Wednesday, September 30, 2009

a real farm

I never thought I'd be blogging from a toilet seat, but here I sit, having acquired something considerably more exciting than a stomach virus. A few weeks ago a discerning kindergartner asked where, since we are, after all, a farm, were the animals?

Today, we have become a real farm. And the answer to the kindergartner's query has taken up residence in the bathroom for the time being. First, a stop at the Trading Post to make our selection...

Then back to the Farm House to prepare a new home


A little lesson in where to find water


And here they are...


9 chicks, falling asleep on their feet in their home by the shower. Hopefully all pullets (females). As yet unnamed due to dubious durability.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hueneme, place of resting kindly

More and more, we take for granted that work must be destitute of pleasure. More and more, we assume that if we want to be pleased we must wait until evening, or the weekend, or vacation, or retirement. More and more, our farms and forests resemble our factories and offices, which in turn more and more resemble prisons - why else should we be so eager to escape them? We recognize defeated landscapes by the absence of pleasure from them. We are defeated at work because our work gives us no pleasure. We are defeated at home because we have no pleasant work there...

Where is our comfort but in the free, uninvolved, finally mysterious beauty and grace of this world that we did not make, that has no price? Where is our sanity but there? Where is our pleasure but in working and resting kindly in the presence of this world?


-from an essay entitled, "Economy and Pleasure," by Wendell Berry (1988)

Tuesday evening, September 29th

Early this morning, I pull on my work boots and softly close our front door. A few hundred feet away, the field is swathed in sea fog, a heavy white cover that will not burn away until about 11:00 a.m. Our pesky neighbors, the crows, are either sleeping or invisible, and the usually clattering pie tins hang lax on their stakes with no wind to stir them.

Our field is shielded by a stand of poplars that lines the western edge of the field, perpendicular to another windbreak of towering eucalyptus trees along the northeastern side and avocado groves to the southeast. Like the trees, a barn, painted the traditional red and built by farmer Paul's great-grandfather, stands just beyond the poplars as another symbol of permanence and safety.

I walk past corn stalks already up to my shoulders, then pass a row of ruby red lettuce. The leaves cup delicate water droplets, which are just beginning their slow morning slide into the dirt. Beyond this acre or so of ripening vegetables, we have started to plant new crops in preparation for the next harvest (coastal CA winters being ideal). My hoe finds its niche in a row of purslane weeds that are engulfing the young broccoli and cauliflower we transplanted a few weeks ago.

I do not consciously think about much as I work. I raise and pull the hoe again and again as weeds pile in the furrow. Yet it is not "mindless" labor. Rather, my mind feels full, like a satisfied belly after a healthy, delicious meal. In this mind-full state, I allow my senses to unwind and savor the way that dirt clods fall apart under the blade, the sound of my hoe's soft drag and snap of the weeds, and the smell of an eighth inch of compost working deeper into the soil, the resulting growth and decay, intermingled.

When we first moved here, I remember someone told me the meaning of "Hueneme," the name of the road we live on and the nearest little town. "Hueneme" (pronounced "Wy-nee'mee") means "Resting Place" in Chumash, the Native American language and people group who settled here long before other "settlers" arrived. Resting Place. Today, the place where I work is hueneme, a resting place. I know it will not be this way all days, like when my shoulders are sore beyond pleasure or when the harvest comes in full. Yet I relish the times, more frequent than not these days and in this line of work, when my work involves what Wendell Berry calls, "resting kindly" in the quote above. I am learning to re-define and to de-compartmentalize what it means to work and rest and am finding that this work here unites with kindly rest in my body to create a deep sense of pleasure. Today, I am content.

Monday, September 28, 2009

interesting films on related subjects.

as you may (or may not) have noticed, this blog is going to be posted quite late. i was sleepy and very busy last week, and i did not prioritize the posting of my blog as i ought.

however, now i'm here to present some interesting film clips on topics related to farming, gardening, food, etc. they will be few, but they will be meaningful!

The Garden at the White House
This describes the creation of the new White House garden, and features Michelle Obama inviting school children to help plant, harvest, and cook with the vegetables they grow!

(Movie Preview) "The Garden"
This is the Academy Award nominated documentary all about the struggles that have plagued the South Central Farm. Our program coordinator, Sarah Nolan, has been volunteering with these folks since the time that this film was made. It's an incredible film, and it's now out to buy/rent. Please do see it!

Michael Pollan- "The Omnivore's Next Dilemma"
Anything that's on TED is worth watching. Anything that Michael Pollan has to write/say is worth reading/hearing. Enough said.

Organic Pest Control
I just find this topic really interesting. And sometimes watching something on it is much more amusing than reading a text book on organic integrated pest control.

And that's all for this week. Tune in next week (or tomorrow...) for some of my actual thoughts, rather than a collection of other folks' genius.

Friday, September 25, 2009

feeding future tomato bandits and other fantasies

My little cousin Morgan is a bit of a tomato bandit. A girl after my own heart, the call of fresh garden tomatoes is so strong that while others are playing she can be found munching tomatoes in her family's garden. I love watching Morgan and my other little cousins Jordan and Timmy eat. Their plates are always colorful and filled with fresh fruits and vegetables.

So are the plates of students receiving lunches at Ventura Unified School District. Not only does the district, which serves 17, 321 students of which almost 7,000 receive free/reduced cost lunches, source most of their food service produce from local farms but they also have a comprehensive "Healthy Schools Project." The Healthy Schools Project "provides learning opportunities for students to make healthy choices through a variety of hands-on experiences. Classroom lessons are standards-based and include label reading, making good food choices, and cooking. Students learn to recognize the link between food production and consumption by participating in school gardening activities. Exploring nature and gaining real world learning in math and science are two additional and important components of school gardens." http://www.venturausd.org/childnutrition/healthyschoolsproject.htm

So, kids experience growing produce in school gardens, are provided with ample opportunities to link their knowledge across the academic content areas while learning about food systems, and they get to eat the produce they've grown and learned about in their cafeterias (developing life-long positive eating habits). Meanwhile local farmers have a consistent channel to distribute their produce. Kids learn and eat healthfully while supporting a healthy and viable economic relationship between local schools and local farms.

The Abundant Table Farm Project is part a the Ventura County Food Justice Coalition. One of our goals is to bring local, quality food into our schools. The ATFP is focusing on Hueneme Unified School District and Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo.

I was disheartened to learn that PVSD does not prepare any food at any of their school sites. Their food is trucked in prepared and packaged, food is only warmed and served to kids. When I checked PVSD's lunch menu on-line, the only fresh items, pears, banana, oranges, and apples on the daily menu were asterisked meaning they were "subject to change." http://www.pvsd.k12.ca.us/164110511599280/lib/164110511599280/Pleasant_Valley_SD_LN.xls_Sept_k-5.pdf

In my dream world, a world that exists only five exits down the freeway in Ventura, Join the Farm! would be part of a growers collaborative that directly supplies my surrounding schools with fresh, local produce for quality, healthful school lunches.

In my dream wold, this program would be so wildly successful that school districts would band together and create a unified school menu and combine purchasing power to grow the farmers collaborative and a farm to school program.

In my dream world, Join the Farm! and the other farms in the growers collaborative work with teachers and schools to plan educational visits to the schools and to the farm to develop students who not only learn about eating healthfully, farming, and food systems but gain real-world knowledge in all the academic content areas. Think of how farming is connected to migration patterns (history), creating bed shapes that maximize water and sun (geometry), developing marketing literature (language arts), etc!

In my dream world, food service workers are not limited to opening cans and cutting apart packaging. They are trained with more emphasis on long-term integrated culinary skills, e.g. knife skills, knowledge of seasonal menus, compost management (ha! cafeteria food waste is composted and turned into beautiful soil for those school gardens!).

If my dream world is a reality in Ventura, we can make it happen where I am and where you are.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Everything belongs ...or blogs

Here at the farm we've been talking a lot around the kitchen table. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between -- we are our own school of thought.

Here's our ritual in the morning:
we stumble in about 7/7:30 to get some coffee, we sit at the table and read the Ventura County Star, and we talk before we head out to the land at 8.

One of the ongoing conversations is about oppression and privilege. We agree that are purpose is to be a creationary community rather than a reactionary, to not fight the system, but to offer an alternative.

This reminds me of the title of a book Sarah recommended to me: EVERYTHING BELONGS. The title in turn reminds me of Rumi:


In other news:

It's so great to have friends out in the fields with us!

First, the conversations we have are hilarious!
Second, you need a dance team on the field with you to boogie to Prince while you work!
Third, they are so photogenic!



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

(in)experience

There's a common question that arises on farm tours about five rows on to the 10 acres when I have to bend over yet again to try and decipher the bleached-off name of another form of squash.

"So...how much farming experience did you have before this?" While the squash has started to help the identification process by producing in abundant quantities (eight-ball, geode, crook-neck, zucchini), the answer remains:

Pretty much none. I've never farmed, and barely even gardened.

We weren't chosen for this program based on our agricultural qualifications (and perhaps that's why, though he allows us to change the plates on the swanky Italian planter, farmer Paul has not even suggested that one of us interns take a turn driving it yet). A month ago I could not have told a squash from a zucchini, much less known what size any form of summer squash should be when harvested (my apologies to those I proudly presented with very-large-and-therefore-tough-and-bland zucchini in my early days).

I knew I'd be on a pretty steep learning curve with farming, but didn't realize how many other things I'm vastly unqualified for that I'd be up to. Take today for example. After weeding one row of carrots and harvesting another of zucchini (tasks I'm pretty comfortable with at this point)I set out to tackle the corner of the shed that will eventually be a chicken coop. I'm kicking myself for not taking before and after pictures because it was a mess - cob webs, dust, dried leaves, rat droppings, and the rat himself (who kindly waited until I had removed his box home to make his presence known). This is the sort of dirty job I would once have left to my dad or someone else. But I figured it out, and I did it, and that shed is now the cleanest it will be for another 20 years (bring on the chickens!). After lunch, at the request of the birthday girl (Erynn!) - I taught a yoga class (number of pupils: 2). My yoga qualifications - 2 years of taking a class at college. I still can't even do a headstand... Then to round off the day...a few hours of translating various documents from English to Spanish, a pretty dismal prospect for anyone that's tried to have a conversation with me in Spanish.

One of the many perks of intern-dom: the space to take on things you've never done before...and the sore muscles to prove it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Agriculture in Ventura County 101

A little over one month ago, I moved onto this farm (if unfamiliar with the farm, see www.jointhefarm.com), which is located in Ventura County, CA, an area that I knew next to nothing about when I arrived here from Mariposa County, CA. My college major, anthropology, taught me to know the "cultural context" of the place and people with whom I work. Yet I am often a person who is mainly just curious about the "Culture" of a place when I am in a foreign country or living among people whose skin is darker than mine. It's difficult to notice my own cultural environment, since it seems so normal. I've noticed this same tendency to overlook my native state's (CA) land culture: what is cultivated there, the issues surrounding its cultivation, and the people who directly cultivate the land. Because of my internship with the Abundant Table Farm Project, though, I'm trying to become more attentive to my new "Agri-Cultural Context."

Some "fact sheets" given to me by the supervisors of my side internship with House Farm Workers (HFW) and Ventura County Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (VC CLUE) clued me in on some of the must-knows of this county, like the fact that strawberries are the major crop around here (well, just looking out the car window informed me of this. "Hello, Neighbor Driscoll, Neighbor Dole."). So for this post, I thought I'd share with you some of the useful information that I've found both online and through the previously mentioned fact sheet. That way, we can all learn more about the agricultural context in which we are working.

Here's a little Q&A*:

Q. What’s the total value of crops grown in Ventura County?
A. For 2008, the estimated gross value was $1.6 billion.

Q. What were some of the most valuable crops?
Take a look at the following graph:

Source: http://www.venturacountystar.com/photos/2009/jul/21/70953/

Q. How does the area in farms compare to the area in cities?
A. According to the state, Ventura County has 102,873 acres of urban and built-up land. So, for every acre of shopping mall, city street and housing tract, there’s approximately an acre of celery, strawberries, lemons, peppers, flowers and other crops.

Q: How does the area in agriculture compare to the county’s total land area?
A. The county’s total land area is 1.2 million acres. Using the Department of Conservation data, 28.1 percent of the county is agricultural land. (About half the county’s land area lies inside Los Padres National Forest, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and other protected areas.)

Q. Is farmland being lost to development?
A. Yes. Even though voters have approved laws intended to protect farmland and open space from development, the county continues to lose about 600 acres of farmland to development each year.

Q: Where are the farms located in relation to the towns and cities in Ventura County?
Take a look at this map that shows where our county's major crops are growing, and the concentration of each:



Q: How many jobs does agricultural work provide in Ventura County?
Altogether, farming and farm-dependent businesses provide an estimated 31,000 jobs in Ventura County, more than any other sector of the economy except services. Agriculture and agriculture-related businesses account for about 4.4 percent of overall economic activity in Ventura County, generating $2.1 billion in revenue and $76 million in indirect business taxes annually. One in 10 county residents relies to some degree on income derived from farming.

Q. How many field workers are employed on Ventura County farms?
A. It’s difficult to get a reliable count, but there are believed to be about 20,000 Ventura County farm workers. The number ranges seasonally from a low of 15,000 to a high of 25,000 during the peak spring and summer harvest of strawberries, lemons and avocados.

Q. Where are they from?
A. If they are like the rest of California’s farm worker population, an estimated 95 percent were born outside the United States, and 91 percent were born in Mexico.

Q. What percentage are undocumented immigrants?
A. Precise local figures are not available, but statewide surveys suggest at least 57 percent of California’s field workers are undocumented.

Profile of farm workers**
Number of farm workers 17,000 – 24,000
Percentage born in Mexico 91%
Permanent Ventura County residents 67%
Migrants 33%
Employed year-round 20%
U.S. citizens 10%
With resident green cards 33%
Unauthorized 57%
Percent earning less than $15,000/year 75%

* Most q&a facts from http://www.farmbureauvc.com/crop_report.html#
** Work Force Investment Board, The Future of Ventura County Agriculture: Issues and Opportunities for Workers and Growers, from: http://www.wib.ventura.org 2006.

Monday, September 21, 2009

lessons learned

sleepy

farmer days are getting earlier and earlier.
planting at 7:00 am,
which means waking-up sometime between 6:30 and 6:45
if breakfast is a priority.
other days there's weeding/harvesting at 7:30 am,
which might mean that i wake-up at 5:45 or 6:00 am
to get in a bit of cardio before bending and squatting
the next several hours.
community outreach and social justice and grown-up office work
are filling-up these afternoons.
gotta make the connections!
gotta get stuff done before the harvest is too bountiful!
and the nights are getting longer and fuller
with community meetings and house dinners
and friends and folks who just are interested and want to stop by
and chat until 9 or 11 or 10.
then crash.
then repeat.
like i said, sleepy.

spicy

arugula is about to bolt or "go to seed"
which means that it is HOT
i'm talking pee-kahn-tay.
(picante)
maybe we'll try and pair the rest of it
with apples or potatoes or winter squash
something really mild
because the once go-to arugula and radish salad combo
is becoming more like a "how hot can you go?!"
dining competition everyday.

sunburnt

note to self:
wear sunscreen
wear a hat
wear gloves
wear pants
wear lightweight long sleeves
or else.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Farming musings...

An Ode to the Seeder

Machine of steel and plastic.
Moving wheels and spinning plates.
Seeds are stealthly sown, tracks are covered.
Adjust, calibrate, feed, sow, cover, grow.
Farmers drive and record.
After machine has spoken,
Nature's miracle is awoken.

Malva Haiku
Taproot of iron strength
Leaves are like geraniums
Pulled! HA!-I shake fist.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Growing with the greens



Yesterday I made a salad with the many lettuces and other greens from our land. I thought of doing so while I was weeding and harvesting the radishes. I thought to myself, "mmmm....that lemon and olive oil dressing would taste so good with this," so I picked some, and then washed the leaves, sprinkled on the lemon and oil and feta, and ate! I felt like a participant in a miracle of some kind. The great part is that I can manifest this miracle everyday! I am truly happy the lettuce is nearly ripe because I think I need the iron.

Speaking of iron, Erynn and I went to an evening capoeira class in Oxnard taught by a fellow who works for an organization we are collaborating with: Arts for Action (http://arts4action.wordpress.com/). One of their leaders, Dina, came over with other local mujer activists to talk about food justice, that is, making food from the earth available for everyone! I felt honored to be with the other women at the table.

I feel honored to be working with organizations like Arts for Action, Cause (http://www.coastalalliance.com/), and CLUE (http://www.clueca.org/1-clue-network.htm). Some amazing work is going on and some strong relationships are being built, and we at ATFP are now part of the mezcla.

My last thought for this blog is about the morning thinning we did today. We had too many tomato plants, and we needed to take out about half of the plants. It was a sad affair -- an unnatural selection. There seemed to be a few elements involved in the procedure:

1. My power to choose.
2. The size and health of the plant.
3. The location of the plant.

I almost cried --
pulling out the beautiful chosen ones
to die
and thinking of the relationship between
choice and chance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

from scratch

There are a lot of things to love about the Farmhouse kitchen/dining room: many windows, the continually-replenished (thanks, Erynn!) vase of Double Delight roses from the backyard on the table, the proliferation of fruits and veggies on the counter from friends and our own soil...

And then there are the things made in this kitchen - under the influence of favorite cookbooks, mothers consulted by phone, and the exigencies of having a whole row of arugula ready to harvest a month before our CSA boxes are ready to go. One theme of our culinary endeavors has been eliminating a few items from our grocery list by learning how to make them ourselves. We’ve been enjoying a steady supply of homemade hummus, bread, salsa, soup stock, and corn tortillas.

It is in this spirit that I write this blog post on the kitchen counter next to a pot of milk heating on the stove. The latest addition to our homemade repertoire is yogurt. I’ve made my own a few times before, but it always turned out runny (European style). Before we purchased a fancy yogurt maker to achieve a thicker yogurt, I poked around on the internet to see if we couldn’t figure it out without buying another appliance.

Friends, it is do-able. Here’s how:

I start with a quart of 2% milk and a few tablespoons of plain yogurt left out for a few hours to reach room temperature. My secret to thicker yogurt is adding about ¾s of a cup of nonfat dry milk powder to the 2%. Next comes the step I’m on now – heating the milk over medium/low heat without stirring and watching it so I can catch it just before it boils (looking for bubbles around the edges and steam rising). In a minute I’ll take it off the burner and pour the milk into a non-metal container for it to cool to a bacteria-friendly temperature. Most recipes say you need a thermometer at this point…you don’t. You can tell the milk has cooled sufficiently when you can keep your index finger in it for 20 seconds. Don’t forget to remove the skin that forms on top of the milk. I then mix a few spoonfuls of the warm milk with the yogurt and add this mixture slowly to the rest of the warm milk and stir a bit.

Then it’s time to incubate. You can search the internet for the method that best suits your kitchen. What I did last week that worked quite well was heated the oven up for a few minutes and then turned it off and popped in a pan full of boiling water (and the bowl of yogurt-to-be, of course) and left it overnight. The idea is to keep the bowl at about 115 degrees for about eight hours. If your milk hasn’t become yogurt after 8-10 hours, it’s not going to – it just gets more and more sour.

Finally, refrigerate the yogurt for a few hours before eating!

Next items: granola, applesauce, cheese…!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Someone has to die?

Phrases or lines from songs often circulate through my head while I'm working. This week, the lyrics from a song called, "Someone has to Die," by the band "Maritime" have been on my mental playlist. The refrain goes, "Someone has to die to make room for you and I..." (http://www.last.fm/music/Maritime/+videos/3100107)

I bend over the weeds on the plot we're farming, humming to the corn, "Something has to die, to make room for you and I." The weeds must go in this work of (un)natural selection. I watch Erynn pull out a big tap-rooted weed and hold it to the sky, like some victorious warrior holding up the head of her enemy. Casey moves along her row, cursing the stinging nettles in almost respectful undertones (they are the smartest weeds we know) as she flings them to the ground. I stomp down the Malva I'm pulling, a weed variety which, I'm sure, shares a Latin root with the word "malevolent." "Something” - in this case, the weed, has to die to save water for the preferred plants, and to make room for what we want to grow.

Then I wonder how this concept applies to our human population. There's no arguing that the U.S. is one of the most powerful nations in the world, and that with this power has come major control of global economic markets. In general, U.S. citizens, particularly the upper class and also within our wide upper-middle class bracket (myself included), have enjoyed living in a state of luxury that the vast majority of world will never experience; two or three cars, two or three kids in college, paid vacations, closets brimming with clothes, expensive houses (maybe a little too expensive), expensive diets. These things aren't wrong in themselves, are they? We have a right to have these things.

But I wonder, as I pull up certain plants to favor the growth of others, how many “someones” have had to die to maintain “room for you and I” at the top of the global economy? I'm no economist, but I understand that other economies in the world are crippled to support our top-dog status. There is more of a connection than we like to imagine: many bodies die daily through poverty and unjust working conditions, and we are able to live in a level of excess that we've become accustomed to here in the U.S.

I hope that this economic crash has woken us up in some ways to our unsustainable lifestyles. We need to be shaken awake, I think, in order to realize that our lifestyles have been privileged by our country's economic position and its continued dominance, oppression even, of the poor within (I think specifically of immigrants here) and without (those working in unaccountable multinational companies, for example). As Paula Crossfield says in a blog I just started following called, “Civil Eats” (http://civileats.com/), “The bottom line is that we often think of our wealth as a product of our ingenuity, education and technology, when it is more specifically the result of the exploitation of other countries' labor and resources.” Essentially, many someones have had to die to make room (and wealth) for you and I.

I'm still wrestling with the question - what alternatives do we have in this globalized economy of ours, and how can we seek to live a simpler lifestyle that is not based on exploitation? I believe that this Abundant Table Farm Project will be a way of living, working, and distributing resources that steps out of the current system, which promotes living at the expense of others' lives. For starters, we're working for a family farm that does not view our labor as a means to increase their profit. We're trying to find ways to get our CSA boxes to all who would like organic, local produce, without restricting distribution to those with full financial means. We're involving our supporters, the “consumers” to take part in a new relationship of consumption in which they are involved in the process of production. (This means, for instance, that supporters and volunteers can come and help us with farm work and harvest)! So for me, this year is one step in the “out-of-step” pattern of thinking that is required of us if we are to live in a way of greater sustainability and justice for all, not just the economically privileged.

Because humans aren't like weeds in this farm's economy... there is room here for all to live and flourish.

Monday, September 14, 2009

a cause for celebration

over the past week,
i have had a reason to celebrate practically everyday.
and this has led me to reflect on the reasons
i've desired to celebrations in my life,
and how much deeper 
and how much more frequent
those desires to celebrate are now.

for example, last thursday i wanted to celebrate,
when i went out to gaze upon the few rows we had cultivated
and weeded over the past few days,
and they were absolutely thriving!
and then on friday,
i needed to celebrate
after i finished (crudely) constructing
some twenty-odd "annoy-crows"
or makeshift wooden stakes
with pie tins and c.d.'s tied to them
with hot pink nylon rope.
then sunday,
i just had to celebrate when i walked out
into our test garden
and realized that we had picnic watermelons,
long of naples squash,
spaghetti squash, hubbard squash,
and even the tail end of cucumbers,
patty pan squash,
and zucchini all ready for eating 
(and sharing with friends).
my excitement grew even more when i ran over
to the ten acres,
and pulled-up about 8 heads of spicy,
hearty arugula,
and handfuls of sweet baby cilantro!
i had a private party walking back to the farmhouse with my bounty.

now, in my college career,
i wrote a lot,
i mean a whole helluva lot.
i turned in far too many 30 and over page papers.
yet,  i don't think that i've ever felt as accomplished
as i have in the past few weeks.
this sense of deep contentment and satisfaction is new to me.
when i go to bed every night,
i'm tired not because i slept three hours the night before cramming for a midterm,
or because i drank way too much coffee and my body finally came down hard
from its caffeine rush at around 4 am 
(which still happens from time to time),
but when i go to bed,
i'm (typically) exhausted because i spent my waking hours using my body
to tend to the land, or to tackle important housework,
or to exercise so that i'll be strong enough
to repeat the first two activities in weeks to come.
everyday i find that i'm tired, but i'm also energized,
and i want to celebrate every carrot(!),
every squash, every day and 
every flavor of this experience.

you know, it's my birthday this friday,
and though in the past i might have been craving some sort of birthday festivity,
all i can think about right now is how i want to throw a party
because butternut squash is finally in season.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A blog about the feeling of excitement

"Farmers?! Um, you guys do NOT look like farmers!" This was exclaimed by my childhood next door neighbor upon seeing him out in Camarillo while I was with my group of sisterfriends. Indeed! What an unlikely cast of farmers we are here at the Abundant Table Farm Project! 5 young sisterfriend interns, 1 Farmer Paul, 1 extern Kyle, our radish radical Julie and South Central guru Sarah.

*The following is my opinion, based on my experiences and not any statistical data* In Ventura County, a very agricultural area, farming happens on a large scale. Farmers are farming on hundreds of acres. Farmers are renting out their land to big agro-business who then contract out farming responsibilities to other farmers who then contract farm labor work to farm workers through labor contractors. The Farmers are men, the farm workers are men and women, but mostly men. The farm workers do not look like Cristy Rose, Sarah, Katerina, Casey or me.

The farm lands are largely farmed mono-crop. Meaning lots of acreage is devoted to only one crop (around here it's lots of strawberries). This means pest control is a huge problem. Lots of one type of plant, lots of bugs that eat that one type of plant, nothing that comes to eat those bugs. Pesticides kill those bugs.

Growing up around here, that is my idea of farming. Apparently, an understanding quite similar to my neighbor Luke's, hence his surprise to hear of five young, lovely ladies farming.

This "understanding" of farming is what gets me out of control excited about what we are doing here at the Abundant Table Farm Project. This "understanding" of farming is what is getting the community out of control excited about what we are doing. This "understanding" of farming is what got the ATFP on the front page of the Sunday Ventura County Star. We are turning this "understanding" of farming on its head.

We are working together, our motley cast of farmers along with as much support and involvement from the community as we can cultivate and harvest, to organically farm 10 acres with as much bio-diversity as we can plant and grow. Farmers are driving by our 10 acres and are boggled by this project Farmer Paul has taken on. What a crazy looking field with all kinds of different things growing! We are working from within to plant, weed, and harvest. The farmer is working his land! With ladies! We are involving our community to come to the farm to learn, have fun, and know where their food is coming from.

People, this is exciting. Isn't it?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Getting to know each other and the land

The party on Sunday was huge and delightful! I'm really thankful for the more than 100 folks that came out, some from L.A. and Long Beach and Orange County to celebrate with us!

A BIG THANKS!

The energy of the food, live music, and dancing still lingers in the air. And, I feel the blessings of all the guests (from so many spiritual communities!) in each of our rooms.

If it didn't feel like it before, now we are go! We've been weeding and transplanting and scoping out the Farmers' Markets!

On top of the Join the Farm aspects, we've been learning to live together in community. Above is a pic from Sunday! It's such an honor to live with my sisterfriends. They are each of them a woman who is unique, hard-working, and real! How could I ask for more when it comes to communal living?

The last thing I wanted to touch on for this blog is labyrinths. We are creating one here on the farm this year, and I'm just too excited. I met with Rev. Nicole Janelle at UCSB yesterday to talk about the possibilities of making one there in Santa Barbara as well. I liked the idea mucho. My hope is to someday create a labyrinth based on my own design....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

assignment

Before the house blessing this past weekend (to stick with this week's unofficial ATFP blog theme) we had a long list of to-dos: assemble publicity materials for the CSA, make our beds, strip the experimental garden of zucchinis and patty-pan squash in hopes that we could off-load some of the abundance onto our guests...

My favorite assignment in preparation for that evening was given to the five of us interns by Julie Morris. She asked us each to bring to the Eucharist service something symbolizing our intention to be present on the farm this year. Now the candles on the mantle in the community room have been joined by a journal, a bundle of New Mexican sage, an Ethiopian cross, a childrens book (The Carrot Seed), and a clay cup made by the Dalit.

(You can keep all the radishes you can pick if you correctly match the five objects to the five interns. Actually, you can have all the radishes you can pick no matter how you score. Seriously, help us out here!)

One of the reasons I liked this assignment so much was that it ended up being really easy (at least for me). For graduation my parents gave me this wooden Ethiopian cross

(not hard to guess that was mine, right?!) to take with me, a reminder of the things that have been constant as I've lived on four continents, and will remain constant in however many more places I'll call "home" long enough to have a bed and a bicycle.
Sitting there on the mantle, it is also a reminder of something I hope to learn from this year - how to be present in all the places I will live in a way that is conscious not only of their historical, social, political, cultural, and economic particularities, but also of the uniqueness of the land itself and the people who live closest to it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pink Radishes: A poem in pictures



This past Sunday we hosted our inaugural event, the ATFP house blessing and BBQ. We journeyed as a group out to the field to end the blessing time with a blessing on the land that we interns are farming. After the blessing, our visitors got a little tour of the 10 acres and the crops we planted, with particular emphasis and open invitation to help harvest the pink radishes that are already proliferating in excess (these crops just don't know how to wait). Since I happened to have grabbed our trusty dispenser of used plastic bags on the way to the field, I stood at the end of the row offering bags to people as they returned from harvesting, hands bursting with bright pink radishes. I felt like a bagger at a grocery store, but in a completely new sense, almost as if that metaphor had been turned on its head. On this non-shopping occasion, our visitors were consuming in an altogether different way, a more participatory and connected way. The people coming down the "aisle" to get their radishes bagged were literally picking their own produce, not from a shelf, but from the dirt.
And that's what this short poem that I just finished is all about. Come pick pink radishes (and maybe some weeds too) with us sometime.

Pink Radishes
The crowd walks out to our field
to see how exactly food grows,
there are yellow, purple, and green beans,
the gold corn left from the crows,
and, like bright eggs in a carton,
pink radishes packed in tight rows.



After a blessing, the harvest,
"Pick all you can hold," we invite,
without cart or basket they scatter,
and bend over the Pinks in delight.



A woman leads her young daughter
between two furrows of dirt,
clutching produce to feed her
a vegetable chocolate dessert•.



I stand as our guests come back loaded,
holding bags like some check-out clerk.
But these aren't some super-store shoppers,
No, these hands have touched earth!




A reference to Julie Morris' kickin' chocolate-dipped radish appetizers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

oh, the house was blessed

yesterday was a big ol' day for us here at the farmhouse. see, we've been planning for september 6th practically since the moment we stepped through the front door of 472o e. hueneme. we invited all of our friends and family to come and celebrate the beginning of our year of farming, and also to participate in eucharist and an inter-faith house blessing. 

and there was quite a turn out.

i've heard estimates that somewhere between 120 and 150 people passed through the doors of our humble abode last night! we sang songs together, we were commissioned as interns, we blessed the bedrooms, the kitchen, the office, the backyard and the farmland in Catholic, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, and Episcopalian traditions. we feasted on mesquite barbeque alongside a wide array of delectable salads and desserts. there was live music provided by bill knutsen's band, and then, there was also the dancing. oh the dancing... honestly, i'm sorry if you missed the dancing. it was surely the stuff of legend. all in all, it was incredible night. i am honored and deeply grateful to be a part of something that so many believe in and have chosen to support. thank you to all who came. you have helped us start the year off with a bang!

i cannot wait to have another celebration with our family and friends. and harvest time is coming up quick. my goal: invite more folks. i say, at least 250 next time. ¡sí se puede!




Join the Farm! in the news

Here's the link to the front page article of yesterday's Ventura County Star article on our CSA! http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2009/sep/06/farmers-preparing-to-share-harvest-with/

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Blogging tardiness: Cristy Rose


My sisterfriends are shining here on the blog, and I’m feeling compelled to step things up. Thus, I’ve made a list of topics I’d like to cover in today’s blog: Process-Relational Theology/Thealogy, the main point behind the Bible from where I stand now, Water Conservation Month, and lastly, the need for a Wailing Wall.

Before I begin, I’d like you to know that Thursday has been a particularly favorite day of mine for a while. I feel Thursday, unlike other days, is more connected to autumn. I think of Thursday, and in the same moment, I think of autumn, and I like this even though I now identify as a Summertime Person in general.

Okay, first of all, I’m studying Process-Relational Theology/Thealogy for the first time in my life; well, actually, I’m studying it for the first time with this title. I’ve been considering the importance of relationships and dialogue for a goodly amount of my life being an English Literature and Writing fan. I’ve come to the conclusion recently that it’s the relational and conversational experiences that are vital in life. I’m working on being an authentic self, which means speaking MY language instead of complying with another’s and/or denying mine. Then, when the other person speaks their authentic language, we miraculously come to a third language all our own! That’s relationship as I see it! If I only speak his/her language, I’m objectifying myself! If I attempt to control the other person’s language, I’m objectifying him/her, and objectification is my new word for “sin.” Anyways, it’s really nice to have a title or the umbrella of Process-Relational Theology/Thealogy to put this conversation of language under. I’m glad it belongs somewhere.

Second, I’ve been having conversations about the Bible and Torah a lot lately. I first took a class in the Herstory of Judaic Tradition. The question was asked, “How can a person against oppression and privilege (in questions of sex and gender, that is, a feminist/womanist) even acknowledge the Torah or Bible?” With so much HIStory about power and conquering and rape and war and obvious privileging of the chosen and the men, why do I even bother continuing to dialogue about the Bible? WHY?!!! Aren’t I just validating an oppressive system? I’ve thought for a while that it could be like I’m keeping my enemies close, but recent conversations have inspired me to remember/rethink what I take away from my childhood Sunday school classes, that it might be a story of how unconditional love continues to resurrect itself (like the nature) after being murdered again and again in 5000 years of oppression and privilege! I’m still at odds with the whole Jesus man thing. Even though I like this Sophia Jesus language, it’s not enough.

This brings me to my third point (I’ll come back to Water Conservation Month): We need a wailing wall at the farm and in life. We need a place to throw and release and cry and ….WAIL …because we are the survivors of white/men/rational/exclusive/wealthy/educated/western and, yes, Christian privilege. I understand that this year of intentionality at the farm is going to give us a closer look at inequality and abuse as we advocate for the earth and all people. We need a place to feel anger and sadness and let them go because keeping that anger and sadness hurts us the most. By holding them in, we become, as Laura Riding writes, part of the oppressive muddle from which we are seeking freedom.

This leads me to my last point -- Water Conservation Month at the farm. This month, we are dedicated to only using one bowl and one cup for, at least, this week (in addition to cooking ware). Yesterday, we also sang one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s songs – Yes, I do think Buddhism too is very male/masculine biased – which speaks to the freedom I am cultivating inside and out:

Breathing in, Breathing out.
I’m water reflecting what is real, what is true.
And, I feel there is space deep inside of me.
I am free.

jack rabbit packing demo

video

So, as we are now "real" farmers here at Join the Farm!, we have developed some systems to keep us farming efficiently. When it comes to transplanting, there are four positions: hole poker (this person pokes the holes to put the transplants in), transplant hander (this person pulls the transplant from the container and hands the plant to the placer), the placer (this person places the transplant in the hole) , and the packer (this person packs the plant in place in the hole-arguably the most physical of the positions). We rotate the positions so everyone gets a chance and doesn't burn out. I developed a method for the packer position. The jack rabbit allows me to quickly move from plant to plant, pack the plant in, and then cover with dirt and press down. These systems help us to do great work. Some other methods arose during our transplanting session. The competition method. This is where Sarah and Kyle race to place the plant in a row, only damaging a marginal number of plants. The deliberate method. Casey was very deliberate and gentle in poking her holes, placing and packing. "Slow and steady wins the race." So yes, a good day. Kyle also explained the difference between gingers and day walkers, but I will let him explain that when he blogs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

fighter jets, a good excuse to go camping, and bunnies

Here on the farm we have interesting neighbors. I haven't actually met anyone who lives on our road, because there isn't really anyone (and maybe that's why it's so hard to get our trash collected), but the other inhabitants of our area do make life exciting.

#1 NAWS - the Naval Air Weapons Station. Not only does this particular facility obstruct direct access to the ocean, we must daily suspend conversation during the sonic boom following fighter jet landings. The planes are frequently mounted with funny disks, which I'm told are cameras. I think they know what we're up to.

Hidden benefit: Their missile display does provide nice shade for stretching mid-way through my morning runs.

#2 Industrial agriculture. The Oxnard plain has some of the world's best soil, and hence many of its biggest growers. Buying Driscoll strawberries in Wheaton a few months ago, I thought "I'm going where this was grown", and sure enough, they're just down the road. On a recent bike ride I passed the largest greenhouse in the United States. Berries, tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, lima beans, avocados, citrus and many other crops are grown on a huge scale around here. There are a range of systems and practices that allow these massive fields to be farmed with minimal human input, and I'm sure we'll be talking more about those in this blog. The one that's germane to our house at the moment is fumigation.

Sometime in the next few days we'll be clearing out of the farmhouse for a night while the soil on one of the neighboring berry fields is fumigated. A chemical called chloropicrin will be added into the irrigation tape running under the plastic covering the berry beds. Though we are outside the "buffer zone" for this particular application, there have been problems with chloropicrin exposure in the past. Apparently it has effects similar to tear gas (go figure since it, like many pesticides was first used as a chemical weapon in WWI), so the farmers don't want to take any chances and neither do we. A window into our food system...

Hidden benefit: We are planning to take this opportunity to go camping.

#3 Rabbits. I'm with Mr. McGregor on this one. The bunnies have to go. We planted an appetizing salad mix a week ago in our experimental garden amongst the avocado trees, and I doubt we'll ever even see any of it. Bloodmeal, pepper, rotten eggs, fences, and of course a .22 have all been suggested.

Hidden benefit: none

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recipe 2: How to make soil from scratch!

Casey talked about this in her blog, which I read after starting mine, but it’s worth recycling (warning: some pretty bad puns might *ahem* "worm" their way into this post)…

Last Saturday, the Abundant Table Farm house hosted its first community education event on backyard composting. Since August was Erynn’s “sustainability topic” month (we’ll focus on a different topic/ issue each month – next is water!), she invited Brian Critchley from Agromin, a local organics recycled soil company, to come and share with us and our broader community about how to do backyard composting, and do it well. If I may say so myself, it was quite a success - a totally “trashy” time, just as advertised! ;) hehe.

Here is a basic recipe for what you need to make SOIL from scratch:

Onion skins
Carrot peels
Other vegetable scraps
Melon rinds, orange peels
Pits of plums, nectarines, apples, etc.
Lawn clippings
Coffee grounds, tea bags (minus staple)
Wood chips
Leaves, plant clippings
Old newspapers
Pretty much any plant matter that decomposes.
Do not include animal products like milk, cheese, grease, or meat. These will ruin the recipe, and invite unwanted guests to your compost container.

As you cook and eat throughout the day, collect the scraps from the above listed ingredients. We use a little bin with a lid next to our sink as a useful depository for our vegetable and fruit waste. There are special containers you can buy that fit under your sink, but that’s a little too fancy for us. Once you’ve emptied a few pail-fulls of your kitchen waste into an outside compost container, you are ready to start aerating that hot pot of potential. (The blog site http://compostinstructions.com/home-composting-is-easy/ shows a range of container types that are available – our newest one will be made of chicken wire.)

STIR IT. Compost needs to be stirred so that the material will break down faster, so get those blender muscles whirring and stir it up! Use a small 3-pronged pitchfork or thin shovel to turn the dense bottom layers onto the top and thoroughly mix all the different ingredients. As in baking, dry and wet must be totally combined. If you stir at least once a day and keep the contents moist, you may see beautiful, freshly made soil in as little as three weeks.

MIX IT. By mix it, I mean mix in all different kinds of material. The best combination for making great soil is the pairing of carbon and nitrogen-based materials. Carbon comes from more woody substances like the wood chips, old newspapers, and plant stems listed above. Wood ashes can also be used occasionally. The fruit and vegetable matter will pump up your nitrogen factor, as will leaves and coffee grounds. Along with your carbon and nitrogen-based materials, you can throw in old (biodegradable) dishwater, dog water, or regular water into the bin to keep it moist for optimum soil production.

BAKE IT. Well, not really. It’ll do this on its own, and can get up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. A good range is anywhere from 110 – 140 degrees (correct me if I’m wrong, folks), but this isn’t really going to be your concern. All the wonderful earthworms churning the earth, bugs and bacteria gobbling up what you can’t eat, and good ol’ sunlight will generate so much warmth, you’ll be able to feel the heat practically pulsing from that container.

ENJOY IT. Last step to this soil recipe: given time and minimal proper care, dark, fertile soil will soon form! It’s really just nature doing its thing here – decomposition isn’t your doing, you’re just helping the process along. And it’s better to let the process run in your own backyard, where you and your family/ friends can watch the miracle take place, rather than taking up space in some dump where it’s too tight for the waste to even break down. Use the soil created in your garden as soon as it’s not clumpy or smelly, but sifts easily through your fingers. Even a layer of half an inch will improve your lawn or garden, and your plants will thank you in growth spurts and blooms.

Here are some of the pictures from our composting event:

Abundant Table supporters and community members gather first in our family room for a q&a session on composting.



Ahhh! Nothin' like a whiff of waste. Brian takes in all the information he needs about our pit in one sniff. Woo - eee. Too much compacted grass, not enough water, and who last stirred that thing?



Erynn has at it. Casey has a gentler stirring technique, but this lady shows that pile o' detritus who's boss.



You can actually feel the heat from all the activity going on in this bin.



We look on as Mike Taylor investigates the bottom layer and says, "Anaerobic! No No NO!" Reaching back to the recesses of our brains to remember 11th grade chemistry classes, we nod and grab the pitchfork.



Thanks to all involved - we learned so much and anticipate some quality dirt.