Finding Roots


As we walked by the dining room, the sounds of thirty young men chanting “Ram Yam Kham, Om Ah Hum” with their deep resonant voices came flowing through the windows. The sound went down into my heart and I stood there shaking. We three, twenty year old girls had been trying to “find” where the men hung out in this monastery. Not understanding why these gorgeous,sensitive, burley, men weren’t looking for us . They were so different and unexpected. We had no warnings to stay away from them and had no experience of men that paid us so little mind.

Invited to Odiyan by the patron to help plant an area we had never seen before even in pictures. It was already disconcerting enough to just drive the windy coastline up, seeing almost no cars. On and on we went finally getting really scared when after an hour of no cars, a jeep drives by with about six big men in it, most with guns pointing up into the sky. Where were we ? Where were we going ? Finally a glimpse of what looked like an out of this world UFO, The white Stupa over on the hillside and some views of a shiny copper roof.

This first view of there, now thirty one years later, has stayed in my mind and the sound of the men chanting has stayed in my heart. I found my roots there and a community much like what the farming communities of old knew instinctively. How to work together, how to believe in oneself and my abilities. To gain confidence from hands on work and jobs accomplished from start to finish. Moral ethics required to live in a small community with integrity . What I was looking for in my culture, a sense of place and purpose and of participation in something larger, was all found here. But I still wonder how to instill it in my world and my children’s world now.

What we have lost through the decimation of rural culture and livelihood is enormous. No wonder teenagers are tattooing themselves and piercing their entire bodies. The world of TV, video games and texting has not given them a culture to interface with, only a cloud culture and no ground. The confidence to drive tractors and do important tasks that support the family and the communities well being. The moral character to represent their family and community. The entrepreneurial experience to start small industry and the creativity and problem solving ability necessary in rural life. America has represented this spirit
and creative, innovative genius, yet now has turned it’s back on what it takes to develop it in our culture. Come back to some ground and plant some vegetables, cook most of your meals, don’t buy processed goods shipped hundreds of miles.Teach your kids to cook and use local fresh ingredients. Buy enough from your local farmer to support their efforts. Say through your actions that you want this rural culture to be alive . Maybe we can bring back a community spirit that will inspire our children and give them the roots to succeed .

Food Sovereignty

We have the right to eat what we want, right ? No we certainly don’t . It is not the governments job to “protect” us from the choices we want to make. If I want to buy some milk from my local dairy it should be my choice, the Farmer should not go to jail for selling it to me. This is just protecting the big corporations from competition, even us little tiny guys.

Bring back rural economy, freedom to consume what we choose.

Help our alternative county, sign this Food Freedom petition.

http://www.mendopendence.com/2011/09/16/sign-petition-to-the-mendocino-county-board-of-supervisors-a-right-to-food-of-our-choice/

Thanksgiving-All local, home grown

This year we decided to host our families Thanksgiving Dinner. It didn’t matter that we did not have a big enough space to sit 25 people, much less a warm space to even get that many people inside.The most we’ve ever squished around our table was 10 and it was very difficult to crawl in and out of the kitchen then. We would just have to build it.

So began our January of this year. Trading for services, since we didn’t have the money. Cutting trees, milling the siding and wood for a table, doors and eventually cabinets( not by Thanksgiving). We started to close in the large roofed area where the oven is. Adding the sink and creating a space to make the bread and cook near our baking oven. Slowly arising out of the ashes and sawdust, a room took shape. We now also, through the help of a good friend, joined our wood slabs together to build a large table 11.5 feet long. The benches are still in the works as are the doors.

Lately the momentum of our farm has almost swept us away. We tried hard to keep this year focused on two projects, fencing a larger garden in and hopefully readying it to plant for this year ( also making a huge mountain of compost to amend our sandy virgin soil ); Then the oven area getting walls and warm for our crowd on Turkey day.

The adventures and stories involved in all this and the people who have helped it to happen this year could fill a book. But thanks to Chris San Giovanni, Amie Heath, Drew and Corina Common, Katie Norton and Margarita, Bobby Smith milling our wood, Bob Askew for making our Table.My sister Annie Woods for the Tablecloth and silverware and design vision. But mostly my husband Dennis for his constant support and willingly putting up with me.

Then came the food, it was almost easy to look past this part and just figure we’d eat bread. So growing now in the garden are two large beds of purple onions, a long bed 4×40′ of potatoes red, russets and yukon golds. We’ve ordered three turkeys through Mendocino organics CSA http://mendoorganicscsa.com/. The free range birds will not be as large as the commercially raised birds.The butternut squash is starting to get harvested as well as the acorn and delicata squash. The pumpkins are very small and I hope I have enough warm weather to get them to develop. Although I just found a wonderful pie recipe using butternut squash. Lettuces are in. It’s probably too late for more beets than we already have in the ground. Although I’m going to try for some carrots in the next couple of days. Parsnips, parsley, thyme are in the ground and romanesco broccolli are doing well. Peas are planted and starting up the fence and another bed in flower in the garden. Food has not been the hard part.

We’ve come a long way. The reality of trying to create takes a huge effort, like birthing a baby each time a new thing is created. At a certain point if you are doing good work your one step towards God is matched by his nine steps back towards you. The first step is the hardest but the bounty and abundance of the response is all worth it.

Ethics and Morals in eating Meat

Tomorrow we are going to butcher four Moscovy ducks at our place here.

It brought up different reactions in each of us. It was a request of our budding chef, volunteer Katie, who wants to learn as much about Farm to Table as she can. She saw nothing wrong with killing an animal to eat it, since she has made the choice to eat meat. Our other volunteer Margarita, who has witnessed home butchering, felt only sympathy for the animals. Me, the one who as a Buddhist has not killed any animals for many years, ( although I do throw slugs and snails to the chickens, then they can kill them) has considered this a lot.

Because we are a meat eating family, especially my husband, we eat grass fed, local animals, that I know have been raised humanely and kindly. Yet because I believe in the Biodynamic principles of gardening, and the value of animal manures in the compost to enrich the soil, is very important to me. It inherently brings with it the dilemma of animals whose value is no longer meeting the farming needs; and the old chicken that is no longer producing eggs needs to go into the soup pot. So that said, I knew I’d be sometime facing this moment. I’m going to see how it goes.

We then got on the discussion that taking another life creates violence within us. Then on the topic of guns. Which Katie abhorred, Margarita thought looked cute as a decoration and that I had to live with in my gun collecting Vietnam Vet husband.

Since keeping animals, especially for milk or dairy, brings with it the inevitability of babies born that won’t stay or have a long term place on the farm. The question arises as to how to humanely live a self sufficient lifestyle. Treating animals with respect and kindness and with careful husbandry is first and foremost to me. But the sanctuary I worked in seems to not fit here, and supporting animals that have outlived their usefulness is not smart farming.

The next question is whether we will put their viscera, blood and feathers on the compost pile? Are we not getting back to the roots of organic and traditional farming ? Shall I start to pick up fish heads and guts from the pier ? Why not, I regularly buy fish meal and blood meal containing fertilizers. Especially since I’ve realized that even though I was buying “organic” chicken manure, for gardens I was working in, it didn’t mean the chickens had been fed an organic diet. So therefore the manure bags were polluting my gardens with antibiotics and fly spray and the round up sprayed on the GMO corn.

Self Sufficiency Is Hard Work

So five years into building our farm and working outside to afford our farm. Plus living a self sufficient life, living off grid while doing this. Growing the majority of our food year round . Wildcrafting for local fruit; blackberries, huckleberries made into jams and frozen for mid winter feasting. Bartering and trading for anything from salmon and local rock fish, even abalone to lamb and goat cheese also lemons and wine. Our half a beef and the wild pig Dennis shot carrying us through. I find our meals to have become more and more gourmet and inspired. Needing abundant creativity and a very diverse garden to keep the meals interesting.

More and more I read and think about traditional lifestyles in rural France and Italy. How local food markets were based on a high standard and a reputation you didn’t want to ruin by offering a lesser grade product. Our tastes here in America have been ruined by old food overly processed, too much sugar and salt, not to mention mold . It will take careful eating practices to regain our taste buds in favor of fresh foods. I noticed I wasn’t that interested in vegetables; they didn’t seem to have any flavor. My kids too now love vegetables because they are fresh and flavorful. Growing traditional heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits, brings back subtle flavors lost in our current market produce, grown for shelf life and ship-ability.

The work day is long and hard but the richness and integrity of living this type of life is so abundant . The pay is little for what we are producing but what we need is coming and a feeling of working within a community is developing. Doing good work trying to be kind to each other is bringing us closer and we all help to make this vision develop .

Carried Away With Summer

I know I’ve written very little the last few months. Part of it is that I’m sleeping again, so no more 2am-4am writing times. The other part is this farm vision is taking effect before my eyes and it’s just so much work.

Today my husband and son-in law and the rest of us got part of the new fence up. This will increase the garden to about four acres. I’m trying to fill part of that with fruit trees, part of it with ornamental gardens, some rows of berries, then more vegetable space. I’m looking at it from an irrigation point of view. How I can run the systems and how much landscape can we reasonably water. Marketing what we produce seems to be relatively easy, so I’m trying to focus on what we like to eat and how to grow the most diversity of product to eat with year round. Also to try to grow mostly what will do well here.

These last few days have been like a farm camp here. Dennis riding three kids all piled around him on the four-wheeler. Dragging small sapling fir trees up to hatchet off the branches and hand peel the bark with a draw knife. They are all making a teepee, an authentic large sized one . Tonight our instant hot water heater washed six of our dusty bodies in a row, then did dinner dishes as well. I finally succumbed having typed the first part of this with dirt all over me and my clothes.

I feel it’s very important to include our whole family in farm and house chores. So visiting grandchildren harvested strawberries, weeded paths and then collected flower seed on their own inspiration to grow their own flower gardens at home. Helping with running errands picking food and preparing lunch out of the garden seems to make the food taste even better.Today doing a taste test of six different types of beets.Then gobbling them up in a salad .

Our freezer is full of Sherry’s cow and an extra lamb, plus lot’s of tan oak bark smoked salmon. We feel stocked for the winter. But the summer garden is going full force harvesting french filet beans, so far eating more of them in the garden than we have cooked, lettuces, spinach, beets, mizuna, peas, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli, mixed greens: cucumbers, tomatoes and squash are just starting here on the coast in August. Winter vegetables are starting to go in, more potatoes, garlic, brassicas, peas, spinach, lettuces planted in the next months for winter harvest.

Since my family is coming here for Thanksgiving, I’ve been planting acorn squash, pumpkins, etc. specifically with that holiday in mind. It’s inspiring me to finish many undone projects around the ranch, hopefully many will get done. Three turkeys were ordered from http://mendoorganicscsa.com/2011/07/01/thanksgiving-christmas-turkeys/. To reserve for the holiday. My brother made the comment today, his birthday, when I called; ” You know Katie, we could always just go buy something from the store, if we need it ” . Yeah cranberry bogs just don’t grow around here, but we could dig a pond and try ? OK Ok .

Bio-Intensive Gardening- July


My garden beds change constantly, so half of them look empty right now, or they have very small plants. I’ve recently read that bio-intensive is the traditional way the French and Italians would garden in their small farms, as well. There’s always a bed getting harvested, composted, then dug and replanted in the next crop. A constant rotation of crops, giving a lot of choice in the selection of food. Eating primarily out of a garden and eating what is in season is fun but cooking has to get creative. Fresh herbs and constant rotation of plantings help this out. Try to plant many things even if it’s a herb like thyme edging a bed or chives.

Lately we’ve been harvesting garlic and purple onions, red and russet potatoes. Favas will be finishing up and coming out next. I hope I’ve grown enough garlic this year to keep us through the year. I was so hungry for garlic by the time it was ready because we ran out about December. Also it’s hard to judge the quantity to grow of potatoes although easier here because they can be grown year round. Many other types of beans are going into these empty beds. Also more onions; I’m planning two 35×5 beds since I love onions and I’m a firm believer in starting any cooking project with an onion. Zucchini, crookneck, pumpkins, delicata, and acorn squash all are in and planted now. I’ve always thought that squash cross pollinated and that you had to spread them out very far away from each other. But I’ve recently realized that this only affects saving the seed. It will not come true to variety. But since I’m not saving squash seed… I planted a lot !

I’ve just been harvesting the last of the artichokes, then they get cut back, all the large stalks cut to the ground, then mulched with a thick compost layer, then they grow and produce again later this year.
This is one artichoke that I cut back a few weeks ago-trying so hard to produce more fruit.

These are my baby fruit trees that I grafted last January. Thirty three out of thirty six “took”. Mostly apples and a few prunes, one plum. I also have 42 olive trees I purchased last fall as rooted cuttings. They are also fun to watch grow. It’s so satisfying to see the abundance of nature in rooting or starting your own plants, not to mention a cheap way to get more plants and trees.

Otherwise summer on the coast of Northern California is not that different from what you can grow here most of the year. Cold season crops. I have a small couple of rows of tomatoes, the squash, cucumbers and beans are the exception that will make it during our summers. Otherwise we are still growing lettuce, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, onions, potatoes, favas, peas.

Most of my garden beds have flowers growing on the sides of them. Most are volunteers. I sell some of these weekly to our local florist.

Why do I farm?

Last night eating a particularly wonderful fish chowder, fish caught by my daughter’s boyfriend, potatoes gently dug from under the plants, fresh purple onions, green garlic, parsnips (some of many currently), chopped parsley and fresh thyme. Then accompanied by one of our brick oven baked naturally leavened breads ( we baked 80 loaves yesterday), and followed by a slightly tart rhubarb pie ( none of those sissy strawberries). I think how rich my life is .

Then my husband pushed around some burn piles ( yes, it’s still raining and wet in California in June !) with his backhoe for our neighbors, and came home with some fresh salmon ! Yeah !

The abundance is arguably coupled with a lot of hard work, but I feel so proud when I look at those peas climbing up the trellis and the rows of growing veggies. But yes, my love of good food also motivates me. Thanks to all the good cooks I know who have inspired me.

As the garden here slightly matures and the very small plants I’ve put in as permanent or perennial shrubs and trees mature and fill out, it feels easier like some momentum has been gained. My roses, started from cuttings are beginning to cascade on the fence. The artichokes started from seed are producing quantities. The asparagus started from seed was harvested for the first time this year ( three years before the first harvest) . The rhubarb is getting to be a big plot, helped out by lot’s of compost and did you know rhubarb love LOT”S of water ? Some of the fruit trees have quite a few fruits on them and are starting to look like trees !

Sharing this with others, getting invited to come see my 90 yr. old neighbor’s boyfriends garden who sends us over glorious cauliflower, while we drop off bread.
Feeling a sense of community and tradition. As my great and wise girlfriend who grew up on a dairy farm told me , “school was never the most important thing”. It was the family, the farm, being a part of that, having an identity in what a farm really means to a community. Farming is a passive revolution. Bringing back rural America and collaboration instead of isolation as our material world has fostered. Interdependency , compassion, neighborliness, sharing, all these things are why I farm.