Organic Seed Alliance

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2016 Seed Conference goers, looking at winter trial fields at Territorial Seeds in Cottage Grove, OR.

Every other year, since 2012, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of February and the relatively quick trip up north to attend the Organic Seed Alliance biannual conference. My first year in attendance was memorable; a car crash left me stranded in Portland, en-route to Port Townsend, WA. I was able to quickly reach out on a ride-share page that was organized by the conference and found myself catching a ride from two Ashland farmers, one of whom I had met in remote Northern India four years earlier, a testament to how small and beautiful the world is! I felt very green at that conference, a bud just starting to form, but not yet open to receive the world of pollination and inoculation. Although much of the information, names, places and concepts were overwhelming, I knew that this was the beginning of something deeply important to me.  In the four years that have followed, these sentiments have fully bloomed and have even set some fruit!

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Oca tubers from Peace Seedlings, Alan Kapular’s Farm in Corvallis, OR.

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Chris, showing the group a dormant Sea Kale stock, a perennial kale species.

It has now been a month since returning to the farm from this year’s OSA conference in Corvallis, OR. The energy that I was able to take away from the conference this year was so enlivening that I’ve been running on the fumes of it since, putting newly gained knowledge into action, maintaining contact with new friends and farmer mentors, pulling ideas from my notebook and sowing their seeds into future workshops, collaborations, and future farm endeavors. If in the first year I felt green, this year I was a rainbow prism: the fuchsia spectrum of ancient Oca tubers, brilliant orange of trailing eight different Delicata Squash varieties, the blue of ice surrounding the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway (Cary Fowler gave us a vivid virtual tour during his key-note address), the all entrapping, bottomless absorption of black, the pure canvas of white, ideas reflecting, with insights openly shared, and of course, more new-growth green as knowledge buds.

When sowing plants in the legume family, it’s common to inoculate the seeds with a rhizobacheria, this symbiotic relationship allows peas, for example, to take gaseous nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil, where it can benefit soil organisms and plants alike. The image of being dipped into a rich inoculum couldn’t escape my mind, as throughout the many days of the conference I became activated, pulling theories, meanings, research platforms and objects out of the buzzing air and fixing them into my present framework of understanding. In crowded rooms of hundreds of people, seeds, both physical and metaphysical were endlessly being exchanged. Their germ plasm inside destined to one day tap their roots in deep and yield sweet fruit. Knowledge and connections made their way around the room as little grains of pollen, some dancing with the wind on loud vocals, other grains moving about, sticky and sweet, bonding to buzzing two-legged pollinators carrying ideas from one farmer to the next in excitement and astonishment. Here, in this hive I’ve found a kindred home, an alliance, one where the Queen heralds open-source, open-pollinated, organic production, resilience, community access, telling and honoring of stories, stewardship, education and diversity.

In my return home to Homeward Bounty Farm I carried with me new inspirational books, field notes that will grow with bounty, colorful seed packets sustaining stories and history, and many little grains of sticky pollen gathered at the hem of well-worn work pants.

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Crocuses in bloom at Homeward Bounty Farm. These wild pollinators are happy with this find!

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The season is off to an early start, with onions, leeks and brassicas growing happily in the greenhouse.

The Stars and Birds in the Sky

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Photo courtesy of JS

This time of year the farm is dark, like a new moon. Work is being done deep down in the soil, worms and micro organisms break down the season that was tilled in. The green cover crops cover lowly. Soon they will start to jump in response to the longer days, but Green hasn’t dominated yet. The farm is dark; it is brown soaked earth. Everything seem so be quiet, the straw colored field of last year’s growth, the reaching brown bare branches in the orchard, the seeds still call it night as they lie dormant. The new farm, like the new moon, always present but masked in darkness, is unassuming and lets others shine. At the time of the new moon you see the bold Milky Way flying directly over head, as each individual stars sing their song, Pleiades circles and shooting-starlings dive across the sky.

As the farm lies quietly working, up ahead a show takes place too. Raptors have taken over the skies as song birds fill the empty space with their melodies. This valley is home to so many birds and in these dormant months they fill it with life. Their wings span the horizon, taking up effortless flight, finding density in air that is so thin and unsuspending to us.

I’ve been filled with deep gratitude for this avian company. Their shadows traveling along the farm as they look for ground squirrels that may have been coaxed out by the spring like light and warm afternoons. There’s a Bald Eagle pair that can be found dancing about, and will even perch in the tree right outside the kitchen window. The flickers streak their under-red, Meadow Larks their yellow and little browns bounce all about, from orchard to lilac hedges, to junipers and dot the elms. I’m learning to look close, to know names and personalities. My friend Jim is teaching me how to identify wing patterns, flight, song and making the connection of habitat and season of the farm’s bird population.

Soon, we’ll honor the last of the dark new moons and the Celtic day of Imbolic, which recognizes the first signs of spring and falls between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. With it Green will start, the cover crop will begin to reach up, the greenhouse will glow and the dancing pair of eagles will build their nest and peacefully start their family, as Orion bends low in the horizon.

The Cold Muse

The happy high tunnel ecosystem!

The happy high tunnel ecosystem!

The cold muse sauntered in unseasonably late this year. Summer flew away on the wings of staggered chevron teams of Canada Geese.  However, there was no haste to their migration. They didn’t tug at the warmth of the sun or take the flowers with them and we didn’t get morning fields, held in freezing fog, from their exiting draft. They would call, as geese do, their gossip perky, echoing on dry, unwintered, mountain tops.  The geese have migrated with prediction, unpredicted has been lettuce, cabbage, even the stray tomatoes out in the field, that have continued to seize the mild weather and sustain their growth in the moment.

The cold muse’s tardiness allowed for unprecedented extention of our Siskiyou County harvest window. September tumbled into October, and October into November, as months in single harmony. The end of the season sprint kept curving around the bend with no noticeable ending.  The cold mornings usually play their roll in taking the season away, the dutiful farmer in turn tills it all in and sows the closing of the season and cover crops, until spring ground is broken.  But this has been the fall of perpetual harvest, can one really lament? It’s been an extended season of bounty, fresh salads and soups, more sharing and lengthening of connection to the harvest. The Mt. Shasta Harvest Connection for example.

Jonathan kept me together at markets!

Jonathan kept me together at markets!

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The cold muse has been late this year,  and with it so has my reflection of the season, this cold morning by the fire to write, ponder and absorb. Now, with snow on in the Eddies, on Goosenest, Black Butte and a white Shasta, the season can begin to close and go in. An eminence of blessings and thanks for another powerful season of growth can radiate out.  In MANY ways this was the most challenging season yet, with the heat and earwigs taking the farm into a deep hole for the month of June. July and August were kind and our mega-late summer kinder still. Homeward Bounty Farm’s Fourth Annual Harvest Dinner, yet again, held special space and was visited by an auspicious lunar eclipse. The high tunnel is teaching me volumes and produced the most stunning cauliflower crop I’ve have had the honor of growing. This beautiful community, my Siskiyou County home, continues to support, value and connect deeper with the local food experience! This land continues to find connections in family and friends. People who want to give to this property, this farm, to the earth and plants, to step into the pattern and cycles. Farmer and farm couldn’t be luckier and happier or more honored.

4th Annual Homeward Bounty Harvest Dinner

4th Annual Homeward Bounty Harvest Dinner

Garlic starting to pop up. 2016 already in the works.

Garlic starting to pop up. 2016 already in the works.

Lettuce still growing in the field. One of my favorite varieties, Drunken Women.

Lettuce still growing in the field. One of my favorite varieties, Drunken Women.

Brassicas growing happily.

Brassicas growing happily.

The cold muse that has finally brought a slowing ease to the season, did indeed come later than expected and with it I’ve delayed my favorite poem of a season’s close.  A poem that usually comes in with the geese and frost comes in now, mid November. May we have a defined wet winter and a poignant start to spring and continued seasons of bounty.

The Summer Ends   By Wendell Berry

The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth’s green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.

 

The Seed That Grew a Village

Field of barely growing in Ladakh, India.

Field of barely growing in Ladakh, India.

In 2009 I embarked on what would be an amazing adventure. I’d set out for international travel before, but there was something symbolic about this journey, as if the location was pulling me in, that there was something I would find there beyond cultural exchange and photographic experiences. I was told by a healer friend that she saw this trip for me as a sunrise, golden rays encompassing the entirety of the sky. I held on to this image as the airplane headed east, stretching halfway around the world to India.

This four month trip indeed seemed to open my future up like a seed, germinated by the glowing sun. I was introduced to truths, many deeply beautiful and many tragically hard. This trip was indeed the sunrise to my future in farming, seed saving, community integration, dedication to sustainability, and stewardship.

This journey led me high up into the Himalayas, to arid Ladakh, with its high elevation and towering white peaks that felt protective, rather then forbidding. It reminded me of home, the steep of Mt. Shasta. While in Ladakh, I participated in a program run by the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC). The program’s goal is to pair individuals with Ladakhi families and to create a multifaceted exchange that addressed development, globalization, cultural traditions, sustainability and subsistence agriculture. Before the road was built in the 70’s, linking the villages of Ladakh with greater India, Ladakhi culture rested on the foundation of the community. As the global world drove in, and currency glowed richer than a field of dried barley, the youth left, the men left and communal foundation started to be chipped away into private islands of individual identity. A people, become many entities vying to wear never-before-delineated badges of economic status, material goods, formal education, and autonomy. Through my experience living there, the juxtaposition was glaring. Among many of these contrasts, was me, a westerner traveling halfway around the world to learn from Ladakhi culture what ”traditional” living is like, to find that the younger generation had left home to earn money for their parents who are only ”poor farmers”. My heart felt some kind of healing with time spent in these ”poor villages”, where work was done communally, where your day was expressed in cycles that felt intuitive: milk the cow, make butter, put butter on your morning bread and in your (what would be one of many) cup of tea, hand wash laundry, pray, pull weeds in the barley and collect to feed to the cow in the morning when you milk her, help a neighbor with apricot harvest (along with everyone else in the village, as they’ll travel to every household to help with harvest), and so the days went. I was welcomed to be a part of the pattern, to be in the braid of a cut field of golden barley, in the weave of a woolen tunic, the living story of butter as it melts in tiny cups of black tea. This strong earthen house of community was my sunrise into a humble and different way of living, one that felt authentic. It was the journey into something deep within me, passed on from many grandmothers.

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My host mother, making butter. A task that was done every morning.

My host mother, making butter. A task that was done every morning.

The matriarch of the family, pulling weeds out of the barley crop.

The matriarch of the family, pulling weeds out of the barley crop.

 

 

 

 

 

Hauling fodder back to the house for the cows.

Hauling fodder back to the house for the cows.

 

 

The seed that was given fertile elements to grow in India has been planted at Homeward Bounty Farm. There are times however, when I feel the sunrise, but in its corse it does not always send out as many embracing rays. To be a single farmer on this land can at times feel cold, a woolen jacket made purely of single strands, where the wind finds its way in. It at times feels very unintuitive to be doing a job that ancestrally belonged to everyone. It’s ironic in many ways, this ”American” way of running a farm, doing it all by ones self, an individual seeking out their dreams and succeeding through hard work. But agriculture is the work of many!

And so I sowed the seed from India with the knowledge that from one seed will come many! I sowed the seed in hopes that it would grow a village. My folks have become farmers by my side and my neighborhood friends a community that works together. This amazing community is creating a farm that is theirs, it’s coming together to grow and harvest more than just food crops, but a fundamental  structure of our common abundance together and recognition of our bounty.

The inspiration to travel back to my memories of Ladakh came this weekend while harvesting onions. Together, CSA members, family and friends rose early and came into the field to work. Soon everyone was at ease, indeed tapping into our grandmothers, pulling onions, trimming up their tops and roots and placing them into boxes, our village putting-up food for the winter. We sat in the field, talked about fishing, weddings, sisters and daughters. We made jokes and laughed and enjoyed a more lively beverage than tea, beer. The field of onions changed from representing hours of work and was replaced the  an intuitive act of gathering around food for communal benefit, much like in the barley fields of Ladakh. The transition of wealth at that moment shifted from ”what we’re worth hourly,” into baskets of colorful onions that have a communal story of hands and hearts that will provide encompassing nourishment.

The sun continues to rise, the rays stretch out and this farm grows, for our village and because of our village. Thank you to everyone who’s embraced and become of a part of this journey.

Community harvest of barley in Ladakh.

Community harvest of barley in Ladakh.

Harvesting onions at Homeward Bounty Farm.

Harvesting onions at Homeward Bounty Farm.

Third Time The Charm & Challenge

Torpedo onions going to seed.

Torpedo onions going to seed.

This month we welcomed another rising solstice, a sun that would suspend in the sky longer than any other day. The longest day of the year to work, to play, to reflect, to gather, to give thanks, to harvest and to sow and we did it all. Two weeks into summer and the season is already starting to ripen in its unique way. To say that I’m learning and growing each year is an understatement. With each year I get stretched and pulled, I get pushed under and ride the wave high. I build on last year’s knowledge to realize that this next chapter is completely different, a book where the annotation tome is an underexaggeration. I know that the cyclical rotation is what we commonly reference, the earth turning round, the seasons leading from one to the next. With the farm I’ve come to know cycles well. I’ve been taught that they can be very small rings, as you repeat the task of harvesting summer squash every 24 hours and they can be large hoops: our annual solstice celebration, the first radish harvest, the ritual hilling of potatoes. Then there are the pieces that don’t seem to be on the same spoke at all. They’re unpatterned, unpredictable; they haven’t happened before and might not happen again. They are the outlier and they make you want to get out the preschool building blocks of a chemistry lab and try and build a model, one that is related to a circle, but reflects the bigger secrets, the way that Watson and Crick brought DNA to life. Do you think it would be possible?

This year I’m living the motto ‘the third time’s the charm,’ as this year marks the third year of growing here on Homeward Bounty Farm. I’m really getting a feel for the patterning and sequence of growing annual vegetables here in Siskiyou County. This year I’m feeding 20 households through the CSA program. When I started the CSA, four years ago, I held the number 20 in high regard. I knew that feeding 20 households would be a real challenge and a true test to realizing my dream as a farmer and enriching the community with local food. I’m getting a better gauge for sowing dates and how long I can stretch out our season.

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It’s been a season so far of building. We put up a 30’x96′ high tunnel this spring, the farm has officially registered with WWOOFing and a lovely piece was written about the farm for our North State Edible catalog, Edible Shasta-Butte. Maybe it was through this wide-spread publication that certain farm ‘connoisseurs’ started flocking to these unassuming two acres of crop land.  And so it has also become ‘the third time’s the challenge, as I’m playing the unattended and unwelcome host to some of the most voracious pests I’ve met in my years of farming. Regardless of where we Homosapiens lie on the food chain, it seems we have no seniority for the produce we love to eat. I want to grow things, make environments thrive and create as much diversity as possible and so I’m left at a crossroads when that diversity includes, ground squirrels, voles and earwigs. Adding these three kingdoms to the field of diversity has actually made it less diverse, as they’re taking out more than their share! Together they’re playing a very complex melody. The ground squirrels come in quick, eat at the leaves and a diversity of fruits in a furry of slobber and agility. Throwing symbols together as they bite through drip tape and create crescendos of geysers all about.  The voles seem to be more intentioned and sly, eating around the base of plants, then tunneling to the next, the plants slowly wilting in a long drone. And then there is the back-ground beat, as we zoom in on the plants at ground level and witness a numberless civilization of earwigs, quietly munching, mingling, mating and masticating. It’s one of those high pitched ballads that only a farmer can hear with a twinge of disapproval and bewilderment.

Control: the golden trophy for a farmer. We use controls to have control, to create what we want. The circle of seasons and crops and yields and successes that we want. The diversity that we decide. To play god, to feed the ones we love, to support our dreams and endeavors. There’s honesty in control and sane drive. There’s also a great deal of irony as we select for ourselves the pattern we favor most. The third time the charm, the third time the challenge; an earwig for every realization and lesson.

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Earth Mother

Wild pansy on the farm.

Wild pansy on the farm.

When my Mom felt the first signs of going into the labor with me, she was out in the flower bed, planting pansies. In that moment, we three were joined in a life long connection. The effortlessly smiling pansies, shining up to mom, her hands moist with rich soil and me, a wiggling awakening of wanting to be in the sun with her. My mom cultivated a deep love for the outdoors for my sister and I. For my mom, growing up in the heart of San Francisco, camping in the woods with her family made her tap into something authentic, a real love for nature, trees, conservation and education for places still wild. As we grew, she instilled in us the same love, zeal for Smokey the bear and Woodsy, encouraging us to stick our noses deep into the canyoned grooves of sugar pine bark and breath in deeply, to walk quietly, gingerly and always on the trail, to keep a look out for fairies and gnomes, to never complain, to never be destructive, to be happy, content and to learn from nature.

Our mom taught us how to use our hands and how to create. Life is found in creating it and our mom made us go outside interact with it all, crafting, playing, crocheting, cooking, painting, drawing, sowing and writing. From the beginning the understanding of creation, as a pillar to a happy life, has always been there. This importance of imagination and creation, of  resourcefulness and play. Other than life, I can’t think of a better gift to be given than these treasures.

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My mom aslo gave me Mt. Shasta and the Shasta Valley. My mom received her teaching credential from Humboldt State in 1983 and applied for teaching jobs throughout the country: Alaska, Montana, the puzzle-pieced states of the East. Before she knew it, she was packing up the car and headed east, from the coast, to work at the quaint school of Grenada. And so my family was rooted here, my sister and I went to school in Grenada, and 30 years later I would be living here, in the same valley, blessed to have the queen mountain’s mothering presence and best of all, to be close to my family.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! You’ve made me, made me who I am. You’ve connected me with all the elements that I value and continue to inspire, teach and fill my days with abundant love. You are the one that encourages me to write, always my editor, my biggest supporter, my welcomer of created words. You’ve always understood my cadence, because it’s the beat that you gave to me, our swinging duet. I love you with all my heart!

Mom and Chessy

Mom and Chessy

Running Clam Beach!

Running Clam Beach!

Dormant Seed

Rain, a loyal seed companion.

Rain, a loyal seed companion.

To lie dormant is to still be active. A seed in the ground is never lazy, is never undoing it’s place, but storing, planning, absorbing, is stable and purely patient. I would like to say that I have not posted on the blog due to dormancy, that I’ve been succeeding in the challenge of seedism, of being anchored and to be still with simply being, to be abiding by the energy within and the patience in holding, to know when to rise up. But, I’ve not been a dormant seed. I deeply know I have a lot of wisdom to glean from the germplasm that buzzes with perfection in place. I’ve been rising too much, a novice, a puppy, always going, doing, beyond-being antics and I have not made use of the beautiful resource of time. Time to sit, time to write and speak for the farm during these handful of months.

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Seeds at a market in Thailand

Seeds at a market in Thailand

Although I have not been a stoic seed, they’ve been squarely on my farming fore front. While on vacation to Thailand, in the fall, Jonathan and I came across many open air markets, the heirloom grocery store. The produce was stunning, truly a treat for plant lovers and flavor dreamers. The rices, greens, fruits I never knew could exist, fish, meats, and at one market we found a sweet woman selling seed. I also brought some packets of seeds from the farm and using only speaking the language of seeds we exchanged with each other, not only hundreds of plants to be, but a maternity for the land and a reverence for something that in the present reality is small, but in the dimension we both know well, was more expansive than description.

This is also the time of year to visit the farm’s seeds, packed away, undisturbed in cool corners. The evolution of the farming seasons, this will be my sixth, can be quantified and represented by the size of the vessels that hold these seeds. From shoe box, to tubs, to the present three large Rubbermade bins. It’s a fun ritual, spreading it all out, placing packets in the future fields. These seeds will tell the story of this season. They will feed the CSA, customers at the Farmers’ Market, patrons at local restaurants and grocery stores. These seeds will thrive under the elements and farmer and will also die off from these two roots. Saved seed lots from 2014 were tested for germination and packaged up to feed locals in a different way. These packets of seeds that will travel to homes to be planted out in backyards and containers. Sowing future family meals and opening the story book of connection with seed, food, and our culture of agriculture. Throughout the seasons chapters may even be added to this book, or rekindled, as this is the story of our ancestors. It is a story we all already carry. We are the story of seed! And seeds are a story of who we are.

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Winnowing Ruby Streaks Mustard seed for Siskiyou Seeds (www.siskiyouseeds.com)

 

Cleaning Black Turtle Bean seed.

Cleaning Black Turtle Bean seed.

Homeward Bounty Seeds! Seed colors and textures continue to amazing and inspire me!

Homeward Bounty Seeds! Seed colors and textures continue to amazing and inspire me!

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A burgeoning revolution is here. Not the hijacked tone of the Green Revolution, an honest uprising of a trinity of voices: our ancestors, the seeds and ourselves. The conversations about food are abundant. The education is saturating, the lexicon of knowledge and the desire for more knowledge is increasing. People are curious to know if the food is local, non-spray or organic and every once in a while I hear is what I feel is the gem, “Is this a Torpedo onion?” “Is this Red Russian kale?” “Is this Genovese basil?” And here, is why to my farming ears (to my ears that have a deep love for education and the passing on of stories ), this is a gem. People are getting to know their food! In German, there are two meanings for the word ‘know.’ One know is the verb wissen; wissen is if you know where the closest bookstore is. And then there’s kennen; the verb kennen is used when you know someone or something personally. You know their energy, their feel. Kennen is knowing beyond knowledge, the realm of the brain. Kennen is that you know something in your heart. When someone asks me the specific variety of a vegetable, they are knowing (kennen) their food by heart. My desire in this revolution is that we start to ask deeper. To ask where our food is grown and the practices by which it was grown, to call food by its name, to ask the story of the seed the story of the variety! To ask who grew the seed, how was the seed grown and what’s the story map of the seed?

It is the time of year to open the book, to read the seed story, our story and to learn. To sit with the seed. To be, be still. To be anchored. To know when to rise up and authentically stretch out in growth.

Onions growing in the greenhouse in January. The first stretches of green for the 2015 season.

Onions growing in the greenhouse in January. The first stretches of green for the 2015 season.