Category: Reshama Damle

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.