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!
I lived for most of my 20s in rural or semi-rural locations. Exercise was built into my routine: shoveling snow or horse manure, carrying firewood, hiking right outside my front door, carrying hay bales – the endless tasks of keeping the household alive. I spent two years in Seattle, but I commuted on public transit. Miles of walking was built into every day. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I struggled. Suddenly, I was neither in a dense, public-transit friendly environment – so walking was out – but I also wasn’t living a rural lifestyle anymore. The hours each day of low-impact, high-repetition, varied exercise that characterizes many rural lives suddenly ended and was replaced by me working on a computer 60-70 hours per week as I began my professorship. Within a few years, my sciatica flared, my neck and shoulders pinched, and my anxious stress-related energy mounted. I tried joining a gym and doing Crossfit. The result was a torn oblique abdominal muscle, frustration, and a growing realization that I hate exercising indoors and I dislike having no purpose being physical labor.
Then I came to the farm. I’ve been here a month now. And I can feel my body returning to its former state, before I moved to LA six years ago. My neck and hip pain have receded. I expend anxious energy pruning tomatoes, harvesting cauliflower, and focusing on how soil feels. I expected to feel really tired in returning to 13 hours of physical activity each week, often in heat. But I don’t. Instead, I feel buoyant and energetic. I get home and still have lots of energy to clean, tend my small but growing home garden, and write. The type of activity I’m doing is just right: it’s low-impact, it is natural and semi-repetitive motion (but not too repetitious), and it incorporates lots of different muscles. But it’s more than this: it makes sense to my brain, and it makes me happy rather than resentful or tired.
As human beings, we evolved to do physical activity in order to procure food. There is something deeply satisfying in doing so. It makes sense to us on an intuitive level. Recent studies are also pointing to increasing evidence that our mental health and our gut health are entwined, and that encountering microbes that exist in healthy soil – on our bare hands or feet – help generate a healthier GI tract and improve our mood. An organic, sustainable small farm like Sarvodaya Farms is a holistic health plan: the right kind of physical labor is expended as an input, and the farm provides returns in the form of healthy, fresh, whole food. So many of our health issues in the United States – heart disease, diabetes, depression – are linked to not sedentary lifestyles and poor quality food. A return to the garden, the small farm is just what Nature ordered: providing the right balance of exercise, sunlight, soil microbes, focused activity, and healthy whole foods to make us not only healthier, but happier.