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
At the farmers market
Spraying organic pesticides over the crops
From left to right: Cristy Rose, Me, and Jenny
Casey working in the fields
Katarina, Cristy Rose, and Jenny