Wednesday, November 25, 2009

this year I'm thankful for...

Since it's that time of year, I figured I could take a moment to brag on my sisterfriends. In the background of our 3.5 months living together has been the question "what exactly does it mean for us to be an intentional community?" In the last few weeks I've experienced that community in an abundance of support and creativity. I've spent a lot of time recently applying for a scholarship to study in the UK next year. To celebrate the submission of my written application Erynn prepared a delicious dinner that was...not exactly English, but at least vaguely European (with tea, crumpets, and Belgian chocolate ice cream for dessert). Last week as I prepared for the interview portion of the application, I was surprised in my pajamas one morning by all four sisterfriends, dressed in their professional clothes and doing their best to look intimidating, who proceeded to grill me for half an hour. Erynn and Katerina were gracious enough to take me shopping to buy my first suit (and find the ruffliest bright pink tops to go with it), and everyone sent me off to the interview in Chicago with notes of encouragement, hugs, and a music mix. And while I didn't get the scholarship, there was still champagne to celebrate and a theatrical account of the retreat I missed performed by Erynn and Kat (narrated by Sarah Nolan with music by Casey) when I returned.

I'm thankful for them!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An event to remember

Since I didn't blog last week, I thought I'd post a few pictures and highlights from an event this past Sunday that was hosted by Join the Farm! and the organizations that I work for in a side-internship, House Farm Workers (HFW), and Ventura County Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (VC CLUE). It was wonderful! About 125-150 farmworkers and other community members came out to the farm for an inter-faith Thanksgiving service out in our field. The purpose of the event was to give thanks for the land, the harvest, and the work of farmworkers in Ventura County, as well as to eat together as a community in a BIG OL' potluck celebration. After the potluck in our backyard, we screened "A Home of Their Own," a film from the perspective of the children of farmworkers on their experiences moving from sub-standard to affordable housing at Villa Cesar Chavez, a housing development (about 4 miles from our house) for farmworkers.

- Farmworkers, clergy and laity from different faiths speaking from the flatbed of an agricultural trailer/ tractor with the glow of sunset over the field behind them
- At least 5 languages spoken during the prayer service - Chumash, Arabic, Spanish, English, and Mixteco
- People bringing a dish from their family's tradition
- 3-4 huge vats of Postole soup made by the women of Villa Cesar Chavez
-kids from Villa Cesar Chavez who gleefully yelled out the names of the friends they recognized during the film
-This quote from the movie: “When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the fields is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding, sheltering and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.” -Cesar Chavez
-That people came together who might not have otherwise connected - from different classes, faith traditions, ages, and political views. And the feeling of unity that resulted.

Farm workers give a blessing in Spanish and Mixteco

Rev. Guthrie offers a prayer for the workers

A beautiful sunset over the fields

Joining hands for prayer circles

Thanks to Casey for the pictures!

A thanksgiving reflection

What does it mean to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S. of A.? Family get-togethers, turkeys, pumpkin pies, and cornucopias come to mind. And kindergartners acting out the story of the pilgrims and the Indians with cute, not very PC costumes. As I remember the story, the European immigrants arrived in the New World unprepared for winter and were dependent upon the wealthier Native Americans for their survival.

What if we re-told the story in modern times? Here's what I imagine the story might sound like: "Pilgrims" come to the New World looking for a better life, but instead of being given corn to plant (well, in this story they pretty much gave up on planting corn after cheap, subsidized New World corn flooded the market and made it impossible to make a living on corn, which is partly why they came here in the first place), these pilgrims become laborers in the fields and orchards of the wealthier "natives." Not enough of the natives want to do that kind of work anyway. Yet ironically, in this story, the dependence goes both ways. The pilgrims, as I have been calling the immigrants who are mostly from Mexico, are obviously dependent upon the U.S. for labor and a means to support their families. Yet this time around, the "natives," the majority of people living in the U.S., are also dependent upon the immigrant population to survive. Most Americans are utterly dependent, in the most basic way, on the food harvested by the immigrant farm workers in this country.

As in the fabled first Thanksgiving, how can we acknowledge and give thanks to and for those who have supplied our food? I think that this holiday is the perfect time to acknowledge how the cranberries in that stuffing got there - the hands they passed through from bush to basket to table. Pause to reflect on the strawberry jam on the dinner rolls - do you know that farm workers bend over, rarely straightening, in table position for over 9 hours every day in the strawberry rows? I didn't, at least not before I moved to the Oxnard area, where there's huge strawberry industry and I pass farm workers doubled over daily. And, I might add, after working only about 5 hours a day in our field, I feel true respect for the workers next door.

Yet during the Thanksgiving event this past Sunday, when the inter-faith community gathered to pray with and for farm workers, I realized that acknowledgment, respect, and thanks-giving for their labor only go so far. Farmworkers in Ventura County, as in many other counties nationwide, live in over-crowded sheds, laundry rooms, and garages because the annual cost of rent for an apartment is higher than a year's salary (about $15,000, usually less). Maria, a farmworker in Oxnard who I met this Sunday, told me that she has no heat, no running water, and no electricity where she lives. How can this be?! This is where acknowledgment and respect fall short. In a mutually dependent relationship, both parties must not only value the contribution of the other, but care for their well-being. As I become more and more familiar with the issues faced by most farmworkers - inadequate housing, low wages, and lack of access to basic resources, the need for justice is painfully apparent.

At this point, the question, "What can I do?" comes to mind. First, relationship comes to mind. That's easier for me to say, I'm sure, in an area populated with farm workers. It's difficult for most, in a country where the average plateful of food travels over 1,000 miles to reach the table. Hmm, I'll have to think about that. Let me know any ideas...

Here's a possibility that came to my attention through an email last week:
Remember and honor farmworkers this Thanksgiving season by urging Stop & Shop, Giant, Publix, Ralph’s, Kroger and other Kroger-owned grocery chains (City Market, Dillons, Food 4 Less, Foods Co., Fred Meyer, Fry's, Gerbes, Hilander, Jay C, King Soopers, Owen's, Pay Less, QFC, Scott's, Smith's) to address the sub-poverty wages, unjust working conditions and human rights abuses faced by farmworkers who harvest their tomatoes. See for more information on writing a letter to the manager of a store near you (chances are there is one near you).

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Us farmers took a few days to relax in Santa Barbara as part of our program. Here are some photographs of the lovely place we stayed!

the view from the back porch

a walk to the mission

the autumn leaves on the wall

one of my favorite lawns

some of the books (some saved from the mt. calvary fire?) in their library

the tree with arm branches

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Art at the farm

For a good long while, the farmhouse was graced with the presence of a local artist's work. Below is Jose Zuniga's piece on Frida. I absolutely love it!
Jose inspired me to create some of my own art, and here's my "Golondrina."

But, this blog is on more than "fine art"; it's a showcase of some of the art out in the fields. Below, "Rainbow Chard with a Fennel Background."
Below, "Young Women in the corn."

learning standard

Oh, the odd calculations of the insurance industry (auto, in this case). Apparently the insurance gods would rather we interns (with levels of stick-shift driving experiencing ranging from years to none) lurch around in the big white unpredictable farm pick-up truck to deliver our veggies than use our own vehicles for the job. Since Cristy Rose and Katerina weren't particularly keen on doing every one of our deliveries, lessons in the truck have commenced.

I, for one, have no excuse for my poor stick driving. Various patient individuals have taught me (at great expense to their nerves and their tires) how to drive a standard several times in the last few years. It hasn't really stuck.

And the farm pick-up adds some additional excitement. Should I manage not to stall while starting, I might have the stick shift knob come off, leaving me in an unpleasant place between first and second gears. If I adjust the rear-view mirror to better view the impatient traffic behind me, it may come off in my hand. Once I make it out to the highway, the truck might lurch to a halt all by itself due to some mysterious configuration of front and rear gas tanks which can be empty without anyone realizing (you guessed it - the gas gauge doesn't work; neither does the speedometer). And how about when I get fed up and want to get out? The door handle, like the stick-shift knob and rear-view mirror, comes off in my hand.

And yes, Erynn and I definitely fight over opportunities to drive it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Five loaves, two fish

While reading through some passages in the Bible's book of Matthew, I got stuck on Matthew 14:13-21, the story that inspired our project's name and the pendants that each of us were given at our house blessing earlier this year (picture below).

In the story, Jesus seeks some time alone to process the violent death of his friend John. He goes away to a secluded spot, only to be followed by crowds of people who need healing. Jesus is moved in his gut with compassion when he sees the people, and cares for them physically and emotionally. It starts getting late, and the disciples get anxious. Being practical thinkers, they want to send the crowds away so the people can get something to eat. Jesus responds that the disciples should feed them. He takes the 5 loaves of bread and the two fish that the disciples have on hand, gives thanks for it, and passes it back to his probably incredulous followers. Then the disciples take this meager portion and distribute it out to well over 5,000 people. Afterward, they have to use twelve baskets to collect the abundant leftovers from the meal.

Two weeks ago, all of us interns underwent a couple of particularly stressful days. It was a time defined by worry about our project's future and its success, a time when our inadequacies and limitations became apparent. So for the past two weeks, I remained with this story, returning and finding new meaning in it.

What continues to strike me is that Jesus accepts scarcity, he even asks for it. He doesn't try to solve it by sending the people away. Nor does he ignore the people's need, continuing healing despite everyone's hunger. He accepts the poverty of what is offered, gives thanks for what he receives, and then gives the meager food back to the disciples to distribute, now transformed into abundance. This chain of giving and receiving - giving to God, giving thanks, then receiving back from God - seems so relevant to our project here.

Such an abundance of vegetables grow here, and yet I think we still feel the squeeze of scarcity. We interns are often poor in terms of our time, our finances, and just our ability to be up-to-par as new farmers in terms of production, knowledge, and skills! How will these things, our five loaves and two fish, become enough for hundreds beyond our imagining? How can we name our scarcity before God and others, and, I wonder, what will its transformation into abundance look like?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Systematize, yo...

So, Join the Farm! is growing (read this again with a very happy tone). Our field is in full production swing. Our CSA program is 45 subscriptions strong. This week will be our 3rd week in the Oxnard Farmer's Market. We've gone from, "Well, isn't this little project fuuun!" to "Oh man, we are really doing this! This is farming!" So as we've grown, we've developed systems that help us harvest more efficiently, keep track of what's been harvested and where it has gone, and what types of materials we've treated our crops with and when. We keep all our records in our Documentation Binder which we had to show to CCOF, our 3rd party organic certifier. How have we managed to increase efficiency and keep fantastic records? We've SYSTEMATIZED. I LOVE systematizing (my mom says this is because I like to figure out how to do as little work as I have to, which I take as working efficiently). I enjoy systematizing so much, I created a little rap about it, a nod of sorts to a genre I find entirely mockable. So sit back, relax, and enjoy. *I'd like to thank Casey, my fly girl beat boxing in the background and Katerina, my videographer and rap motivator. Couldn't have done it without you guys!*

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

what would you feed a chicken?

My part of this weekend's harvest festivities was guiding much anticipated tours of the chickens' new outdoor accommodations.

One of the most important questions is: what do they eat? Since grow mash (corn based, which is the bulk of the chicks' diet) isn't particularly exciting, we let the kids give the chickens a treat - worms from the vermiculture bin...

They even got to feed the chickens some rocks (which the chickens need to swallow to keep in their crop to grind up their food before they digest it since they don't have teeth).

Despite repeated offers, however, the kids would not feed ladybugs from the recently harvested lima bean fields to the chickens.

Maybe understandable if you happen to be dressed as a ladybug for Halloween...

Halloween and Dia de los Muertos at the Farm!

We had an exciting event here at the farm this past Saturday. To celebrate Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, we brought out the Fall flair and invited the community to come on over. It was really lovely.
Here's me and our little sister-friends.
Sarah and Julie
Everyone in the jolly jumper!
Our lovely subscribers
And our altar inside the farmhouse. I put up a photograph of my great-grandmother Rose and of my cousin, Heather. I love that the altar reminds me to listen to their stories.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


For this post, I'm going to start with some blatant advertising because I know Sarah wouldn't do it for herself. (But I have her permission :)

Perfect poster photo:
Yoga. 5:30 p.m. every Monday at the Farm, 4720 E. Hueneme Road. Taught by the farmer - turned-yoga-instructor-who-can-do-awesome-moves-like-handstands-on-wet-sand Sarah Bagge.

Oliver joins us for some deep relaxation

Sarah's a self-taught instructor after taking a lot of yoga classes during college and practicing crane pose until she can practically do it on her pinky fingers. I can barely stay in "tree pose" (standing with one foot on the ground) without toppling over, but I go to Sarah's classes and am slowly feeling my balance improving along with focus and stamina. For me, though, practicing yoga is not just about getting more flexible or stretching some sore muscles after long hours in the field, though that's certainly a plus.

I always found walking to be a prayerful kind of activity, and after being introduced to yoga by my mom a few years ago, I realized how important times of meditative movement are in my life. Yoga teaches me to pray with my whole self, not just my thoughts. It brings me through a flow of increasingly challenging positions - drawing me to a place of deep listening. I listen to the ways my legs tell me I can push further into a stretch, and I must listen when they tell me to stop and rest.

Someone told me once that attentiveness is the highest form of prayer. Through focused attention on the elemental motions of my existence: breathing in, breathing out, standing, lying down, I remember that God speaks and lives in and through us in these basic acts. God communicates with me through my body and through my attentiveness to the many physical senses. How often am I present and engaged enough to hear and feel God through the breath of air filling my lungs, the blessing of strong legs lifting me to my feet, through the way the muscles in the inner corners of my eyes relax their tightness at night, before I sleep? Regrettably, not very often.
A prayer my friend Amy once posted in our room that I love says,

"Lord, be in our seeing, our hearing,
in our knowing, and in our understanding today and everyday..."

and be in our all our daily movements as well.