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.

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To Pops, the Farmer.

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I am sixth generation Californian and a first generation farmer. It would be easy to think that I’m the black sheep of the family, the unconventional organic farmer, the one who doesn’t have a ‘real job’ and is wasting away two College degrees. You would think that maybe my parents would be hoping that this is a faze and that I would one day get a ‘real job,’ invest my ‘extra time’ in having grandkids. So, in the spirit of Father’s Day, I wanted to dedicate this post to how these statements couldn’t be further from the truth.

I grew up in a tongue and groove log home. On any given summer morning, it wasn’t uncommon to wake up to the sound of a chain saw and NPR. The thought was always, what wall is Dad taking out now? There were closets that became bathrooms, extensions that became offices, and holes punched out to spontaneously add windows. My Dad molded my childhood home like it was a sandcastle, simply knock out A and add B, and repeat. Near the pool we had a small garden. I remember a cold frame from a sliding glass door, a compost pile that would essentially just attract the deer and always the attempt to grow the staples, tomatoes, corn and fair worthy pumpkins. I don’t remember us being that attentive with the garden, but it was there and every year as the weather warmed, my Dad’s attempt to grow Siskiyou County’s biggest pumpkins resurfaced along with the families of blue bellied lizards.

It was in this setting where I became an authentic product of my parents. It was the backdrop where they taught me how to create life, to use my hands and to use my heart to honor the hours in each day. To have action and interaction with life directly, to wake up, decide to take out a wall and put in a window, and do it. It was with these principals that my heart understood farming. Like a hypothetically sterotypical cavewoman, I thought: soil, water, sun, seeds, food, family, eat, good. These are the elements of life, I understood this from the beginning and wanted to root myself in it.

I know I am this authentic product, because my parents understand this rooting. They not only see the link, but they hold it dear in their hearts. That working to live is the point, because you can’t designate when you’r living and when your not, so live through your work and do the work that becomes your story of living. It’s been overwhelming to see the foundation that my parents have given me become played out in the fabric of this farm’s soil and in the deep soil stained grooves of my hands and to know that I’m doing them proud.

My Dad loves the farm. He visits with the composure of supervisor, always starting off with a walk into the fields, checking in on the tomatoes, the greenhouse and counting the chickens. He also meanders with curiosity, finding bird’s nests, catching snakes, diagnosing water leaks and identifying hawks. I can see a unlocking sense of excitement each time he visits and whether he knows it or not, it’s often his energy that can bring me back to being present with this overall project, which I sometimes just think of as truly exhausting labor. My parents have given me everything. I have always looked up to my dad, my soccer coach, my teacher, my deep hugger, joke repeater, cat lover, house builder, project juggler, car fixer, joke repeater and now farmer.

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Putting in new fruit trees.

Putting in new fruit trees.

 

 

 

Maybe we are at a new paradigm, where a sixth generation Californian, first generation farmer is passing the trade up, into the generations. A family farm that has been sown by youth, to take care of the elders that I love. To pass up the knowledge, to pass up the story and to pass the freshly harvest food around the family table. With all my love, Happy Father’s Day Pops!

Father's Day Dinner on the farm. Of corse, he found a snake!

Father’s Day Dinner on the farm. Of corse, he found a snake!

Growing a Farm

 

Jonathan captures the sweet Killdeer nest.

Killdeer nest – Photo by Jonathan Mann

How does one grow a farm? What’s the adequate amount of sunlight, nurture, preparation, vision, IPA, planning, replanning, selection, drive, dive, hands? This farm has been a true manifestation of place and community and vision. But, it’s been a humbling process to realize where to jump into the circle, already in turn. This farm needs to grow from deeper than the soil up, it needs to start in the soil itself. To grow soil is to grow plants, to then grow a farm, to grow nutrient dense food for the community, to be able to sit back and enjoy an IPA, to stretch and get up and dive into the circle again.

I think about the emergence of this season and it has not unfolded as planned. Successions of brassicas (cabbage, broccoli and kale) have gone into the field in little waves, in hopes to determine best planting time for our alpine-mediterranean-high desert climate. And each have been taken out by incoming tides of cut worms, chickens on the loose, ants and what I’m finding out is a micronutrient deficiency of Boron. Lessons have come in on these tides too; fennel and cilantro have been too potent for most of these pests, where there is a bite, there’s always a bug and mental note to grow more lettuce, with their hardy rippling leaves of joy.

Split stems - A sign of Boron deficiency in Brassica crops.

Split stems – A sign of Boron deficiency in Brassica crops.

There are many things in active  growth, besides farmer and farm. These not planned unfoldings are blessings and keep me grounded in process and true wealth, like of being  always conscious of the Killdeer nest in the middle of the field. This knowledge which kept the constant rattle of my brain anchored in the present when navigating from point to point, as to not place unwanted steps. The same with the vernal appearance of the farm resident Gopher Snake, who’s grown since last spring, and alerts me in a fashion that raises my heart rate higher than the bird’s nest. A toad! I remember as a child a large toad that lived by our yard hose. It was one of those moments that didn’t carry on into the years, as it moved on and wasn’t seen in subsequent springs. Seeing this large toad in the field makes me happy to the core. It has dug a hole right at the end of the lettuce bed and can be found under a Red Coss leaf umbrella from time to time. I hope it’s adapting its diet to one of plump cutworms, please!

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Killdeer chicks and Mama

Killdeer chicks and Mama

Climbing peas with fennel in the background.

Climbing peas with fennel in the background.

Things don’t always work out as planned. I’m not immune this feeling, but I’m starting to know it well. The stomach nausea after a killing freeze, a plant taken out by a hula hoe, the mass munching of grubbing grubs, a flat of dropped tomatoes. So it goes. I’ve transitioned beyond ‘young grasshopper’ phase with these lessons of life, of letting anger pass,  of honoring cycles, the gift of the moment and the reset button in one’s heart. The stomach ache is always the last to shake however, the sour sorrow of the core. Sweet Mama I’m sure is housing this same ache, one of her speckled investments of instinct and care, unable to unfold its origami wings from their constellation shell – suspended as the farm circle turns.

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Oh Deere!

Native flowers blooming on the hillside.

Native flowers blooming on the hillside.

Spring is here. The emergence. Buds and blooms, seeds and dreams, the stretching of green and opening of color. The swirling in and out of random weather. This is spring, the cusp debut, the quick bursts, the excelleration. To be present in this moment is to be a part of something very special! The farm has been present with it all. It has been present with the glowing greenhouse and the 40mph winds, the native flowers opening up to feed the bees and visions materializing- and boy are they ever!!

The greenhouse mid March.

The greenhouse mid March.

 

 

It has become glaringly evident that here in Siskiyou County our weather pattern is more of a weather beat. A pulse that moves around creating a song all it’s own, that may or may not have rhythm and has a heavy emphasis on wind section! As I’m learning the hard way, it’s a bit of a harsh climate and investing in season extension tools is nonnegotiable. The farming guru of efficiency and season extension is Elliot Coleman and it has been in his philosophies that I’ve been subscribing. ‘The New Organic Grower’ has long been a favorite publication of mine, now ‘The Winter Harvest Handbook’ has been rocking my world and has me dreaming up various tunnels. I can gladly say that I have Tunnel Vision, low tunnels, high tunnels, caterpillar tunnels – Grow Tunnels! Last week the first wave of brassicas and spring goodies went in and over them a nice little protective hops and some frost cloth. When the nights dip down, there’s a layer of greenhouse plastic that gets pulled over the frost cloth for added insulation. I think that tunnels like these are going to play a big role in the future of this farm, however, these last few days have provided a wealth of education towards this learning curve. The winds came up and of corse, took the frost cloth off. The winds have actually been so aggressive, that I now have the cloth pinned on the ground under the hoops for the time being, protecting the plants more from wind burn and dehydration than from freezes. When this weather ‘beat’ passes, we’ll stake in anchors, put the layers back on the hoops and run a cord over the cloth to hold everything together. We’ll keep fine tuning this concept and will hopefully strike a harmonious melody!

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Low Tunnels!

Low Tunnels!

And more March Manifestation Miracles – Say hello to new farm friend, Patrick Deere! You’re surprised? I’m still in complete shock! There have been many times when I’ve been coy in accepting that over and over again my life has been a overflowing bounty of blessings. But like this spring, I just have to remind myself to be oh so ever present with this very sweet moment. Work hard, play hard, give deeply and appreciate your Blessings with all your heart! Here we have it, beautiful tractor! Welcome to the farm family Patty!

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Oh Patty, you and my Dad are going to be BEST FRIENDS!

Oh Patty, you and my Dad are going to be BEST FRIENDS!

Big Bon-Fire Birthday

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A Year. Homeward Bounty Farm is officially a year old. The farm now can teeter from one season to the next on two strong legs, big dreams are starting to grow in and are able to sink their teeth into the meat of juicy ideas, the soil is building, and the land is recognizing and reidentifying – ‘I’m a farm.’ It’s getting easier to sleep at night as I know everything is going to be alright. I’ve had phases of worry and stress, probably natural for any first years farmer, but I’m realizing more and more that this farm is not wholly dependent on me, that this farm is truly being held up by a family, a community and a vision that is greatly deeper than my sole capacity can create, thank goodness!  I’m eager to be a midwife and support this project, as it develops and grows into something I believe will be sweetly rich and self knowing.

A mantra that surfaced during last year’s farm clean-up party was, ‘the farm provides.’ And it was true. You need a shovel? Look around and soon enough you would find one against the fence, a solitary tool that has stood the test of time, a patiently leaning relic of the last owners, or the ones before. Upon purchase, it was quite apparent that this property represented strata of hobbies from dwellers throughout the years. Anything I may need, and plenty I didn’t need, came with the farm.  The farm has provided, it has provided many trips to the dump and metal recycling, it has provided stray shovels, and loads and loads worth of fuel for bon-fires to keep us warm and in a festive glow.

This first year birthday was appropriately celebrated with one of the best candles yet! We tackled some worthy projects, cleaning out windrows of renegade tumbleweeds, dead trees, derelict fences came down and the mother load rotting wood pile traded its BTU’s with impressive ignition! And the farm provided and the vision shown true, as amazing members of the community came out for an afternoon of splendid productivity. This is how I know that as this farm grows it will not be from my hands alone and that this vision is creating itself. I know because it’s the younger brothers of my high school best friends, now men who came out with excitement. It was Paul’s uncle Danny, determined to tackle it all, the most loyal of CSA members that value the connection with the earth and have with out fail supported Homeward Bounty Farm. Three generations were represented, folks new to the community and neighbors…..and the farm totem, the wind, decided to hold off until the night hours, the rains came and the big birthday candle when out with the prayed for wish of rain. The farm provides! The farm provides! Happy Birthday and Many More!

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Many Muddy Hands

“The mind has exactly the same power as the hands; not merely to grasp the world, but to change it.”
Colin Wilson

Hands have translated, in grasp, many visions on this farm. I’m amazed at how much dreaming and learning the brain can do, and to have it all come out in the palms, the building and sculpting of neuron fire.  To think of all the incarnations this property has had, from pastured cattle, standing fields of alfalfa and rye, a once young orchard, buildings for chickens and racing pigeons, even a certain Sativa Illegalis. You pull the past out of a place, a sun bleached cow’s tooth found on the hill side, a rusty sythe and feathers shed. Fences laid out, working hands once setting boundaries that held importance in someone’s, now historical, present; a vision that has expired, but the fence lines still hold.

And what of this year and all the work done? Adding to the story, the visions, and of hands building a life. Each little seed was a project this year, germinating and growing into tasks that needed to be done, tending to life. But, when I think about the work of hands this year, my mind will be drawn to ones covered in mud and faces wearing white smiles. Work blurred with play, as clay binded with sand, and straw bales met earthen plaster from the same geographic region they had grown in. Insulating this shed with R-Max and store bought materials would have potentially been less money, less time (a weekend’s worth of work), and less joy. It’s not often that we put money, time and joy on a scale against each other. We’re taught that the math is simple and that money and time trumps. But, I’ve learned that on a farm the scale shifts and money and time become nebulous when weighed next to joy, food, family and the cycles of nature.  I didn’t know what I was getting into, ‘Insulating a Shed with Straw Bales and Applying an Earthen Plaster,’ the internet search results came in lean, but the concept felt healthy and strong for the life of this farm.  With a lot of faith and some substantial information gleaned from Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and “The Straw Bale House” by Steen and Brainbridge, the shed is shining in it’s new insulating layer of local straw, local earthen plaster and layers of work by loving hands.  Thank you deeply, to all those who built, shaped and played with this project! An old shed, built from beautiful Siskiyou County straw, earth and family; Homeward Bounty’s new vegetable cold storage!

Buying a farm, 'as is'! Shed in the back ground.

Buying a farm, ‘as is’! Shed in the back ground.

The shed all cleaned out.

The shed all cleaned out.

Working on extending the roof line and including a vegetable washing station.

Working on extending the roof line and including a vegetable washing station.

Roof complete!

Roof complete!

40 bales of locally grown straw!

40 bales of locally grown straw!

Stuffing straw in the gaps of bales and sewing it in with wire to keep it strong. We also attached wire to the foundation and roof to keep the bales from falling down.

Stuffing straw in the gaps of bales and sewing it in with wire to keep it strong. We also attached wire to the foundation and roof to keep the bales from falling down.

1st coat - A mix of clay and water applied with a texture gun.

1st coat – A mix of clay and water applied with a texture gun.

2nd coat - a mix of 70% sand to 30% clay, fresh cow manure and a gluten paste.

2nd coat – a mix of 70% sand to 30% clay, fresh cow manure and a gluten paste.

Gaps were filled with straw soaked in clay and water.

Gaps were filled with straw soaked in clay and water.

Good thing we had a dry place to set up for the harvest dinner!

Good thing we had a dry place to set up for the harvest dinner!

3rd coat, one month later! What a dedicated crew!

3rd coat, one month later! What a dedicated crew!

Sow Seeds and Grow

Rice fields at Navdanya Farm in Derha Duhn, India

Rice fields at Navdanya Farm in Derha Duhn, India

I fell in love with seeds in the patchwork fields of 480 varieties of rice. Seeds, in the caring work- leathered hands of humble  women, wise seeds cradled by wise women, their bond authentically and intrinsically connected, woven with sweat, soil, sun, while chanting prayers of generations,  generations. The textile weave of earth’s patterns in rice, in women, in seeds, pulled at a string deep inside of my heart, hands, womb. A tapestry inside me that was braided long ago. A tapestry that lives in all of us.

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Three of the many varieties of rice at Navdanya Farm.

Three of the many varieties of rice at Navdanya Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds have continued to make me think and feel deep beyond our connection in weave.  I’ve often found myself pondering their psychology. There’s a sense of personification when thinking of seed psyche; human emotions shed onto the  plant community. However, the more I dissect seed to seed fundamentals,  I find myself truly feeling each plant’s fierce desire to grow strong for the sake of their seeds. They gauge their resources in weather, soil, water, and conductive pollen  with a foundation of how to best live, in order to produce the most successful offspring- to keep their genetics alive, to procreate, to continue and be reborn into this world, generation after generation; every seed containing within its world the potential to replicate exponentially. Is this plan diabolical or the sincere desire to hold on to and nurture what we hold most dear?

Last year’s growing efforts were partly inspired by the cry of a overflowing bag of seeds, ‘plant us!’. Fourteen  months later, a legitimate chorus can be heard, echoing out of two bins of seeds. Next year, I may need earplugs. And so the story goes; if you have seeds and love growing plants out to seed, you gather a band of talented loved ones to help create a packet design and then make these special varieties available to growers everywhere. Yep, that’s the story, and I present you with Homeward Bounty Seeds! Available now on Etsy, search Homeward Bounty! A shout out to dear Ashley Mersereau of Roots and Wings Jewelry who has created the very beautiful graphics. As well as my Aunt Cathy O’Brien who laid out and organized the design.

Sow seeds and grow! Find that tapestry inside and let it pull you.

Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn -Homeward Bounty Seeds

Cherokee Long Ear Popcorn -Homeward Bounty Seeds

Pablo Lettuce - Homeward Bounty Seeds

Pablo Lettuce – Homeward Bounty Seed

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Ashley in her magical studio.

Ashley's art, find pen and watercolor pieces features in Homeward Bounty Seed packets.

Ashley’s art, find pen and watercolor pieces features in Homeward Bounty Seed packets.