Monday, October 4, 2010


Pulling on baggy work pants and rain boots this evening to take out the trash, I got hit by an extra-strong wave of farm nostalgia. My spaghetti sauce could use some fresh basil, my body could use a few hours of field work, and my spirit misses the company of my four sisterfriends.

Having boots on my feet also reminds me of a promise to update the Abundant Table community on my whereabouts post cross-continent move. After a roadtripping through some of the most beautiful parts of the US (you should have seen the look on the face of the woman selling tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmers market in Casper, Wyoming when I asked if I could pay for my selection in fresh California lemons and avocados!) and spending a few weeks resting and catching up with my parents at my aunt and uncle’s dairy farm in Lancaster, PA, I finally ended up in New York City a little less than a month ago. I just started my fourth week of working on the transition from the farm to the office, from the comfy world of flannel and rubber boots to the ambiguities of “business casual”, from “whenever we’re up til whenever it’s done” to a 9-5.

I’m doing a one-year AmeriCorps position with a community-based organization in North Brooklyn. For the first and final four months, my job is screening our clients (mostly low-income job seekers) for eligibility for public benefits (mostly food stamps and Medicaid). It’s a little like case work – talking to folks to find out what their situation is, helping them fill out applications, letting them know what offices to go to, and following up to see how things went. While the work itself is worlds different from the farm, I find myself continuing to wrestle with one of the fundamental questions posed at the Abundant Table: how to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food.

January-April things will look very different. My co-workers and I will be running a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assessment) center, helping our clients file their taxes for free and making sure they get all the credits and refunds they qualify for. I’m enjoying my supervisor and co-workers, my interaction with clients, and (ever the nerd) the challenge of learning the endlessly complicated (and dysfunctional) system of public benefits in the U.S.

But as I couldn’t quite handle a complete break with the world of farming and sustainable food systems (and in order to supplement the AmeriCorps stipend that leaves me eligible for many of the benefits I recommend for my clients), I found work once a week as a Market Hand at the New Amsterdam Market. The market is an exciting effort to re-introduce a public market (much like a farmers market, only with more of an emphasis on regionally-sourced prepared foods like cheeses and pies) to NYC's 350 year-old market district in the south seaport area of Manhattan. It’s also an exciting chance for me to interact with vendors, customers, and the odd farm apprentice, and occasionally talk my way into a free loaf of fresh bread or half a bottle of good NY wine.

My free time includes a shameful amount of getting lost, a (thus far fruitless) search for a permanent place to live, a good library, a church community like the Abundant Table, and an affordable place to practice yoga, and vicariously getting my Masters in Food Studies through Mark. I’m enjoying an incredible array of apples, slowly finding new friends, and the ever-fascinating diversity of New Yorkers (my walk 1.5 mile walk to work, for example, takes me from hipster-art-school land through a Hasidic Jewish community and past the projects).

This time tomorrow I’ll also be enjoying the company of a certain Katerina, which reminds me that though my room may be 7x9 (and yes, that measurement is in feet), I always love friendly faces from out of town. It helps with the nostalgia, you know…

Hope all of you are well.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Article on the Abundant Table

Check out the latest Episcopal Broadcast, a newsletter for church youth leaders, for a piece I wrote about the Abundant Table:

If you read the article on Food and Faith, it looks like we have a "sister" farm in NY! Go, sisters!

Friday, July 23, 2010

what I leave behind

At our big start-of-the-project celebration last August, Julie asked each of us interns to put something on the mantel of the community room as a symbol of our presence on the farm this year. At our closing gathering a few weeks ago we each took those symbols and were asked to replace them with something that signified what the Project has meant to us or what we would be leaving here.

A couple of days before the service I decided that my contribution would be a beautiful jar of different colored carrots from the farm given to us by one of Casey's (many, and generous) farmers' market friends. It fit - something from the Farm, made from scratch by a member of our community; something reflective of the amazing diversity of vegetables you discover when you grow for people in your local area and focus on taste rather than appearance or durability on a cross-country journey.

But it was missing something. I had no real personal attachment to that jar of carrots, and leaving it here would be easy. Leaving here is anything but easy.

Though I tried to avoid it the whole afternoon leading up to the service, I knew what I had to leave – a piece of my experience, both what brought me to the Farm and what the Farm has meant to me. A piece of myself.

So instead of the jar of carrots I left this…

It’s a bag I was given several years ago, made by a woman named Rose who lived in a refugee camp in dry, drought-prone northern Kenya. The bag is made from the sacks used to deliver US food aid, usually in the form of corn and soybeans grown in surplus in the US because of subsidies. This aid often ironically exacerbates famine by flooding markets with under-priced food and putting local farmers out of business. It acts, at very best, as a band-aid on the deep structural problems of our global food system. It was interactions with these unjust, destructive globalized systems that brought me to the Farm in the first place, and it’s appropriate that what I leave represents my continued passion for these issues.

But that bag is something else as well. It is creativity and an assertion of beauty in the midst of a very difficult situation. It is personal, with Rose’s name written lightly in ballpoint pen at the top. It came to me through relationships, as a gift. This, to me, is what the Abundant Table is about – something small and faithful and life-giving done creatively in the heart of the system. The daily sight of spray rigs and hazard signs in the fields around us and the sound of fighter jets landing less than a mile away at Point Mugu are a reminder of what this community strives to create an alternative to, but opposing these systems has never been the point. The Abundant Table has been about creating good food and gathering a diverse community at the table to eat it, a community that in turn has fed us. On just five acres in a corner of Ventura County, it’s only a whisper in the face of the problems, but has been transformative to those of us at the center.

I started my intern year knowing I had a strong sense of how I wanted to live but little idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I hoped that spending a year living out many of the things that are most important to me would help give a little direction to the career-path end of things, but this is perhaps the only way the ATFP hasn’t met or exceeded my expectations. In March of 2009 I planned on moving from Chicago to D.C. in the summer (and was wrong – I moved to Oxnard). In March of 2010 I planned on moving from Oxnard to D.C. (and again I was wrong – I’ll be moving to New York City). In March of 2009 I planned on getting a job doing research or administrative work, and ended up farming. In March of 2010 I hoped to find work doing research or advocacy related to food systems or international development, but at this rate who knows where I’ll end up . Though there is very little certainty in my plans for the coming months, I do carry with me a deep sense of gratitude for the Abundant Table community and for the ways this year has shaped me.

Thank you.

Monday, July 12, 2010

the beginning is the end is the beginning

9 days of work and 11 days of living. That is all the time that I have left here in the farmhouse that has become my home over the past 11 months. I've spent the last few weeks moving quickly, filling my minutes, because the moment that I stop I come to feel the weight of what I am walking away from, and it is quite difficult to bear. It was not an easy decision to leave this beautiful place, this joyful and supportive community, this trying and rewarding work. But sometimes there are moments of clarity when we realize that it is time to share what it is that we have learned, rather than to stay comfortably put. I recall a conversation I had a few months ago with Tezzo, one of the South Central farmers. He asked me what all of the interns were doing after the year ended. As I was about to respond, he said, "You're all going off to start your own farms, right?" He believes, as I do, that our farms and the communities that are supported by them are not isolated occurrences, but rather signs of a movement, a movement that we hope to see grow. So that is what I am doing. I'm following the movement. I'm hoping to discover it and play my part in furthering it in new places.

Yesterday I finished my application for a farm job in Arizona. The farmer I'm hoping to work for asked me to write my agricultural "mission" statement, basically a collection of my farming experiences, educational knowledge base, and vocational aspirations. I can think of no better way to sum-up what it is I am taking away from this year than with the final paragraph of that piece.

"Through learning, through working, through failures and successes, I hope to be able to learn enough to start-up small-scale, truly sustainable farms in and near urban areas. How many, I cannot yet say. But I know that I want the fruit of these farms to provide food security and food access to people regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. These farms will incorporate permaculture design techniques with animal husbandry, biodynamic, and integrated pest management practices so as to conserve water and not rely heavily on outside inputs to maintain the health of the soil and plants. These farms will save seeds when they can and strive to grow heirloom varieties in the hope of preserving crop diversity. I wish for these farms to be economically viable, to provide living wages to those who work them full time. It seems that I want it all. And I do. I want to continue to work with and learn from those who are actually living my dream, so that I may one day be able to teach others. This organic farming thing that we are doing is all-consuming, time and work and labor intensive, unpredictable, insecure, and (from the outside) quite foolish. But we on the inside know that there is something old that we are remembering. We know that there is honor in working the land, in growing food, in preserving Earth, in providing for our families. I want to be a part of sharing and practicing that knowledge. That is my work."

This year I discovered my vocation: to be a thought-full farmer. Though my time as an intern with the Abundant Table Farm Project is ending, what I have learned, what we all have learned, this year is only beginning. The farm goes on! Food continues to grow! The soil continues to live! We all continue to feast. It has been a joy working with, eating with, and rejoicing with you. This is my best year, my fullest year, the year where I came to honestly know and love myself. This is the year I found peace with God. This is the year that I discovered family in 4 strangers. This is the year, but it's only the beginning. There will be many more to come, for all of us interns and for all of you. This year has changed us all.

Should you like to keep up on my adventures, feel free to peruse my personal blog. I was rather infrequent with my postings over the last 11 months, but I can only imagine that I will have a great deal more time for writing and processing living in the basement of my parents' house in Arizona. And if this is where we part, know that I will continue to remember you and this place and this year. I will re-member in thought and in practice. Blessings. Peace. Joy. Gratitude.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

birds of the air

A couple of weeks after moving the Farm I noticed something odd…in the middle of all this farmland, I only rarely saw or heard birds. A few more weeks passed and we were exiled from the Farmhouse for a night while a fumigant called chloropickerin (re-purposed WWI tear gas) was being pumped into the strawberry field next to us. Things started to make sense.

When you sterilize the soil, you kill all the bugs.
When you kill all the bugs, there’s nothing for the birds to eat.

A few weeks later I noticed something else. What sounded like bottle rockets being set off every 15 or 20 minutes were actually flares being shot in the fields around us to scare away birds that might want to eat the crops. The scarcity of birds on the Oxnard plain is more than just the passive result of the conventional field environment.

Looking out at the hundreds of acres of monocultured specialty crops (which require high pesticide application) that surround our farm, I doubted that what we were doing on 5 acres could make much of a difference.

But at least where the birds are concerned, I am being proven (happily) wrong. A group of students from Casa Pacifica (a school a couple of miles down the road from the farm that serves abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed kids) recently conducted their science fair project on our farm. They wanted to compare organic and conventional fields, and decided to count the number of birds they observed on different plots as a way of comparing biodiversity.

The Casa Pacifica students (Jackie, Matthew and Thomas) hypothesized that there would be more birds on our organic field, and here’s what they found:
We observed three different agricultural fields within 40 feet of each other in Camarillo, we found that there was an average of close to 16 birds in the organic field and less than one bird in the same amount of time at each of the conventional fields. Not only did we not see birds, when we looked at the produce in the furrows between the plants, they were not bitten off of, which we think tells us that birds had not been there at all. We talked with the farmers of the organic field and they stated that they think the birds are good to have around and they do not worry about the crop loss due to the birds eating the produce because they think that because there are so many bugs, the birds that come to their field eat the bugs, not the produce. It is our thought that the farmers should attempt to provide nesting grounds in the area of their fields for birds that eat the bugs that eat their produce. This nesting ground would provide permanent organic pesticides…birds! Our hypothesis was that there would be more birds in the organic field when compared to the conventional field, and we were correct.
So here's to the difference we can make by doing things well, even on such a small scale.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

a CSA meditation

Every Tuesday we start our farm meetings with a "zero moment" - a pause to reflect on why we do the work that we do here. Often these moments are inspired by words of feedback and encouragement shared by visitors, friends of the Project, and our CSA members.

In honor of Tuesday farm meetings, here's this week's zero moment, written by one of our subscribers:

Meditations on My CSA Box by Meenal Kelkar

Kris is out of town today, so I had the exclusive pleasure of picking up our CSA box, as well as washing the contents. I find myself reflecting on how much I have changed in the past 6 months since we first subscribed for this box. When we first joined, there were often pick-up complications with the friends who were splitting the box with us, and we would both feel overwhelmed and even drained at the thought of the washing and drying that proceeded the storage effort. But as we know … given time … things can change! Here are my musings from today …

I was the first to arrive at the YMCA today, so I had my pick of boxes. I felt happy to see that there are more subscribers at this spot than last season – word is spreading about this bounty! And then I felt eagerness at seeing the purple beans on top of one box, the drops of water on the heads of lettuce in another … the four boxes in a row looked like a cornucopia! How lucky I am to have such a mouth-watering, freshly picked decision to make!

As I fill my two sinks with water, clear the counters on either side of the sink so that there is a flow between the create, washing, rinsing, drying and my refrigerator bin, I reflect on this chance to take a much needed mid-day break from the computer. A break that I generally intend for myself and usually forget, so I intentionally timed my pick-up mid-day to ensure I took a break. My one day each week where I do honor my promise to myself.

And as I wash, I get to soak my hands in the lukewarm water, swishing the greens back and forth, first in the soapy water and then in the rinse water. Occasionally, my focus changes to dry leaves in the spinner or pat them dry with the towel. As I reveal layer, upon layer of produce, I find myself anticipating what awaits me underneath. Often a surprise lays hidden: a few weeks ago, it was a handful of artichokes … later, a bag of lima beans … more recently, purple beans! Last week, there were two perfectly shaped globes of zucchini nestled amongst the carrots and turnips. I’ll confess to my dirty little secret … sometimes there are so many greens that my refrigerator is bursting at the seams, so often the carrot and turnip tops go directly into my compost bin. I feel a twinge of guilt at that confession, knowing that my grandmother would have ensured that every little piece would have been savored … cooked, canned, dried, pickled … so many ways to preserve this bounty.

And as I watch the dirt and water spiral down the drain, I feel an enormous sense of privilege at what could be perceived by many as a chore. You see … this past Sunday, another layer was added to my appreciation when I got to be a part of the community celebration for Casey, Cristy Rose, Katerina, Sarah, and Erynn, the 5 interns who grew, harvested, and distributed the vegetables for the CSA. Each one of these women are pioneers in the Abundant Table Farm Project, sharing a passion for radical progressive change, the need for spiritual connection beyond existing religious affiliations, the desire for food equality, and the sheer joy at providing nurturing, wholesome produce to their ever growing circle of subscribers. On one hand, it is so lovely knowing that the fields are blessed by interfaith clergy each year. But the level of both intention and attention that these 5 women devote to each box of produce is stunning. … And humbling. Everything that it has taken to get this box to me comprises a devotional practice for them … as it has now become for me.

Do I really have to get back on the computer?!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free,
'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

Refrain: When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right.

Last night, we hosted our final Abundant Table Farm Project party for this internship year. The party started with a service, during which we sang one of my favorite songs (lyrics above), a Shaker dance song called, "Simple Gifts."

This song could not be more appropriate as we end our time together. It has been a year of simple gifts: sharing in unexpectedly deep friendships with four other sisterfriends, witnessing the miracle of life happening as seeds germinate and chickens grow, harvesting food for our table and so many other tables as well, welcoming friends and strangers alike into our home, seeing our farm become a hub for community engagement and justice work, forming relationships with CSA members, farmers' marketers, farm workers, nuns, professors, students, the list goes on and on.

This year has not always been the "valley of love and delight" of course. There was a period
when our abundant table looked pretty barren, when we did not know if the farm would survive, and when we did not know if we could push harder than we were pushing physically or emotionally. Gone now are any notions I once had of the idyllic farm life. Instead, I now bear a deeper understanding of why my grandparents left that life and a felt knowledge of the challenges that this economic system holds for small farmers.

Yet this year has also instilled in me the belief that "to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed." My manual labor in the field and my work with the local organization, "House Farm Workers," taught me that though farm work is socially marginalized, often underpaid, and under-acknowledged, this labor forms the core of our society. Our survival rests upon the labor of farmers and farm workers, their daily maintenance of the soil, and the sustenance of food that comes from their hands. For this reason, and for the work itself, I have come to realize the essential dignity of farm work and the respect it deserves. I have stopped wondering if I am too "good" (educated, full of potential, etc.) for this, and have started to ask if I am worthy of this work. I now know it is holy work.

I am forever changed by this work and by this place. In some capacity or other, my hands will remain connected to earth. Already, I have begun to transition away from work at the Farm and have started working as a community garden coordinator at a local 1 acre community garden called Community Roots Garden. The Garden is a shared space where people come to volunteer and learn how to grow their own school/ community/ home gardens. It is also a ministry of the North Oxnard United Methodist Church, and the harvest goes to local food pantries and a women's shelter. I'm excited to continue sharing the gift of growing food and building community with and for all who are hungry (for all are hungry, in some way or other!).

I'll also be working part-time as an assistant for dear friends of the Farm, Ched Meyers and Elaine Enns at Bartimaeus Coorperative Ministries, who inspire me in their work of peace, justice, and radical Christian faith. Their Oak View home has been a place of rest and retreat for us at different points, and I look forward to learning from them there.

As I was deciding where to live this coming season, I couldn't shake the feeling that this feels like home now - as the song says, "tis the gift to come down where you ought to be." So, I've decided to continue to live at the Farmhouse as a part of the Abundant Table community! (Though not as a farm intern.) This means I'll get to welcome in the 2010 interns and journey with them through the ins and outs of farm life.
And, if you don't find me on this blog, I may be updating my old blog,, now and again.

Living the Gift,

Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again

Times of transition require giving pause, and as I step into my final three days of living in the Oxnard farmhouse, I want to honor the "year" here as well as accept the coming change. I'm not going very far, and so I think of the phrase I've heard some dear friends use to say good-bye - "merry meet and merry part and merry meet again" - and I pause here on our blog to be grateful.

There are certain things I am grateful for/ I will miss from this year as an intern/farmer/farm worker.

I am grateful for/ I will miss playing guitar in the morning in the big room with Oliver

I am grateful for/ I will miss driving down Hueneme Road

I am grateful for/ I will miss living so close to the ocean

I am grateful for/ I will miss my farm harvesting outfits

There are parts of the work we do that I will miss as well, including:

Working at the market

Retreats at the farm

Early morning in the fields!

ATFP parties at the house

Dinners in the big kitchen

Interviewing for the paper

Also, it's been wonderful to live in a place that friends want to visit! Having friends visit the farm has been another great honor. I think of...

Of course, a great part of this project has been getting to know my four sisterfriends!

And, last, I am grateful for my relationship with the Earth.

Altogether, the Oxnard farm is where I believe I was meant to be. I take away precious memories and a renewed sense of trust in the power of our relationships with ourselves, each other, and the Earth.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A poem by Julie Morris, beet poet

Julie's been writing midnight beet poems, and sent us one this morning.

On meeting the beet week after week

First, I resist the foreigners.

Next, I resolve to include them in the hot melting pot.

Soon, I preach their inherent goodness.

To my surprise, my eight year old speaks their language.

Hauerwas defines family as “strangers God has given us to love.”

They all arrive on Tuesday, in my CSA box.

If any one else wants to share CSA-inspired poems, email them our way!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Of Pie and Pentecost

In celebration of Pentecost Sunday, the day in the Christian liturgical tradition when the Spirit of God descended on the disciples of Jesus, I baked a "Tongues of Flame" pie for our potluck dinner. Loquats from our backyard and mangos saved from a Whole Foods dumpster went into the filling. I was pretty proud of how it turned out. If you look close, you can see the tongues of flame as slits in the crust :)

"Tongues of Flame" Loquat-Mango Pie

I don't come from a liturgical church tradition that celebrates Pentecost Sunday, and I've really enjoyed participating in the multitude of special days celebrated by the Episcopal/Anglican Church. From Epiphany and Lent to the Passion to Pentecost and Advent, it feels like I'm a part of a story that's larger than myself. This story is the broader story of the church that throughout the year is dying and being re-born through the re-telling and remembering of the narrative of Scripture.

I think that our journey as an Abundant Table community can also be told through this story. In just the past year, we've gone through a lot of growth, and also a lot of change. We're working through fears and questions about the sustainability of our project, and much is still unknown. Will we live and flourish? This church tradition, with its living memory of an old, old story, is a comfort to me and also hope-giving. Pentecost Sunday seems to come at just the right time for our questions, breathing life and wind into our sails and bringing an energy that excites me. There is something new in the air...

“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams..."

-Acts 2:17, from the prophet Joel

Friday, May 21, 2010

what a great idea!

Check out the great blog started by our members at our newest drop off site (Calvert St. Elementary School in Woodland Hills), talking about what they do with their boxes!

A blessing for the Abundant Table

Thank you, john o'donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Meet your Farmer

This post comes from an interview for our CSA newsletter a few weeks ago with Agustin, who, along with his brother Juan, has been helping us with farm work at "Join the Farm." Agustin is something of a farm manager for us here. He does everything from cultivating, mowing, weeding, irrigation, and maintaining equipment to watering the outer roads of the field to keep down dust. With his background knowledge from growing up on a farm, he gives us tips on extending crop life and advice on plant problems. I've loved getting to know Agustin, and his jovial nature and jokes make our work lighter. Here's his short bio from the newsletter:

Agustin Contreras has been working on the DeBusschere family ranch for 18 of the 37 years that he's lived in the U.S. As he helped us wash carrots, turnips and leeks for your CSA boxes, he amiably answered some questions for this newsletter. Agustin comes from the town of Querendaro, Michoacan, Mexico. Some of Agustin's favorite memories from Querendaro include tending his family's cattle and helping out with the farm work there. His father left the farm in Agustin's care to work in Temecula, CA as one of over 4 million Mexicans contracted for agricultural labor as part of the Bracero program during the 1940's.
After 18 years of working on his family's farm, Agustin also left Mexico along with four of his siblings because it became too hard to feed the family there. He recently became a U.S. citizen, along with his brother Juan, the other employee on the Ranch. Agustin lives in Oxnard close to his sister and brother and is a favorite uncle of his nieces and nephews. On his day off, when he's not taking his nieces and nephews to their various appointments and activities, he likes to relax with a beer or two. His favorite vegetables are onions, garlic, and chili peppers. Agustin brought us back some chili seeds to plant from a holiday visit to his hometown, so hopefully we can share them with you too this summer!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Of Dirt and Worms and Birds

Last Friday, Raising Micah came out to visit the farm. They are a local group of families who want to raise their children in community to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God." Every month, they have a reading to reflect upon, and also take learning or service trips together. This month's reading is called "Of Dirt and Worms" (I highly recommend it!), and so they came out to our farm to learn about the importance of good soil. We had a lot of fun digging for carrots, looking at mycorrhizae, feeling, smelling and - for one earth-loving youngster - rolling in the soil, warming our hands over compost, and talking about all the living things in and around dirt. Before leaving the field, I led the group tip-toeing down the furrow beside our artichoke row to see a discovery that made my day last week:
A sparrow's nest! The kids immediately made the connection between the presence of the birds and healthy soil. When I asked them what the nest is a sign of, they yelled, "Worms!" and "Bugs!"

We talked a little bit about some of the basic differences between organic and conventional agriculture. Because we don't spray chemical pesticides, there are more insects and living things in and around our soil, both beneficial (like ladybugs and microorganisms that break down organic matter in the soil) and not so beneficial (like aphids). When the fields around us are sprayed with pesticides, it affects all the living things there, from the soil to the bugs to the birds. The soil becomes sterile, since the natural processes by which microorganisms make nutrients available to plants are disrupted. This necessitates chemical fertilizers. So, in addition to buying chemical pesticides, a grower must now depend on chemical fertilizers (or tons of compost) to supply the 14 nutrients essential for plant growth. In contrast, healthy soil, given plenty of good rest and care, will develop a natural balance of minerals and nutrients. Though organic plants might not grow as fast as they do with chemical fertilizers, studies have shown that they absorb more nutrients over time and are, in the end, more dense in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that we need for life.

Out here on our island in the middle of a conventional agriculture sea, we see plenty of signs of life. Thanks to naturalist John Borneman's gift of a bird book to the farm, I've learned the names of some feathered fauna in our area , including the following spotted in our field:

-White-crowned and House Sparrows
-Western Scrub-jay
-Red-tailed Hawk
-All kinds of hummingbirds!

I am glad for these birds, for their own sake and because they are signs of good soil.

P.S. Sarah is organizing a farm event to bring in John Borneman and the kids from Casa Pacifica who did a science fair study comparing the numbers of birds on our farm and on conventional fields. We'll let you know when it is so you can mark your calendars to attend!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Happy Cesar Chavez Day!

I recently learned that Chavez lived here in Oxnard for a part of his childhood. He is still both highly regarded and highly controversial (depending who you talk to) in the area.
En memoria:

written by Cesar Chavez

Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I may know my people's plight.
Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person.
Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last.
Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers.
Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us.
Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle.
Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.

many hands...

This morning I successfully orchestrated a crop mob. What does one do with a group of 30 adult volunteers from Excel Charter Academy in LA who want to volunteer a few hours for a farming cause to mark Cesar Chavez day?

You make them weed.

And they did. I wish I had taken pictures, because within two hours they had cleaned up nearly half of the beds we're currently farming. And some of those weeds (I'm ashamed to admit) were getting alarmingly close to three feet tall.

Because they were a big group, they had fun doing it too. We in the new farmers/interns/kids-who-have-no-clue-but-really-want-to-be-involved-with-food world are prone to romanticize pre-WWII farming communities, but one thing I think we can unapologetically reclaim from that era is the practice of gathering a whole community to do in a few hours or a day the work (like barn raising, or clearing a few acres of weeds) that a few farmers couldn't tackle in a month - and making a celebration of it.

So many thanks to Excel Charter Academy, and here's to many more community work day/crop mobs to come!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Change: A lenten reflection

Every Wednesday during the 40 days of Lent, two of us make a soup and salad dinner for a gathering at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Ventura, a church that has been a faithful supporter of our project from the start. Father K. asks us to share about different aspects of the farm life as dinner is served. Last Wednesday, he asked me to talk about change.

I spoke about several changes that have been a part of this project - our project's growth, newer understandings of gratitude, and changes in physical endurance - but one of the changes I want to write more about now is a change in landscape.

Until recently, our farm was bordered on all four sides. On the north and east sides, Eucalyptus trees and fences, on the south side, at least 5 long acres of raspberry hoop houses, and on the west side, Poplar trees. I did not know how accustomed I had become to the familiar landscape of our field sheltered on all four sides. I guess it's not until something is gone that you realize how much you've grown to love it. The white hoop houses, which looked strikingly like the tops of Conestoga wagons, were the first to go. It was a slow dismantling as workers stripped their plastic outer shells, then the metal ribs. A foreman helped me glean a last little bowl of ripe berries before they finally mowed over the thorny vines.

After the operation next door removed their raspberries, the 5 acres we're working on suddenly felt more expansive. We saw cars on the Hwy 1 for the first time, and the trucks seemed noisier without the insulation of those hoop houses around us. If we looked hard enough, we could see "Missile Park" at the Navy base, an open-air museum of historic missiles with nice nature names such as "Oriole," "Sparrow," and "Loon." We watched the farm workers next door, previously obscured, picking fast to keep up with the huge machines that extend over about 10 rows of strawberries. Casey noticed that sometimes they break into a run to be able to pick more berries.

The southwest side

A few weeks after the raspberries went down, we drove out to our fridge truck on the west side of the field to load up for market. A bulldozer-type Excavator sat a couple hundred feet away, half way done with the western windbreak of poplars. Its long arm bent slowly backwards and, like a sleepy giant swatting at an insect with the back of its hand, it struck down a thirty foot tree with the flat of its shovel. "What are you doing?" I shouted over the roar of the machine to the men standing nearby. They told me that strawberries will probably be planted next, where the raspberry hoops used to stand. The shade from these trees would slow the growth of the incoming crop. I stood and watched as another tree cracked and strained at the roots, then toppled under the heavy hand of the Excavator. In a day's time, the 1/4 mile long line of Poplars lay horizontal with leaves in the dirt and deep root cavities exposed. Paul tells me they haven't been there long, only twelve years. I think, that's more than half of my lifetime.

It's been at least three weeks since the hoops were dismantled and trees felled. Yet for whatever reason, the changes do not leave my mind. A strange sense of grief remains. Cristy Rose named it when she said our field seems more exposed, more vulnerable. The changes opened our quaint-looking, sheltered farm to broader realities. We can see our neighbors now, and the difference between their work and ours is uncomfortably apparent. The military planes that fly low enough to shake the earth are housed closer than feels safe. The transitory nature of large-scale agriculture unnerves me, as does our economic reality that anything can be extracted to make way for business. Everything is shifting now, tractors spinning earth that was just cleared of the old to put in new crops, forming beds, laying down irrigation. A landscape has collapsed around us and is being re-built. I'm not ready for these changes yet.

This week, we celebrated Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus' triumphal entry (as triumphal as someone can get on a borrowed donkey, I suppose) into the city of his death. Before the church service, I walked out to the uprooted Poplars and broke off a number of the long branches that still had leaves on them. These served as our palm branches, which we waved above our heads as we marched around the living room singing about glory and honor to welcome our expected Messiah. We sang knowing full well, of course, that by this Friday, he will not save us in the way we expect, but will die on that tree called the Cross. Looking back, it seems appropriate, like foreshadowing in a sad story, that we lifted the branches of razed trees to welcome Jesus our Savior into this week.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A little something we wrote up the other day

10 practical things The Abundant Table Farm Project recommends for “just food”:

  1. Know where your food comes from – Join your local CSA, or support the farmers’ markets near you, and “shake the hand that feeds you.” Ellwood Canyon Farm in Goleta starts up their CSA May 1st! Montecito’s farmers’ market is Fridays from 8-11 on Montecito Coast Village Road (found at Buying local strengthens your community and supporting independent farms encourages biodiversity. Check out and or for a lighter endeavor,
  2. Buy Fair Trade – If you can’t buy something locally, look for fair trade products. Get involved at
  3. Use animal products sparingly - meat production is responsible for 1/5th of greenhouse gases, takes up 75% of water in the western US, and accounts for more than 1/2 of the nitrogen fertilizers used in the US. Even grass-fed organic cattle take up 8-10 acres of land each. As much as possible, use meat, dairy and eggs to flavor food rather than as the center of the meal.
  4. Cook from scratch - making your own meals from scratch helps you know what's in your food and cuts down on waste from packaging.
  5. Cook from what you have - limiting trips to the grocery store can help you get creative with the food that you do have and reduce food waste.
  6. Know what’s native – native plants are drought-tolerant, attractive, and are made to be here! We recommend you check out Nopalito Native Plant Nursery. They are helpful and one of very few nurseries that know about and sell native plants.
  7. Check out local garden projects – One such project is the community garden at St. Michael's University Church and Campus Ministry at UCSB. Their vision for is to “bring together community members to share in the honest labor and earthy satisfaction of planting, growing and harvesting fresh organic food!”
  8. Rethink Plastic ­– Help stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, the environment, and wildlife worldwide. Check out and “just say NO to single-use and disposable plastics.”
  9. Consider horticultural therapy - The therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. In Santa Barbara, they have the certified organic Healing Grounds Nursery ( ), which works to serve clients through the Santa Barbara County Mental Health Services.
  10. Support eateries that buy locally -- It’s as simple as asking your favorite restaurant, “where does your food come from?”

Thursday, March 25, 2010


We just found out that the Episcopal Life news posted an article about our project. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Last week, it started. Little brown ovals, the first few of which were scattered around the coop, but which are now concentrated in the nesting box.

The chickens are laying eggs. After a really rough couple of months (2 chickens died, and 2 got sick and haven't really gotten better), it's nice to have good news to report.

Its a bit magical, going out to the coop around lunch time every day and finding three or four eggs.

And, skeptical as I was, I can now verify that Americana chickens lay blue eggs.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A friend's blog about us: "Down on the Farm"

Thanks, Christy!

Down on the Farm

When I found out from Jenny that our friend, Cristy Rose, was living and working on an organic vegetable farm in Oxnard, I just knew we had to make a road trip out there to visit. Jenny loved the idea. She said she needed a vacation and also saw it as a symbolic return to nature, an opportunity to reap and sow and dig our hands in the soil. Personally, I’m not a big fan of dirt, so I wasn’t quite as excited about the symbolic return to nature, but I knew it would be an adventure, nonetheless.

And it was. We loaded up my car last Saturday morning with work boots, old jeans that wouldn’t mind getting messy, and a bag full of wine from Trader Joe’s—our 'thank you' gift for Cristy Rose and her roommates.

Instead of taking the 405 to the 101, Jenny suggested that we hop on the Pacific Coast Highway once we got to Santa Monica and take it all the way to Oxnard, which turned out to be a beautifully relaxing drive through the charcoal-colored mountains of Malibu. Because it was scheduled to rain later that afternoon, the mountains were enshrouded with a light layer of clouds that delicately adorned their grassy peaks, and made us feel almost as if we were driving through the islands of Hawaii—pounding waves on one side, misty mountains on the other, and an unpredictable highway that wound about, every which way, taking us in and over and through this little gem of Southern California. We were a little over an hour from Long Beach, yet it felt like a world away. I couldn’t help but recognize that old familiar feeling of freedom and excitement that always overcomes me when I am going some place new.

When Jenny and I reached Oxnard, we almost rolled right past the dirt and gravel driveway marked by a sign that says, “Join the Farm.”

Jenny read the sign aloud and then said, “Yup, that sounds a bit like the world Cristy Rose has been living in.”

I smiled, and turned down the small road, past the grove of avocado trees, and up to the farmhouse. We were greeted by a joyful Cristy Rose, with galoshes on her feet and a dog named Oliver in her arms. He is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, otherwise known as the dog Charlotte adopted on Sex and the City.

After exchanging hugs, Cristy invited us in and gave us a tour around the farm. Oliver came along—always the happy host—although he did have a tendency to get preoccupied along the way, feeling the need to pester the hens in the chicken coup, or sniff through the mounds of riches and mystery that are the compost pile. Every dog I know loves compost piles. I grew up with a compost pile, and if you are from the city and have no idea what I am talking about, then allow me to educate you. A compost pile is a collection of food scraps that slowly biodegrade and can be ground up and used as fertilizer. It is coffee grounds and eggshells and potato peels and moldy leftovers that have been cluttering the shelves of your refrigerator. It is nature’s alternative to a garbage disposal.

Yes, this farm has compost piles and clotheslines running through the backyard. It’s not that the girls don’t have an electric dryer, it’s just that they try their very best not to use it. It goes against the sustainable lifestyle that they faithfully adhere to and are incredibly passionate about. The longer I was there, the more I realized that it wasn’t a regime for them, or a trendy attempt at jumping on the sustainability bandwagon. It also wasn’t solely a matter of eating the organic vegetables they harvested, or having a few token recycling bins lying around the kitchen. It was about the way they envisioned their place in the world, and it influenced every aspect of their lives. At one point over the weekend, their sustainable lifestyle even resembled a fifth grade science experiment.

One of the bathroom sinks had gotten clogged with hair—a dilemma that is bound to occur in a house full of five girls—and rather than reaching for the Drano, as I surely would have, they started mixing various concoctions of vinegar and baking soda and pouring them down the pipes. We had an informal meeting of the minds, as each of us shared whatever at-home-remedies we could think of. Jenny suggested the vinegar and baking soda. Erynn suggested using Coca Cola. I suggested asking the almighty Google.

The girls likely would have gone online and found a recipe, had the vinegar and baking soda not worked so well. They are part of the new generation of farmers. Farmers who are in their mid-late twenties, and who are technologically savvy and who listen to their ipods as they dig up carrots out in the fields. Yet, the technology is nicely balanced with basic acts of simplicity. At the Channel Islands Farmers Market, I watched them barter and trade with the other venders. Some kale and mustard greens for a bag of organic oranges. A bouquet of wildflowers for some turnips.

The Sunday morning farmers market was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend. We left the house around 8:00am and crammed into the front seat of a pick-up loaded with crates of vegetables, folding tables, and an Easy-Up tent. Jenny and I got to help Cristy Rose and one of her co-workers named Casey set up their little corner. We arranged the leafy, delicate strands of fennel to hang over a crate. Below them were bundles of spinach that cascaded over the table and leaves of swiss chard, so large and sturdy you could fan yourself with them. Then, of course, there was the cilantro, the broccoli, and the purpley turnips that added a nice splash of color amongst all the greenery.

Just like the farmers market I love in Long Beach, this one was also located alongside a marina. As the customers started to pour in, the boats just sat quietly, rocking back and forth above the calm water. From behind the booth, we watched dogs of every breed and variety walk by with their owners, and commented on how cute the children looked bundled up in knit hats on this breezy winter morning. We chatted with the patrons—a woman who eats everything raw, and who drinks leafy vegetables thrown into a juicer; a chef who works at the buffet at Whole Foods, and who shared with us his dedication for overcoming what he calls, the “food issues” we have in America. “Yeah,” he said, “we have a few issues with eating in this country. Like one, or two, or thirty thousand.” He was an interesting guy. He stayed and talked to us for about an hour, telling stories of how he used to lobby for Greenpeace. Before he left, he gave Casey a container of sprouts that he had grown in his backyard.

When we got hungry, we wandered over to the hot food carts. I ordered a tamale and a shrimp taco from a smiling Mexican woman with an orange Gerber daisy in her hair. They were greasy and authentic and spicy and delicious! Jenny went to a different vendor and bought a jar of rhubarb jam for her mother. The lady recognized her as being with the “organic vegetable girls” and gave her a discount. We told Cristy Rose, who later sent us back to her with a bag of vegetables to say thank you.

By the end of the afternoon, we had gone from three tables of vegetables to one. We packed the leftovers into the truck, and headed back to the farm to get ready for the evening church service that meets each week in the common room of the farmhouse. This farm that we were visiting was a collaborative project funded by some farmers, a nonprofit organization, and an Episcopalian church.

The Episcopalian service I attended that evening was led by a female priest. She was blonde and she wore black-rimmed glasses, similar to mine. She led us through a passage from the book of Luke, and as the discussion began to pick up, I realized that I was almost entirely in the presence of farmers—farmers who had unique and personal interpretations of the many farming analogies that Jesus makes in the New Testament. He speaks of reaping and sowing, of crops that produce good fruit, and crops that seem to die and wither no matter how much nourishment they are given.

These are all concepts I’ve heard before and that I understand on a rather abstract level, but for this group of farmers, these ideas were more than just abstract. They were realities from their daily lives. They knew what it was like to plant and harvest. They understood the faith and vision it took to take an empty piece of land and turn it into an entire crop. They knew what conditions certain crops needed to flourish, and what it was like to have them wiped out by things like wind and floods and Mother Nature’s many other surprises.

The rest of the service was a mixture of Catholic traditions, like communion and liturgy, followed by a group watercolor painting. We concluded the service by kneeling on a blanket that was filled with paint and brushes, glasses of water, and blank sheets of paper laid out like cards from a game of memory. We each chose a piece and then painted a visual representation of our prayers to God. I had never experienced anything quite like that service before. It was one of many new experiences I had the privilege of encountering that weekend.

On Monday afternoon, after spending a few hours in the fields harvesting kale and carrots, we said our good-byes to Oliver and Cristy Rose, and headed back to Long Beach. Jenny and I agreed it had been an awesome weekend. We felt revived; as if we had both gotten exactly what we came for. She got her vacation, and I got my adventure, plus a captivating glimpse into a new way of life.

Cristy Rose and Oliver

The kitchen

At the farmers market

Spraying organic pesticides over the crops

From left to right: Cristy Rose, Me, and Jenny

Casey working in the fields

Mustard Greens

Katarina, Cristy Rose, and Jenny