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We all get up really early to be at the farm. I know I try really hard to get there at 7am even though I wake up at 5am. We start at 7am and put in our hours so we have the luxury of cutting out at 11am when it’s not blazing hot. We made that switch from 8am to 7am on those 105 degree days when it was unbearable to walk down the farm in a light t-shirt. That switch made a difference on the back end (11am), but it also made a huge difference on the front end (7am). On the first day of my internship I was terrified of being a few minutes late. That’s eased up a bit now simply because I have a pretty reliable morning routine at home before I get to the farm. My start time has pushed back about 30 minutes just because of life and habits, but there is something so refreshing about being at the farm and clocking in at 7am. I feel connected to all those farmers in California, in the Midwest and all over the whole world when I’m up early and digging into the soil when they are (minus the time difference). There’s this sense of community and this generosity of sharing a web of knowledge about the earth that seems to blossom at that hour. I feel like the crops have bigger ears in the morning and every wish we carry for them sinks into each veiny leaf just a little deeper.  Like when we discuss how the earth and plants have changed overnight carries a little more weight in the morning than at any other time of day. It’s that 7am hour on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday that feels so fleeting and yet so special. It’s special because we are all trying to grow food, we are all trying to wake up, and we are all trying to figure out where to put our feet. But I learned that we are also just trying to BE together. Hearts to my fellow Farmies. <3

This week we got the lowdown on the inner workings of CSA and the financial viability of a farm. To say the least, it was a tough nut to swallow. That said, there are other joys that come with farming, much like the joys of raising children. After watching Roger Dioran’s Ted Talk on growing your own vegetables, he claims that “to keep up with population growth, more food will have to be produced worldwide over the next 50 years than has been during the past 10,000 years combined.” He also said that over the course of that time frame, we need to grow all this food with less oil, farmland, water, climate stability, time and genetic diversity. As I’ve been thinking about how operating a farm seems to be 100% not in our favor, I can’t help but think, “But this is FOOD we’re talking about.” This isn’t a project of manufacturing plastic toys from China. This is stuff we actually need it to survive as a species. And we burden farmers to provide it all for us so that we don’t have to grow it ourselves. But, and there’s a big but here…we CAN grow it ourselves. Maybe not all of it, but that’s exactly why Sarvodaya Farms is here. To teach us how to grow food. I’m grateful to have learned how to grow vegetables here and my curiosity has only grown. I see how challenging it is to have and manage an urban farm. I see how education and creating systems of financial support have to go hand in hand to make this all work. And I see how a small group of very dedicated people are crucial to making this operation stay alive and well. And the joy of seeing all that happen well is the sweet spot.

 

The Ted Talk by Roger Dioran:

 

Thinking about weather changes these days. The weather has dropped nearly 40 degrees on the farm and it changes not only what I plant but it changes the whole mood of the farm. In one sense I feel like I’m more calm and since I don’t feel beads of sweat rolling down my back, I feel less uncomfortable. Even being under the central tent feels different. It’s darker and your eyes adjust to the shadows and light. It looks like a different place. Just gets me to think about how the same things we look at day in and day out, appear to be different in the absence of sunlight. Sometimes good things appear less good in the dark. And bad things don’t appear that bad in the light. Even the crops appear different to the eye under this overcast light. They appear more healthy to me, like they have an added glow. But that’s just me. What about what everyone else perceives? Do things appear healthier to them under the marine layer? I wonder how many times we all see the same way? Probably very few times. And yet, I feel like we expect others to see things the way we see them way more than can be actually possible. That’s a pretty unrealistic expectation, right? So as I reflect on how light influences my perception I see that not seeing things in the same way kinda sucks because we lose that chance to share. But it’s also kinda great because there’s more life to experience than meets the eye.

Tonight I’m thinking about progress. I just came home from a gig tonight (I’m learning to become a DJ), which went poorly. To an outsider, it might seem like nothing bad happened. But to me, they were glitches that were a result of preventing major ones, and major ones did happened tonight. None of which should have happened in the first place, but they did. I’ll spare you the details on what exactly they were, but it was an emotional night to say the least. I was thrown into the deep end and totally in over my head. Was it a good thing? Probably. Was it a bad thing? Probably. But it got me to thinking about how all living things (plants included) show stress and how they progress. Part of being a DJ is never showing your stress, which may be true for many high stress jobs. I usually wear my heart on my sleeve and I have a terrible poker face, but after being in the entertainment industry for so long (in my case, dance), you learn to smile big through pain, stress, abuse, and being chewed out. I definitely put on my best poker face tonight and smiled throughout the whole thing. This got me to wonder about the flora and fauna on the farm that take a lot of crap from the weather, people, animals, bacteria, thirst, and lack of nutrients. The plant world gets the life beaten out of it everyday because of people, animals and the environment. It really is survival of the fittest and those who are fit will have a better chance to make it. They will live to see another day of sunshine, the quest for water, and protection from pain. Maybe the lesson in that is that every day we pick up our fallen pieces or fall short of our best or strike out spectacularly, those moments are the real gifts of progress. The privilege to struggle is progress. It’s not always supposed to feel good. It’s the privilege to try again.

The experience tonight really turned my old thought pattern on its head. It goes back to the saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Whether your a fruit or a human, survival is a bit subjective, but it’s still about getting through it. And progress is all of that and more.

I learned to can fruit a few weeks ago. I was shown to wipe the rim of the jar for the sake of cleanliness and to allow the lid to seal properly when it’s being pressurized. It’s such a small detail, and not really a necessity, but for some reason, it made sense to me and it felt like a punctuation of completeness. This tiny, ritualistic step stuck with me that day and as I walked to my car that day I started to think about all the little things we all do that make us feel complete. Whether they are necessary or not, big or small, crucial in this moment or not, we still do them for some reason or another. I wondered, do little things like wiping the rim of a glass jar REALLY matter? I mean, WHO cares? They probably make no difference to the naked eye, but for some reason, for me, wiping that rim marks a sense of completion and a presence of quality and love.

I began to reel through a list of small things I do on the farm and for each one, I felt a sense of wholehearted engagement. It completes me to whisper sweet nothings to the farm crops, to tickle each fertile fig, pat down the kale leaves to the beat of a pop song, or tousle the tresses of yard long beans. I have no proof that my actions make a difference to the crops, but I feel more whole, more alive, and more like I’ve left my love-print on each sprawling vine when I do these small, ritualistic things.

So, is it needed? Probably not. Do I do it anyway. Yes. Why? Because it fills in gaps where there were dry crevices, it makes me giggle on the inside, and it makes me feel like I’m connected to a larger rhythm of nature. Here are just a few more of the ritualistic sweet nothings I do on the farm.

To the chickens I say “Hi Cookies” and blow them air kisses.

When I transfer tomatoes into four inch pots, I drop soil and turn the pot counter clockwise eight times before I move onto the next.

  1. I knock 4 times on the outhouse wall before entering. For courtesy and because 4 times feels more definite than 3.
  2. When watering the seedlings, I water across the rows from back to front and then do a second round in a clockwise circular motion towards the center. I just want to makes sure they can’t complain of not making contact with the shower head.
  3. When I drop produce boxes on site, all boxes are arranged like a fan with names facing out. They just look happier that way.
  4. At the Farmers market, I stage all the Asian pears with their tops pointing straight up. Pears Gone Wild.
  5. The eggs are placed nose down (as always) and filled from one end to the other. Being unbalanced is…well, funnier looking.
  6. For wheatgrass seeding, kelp and feather meal layering, from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right-hand corner, I diagonally spread the seed or meal evenly like barber stripes. Taste the rainbow.
  7. When seeding new crops, I poke seed holes from the bottom left corner to the top right corner of the seed tray. Then fill with vermiculite from top left corner to bottom right corner and then offer a generous coating all over the tray like parmesan cheese on lasagna. Mmmm, lasagna.
  8. I scoop up the chickens under the nook of my left armpit when I’m putting them back into the coop. Left side, the side where I hang my purse. Just feels right.
  9. Tie my apron strings around the back and then a taught bow in the front, just left of center. Also exactly where my political beliefs stand at 7 o’clock in the morning.

 

I do all of these things on the farm. They are part of my ritualistic routine. They may not have real purpose or any real impact on the ROI of the farm, but they make me feel complete, intentional and whole hearted. I figure, if nothing else than my own quirky relationship to the farm, these could be the signs of a tender, loving existence.

Last week, the ram picante trellises came crashing down. The wind and freak storm behavior we experienced in the Pomona Valley and surrounding areas did quite a number to these beds. In 100 degree heat at 9am on Friday morning, in addition to doing our own tasks on the farm, 8 of us pulled together to lift and secure these towering poles.

I started to think about why these two came down and the other trellises remained stable. They could have been top heavy and therefore easy to topple over (probable). An animal might have jumped on them (unlikely). Whatever the reason, they came down. What’s more important is that whatever our jobs were that day, we all came together. I’ve been thinking about how so many things can go wrong on a farm. Pests, weather, our own mistakes, not enough time to maintain, irrigation explosions or tearing, chickens acting up and rooster attacks. It’s all part of the job of being on a farm. It’s also, incidentally, the same ingredients of any relationship or any commitment.

Things go wrong. Seemingly strong structures just fall over. Big and small pests burrow through your system and eat away at our prized possessions. But part of being in a relationship is working together to make things right again. Setting traps on those pests or sneaky feelings of uncertainty and looking at them head on, together. As I hear stories of my friends and their lessons in love, I wonder if our generation realizes that their relationships don’t even last as long as it takes to seed and harvest a head of lettuce. So when the Ram Picante beds came crashing down, it was kind of a gift. To notice that we helped something grow for so long and it had the luxury of being fed, nurtured, and tended to. That it produced so much good for so many people and we learned from its strengths and weaknesses. Even if things don’t work out or they come crashing down, it’s okay. It always teaches us something, but only if we let it.

I said this yesterday while creating a fresh compost pile. I’m on the compost team and it smells. I’m not complaining, that’s just the truth. Will told me to just get in there and do it. Iris told me that “it will get better”. I hear their words echoing in my ear every Monday morning. I’ve been on the compost team now for about 3 weeks and yesterday it occurred to me that they were right, but I’m also waiting for the smell and gross factor to, finally, not hit me so hard. But I have to admit that despite my bellyaching, and puckered face, and gross factor goosebumps, I love it. It snuck up on me. Those things I hate, I secretly am attracted to. They make me feel alive and youthful. I want more of it and I want less of it always, and all the time. And so I decided to list some of these reasons out for you, dear reader.

Oh, compost, how do I love/hate thee. Let me count the ways.

  1. You smell. Like all the time. Quit it.
  2. That slopping sound of slippery fruit on you?…yeah, that sound. Not pretty.
  3. The original roach coach that you are.
  4. The steam that comes out of you like fresh buffalo dung against hot earth. Mmmm.
  5. Your smell reminds me of how grateful I am TO smell.  Years ago, I had major sinus surgery and lost so much of my olfactory system. I emerged from surgery only able to smell strong, fetid things like duck farms (near my home) and dog poop instead of subtle, fragrant things like roses and baby skin. Thankfully my nose has recovered quite a bit. (I’m able to smell pleasant things now.)
  6. When the smell gets stuck in the back of my throat, I have to take a minute not to hurl. Water break, anyone?…anyone?
  7. The green bug air force you attract. Is that really necessary?
  8. You act like a high maintenance 2 year old…first you wanna sit here, then we gotta turn you over, you’re too hot, then too cold, then you wanna move over to that pile, then the maturing pile, then the compost bins with feather and kelp meal snacks. Aaa, but you’re cute and so natural.
  9. Your green and brown mold and the juices that squirt out of your fruit, leaving bags of rank cider vinegar. Ewww, stop getting all mushy on me.
  10. But, you keep me young and grounded. I feel like I am getting back to a place where time doesn’t matter and aging is an illusion. Your demonstration of the cycle of life teaches me about the eternity of living.

 

I saved a baby…tortoise, today. And he actually isn’t even a baby as he’s about 100 years old and one of the few family pets of my next door neighbor. I heard it’s nails scraping the cement and saw a weird ganging up of reptilian flesh out of the corner of my eye as I passed the gate. He was turned over on his shell and two other tortoises were beating up and snapping at my poor flipped friend. My neighbors weren’t home at the time, so I tried to slide a broom through the slits of the gate to lever him over. No luck. So I just left it alone. I figured this couldn’t be the first time he’s ever been flipped over. He’s in a big backyard with two other male tortoises and they are all bickering and fighting all the time anyway. They push up against each other and some how, somebody falls first and flips over. It’s fine. They’ll live. That’s all he’s been doing for 100 years anyway. He’s turned himself around before at least once in this last century, right?

Resolved, I ignored their kerfuffle and decided that nature would probably allow him to find a way to flip over. And then I heard this squirt. I looked over to a pool of liquid coming out of him and he sat there, still squirming. Oh no. That doesn’t sound right. I mean, a 100 year old tortoise that’s trying to keep his water conserved under this heat and in his little body and all of a sudden it comes squiring out. Hmmm. No, that’s not good. I decided I had to do something and I went in to rescue my little friend. I climbed my neighbor’s fence (like I used to do when I was 12 years old), shooed the bully tortoises away, flipped his rock hard shell, and patted his leathery head before he crawled away. As I climbed back over the fence, I couldn’t help but wonder, what would have happened had I not seen this little guy struggling for help? And on a larger note, what would happen if humans weren’t here at all, looking after the earth and animals and the lot? It’s a question I’ve been dancing around with at the farm too. What if we weren’t there to tend to the vegetables on the farm? What other forms of food would arise otherwise? Well, the answer is that humans can do a lot of good and a lot of bad and we can make a lot of work for ourselves if we plant really high maintenance foods (or diva dicots as I like to call them) or we could work with nature as part of a relationship to the earth. We can do our job and then let it do its job. We can work as a team together and encourage growth, feed it nutrition, give it space and time, and act as equal partners rather than as dominators with the earth. I often think about how to make life more pleasant, productive and revolutionary by learning to maximize my partner’s (in the case of the farm, the earth’s) strengths. I think opportunities for partnership are often masked as conflict or hurt feelings or negative thoughts and are always out there waiting to be turned around.

Like the flipped tortoise, we could just turn a blind eye to the conflicts around us assuming that it will all just work out. That nature will “take its course.” Sometimes that might be the answer. It’s entirely true that “staying out of it” is loads better than “getting involved”. But in my experience, there are also many moments when we remain blissfully blind until a small, but noticeable change occurs and we realize that we need to get in there, flip it over and rescue that life form from a slow and painful reality that they can’t handle on their own. I feel it’s part of my role here on the farm and also my role in the world. As I move into the field team duties, I think of about my role quite often. My role to love, care, give thanks and encourage wholehearted progress. I mean, that’s why we’re all here, right? To help make things better than the way we found them.

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.

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.