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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Sourdough 101

Yesterday afternoon, I led a workshop about sourdough bread at the UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden's Annual Harvest Festival. (Fun fact: Green Guy and I met at this same event five years ago when we were tabling for student sustainability organizations!) A whole lot of people showed up to the workshop, and nearly everyone was able to take some 150-year-old Yukon sourdough starter home with them. I received the starter from a coworker's mother-in-law a couple years ago after baking with my own homegrown starter for a few months.  It's resilient and amazing to bake with!


If you're particularly intrigued by sourdough and live in the Santa Cruz area, you're invited to sign up for another workshop that I'm leading October 11 at UCSC. It's $5, and it's limited to 12 participants; sign up here! By signing up for the workshop, you can join me on a journey into the wild world of sourdough, an ancient and delicious fermentation art that is easy and fun for folks of all ages! Participants will learn how sourdough starters are created, how to feed them and keep them "alive," and how to prepare and bake delicious loaves of sourdough bread at home. You'll take some well-established sourdough starter home with you, and fresh sourdough bread baked right on the Farm will also be available for tasting!

Before I launch into what I did in my workshop, I want to share a quote I just came across while reading on the bus this morning. It's by Amy Halloran in her book The New Bread Basket: How the New Crop of Grain Growers, Plant Breeders, Millers, Maltsters, Bakers, Brewers, and Local Food Activists Are Redefining Our Daily Loaf:
 "How we eat is ingrained in us as individuals, and in our cultures. For millennia, bread provided the bulk of our calories. That's why breaking bread means more than just sharing food. When we work for a living we are breadwinners, and dough often means 'money.' These terms are so ubiquitous that they have become almost invisible metaphors. And the process of growing bread is almost invisible, too. Pictures of wheat stalks grace cracker boxes, but most people don't know the first thing about grains or how we grow them."
Her book brings that invisible world to light, and I'm feeling inspired and excited to find local grain growers and experiment with their flours. I just picked up some local flour from Pie Ranch in Pescadero, where they grow and mill their own grains, in addition to many other projects from veggie production to fruit trees to pie baking to farmer and youth education to food justice to supporting native foodways to barn dances, and more!

In the workshop, I also shared a quote by Sandor Katz from The Art of Fermentation. I don't have the book with me right now as I write this in the Stevenson Coffee House at UCSC, so I can't include the quote, but he essentially points out the relationship between "culture" and "cultivation" and the passing of food and farming knowledge and fermenting starters from generation to generation. Just as we share a common cultural vocabulary related to bread as Amy Holloran writes, we also share cultures with each other literally when we pass along sourdough starter to friends and neighbors. Just as the sharing of seed stories and their journeys from person to person and garden to garden are significant in how we relate to seeds as living entities that we have a mutual relationship with, the passing of sourdough starters from person to person and kitchen to kitchen can connect us so much more deeply with the loaves of bread we enjoy. It's also empowering to recognize that we can foster and bake our own deliciously local sourdough bread and share the means to do so with our friends and neighbors for simply the cost of time, flour, water, and electricity.


Also at the beginning of the workshop, I briefly reviewed the science of fermentation and sourdough. My level of knowledge around this subject is limited (but I'm working on learning more!), so I essentially explained that flour and water mixed together become a sourdough starter when air bubbles form and froth from the creation of carbon dioxide. The wild yeast on the grains you're mixing in water, along with wild yeast from the air, are interacting with bacteria to break down sugars in the grain.

For more about the science of sourdough and a little history, here are two NPR stories:
After discussing some background information, I launched into my demonstration, using my favorite bread recipe: "Sourdough: A Beginner's Guide" by the Clever Carrot. She does an excellent job explaining how to prepare sourdough bread with an easy-to-make loaf that is delicious. I essentially walked through her process and showed the different stages of starter (fed and unfed) and dough (just mixed and some that had been sitting for hours). I also showed how I mix spices and herbs into my dough at the same time that I add salt, as well as how I fold spices, herbs, and even things like peppers, garlic, and olives into my loaf when I shape it. After walking through the demo, folks got to come up and try some bread I baked that morning as well as get their own jar of starter. Special thanks to Green Guy and my Aunt Laurie who was in the audience for helping me with distributing these treats to folks while I answered questions. (Thanks Uncle John for helping with cleanup after, too!)

Before the workshop, I printed about 20 copies of a handout about how to care for your sourdough starter with some additional tips and resources. Because nearly 50 people showed up to the workshop, I had folks sign up to receive their handout via email. Here's the information I shared on the handout:

Taking care of your 150-year-old starter
These guidelines are based on my experience with the 150-year-old starter. If you make a new starter or get one from someone else, you may need to feed it more often and take it out of the fridge to bake with farther in advance. This article from The Kitchn has some general guidelines for taking care of "younger" starters.
  • Always feed your starter equal parts water and flour by weight. If you don’t have a scale, look up conversions online. Remember: one cup of water is not the same weight as one cup of flour!
  • Keep your starter in the fridge when you don’t plan on using it anytime soon.
  • Take it out of the fridge to feed it at least once a month to keep it alive. At a minimum, feed it 1 ounce of water and one ounce of water, stir and let sit for 12 hours with the lid ajar. Then you can put it back in the fridge, or use it.
  • To use the starter for bread or other goodies that require an active starter, take it out of the fridge and feed it at least 7 hours before you need to use it in your recipe. Feed it as much as you’ll need for the recipe, making sure you’ll have enough leftover to keep in your jar. Always leave the lid ajar or not tightly closed when it’s not in the fridge so that carbon dioxide can escape.
  • If your starter develops a sour smell or a thin layer of liquid, do not fear! You can pour off the liquid (or not) and feed it. It should bounce back soon and be better than ever.
  • Don’t forget to explore sourdough pancakes, waffles, pizza dough, and other tasty treats! If you find yourself with extra starter and aren’t sure what to do with it, look online for inspiration.
  • Share your starter with friends and family who express interest in sourdough, and make sure to give them enough information to feel confident about keeping it alive. Host your own workshop with them!

Ingredients for the beginning sourdough loaf
  • Active, fed sourdough starter
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Cornmeal for dusting the bottom of your Dutch oven or pan (could also use flour)
Basic timeline (varies by recipe)
  • Hour 0: Feed your starter the weight of flour and water needed for your recipe. For the recipe used in this workshop, you’d need 5.35 ounces of starter, which is roughly equal to 2.7 ounces of flour + 2.7 ounces of water. It doesn’t hurt to feed a little extra; always make sure you’ll have enough remaining in the jar to keep your starter going. You may want to feed the starter in a separate bowl if you’re making a lot of bread so that it doesn’t spill out of the jar. Always keep some amount in the starter jar when you do this.
  • Hour 7: Check to make sure your starter is frothy and bubbly. You can scoop a small amount into a cup of lukewarm water, and if it floats, it’s definitely ready to make your recipe. If it sinks, give the starter more time before preparing your recipe. You can feed the starter up to 12 hours before making your recipe, but 7 hours seems to be the minimum amount of time needed for it to froth up. Experiment with this, and keep in mind that on hot days or during the day, fermentation happens much more quickly than on cold days or during the night when it’s cooler.
  • Hour 19: Assuming your starter was ready to make your recipe at hour 7, let the dough rise for a minimum of 12 hours, or until it’s doubled in size (which can happen quicker in warmer temperatures). Carefully scoop the dough onto a cutting board, making sure to get as much of the dough from the sides of the bowl as possible. You can use a bench scraper for this, or your hands. You can add additional ingredients at this time if you wish. Shape the loaf and place it in your Dutch oven on a thin layer of cornmeal.
  • Hour 20: Check that the loaf has grown. If you have time and it hasn’t gotten larger, wait another 30 minutes or move the Dutch oven to a warmer place. When it’s ready, score the top of the loaf so that the inside of the loaf will cook more evenly. How you score the loaf affects how it bakes; experiment with this! Multiple scores lead to a wider and flatter loaf. One score leads to a taller loaf. Criss-cross scores can be beautiful. Add salt, herbs, or spices to the top if you wish. Place the entire Dutch oven with the lid into the preheated 400 degree oven.
  • Hour 20 and 20 minutes: Remove lid from the Dutch oven.
  • Hour 20 and 50 minutes: Open the door to the oven slightly. This helps the crust develop, but it isn’t required. If the loaf looks ready at this time and you don’t want to leave the door open, you can take it out.
  • Hour 21: Take bread out of the oven (unless it is still very pale and needs more time) and place on a cooling rack.
  • Hour 22: You can slice and eat your bread now! (The bread continues to cook after you remove it from the oven. Slicing too early leads to gummy texture inside.)
Additional items needed for making sourdough bread
  • Scale (strongly recommended) - I use this one by EatSmart.
  • Butter knife or chopstick for mixing starter when feeding
  • Spoon for measuring out flour
  • Mixing bowl and small pitcher for measuring out water
  • Oven and oven mitts
  • Dutch oven / large cast iron pot (strongly recommended but not required)
  • If not a Dutch oven, then a baking sheet or loaf pan
  • Sharp knife for scoring the loaf, or a lame for more precise scoring
  • Sufficient time and forethought – you need to feed the starter ~22 hours before your bread will be ready!

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!
Green Gal

Monday, July 24, 2017

I Love Lavender! History, properties, uses, and homemade treats

This afternoon in the Farm Garden, I led a Garden Talk on my new favorite flower: Lavender! Everyone currently working in the Farm Garden took turns last week and today presenting for 10-12 minutes each on garden topics of our choice. Other apprentices shared about topics like quail, African and African-American traditional foods and crops, compost worms, the impact of colonialism and forced removal on Native American traditional foodways, the "Language of Flowers" and their meanings, mycorrhizal fungi, and more! I chose lavender because I've been collecting and drying bunches of lavender in my tent cabin for a few weeks, and as I learned more about its uses, I was blown away by its incredible range of uses, both medicinally, culinary, and beyond.

I've adapted my presentation into a blog post to share with you all below. In addition to presenting on lavender, I also brought some different lavender varieties, books with recipes and information, lavender essential oil, a lavender tincture some of us apprentices made, lavender lemonade that I made this weekend, and a big batch of lavender shortbread cookies! The lemonade and cookies turned out really great, so I've included the recipes I used at the end.

I set up the picnic table in the Farm Garden for my presentation. Pictured here are only 20 of the 70 shortbread lavender cookies I baked last night.

I started off my garden talk with an excerpt from the 1584 poem “A Nosegay, Always Sweet: For Lovers to Send for Tokens of Love at New Year’s Tide” by William Hunnis. It references numerous flowers and their associations in Elizabethan London culture at the time:

Lavender is for lovers true,
Which evermore be fain,
Desiring always for to have
Some pleasure for their pain;
And when that they obtained have
The love that they require,
Then have they all their perfect joy,
And quenched is the fire.

The complete poem can be found here.

Origins and Stories 
Lavender is in the Lamiaceae, or mint, family, and it is native to the Mediterranean region, the Arabian Peninsula, Russia, southwest Asia, and India. It has been used in human cultures for more than 2500 years. Some of its earliest uses included mummification and perfume by the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Arabic peoples. Tutankhamun was buried with perfume jars believed to have contained lavender.

It is referenced in the Bible as “spikenard,” and one tradition says that the first lavender bush grew in the Garden of Eden and was carried by Adam and Eve with them when they left.

It was used by the Romans as an oil for bathing, cooking, and scenting the air and public baths, and by the Greeks as medicine.

Because extracting the oil is difficult, it was historically reserved for royalty. I came across numerous stories of kings and queens who greatly enjoyed lavender. One of the most interesting stories is that Queen Elizabeth I hired a full-time "herb strewer" to scatter flowers and keep lavender well-stocked for tea. The queen was said to drink up to 10 cups of lavender tea daily to treat migraines.

During the Great Plague in London in the 1660s, people wore lavender on their wrists to protect from disease because it seemed that glove makers who added lavender to their leather rarely contracted the deadly disease. Lavender is also one of the ingredients in “4 Thieves Vinegar,” which is supposedly the vinegar mixture drunk by thieves during the plague to ward off the disease while they stole from graves and homes of the dying. It actually does contain antibacterial and antiseptic properties, so there was something to this!

Moderns studies have suggested that men in general are most attracted to the scents of lavender and pumpkin, and in Elizabethan England, lavender had a similar reputation. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Act 4, Scene 4, lavender's known association as an aphrodisiac for men is referenced in lines by the character Perdita when she says to Polixines and Camillo:

Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, majoram;
The marigold that goes to bed wi’ the sun,
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age. You’re very welcome.


Lavender is grown commercially today for use in perfumes, lotions, and other products. It has been a foundational oil in the perfume industry for centuries.

The name lavender and its scientific name Lavandula come from the Latin word “laver,” which means “to wash.” There is also a similar Latin word that means "livid, or bluish," which could be a possible origin, as well. The cultivated plant can range from deep purple to “lavender” to pale pink and white.


Uses & Properties
The leaves and flowers can be used for a number of purposes, both medicinal and culinary. Medicinal properties include providing pain relief, anti-bacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, anticatarrhal (or reducing excess mucus), antispasmodic, aids in digestion and gas relief, calms and strengthens the nervous system, deodorant, helps with breathing, circulation, gynecological issues, and soothes and heals inflamed tissues. Lavender can be applied topically to treat skin conditions, as well as made into teas and tinctures. Lavender baths can help ease tension and stress, as well as relieve muscle pain, irritability, and restlessness. Lavender sprigs can be rubbed on teeth and gums as a natural toothbrush and cleanser.

Its culinary uses are similarly expansive. It can be infused into olive oil, coconut oil, vinegar, fruit juices, honey, milks, and alcohols. It can be added to pesto, soup, stir-fries, sauces, marinades, cocktails, smoothies, sorbet, ice cream, and ground into salt or sugar mixtures. It is one of the ingredients in Herbs de Provence. The stems can also be used to skewer meat or veggies on a grill. It can also be baked into cookies, scones, cakes, and other baked treats.


 The lavender shortbread cookies were a huge hit! I'd definitely make them again. See the recipes for cookies and lemonade at the bottom of this post.

For the lavender lemonade, you infuse honey with lavender flowers before mixing with lemon juice and water.

Lavender can also be brewed into beer for aroma by adding dried flowers in the last few minutes of the boil and/or by adding it to the fermenting vessel 3-7 days before bottling or kegging the beer, which is similar to “dry hopping.” My fiance Green Guy and I experimented with this recently by adding dried lavender flowers at the end of the boil for a Belgian Blonde Ale. We are bottling it next week and look forward to trying it! People have been adding lavender to beer since at least the 1600s.

As an herb or when distilled into essential oil, lavender can be added to baths, soaps, lotions, foot soaks, and massage oils. It can also be infused into vinegar as a cleaner due to its antiseptic properties and refreshing scent, and it can be used as an insect repellant. It’s also commonly used as a sachet to place in dresser drawers and as a potpourri.

Books and online resources (see "Sources" below) provide countless recipes for all of these uses. It’s important to pay attention to details in these recipes, such as whether it's calling for dry or fresh lavender. Fresh lavender has a shorter shelf life and affects how you process products like infused oils and cordials, for instance. Dried lavender is also more potent, so you would use less of it than fresh lavender.

Different types of lavender
There are many different types and cultivars of lavender. We have a number of lavender plants in the Farm Garden, and even more in the Up Garden, including:
  • Lavandula angustifolia (English Lavender): “Violet Intrigue,” “Hidcote,” “Dwarf Munstead,” “Mustead." English lavender is most commonly used in culinary recipes because it has a sweeter scent and taste.
  • Hybrid between angustifolia and lanata: “Lisa Marie”
  • Lavandula intermedia (also referred to as Lavandins or French lavender): “Du Provence,” “Grosso.” French lavender is more astringent and contains more camphorous oils than English lavender; it is good for use in cleaning products and for numerous medicinal uses. It is commonly used in perfume.
  • Lavandula stoechas, or Spanish lavender, is a distinct lavender with a plume on top of the flower. It is less frost hardy and has the highest camphor oil. 

In the Up Garden, we have a Lavender Lounge with multiple varieties of lavender, a small area to sit, and this sign.

How to grow and harvest
Lavender is a wonderful plant to grow, not only for the many reasons listed above, but also because bees love it! It is grown best in Mediterranean climates in full sun with well-drained soil. It is drought tolerant and best propagated by cuttings or division. It blooms in the summer, and by harvesting flowers throughout the summer, it can extend their blooming season. Plants can also be pruned lightly to promote branching in spring. For cut flowers, it should be harvested when half or less of the blooms are open. For essential oils, it should be harvested right before blooming at the peak of the day’s heat. Culinary and medicinal uses may call for buds, blooming flowers, or stems.

Now do you see why lavender is my new favorite flower? I'm excited to try more recipes with the lavender from the Farm, including a relaxing foot soak after a hard day's work!

Sources and Resources
Central Coast Lavender & Apothecary. centralcoastlavender.com

deBairacli Levy, Juliette. Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1976. Print.

Fisher, Joe, and Dennis Fisher. The Homebrewer's Garden. North Adams: Storey, 2016. Print.

"Growing Lavender." Bonnie Plants. bonnieplants.com/growing/growing-lavender.

"Lavender: 12 Uses Beyond Potpourri." Living on a Green Thumb. livingonagreenthumb.wordpress.com.

McBride, Kami. The Herbal Kitchen. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2010. Print.

Purple Haze Lavender. purplehazelavender.com.

Waring, Philippa. Lavender: Nature's Way to Relaxation and Health.  London: Souvenir Press, 2011. eBook.

Weirslane Lavender. weirslanelavender.ca.

Recipes

Easy Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Adapted from a recipe by Kevin Lee Jacobs, A Garden for the House

Ingredients for about 4 dozen, 2-inch diameter cookies
  • 8 ounces Earth Balance softened to room-temperature
  • 8 ounces coconut oil softened to room-temperature (original recipe calls for 16 ounces butter)
  • 8 teaspoons fresh lavender buds, or 4 teaspoons dried
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled
 Optional Adornment
  • 2 cup confectioners sugar, blended with just enough water to achieve a spreadable consistency
  • Lavender petals and/or buds 
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer outfitted a paddle, beat the lavender, sugar, and butter at low speed until smooth.
2. Then add the flour and beat until combined. Mixing is complete when there are no visible lumps of butter/oil in the dough.
3. Form the dough into a rough ball, return to the bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
4. Roll the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle; cut out cookie shapes with a round, 2-inch diameter cutter.
5. Using a flat spatula, transfer the rounds to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill for 30 minutes before baking.
6. Bake on the middle rack of a preheated 300 degree oven just until the sides of the cookies begin to color — 25-30 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet.
7. Decorate with the optional glaze; sprinkle with lavender petals or buds. Serve on a platter with lavender sprigs if possible.



Lavender Lemonade
Original recipe here. Special thanks to my sister Jeune Gal for drawing the design of this recipe handout that I made for my presentation!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Farm update & two garden poems by Jeune Gal

Life on the Farm has been so busy lately! Our twice-weekly market cart began a few weeks ago, which means that on Tuesday and Friday mornings, we begin harvesting flowers, veggies, and berries at 7:30am for our market stand at the base of campus.

Two of my lovely fellow apprentices load flower bouquets into the box truck to go to our market cart around 10:00am on harvest morning. We harvest flowers and make bouquets in the Farm Garden that are sold at our cart. We also harvest veggies to sell at cart. Other garden/farm sites in the program make bouquets or harvest veggies for our CSA program.


My chore rotations lately (dish patrol and kitchen patrol) have also been more time consuming; they included setting up our post-meal dish station, drying and putting away dishes, putting away food from meals, and washing dishes used to serve food. I was also on a subrotation for three weeks focused on propagation in the greenhouses and hardening off tables. Along with three other apprentices, I was responsible for sowing seeds, pricking out plants into larger containers, watering and keeping baby plants alive! It required a good amount of time during the day and week, and in the process, I learned a lot about how to care for plants from seed to seedling ready to move into the "real world" of the garden or field bed.

I've also been starting to brew up some ideas of what I might do after the apprenticeship, which is a little more than halfway over already! Ideas include launching a small business that would allow me to make some money from baking bread, growing food and flowers, creating art and crafts, making jams and jellies, and gardening. I'm also envisioning finding a gardening or garden education job after this program. Regarding the business idea, I've begun researching what it really means to start a business, what logistical steps I need to get through (licenses, permits, etc.), and what I can be doing now to develop a strong business plan, including how to finance it! On top of all of these activities, I've been working a couple hours a week doing landscaping at a nearby home garden.

 I baked my first pie recently, a blueberry pie with berries from the Pleasanton Farmers Market! It could be the first of many since I had so much fun making it, and it was yummy.

 I made my first batch of spicy dill "quick pickled" cucumbers, using cucumbers from Green Guy's backyard. It was a great way to make something interesting out of a crop we had excess amounts of, and I was able to share the spicy sour deliciousness with my friends at the Farm!

 A fellow apprentice helped me bake some bread the other night when I had a meeting. I prepared the doughs and he shaped them and added rosemary. I baked them when I returned from my meeting, and we served them at lunch the following day. They were an aromatic and scrumptious outcome of teamwork!

Finally, we have our one assignment of the program due soon, a partial CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) crop plan for a fictional farm or garden. It involves a lot of spreadsheets and poring over seed catalogs; I'm having a lot of fun with it!

So many exciting things going on every day here! I've been trying to post photos and captions regularly to Instagram and Facebook, so if you are wondering what I've been up to since it's been pretty silent here on the blog, check those pages out: Instagram.com/greenbeangal and Facebook.com/greenbeangal

Garden Poetry by Jeune Gal
A couple weeks ago, my sister Jeune Gal rediscovered and shared two beautiful garden-related poems with me that she wrote in January 2015. She asked me to share them with you all on my blog, so here they are!

"Garden Meditation"
Breathe in courage, breathe out fear. Open your mind and soul and all will be clear. The trees and the weeds feel yourself present. This is real. Let your soul sit with the flowers. The garden will help you heal. Talk with the basil, the kale and release negativity as you exhale for the lady bugs and the leaves shall take with them the air that you breathe. The birds sing their songs to you, my child. When you listen with your heart you’ll see that the wilderness isn’t so wild.

You are the Earth. The Earth is you. You are the sun, the sky, the moon. Welcome to the clouds, to rain and shine for in Earth’s garden all are welcome. Everyone, every kind.


"Message from an Earth Fairy"
Gratitude for this day, for this life, for this body. In the garden I shall pray
to God, to the Universe, to our planet, our Earth
I give thanks for my life, my birth.
For the trees, for the oceans, for the cats and the dogs.
For warm sunny weather, for the rain and the fog.
For the beauty of summer, spring, winter, and fall. As I sit in the garden, I hear a faint call.

A voice becomes clearer from a path of daisies it seems. I see an Earth fairy looking over at me.
Her presence is brief, for most humans can’t see her. She smiles at me and says with a whisper:

Don’t worry my dear, for the world will be fine. Just be who you are and value your time. For while you see death, destruction, and darkness, there is so much more light. Light you have the power to harness. Just open your heart and find different ways to find the beauty and light in each and every day. Us fairies are everywhere. We are hard to see, but we live in spirit in the flowers and trees. Everything is alive, here to inspire and heal all of the pain and the sorrow, all of the sadness you feel. Every plant, every flower, every minute, every hour, nature is waiting for you to bring you light and power. When you are in tune with the plants and the Earth that surrounds you, you can feel the light in everything around you. So stop by the garden to meditate and to feel. We love to see you at peace, nature will always help you heal.


You can find Jeune Gal's blog here or follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/jeunegal.

Thanks for reading, and happy summer!
Green Gal

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Farm Apprenticeship Week 8 Reflection

An apprenticeship update & an exploration of what our treatment of weeds perhaps reveals about the limits we place on compassion

It's already week eight of the Apprenticeship; time has truly flown by here at the farm and gardens! This evening in the Farm Center I'm surrounded by apprentices playing charades, others prepping for tomorrow's meals, and bouquets of fragrant and enticing flowers from our flower and bouquet class yesterday.
Earlier today, I learned a bit about how to grow peppers as well as the many different kinds of peppers in the world. (The article we read and reviewed this morning is available online here.) We will be growing 67 different varieties of peppers in the Chadwick Garden alone this season, totaling more than 1500 individual plants throughout the garden! These will all be planted by hand. Sometime next week, we've been promised a dried and smoked pepper tasting session, as well as a potato and garlic varieties taste test. I'm so excited to try multiple varieties of some of my favorite foods!

To get another glimpse into my life on the farm, you can read the profile interview I was featured in for the Sustainability Office newsletter here. For years, I helped select folks to profile for this section of the newsletter, so it was fun to be on the other side. This profile is so hot off the press that the newsletter itself hasn't even come out yet, but the article's live on the blog, so you can get an early reading.

And now, for some reflections, a harvest compiled from meandering garden thoughts, which sprout up throughout the day and sometimes flower and fruit into ideas (perhaps) worth sharing. This compilation weaves together thoughts about nature connection and place-based learning and human relationships, which occurred during hours of weeding and clearing brush in the Chadwick Garden in the last couple of weeks...

We are continually in conversation with non-human life and nature--and of course, we are of nature. We continually choose the tone and possible results of our conversations and communication with the natural, plant, and animal world, just as we choose how to communicate with fellow people. Do we know our neighbors, the plants and animals we share our neighborhood with? Do we see individuals when we look at a forest, a meadow, a garden bed--or do we just see a general group of something other than ourselves without name or distinction? Do we know the names of these beings, the human name we have given them? Have we ever considered what name they would give themselves if we could understand their language better? When we see an unknown plant or one that we've been told not to cultivate, do we only see weeds or do we recognize potential for an unknown use or value or simply validity in existence? Do we immediately and without question see friend or foe in the unintended guests in the gardens of our world?

It seems that we tend to care for what we know and understand. What's familiar is more family to us than the unknown, whether person, place, or non-human being. Think of a plant you love, whether to eat or grow or smell or look at. If that species was threatened or someone were about to squash it with their boot or you saw someone treating it as a weed and ripping it out of their garden, how might you react? Even if you aren't phytophilous, or a lover of plants, would you not stand up for your favorite vegetable or fruit if someone suggested eradicating its entire species? And when we know a place intimately, we carry our stories and others' her/their/his-tories from that place. In doing so, we also care for it in a way that we might not care about a place we've never met or known or experienced as a real true place with a history. All of this is to say: what if we each got to know one (or two or twenty!) more plants or places or animals or people in our nearby world? What if we met each plant or place or animal or person as worth knowing and caring for? What if we paused to wonder and find out what kind of tree grows outside our favorite cafe, what kind of bird we hear through our bedroom window at dawn, what is the life story of our new neighbor, who were the previous occupants of our neighborhood? What if we were more curious and open to being familiar--family--with more of the beings and histories who live just beyond our front doors?

Within this series of questions and thoughts, I've been reflecting in particular on my relationship with plants--the wild, the "native," those indigenous or well-established in this locale, those brought as immigrants and colonizers with people who might have looked like me, and those cultivated by humans for human purposes. I have reflected on how we see and use and know them, including the plants whose human use we have forgotten or not yet discovered or whose purpose is deeper and more vital than human use. Life in general and human social life specifically are patterned, and so the way we interact with nature, plants, animals, land, and the non-human world is similarly patterned to how we see and treat other humans.

Starting with the "weeds," or uninvited guests, that I pull from the gardens here or the various gardens I've cultivated in the last couple years, I wonder about them and their names and what it would be like to give them their own space to grow and what benefit that would provide to the ecosystem of the garden. I have personally witnessed a hummingbird stopping to investigate a dandelion in a garden, so I know not everyone looks down on the plants we have deemed "weeds."

I am challenging myself to learn and become familiar with the many plants, weeds included, that I come in contact with--not just the cut flowers and vegetable crops we cultivate here, but also the many pollinator perennials and edge plants that have so much to teach us about our relationship with all beings. We push these neighbors to the margins of our gardens, and we do the same with those we do not know or understand in our lives or communities or nations. What if I changed how I view weeds? What else could shift in my compassion for all beings of the world?

Here's me grinning with my amateur bouquet of dahlias, agrostemma (corn cockles), raspberries, achillea (yarrow), and other plant beings during flower class on Wednesday. After writing this post, I now feel inspired to attempt to make a bouquet of weeds and wild plants to showcase them in a way that is unexpected and compassionate.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Four snapshots of life in the UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture

The weeks pass by so quickly here, each day filled with learning the "why" behind the "how," engaging in interesting discussions with new friends, working, and getting "schooled up" (as Orin Martin would say) in how to be effective and skilled technicians in the art of gardening and farming. Each day could become its own blog post with the story of what was learned, practiced, discovered, and enjoyed. Today's update is a series of quotes, thoughts, and tidbits, a somewhat brief glimpse into my daily life here.
The Cultivation of the Gardener
Each week, we have readings due on Wednesday that relate to the topic of our class for that day. One of our readings recently was titled "The Cultivation of the Gardener," written by a few CASFS (Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems) staff a number of years ago. The article describes the biodynamic French Intensive horticulture system brought to UCSC by Alan Chadwick in 1967, and the authors reflect on the philosophy of this system. Here is a quote from the article that I particularly loved:
"The Gardener does not create the Garden. The Garden creates the Gardener. -- Alan Chadwick
 "This quotation exemplifies the biodynamic French intensive approach to horticulture. It conveys the full value of the relationship between human beings and nature, and between the gardener and the garden -- a position of stewardship and enhancement rather than dominance and exploitation. It suggests that perhaps the purpose of farms and gardens is not solely to produce food, but also to serve as multi-dimensional focal points for a society to maintain the productivity and fertility of land and culture. Within the construct of a garden there is room for a blending of aesthetic and productive environments that provide for contemplative moments, scientific discovery, inspiration, philosophic discussion, and space for people to live, learn, and work." -- Orin Martin, Jim Nelson, Dennis Tamura, Mary Kay Martin, Louise Cain
Social Systems
During week three, we spent a day discussing, learning, and reflecting on social systems and how they impact and are impacted by our food system. We examined how the roots of our food system have been fertilized and grown according to the influences of colonialism, land theft, classism, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression. Think of the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homeland so that white men could declare this a nation of "liberty and justice for all." Those same lands were then cultivated and farmed by African slaves and their descendants, filling the pockets of white landowners who were the only people in this country who could vote for many, many years. Think of the Mexican farmworkers who endure backbreaking labor to harvest so much of the food that ends up on your plate. Think of how these folks are portrayed in popular media and in the rhetoric of our politicians.

With these roots, it's no wonder that the fruits of our food system include labor exploitation, unequal access to healthy food and land, unequal exposure to toxins, loss of ancestral foodways, and forced migration and displacement. Consider who can afford organic food, who can afford to grow organically, who "owns" patents on seeds, and which communities are miles from any fresh and affordable produce. We have to know where we come from and how we got here in order to make any kind of change in our food system.

The following week, social permaculturist and wonderful human being Pandora Thomas came to speak, and she shared the concept of "sankofa," a West African word meaning "we must know where we come from in order to move forward," or "go back and get it." We each personally have sankofa stories--where and who we come from and whose shoulders we stand on, in a familial way and in the progression of various movements and human projects that have a rich history of people contributing to the future through their life's work. And also as a society we carry collective "sankofas" that must be understood in order for us to move forward without continuing the same systems of oppression that got us here. What is your sankofa story? Who stands behind you and who behind them in the lineage of your life or your life's work? And once you've grounded yourself in your personal sankofa, which societal sankofa of human history do you wish to better understand so that you can do your part to move us forward toward a better world?

Today's Activities
On a micro, practical level, here's what I did today: I learned a whole lot about and planted many potatoes in the Chadwick Garden/Up Garden. With a few others, we planted ~500 seed potatoes of many, many varieties in trenches along the main slope! Some were early season potatoes to harvest as "new" potatoes, others were mid-season potatoes to harvest as "creamer" potatoes, and we also did a bed of fingerling potatoes, which will be harvested last of the four beds we planted today (potatoes grown until they are fully starched up and at the end of the growing season are "storage" potatoes that will store longer). I'm so excited to harvest the spuds! I also harvested some delicious-smelling garlic today, which will dry and cure in a greenhouse for a few weeks. I finished off the day in the garden by helping weed a rose bed. A grand day in the garden!

The Magic of the Up Garden
Yesterday, we started our first official week of rotation. The past month has been our "basic block" in which we were split into two groups between the Farm Garden and Up Garden/Chadwick Garden (and then switched after two weeks) to learn basic skills like bed prep, transplanting, seed sowing, and to get into the rhythm of the program. We also had one day in the field last week, which involved learning about and then watching tractor demonstrations with various implements. I didn't expect to be so stoked on the tractor demos, but they are quite marvelous machines that make quick work of projects that take us human beings all day to complete. I've uploaded videos from the mechanical tillage demo day to my Facebook page here.

My first six-week rotation is in the Up Garden, the most magical place in the world. The biodiversity up there is unbelievable, with perennial flowers and roses and fruit trees and long, steep annual veg crop beds, nearly every nook and cranny filled with cultivated life in its three acres of loveliness. Trees and shrubs create shaded tunnels along pathways, and when the air is warm, the roses and orange blossoms and lavender and all the flowers emanate the most delicious fragrances while bees and birds and other pollinators dance and buzz around. I've learned to slow down and enjoy the scents and beauty of the garden when I go to retrieve a wheelbarrow or refill my water bottle. I savor the droplets of water from a sprinkler on a hot day, I smell roses as I pass so that I can find my favorite one, and when I've got my hands in the soil, I pause to appreciate its wonderful tilth, or workability, and its amazingly well cared for and fluffy structure.
The people who work in the Up Garden--Orin, Sky, Ella, and Evan--are also delightful garden creatures, with a beautiful sense of humor that often feels familiar and similar to the sense of humor I grew up with. There's a continuous stream of little jokes and jabs and grins that is contagious. They also have some great and practical sayings, and the lead instructor in the Up Garden, Orin Martin, is well known for having a particularly wonderful way with words. He also seems to know everything about gardening, which is usually what he is describing in his eloquent, playful, and memorable way. For instance, yesterday afternoon Orin began an introduction to our rotation in the Up Garden by stating, "We are here, in fact, here we are." This was followed by a reflection on why we are here, but even that first statement on its own says something about what it's like to be in the human and plant community of the Up Garden. There is a call to be present and alive and engaged that is not only spoken and written on a whiteboard on the Chalet porch but also felt and permeating the gardenscape. There are scraps and boards of poetry throughout the garden, a sense of joy and lightheartedness and respect and compassion that is felt even when no other humans are around. If you are ever near Santa Cruz, come and visit this garden up on the hill, which is celebrating its 50th glorious year this year. You will not regret it.

As I've been sitting here in the Farm Center writing this evening, my friends and fellow apprentices have made popcorn and delicious shallot flat bread to share. The scent of something baking in the oven is wafting this way and I notice others are completing their readings for tomorrow. I must join them now and sign off the computer for the night. Thanks for reading!

For more photos of my adventures here at the farm and gardens, please visit my Facebook photo album or find me on Instagram.

Green Gal

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