Sunday, February 28, 2010

chicken day

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings...

Today was full of chickens. One of the the first things I did this morning was hang my laundry on the line surrounded by a ring of curious hens (who then all trotted off to peck on the wall of the shed for reasons I don't understand).

Later I went down to Malibu to check out the Getty Villa, and this was my favorite piece:

A little terra cotta statuette of a woman feeding a hen, who has chicks under her wings.

And then of course the gospel reading for tonight's service was Luke 13:31-35, which includes the verse about Jesus wanting to gather Jerusalem's children like a hen gathers her chicks. So Emily and Molly colored pictures of chickens...

...and Anna painted this on a receiving blanket (symbolic of the warmth and security provided by the hen)

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Interview with a Farmer

The following is an interview I had yesterday afternoon with Juan for our CSA newsletter:

Meet Your Farmer!
In this section, we'll be profiling Juan and Agustin (see next week's newsletter), two of farmer Paul's employees who help the Abundant Table interns with work on the farm.

Juan Contreras is from the town of Querendalo in Michoacan, Mexico, a town famous for its annual chile festival. He moved to Oxnard in 1988 and worked in the lemon orchards for about nine years. Then, when NAFTA was implemented in the 90's, the market plummeted for Ventura County growers as cheaper lemons came in from other countries. Most of the lemon workers had to leave as orchards were replaced by strawberry fields. Juan was offered a job with his brother, Agustin, on the DeBusschere ranch working with avocados and beans.

Juan and his wife have four children, two of whom are married and live near them in Oxnard, plus one in college and one in high school. He enjoys tending his flower and chile garden at home and going out to eat in the evening with his family on his day off. Juan has two nicknames that his brother gave him: "Sophocles" and "The Philosopher," because of the higher education he had in Mexico and because of his quiet, reflective tendencies. Of all the vegetables on the farm, he says he can't pick a favorite since he likes them all. Keep an eye out on our website for recipes from Juan and Agustin - they know some good ones.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

interview with a farmer

My senior English class with Mrs. Potts!

I am a 1999 La Reina High School graduate. My dear Alma Matter continues to be a supportive and encouraging place. My former English teacher, Mrs. Potts, brought her granddaughter out to the farm and gave my work on the farm a really nice mention in the alumnae newsletter. It appears another English teacher (Mrs. Stanley has been extremely fond of me since I acted out a Maya Angelou poem sophomore year of high school-um, suffice to say I got really into it) is giving a helping hand to the farm by encouraging her students to profile me! (and the farm) for the school newspaper The La Reina Herald. As I was responding to the student's email interview (she was really hoping to make it out the farm but car borrowing situations arose-lots of sympathy there sister!), I realized how nice it was to sit down and write out some things I have been reflecting about for sometime now. Of course, this triggered my inner blog alert, "WRITTEN REFLECTION=GOOD BLOG MATERIAL!" So, I avail the interview to you, my public.

Me as a "sevie" (seventh grader) on the La Reina lawn

1. How did you get involved in the agriculture buisness? Why?

My interest in agriculture has been brewing for a few years. I think my earliest interest can be traced back to the time I spent in Cuenca, Ecuador (2005-2007). In Cuenca, and throughout Ecuador, most folks-especially the lower and middle socio-economic classes-buy their produce, meat, and cheese from large feria libres, basically huge farmers markets. Local farmers bring their goods to sell at these markets. I loved getting to know the farmers, developing relationships with them, getting to know their produce, and trying new and exciting things. At that time I was living with roommates from around the world and we were all able to connect over food-shopping together, cooking together, and learning from the farmers and vendors how to use new things from the feria libre. I started thinking of farming and food as means of developing community. When I returned to the U.S. I missed the feria libres and community shopping and cooking experiences. Here most of us shop at the grocery store and have no sense of the farmers and laborers who cultivate our food. Our food system in the U.S. is not set up to build healthy communities. It is set up to support large industrial farming and distribution chains that put many links between the farmer and the consumer. Each link decreases the quality and nutrition of our food because produce is harvested while it is immature, ripened with chemicals while in route to warehouses where it can sit for days before being transported to the grocery store where we buy it. Large scale industrial farming was created to feed our growing U.S. and world populations. Maybe large industrial farming would make sense to me if it truly did this. However, currently our government pays farmers with subsidies to grow excess amounts of crops like corn which is then turned into corn products like high fructose corn syrup and added to many cheap food products which make us sick with obesity related illness like diabetes and heart disease. So having gone from a community based food system in Ecuador to our large and anonymous food system in the States, I really started thinking not only did our food system not make sense- it is injust. People going hungry while we overproduce crops which go to waste is injust. The fact that cheap, processed foods, which can make us sick, is more available in some of our communities than fresh produce is injust. While I was attending Cal State Channel Islands last year getting my bilingual teaching credential, I started attending a campus ministry called The Abundant Table. The Abundant Table is an Episcopal Christian campus ministry inspired by Jesus' vision of inclusive love and courageous commitment to peace. Food justice was a piece of our group reflections. Our priest Julie's husband is a 4th generation farmer in Oxnard and had been wanting to start a small organic farm on his ranch. Julie envisioned an internship project of young adults who would work the land and connect faith and spirituality to sustainable living on the farm, farming, starting a Community Supported Agriculture program on the farm, and working with other community organizations on food issues like affordable housing, immigration, and education. I decided to join the project. This project has been a nexus of all the areas I have been so interested in the past few years; our food system; farming; living in community; growing my faith and commitment to service; and education (I am the farm educator). This project fosters a restorative connection between the community, their food, and the folks who produce their food.

2. I heard that you attended usc, did you like it there? Did you feel La Reina had prepared you well?

I did go to USC and I did feel extremely prepared both academically and emotionally. La Reina prepares you for so much more than the next four years after high school. La Reina fosters academic engagement which helped me succeed academically at USC and beyond. La Reina also fosters positive self-image and strong women. I was surrounded by incredible women at La Reina-fellow students, teachers, and my principals while I was there Sr. Lisa and Sr. Antoinette Marie. This network of support and encouragement helped me grow into a confident, capable woman. I also learned the Serenity Prayer at La Reina and part of it has stayed with me and motivated me ever since. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." These words absolutely guide my work on the farm. I cannot accept hunger and sickness in the face of such abundance and working to directly provide all members of my community with fresh, organic produce and educate folks about problems in our food system is my effort to change what I cannot accept.

3. How did you go from a major in journalism to agriculture?
Part of my strength and confidence comes in being ok with taking the less chosen path. After college while all my friends were applying for jobs, I knew I needed some time to reflect on my next big life choices. I moved to Lake Tahoe and focused on myself-spending time outdoors, developing a healthy lifestyle focusing (or trying to focus!) on exercise, meditation, yoga, eating locally. I worked in a restaurant until I knew I was ready for a change, always checking in with myself about where I was at where I wanted to be, and always listening to my heart. I was a Latin American studies minor in college and thought I would benefit from spending time in South America. I took a job as a teacher in a bilingual preschool and elementary school in Cuenca, Ecuador. I taught in a bilingual program that educated students in their native language while also teaching math, science, and language arts in English. I loved teaching! I have always connected with kids and found teaching utilized many of my skills and interests, while challenging me-exactly what a profession should do! After teaching there for two years I came back to CSUCI to get a bilingual teaching credential. This is where I connected to the Join the Farm project! It is perfect for me because I am the farm educator. I provide educational experiences for students on the farm. We have preschoolers to university students out learning on the farm! From planting seeds, to harvesting carrots, to acting out the plant life cycle, to learning about direct marketing models.

5. Do you have any advice for the La Reina population about farming, eating well, or just life in general?

Connect to your food! It seems we are living more connected than ever with facebook, cell phones, texting, and emails. But I wonder if these "tools" actually distract us from true connection. Person to person meaningful connection, community connection. The type of connections I found through food while living in Ecuador. So, get together with your friends or family (or both!) and stroll through a farmers market-come see my farm Join the Farm! at the Thousand Oaks Farmer's Market Thursdays from 1:30-6:30 at the Thousand Oaks Mall-talk with the farmers and pick up a few things you love to eat and few new things. Go home and make a meal together-laugh and have fun. My farm also has a CSA (community supported agriculture) program. Your family can "join the farm" by purchasing a share in our farm. You can purchase a share through our website and each week we will delivery a box of produce for your family at one of our 7pick up points nearest you! CSA members not only get their weekly boxes of produce, by they participate in different events on the farm. Or, you can just come and check out our farm, I'd love to show you around! advice. Learn how to listen to what's truly in yourself and follow what's in you. Be reflective. Surround yourself with good people. Listen to old people-they know what they're talking about.

7. Any additional comments or personal experiments you would want to share?
Lots of personal experiments, don't know if they're appropriate for the La Reina herald! ha!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


One of my favorite things to do at farmers' markets is a little guessing game for kids. While their mother or father is perusing our stall, I'll point to the bouquet of yellow flowers hanging from the tent corner and ask the child, "Can you find the vegetable that those flowers come from?" Sometimes parents get involved in the search around our booth, and they are just as perplexed as the kid as to the source of the bright, pretty blossoms. Here's what they look like in the field:

And here's a hint from one that is "bolting" :

It's... broccoli! Amazing, huh? To "bolt" is probably my favorite verb describing the process that a plant undergoes before producing seeds or flowers. I looked up the word in the dictionary, and laughed at the appropriateness of the definition: "To start suddenly and run away." That's exactly what happens. One day, we have beautiful heads of broccoli, and a warm, sunny day or two later, each little green nodule you see on the head suddenly opens up and buds as a yellow flower! Then, it literally runs away as it shoots up long stems and produces more flowers and seeds. If we don't pick fast enough, our rows of broccoli turn into rows of bouquets, a perfect habitat for bees.

Here are some more unusual bolted plants:


Ruby lettuce

A radish (with a regular radish on the right for a size comparison - wow.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

my own two hands

This Friday afternoon was spa time at the Farm. A few weeks ago while staffing a table promoting the CSA at the local YMCA (which mostly meant chatting up the assembled chiropractors), Kat won a free office spa treatment for eight, and this afternoon the lady from BeautiControl came out so we could redeem our prize. Shortly before it was my turn to indulge in the Sugar Cookie Hand Exfoliator, I snuck a glance at my hands - mud under every ragged fingernail, calluses on the insides of my index fingers from rubber-banding kale, chard, spinach and carrots, dirt settled into the dry skin of my knuckles, and plenty of nicks and cuts of unknown origins.

I should note that this sad state of affairs is not a foregone conclusion. Once upon a time I wore gloves while I harvested (until I realized how much it slowed me down), and some of the other interns do a much better job of taking care of their hands. But for me, knowing that my hands will be involved in this...

(Check out more of Josh Reason's pictures from the farm) at least three times a week makes me reluctant to put much energy into cleaning them up.

Besides, I have a certain sense of pride in being marked by what I do. When people stop by our farmers' market booth to comment on how beautiful the veggies are (and hopefully buy a few), we often tell them we picked them ourselves the day before. Occasionally the customer will want to see our hands as proof, and mine usually do the trick.

And for me, admiring the cuts and calluses is a daily reminder of the joy of being able to do things myself, to learn with my hands in the earth and invite others to do the same.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Eco-farm conference, thoughts on our CSA ministry, and seal puppies.

An overdue post that I started but never posted last week...

January 20th through 23rd found Erynn, Sarah and I braving a long and rainy drive up to Monterey to participate in the 30th annual Eco-Farm Conference. Where to begin? Well, the opening plenary began with Wes Jackson (from the Land Institute) and Frances Moore Lappé (author of "Diet for a Small Planet," among others). Let's just say they set the precedent for standing ovations.

I'll let Sarah and Erynn talk more about the impact the conference had on them. Personally, it opened my mind to the variety of approaches that farmers and others take when it comes to the vague word "sustainability." Everyone from your nose-pierced, shaggy and/or dread-locked biodynamic farmers to the large-scale organic, wrangler-wearing, big-truck-driving farmers were there, mingling, exchanging stories, and dancing together during the final night's Louisiana funk band dance. It was a lot of fun.

One of the sessions on CSAs and their alternative role in the economy stuck with me in particular. The speaker outlined the history of Community Supported Agriculture, and how it goes against the consumerist grain. The CSA model offers an alternative to the typical commodity-based market economy. I got to thinking about this in relation to our Abundant Table Farm Project (ATFP) ministry.

How is our CSA program connected to the Abundant Table ministry? How does the worship service, Eucharist and potluck we host every Sunday night extend into the week and define our work? When our subscribers sign up for our CSA program, they are not simply buying a weekly box of seasonal vegetables and their unit-by-unit worth. No, their financial support symbolizes a deeper commitment for which the box could be considered an acknowledgment, a return of gratitude in the form of our land's bounty. They are "buying into" something beyond the worth of the veggies - and this something is our soil quality (good soil is everything in agriculture, I'm discovering), our care over a piece of land for future generations while cherishing the family history of generations past, the knowledge that those who tend the land are well cared for, housed, fed, insured, etc., and of course a closer relationship with the substance upon which we are all dependent, food, and the people who grow it.

Our CSA is part of our ministry, then, for it enables people in some small (but small is large) way, to step outside the role that society has ready-made for them as a consumer expecting direct, personal returns. Just as our boxes are not personalized based on individual preference but rather offer the same assortment to all, our ministry gently, even sub-consciously informs people that it's not "all about me." Our CSA ministry offers freedom from "cheap" materialism and an opportunity to participate in a richer materialism, in a different sense of the word if you will, that goes beyond individual gains to include things like the material of our earth, its friendliness toward worms and birds, and yet unborn material seven generations from now.

We can be a part of something larger than ourselves, contributing to the soil's fertility and to supporting a community. I believe that these things essentially teach us what it means to be more fully human, which is, as our priest Julie likes to say, the mission of Christ.

Now, to the reason I started to write this post. Pictures from our Eco-farm journeys!:

Erynn, me, Sarah. Stopping to breathtake off Hwy 1

...then we decided to stay for sunset yoga with some new friends.

And I just can't leave this out - SEAL PUPPIES!

relationships with our neighbors

One of the necessary and wonderful goals of this project is laying down a foundation of trust with our local community. Here are some connections we've fostered!
Erynn and I sharing stories with the Conejo Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship ( this past week.
Nopalito's Native Plant Nursery ( coming to share their own story at the farm with our subscribers and friends on Saturday.