in the moments when I’m at the farm or tending to my newly sprouted greens, all of the noise quiets and it feels very simply true that this is what I’m meant to be doing and that no matter where it leads this path is the right one.
It occurred to me on Friday that I have long, elaborate conversations with the chickens on the farm…only these dialogues are all in my head. I’m usually the first one in the morning to use the bathroom and I find myself enjoying the walk because I get to pass and chat with the chickens. They cackle and I smile. They plead to let me out of their coop and as I pass by I laugh out loud hearing their disgruntled commentary. I haven’t been trained on working with the chickens yet, but I look forward to kickin’ up some dirt with them.
This weekend, I remembered Rishi saying that hens, like female homo sapiens, grow…well, eggs, and hens lay unfertilized eggs everyday. Essentially, he said, hens have their period everyday. That got me to thinking. That’s like a time warp of one day equalling one month. That’s quite a lot of activity happening in those feather brained bodies! What if humans experienced this fast forwarding existance? Would our life span be as long (or as short) as a chicken? Would we do everything we were meant to do in that time? Then again, there are much fewer expectations of a chicken. I mean, really…wake up, cluck, eat, poop and lay eggs, repeat. But it got me thinking about what our human purpose really is. Weather it’s learning about how we are part of a larger circle of life, or providing nourishment for a community, or just being willing to experience all the ups and downs with complete acceptance of life’s imperfection, there’s a lot going on in this humanness.
But I feel a sense of relief that one day does NOT equal one month. That we have more drive and purpose that to just eat, cluck and lay eggs. And that we can make a difference with every seed we plant, every conversation we enjoy, with every moment that passes. And that’s nothing to cluck about.
Hello everyone! This has been a great week getting to know the farm and the new intern group; I’m really looking forward to the rest of the program. I feel like I’m learning a ton of new information every day, and this gives me hope for a future where I might be able to contribute to the need for sustainable food and settlement.
Just a recap of where I’m coming from: I currently live in Pasadena, and I was studying at UC Santa Cruz about a year and a half ago. But after much contemplation on my place in this culture, one which sadly is destroying our home planet at an alarming rate, I decided to leave and begin a new journey. My path is now aimed towards developing a set of skills and knowledge that will allow me to live in harmony with the natural environment and be more or less community- and self-sufficient, instead of relying on and contributing to the larger industrial society which seems so oblivious to its relation to nature.
Today we talked about the idea of the farm as an ecosystem and how every living organism in this environment is dynamically connected to each of the others. As farmers and stewards of the land, we can observe and align ourselves with these living beings to support our own efforts in growing food and preserving ecosystem health. This contrasts starkly with the model for industrial agriculture, which severs and sterilizes these processes in a futile attempt to control them while making terribly inefficient use of energy and resources. There is a great diagram in the Permaculture Designer’s Manual which beautifully illustrates the difference between these two methods of approach, using the example of producing an egg, shown below: