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

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A note from a guest

Last week, we interns joined in a 5-day "retreat" through the Bartimaeus Institute, led by Ched Myers and Elaine Enns. The institute focused on themes of ecojustice and Sabbath economics, and engaged participants in some radical Bible study. We also studied several "case studies" of folks involved in the work of loving creation, including Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun recently killed in Brazil for defending rainforest land from intruding ranchers. Last Wednesday, the 20-something other participants visited the "case study" of our farm to share dinner (and songs!), hear the stories behind our project, and to talk about farming and our farm community.

Dancing to Jay and Meg (from the group 'Psalters') at the Farmhouse last Wednesday
*Notice Sister Roseanne on the far right - these nuns know how to party.

I was struck by our guests' responses afterward and by how impacted they were by hearing from us and seeing this project firsthand. It almost required listening through others' ears to really understand the significance of our stories. Here's a note from Sam, one of the many people who visited our home last week (passed on by Sarah Nolan):
February 24th, 2010
Dear Sarah,

I once had the good fortune of having soup with Wendell Berry. At the time, I was a divinity school student, and a couple of friends and I had been talking a lot about intentional communities – what they were, how they worked, whether we might start one somewhere (anywhere, really – our first mistake). Perhaps foolishly, and probably seeking some sort of affirmation, my friend Steve decided to bring this up with Mr. Berry. His first response was that whatever far-flung ideas we had, an intentional community would have to be an agricultural one; it would have to be a land-based community. Maybe it was not surprising to us that he would say such a thing, but in retrospect I imagine he was pretty surprised. Here were some smart-seeming Yale students with almost no sense at all.

Long after the subject had been changed and we were all walking out the door saying our goodbyes, he made his second point: “Listen to your wives, boys – listen to your wives.”

In his little essay “In Distrust of Movements” Berry says that movements generally fail to accomplish their goals because they take aim at symptoms and not underlying causes; they usually fail to be radical enough. If he were to name the movement he thinks he might be part of, it would be called the “Movement to Teach the Economy What It Is Doing” (MTEWIID), which consists finally of a few elements. The movement must be dedicated to whole social, economic, and environmental systems and not mere solutions; it must be composed of people willing to undertake profound self-analysis; and it must content itself to being poor.

Berry concludes by writing, “The callings and disciplines that I have spoken of as the domestic arts are stationed all along the way from the farm to the prepared dinner, from the forest to the dinner table, from stewardship of the land to hospitality to friends and strangers. These arts are as demanding and gratifying, as instructive and as pleasing, as the so-called ‘fine arts.’ To learn them is, I believe, the work that is our profoundest calling. Our reward is that they will enrich our lives and make us glad.”

I was thinking these thoughts at the farm tonight and being very glad.