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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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!

Heartvest Dinner

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Another season to honor. One to name and define, to catalogue. Wedges of present moments strung together under concise themes: a day, the moth of August, a row of tomatoes , but contain truly nothing that can be defined in such simple ways. In reflecting on this, I guess the challenge lies in remembering each memory as pixilated as possible, the quality in every dot that makes it a whole, to remember and feel the authenticity of moments.

This year, not yet done, but cresting, has had many truly authentic moments and has been a season unlike any I’ve experienced before.  It was Green, not exclusively in the eco sense, but in its young tenderness, it’s vulnerability and wide-eyed wonder. We were novices, the soil, the seed, the farmer. Playing in an environment where a little beginners luck would be welcomed and the learning curve proved steep.

The season brought together Home and Bounty, as was manifested through its namesake! The family grew this season, extending to encompass yet more and more lovely smiles, warm hearts and willing to work hands. A community, with a deep appreciation for community, for local vibrant food and an even greater passion to share meals with ones dear! At the heart of it all it truly IS about eating! About making beautiful meals that make you and the ones around you glow. Each individual bite one to savor, like each pixel that makes the whole. The way the white lights caught the smiles amid animated conversations over a Harvest Dinner table. The zinnias shining out, the rain hydrating the cover crop seed, a night and a season beautifuly and richy authentic.  Thank you all for this wealth, this support and the pulse of a farm famly bond, the beat of anther successful Heartvest!

The spread - YUM

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Welcoming a beautiful rainbow.
Welcoming a beautiful rainbow.

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A storm rolls in.

A storm rolls in.

40 Acres and a Girl

Bob Swanson captures a nice view of Homeward Bounty Farm

Bob Swanson captures a nice view of Homeward Bounty Farm

Welcome to a bright new Homeward Bounty chapter dear readers, fresh Siskiyou grown food eaters, wealth of supportive radiant friends and deeply loving family. This is it; be careful what you wish for, as I officially have a 40 acre piece of property to call my lifetime stewardship project. How speechlessly unidentifiable. How quietly humbling, a calling that rains down from the mountain and up from the fertile Grenada soil. A true commitment to HOME and ROOTS – I’m not going anywhere any time soon folks, you now know where to find me!

I’ve been subliminally taught the O’Brien mantra of Rescue and Hard Work. As you drive up to the property, these are two words that are called out loud and clear. Within that mantra the key is to hear what is chanted next;  trailing behind those words, the farm sings a soft song of Potential, Growth and Love. The O’Brien magic is to set your rhythm to that song, work is a dance, create something beautiful.

When the property closed, we sang the working song of this new farm like mocking birds.  An overwhelming crew of dedicated friends came out to clean, organize, demolish, burn, collect, drink, arrange, create, eat, rip and dance. It was a farm mob frenzy!

Some major highlights:

John Tannaci, saving the day on his tractor.

John Tannaci, saving the day on his tractor.

John Tannaci, my new neighbor and owner/grower at Hunter Orchard, drove his tractor up the driveway with a smile and a mission. “You’ll be needing to get things in the ground soon Kate. Do you have a field you need ripped?”  YES! Through this thoughtful and extremely generous act, John has opened the soil to this season and graced 2013. Potatoes are going in this week! I can not thank the Tannaci’s deep enough for their truly kind spirits and support.

William Wareham’s boat vision: What do you do with endless amounts of junk? Well, you convert some of into art! Who else would have the tasteful and creative eye, but Bill. On the property was an old fiberglass boat (doomed for the dump), until Bill had a vision to clean that baby up. Fueled by the power of an artists ascetic and a Dodge Hemi, he drove it up to the top of the hill and perfectly perched it. It now rests on the hill and has become the ideal destination to sit and watch the last rays of light stretch out across the Shasta Valley. All abroad the Sunset Cruise!

Annie Moore made the kitchen sparkle! The Demo team was a pack of wild hammers, crow bars and will! Ron Presley was one of the first to show up and worked even through lunch. My sister drove three hours north, and brought with her two hard working

Bill on a mission.

Bill on a mission.

farmers.  Jonathan filled his truck up to the brim with debris. Bob and Jack documented. A friend from old soccer days, Shannon, proved what teamwork means (ten years later). Kate Bachman fired up her chain saw and Celtic salt was gifted to bless the new home, thank you Marian. Sweet baby Magnus even made the trip, with his amazing Jenny Mae mommy.

I could have spontaneously burst in joy, leaving behind jewels of love and blessing. My heart ached. My cheeks were sore. My gratitude swelled beyond and beyond. Here,  what we grow is infinite.  In many life endeavors it takes a village. Thank you for being my village, my family, the rich soil to my roots.

The Demo team

The Demo team

So much junk!     
So much junk!

"The beds will be this big."
“The beds will be this big.”

Food well loved – 2012

The year has turned and I’ve become resolute with resolutions. I know that I don’t need the significance of a New Year to inspire turn-inward reflections and analysis of a year past, in order to approach fresh this next go around the sun. It’s always argued that one can find inspiration for growth and change with every rise of every day, of that I have no doubt. I do however, find something grand and poignant with the beckoning of the New Year. Winter solstice has passed, and with it the daylight stretches out longer and our O’Brien Opas! become later. The cycle of the season has shown true this year. The winter weeks of resting farming bones are numbered, a green house to clean, crop plans to draw out, onions and cool weather crops to sow and hands grown soft begin their introduction to soil once more. Winter’s important role in recovery and rest, transitions into a tone of reinvestment as a new season whispers.

With the closing of 2012, I would like to share photos of loved food and loved friends, the glowing images of the bounty of love, laughter and satiated bellies that grew in abundance during Homeward Bounty’s first year. The support that carried this year will fuel many seasons to come. I greatly thank you, beautiful community, with the entirety of my heart!!

This upcoming year I wish you all vibrant meals of kale, aching smiling cheeks, arms grown strong with work and hugs and many, many adventures!

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On This Harvest Moon

On this Harvest Moon we gathered; we gathered our party gear, our blessings, our open arms for new friends and raise our glasses to the bounty, color, the unyielding wealth and gifts of this year’s growing season, to health, to our community, to strength and support and to the balance.

“The distance between us is holy ground
To be traversed feet bare,
Arms raised in joyous dance
So that it is crossed.
And the tracks of our pilgrimage shine in the darkness
To light our coming together
In a bright and steady light.”

― Raphael Jesus Gonzales

(thank you Isaac)

This season has not come to completion enough to reflect on it as if it were not still in the present. As I write, there are still plants growing in their loamy beds, their green leaves waving to neighbors across the way, moving in conversation like that of my Italian Grandmother’s. There are rows of new crops that love the open star nights of autumn and rows of crops dying, drying to golden hews, dissolved images of plants crisp, yet holding within rattling pods their genetic wealth to be expressed in future generations, future seasons.

It’s hard to resist reflections. This is time of year the harvest moon rises. The sun, persistently warm, supervises the cusp  of summer and fall harvest. Tomatoes still ripen on the vine, peppers marble to mature colors, lemon cucumbers relentlessly populate under dense canopies, all in tandem with crops ready to be cured for winter. Winter squash vines die back with stems becoming hard and corky. The onions have been pulled and set to develop papery skins, booking them for storage success.

It is also during this time of year where I feel I can start coming up for longer breaths of air. Not to my surprise, but always to my deep gratitude I’m welcomed by a song of love and support by the most amazing community of people; who have been the driving force and foundation of my focus and fortitude.

**THE FIRST ANNUAL HOMEWARD BOUNTY HARVEST GATHERING**

This past Sunday marked a special event, the First Annual Homeward Bounty Harvest Gathering! It was a magical night, luminated under a crystalline Harvest Moon and hosted on the soil that gave and grew so much. A lovely meal was shared with friends of the farm, family and CSA members. The afternoon and night was pure perfection!

Farm Tour

Harvest Moon Rising