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’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.