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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Yogic Onions Starts

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The season is starting to grow! It seems yet too cold to utilize the lovely greenhouse that my Dad built last year. The saving grace glass house, built from 10 sliding glass doors, has been highly utilized and appreciated. Unfortunately, it is not perfectly air tight and with consistent frosty mornings and days, where pine needles and human bones struggle to thaw, I opted for an indoor kick-start. Here, on an old metal shelf, I’ve towered trays of onions seeds. I have heard no cries of unsatisfaction, as the sun shines in. Mt. Shasta smiles through the frame of the window and the ambient house warmth keeps soil hospitable and encouraging.

After a very positive response towards last year’s fresh and cured onions, I decided to increase the crop this year. Scattered in these trays are future French Onions soups, sweet crunchy rings of the Siskiyou Sweet, elegant purple torpedo shaped Tropea and the patiently cured paper skins of red and yellow varieties, for 2014 storage.  Yes, the yummy year begins.

Green energy starts to fill the house as the first seeds germinate. They’re yogic presence is rejuvenating, energizing, calming, these happy little lights already representing such gratitude. From delicate charcoal-like seeds, the onions seedlings start to emerge. They slowly rise up and stay suspended, stretching themselves out in a new life welcoming: downward dog. As many of us could, they stay there, looped with the soil, relaxed, breathing. Slowly they rise, bring their heads and arms up, welcoming the sunny day. They take a look at the mountain and offer up a gift, their hollow seed pod.

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Onions stretched out in a relaxing downward dog.IMG_0396

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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Alli-yum!

Alliums, a genius genus, are one we can’t get enough of. Alliums have power in the kitchen! They can bring you to your knees (as they saute in butter) and at times cause breath unease. The species are many, but you may know them best by their common names of garlic, onions, scallions, shallots and leeks. Alliums are a staple in daily meals and they’re a joy to grow. At Green Fire Farm we grew beautiful onions and patrons to the local farmers’ market swooped them up quickly.

Onions take much devotion. They’ll take 100+ days to mature when sown from seed. I started my seeds in little trays in the living room window at the end of February and planted them out as the first brave Homeward Bounty transplants in mid April. When young, they’re no match for bullying invasive weeds. So the pampering begins with constant and detailed weeding. Onions grow side by side and swell with the sun and rain. They’re very proper in their little que, green tops marching in place to the hum of earthworm vibrations and the ever present 3 o’clock Shasta Valley wind.

The sweet, fresh onions are some of my favorites, my Dad’s too. Coming home after a long day on the farm, he  will greet me with, “How are the torpedo onions doing?” It’s as if the torpedo onion will go local food viral, here in Siskiyou County. People will come from far and wide, like from Yreka or Dunsmuir, and Gazelle to witness, fight over, possess the amazing (they ARE pretty amazing) torpedo onion. I can see myself at the People Food Choice Awards – “And I would like to thank God…for making the torpedo onion!” Now you might find yourself thinking, “So how are the torpedo onions?” They’re doing great and will show up in CSA boxes in a matter of weeks.

Onions, garlic, leeks, we can almost regard them as condiments- herbs. They accent and enhance, but don’t take the show or the cake, but sometimes they do take the pie. The very fine folks who make up this year’s CSA membership may be getting on the verge of onion overload. So here are some recipes that request onions to take the protagonist’s post.

Walla-Walla sweet onions cleaned up and ready for CSA baskets.

Sweet Onion Pie – Provided by Macheesmo.com

Visit the website for pie crust recipe, use your tried and true favorite or just buy a shell –

Filling:
4 large onions (3 1/2 pounds), sliced. I would recommend a sweet variety, such as Walla-Walla or Siskiyou Sweet.
6 ounces bacon, finely chopped
1/2 stick butter
1 Cup sour cream
2 large egg yolks
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375

Cut onions into even-sized slices. Chop the bacon into tiny pieces. For veggie folks, add kale, spinach and or squash in the place of Wilber.

In a large pan, melt butter over medium heat and add bacon. Once cooked, add all your onions. Cook covered for 20 minutes. This is when you sigh, for the most amazing smell has filled the room. Ou’ de onions & butter. Que fantastique! After 20 minutes, a lot of liquid remains. Keep on burner another 20-30 and cook with lid off to evaporate some of the juices. Let the onions fully cool, accelerate by placing in the fridge.

In a bowl, add cream and yolks. Once the onions are cool, add it all together. The idea is to not cook the eggs when adding them to the onion mixture! Season with salt, pepper and herbs of choice. Grated cheese would also make a good compadre. This is pie after all, if you’re on a diet, forget about it!

Place filling in shell and bake for 80 minutes at 375. Onions take persistence, so does this pie and they both always pay off! YUMMMMMM!

O’Brien Onion Soup –

Serves 6

Ingredients:

6 T butter

4 large onions – again, I recommend sweet types

O’Brien Onion Soup

1 cup white wine  – our household adapted it using beer and it come out great!

6 cups stock – chicken or vegetable

1 T salt (if butter isn’t salted) and pepper to taste

Chop onions up into thin slices. Melt butter in a large wide pan; the wider the pan the quicker it will cook, allowing the onions to cook at one layer thick. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in the wine or beer and bring to a boil. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the browned bits. Continue to scrape as you pour in the stock. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil then drop to a simmer for 10 minutes.

Place toasted french bread or croutons in oven safe bowls, add soup, top with cheese and broil on high for 4 minutes or until brown and bubbly.

***Don’t forget, onions are a grills best friend! It’s summer time, so I’m sure that grill has been getting some action. No grill is complete without thick slices of sweet onions. We use Montreal Steak seasoning on our veggies for embelishment. Just be careful when flipping those beautiful onion rings, because they will slip through the grill plate and you’ll just get a burning ring of fire.