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.
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.
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.
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.
Things are definitely getting better folks! I was apprehensive about spending 6 weeks with the chickens, but as I was working with them on the first day, I realized that I was in love with them! 😀 They were just like my dogs at home, wanting to be fed and hating to be contained! My partner, Darren heard me making chicken noises the other day as I was taking care of them while he was in the orchard. He asked me what I was doing and I said that I was talking to them! (He found that strange, by the way!)
During the week, I go to Starbucks every day to pick up their used coffee grounds. I was finally able to share with one of the employees about the farm, what we do there and how the coffee grounds are used. He found it very interesting. By the way, they LOVE us at Starbucks because we make it easy for the to dispose of their grounds responsibly.
Then every other week, I stop off at the Supercuts Academy and pick up hair. They give free haircuts and are happy to save the hair for us. Again, I was asked about what we do with the hair. I shared that we use them to feed it to our composting worms. Everyone in the shop was interested in hearing about the farm!
I even talked to a woman who worked at Wal-Mart who was interested in applying for the farmer training program. She said she had been looking for something like that in the area, but didn’t know where to start. All because of me having to buy a wide-brimmed hat! What an impact we are making in our neck of the woods!
What I’m learning as I’m talking to people about the farm is that people are interested in knowing how to be responsible, but have no clue where to turn to to get this valuable information. I think I’m going to collaborate with Rishi and develop some marketing material for the farm to help promote the farm and build interest and awareness.
That’s all for this week!
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! 👍😀
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.