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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.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Farm Apprenticeship Weeks 2-3

My legs are sore, my vertebrae crack when I stand up straight or stretch, my hands are scraped and blistered, but I've got the biggest smile on my face--kinda like the grin on my childhood face below! It's been two and a half weeks since I moved onto the UCSC Farm, and I am in love with life, this land, the view, the many plants we tend, and the community of ~50 people that I spend nearly all of my time with when I'm not sleeping in my canvas tent cabin overlooking the Bay.


Since my last blog update, I've done all of this and more:
  • learned a bit about temperate zone deciduous fruit trees from Orin Martin
  • transplanted flowers into beds in the Chadwick Garden/Up Garden
  • labeled many plants for the plant sale this weekend
  • weeded and added more roses to a perennial rose garden
  • learned about Alternative to Violence Program and practiced nonviolent communication during a workshop
  • got to know new friends better 
  • read about and heard lectures and saw demos on both cover crops and tillage & cultivation
  • skimmed cover crop with both a machete and a spade
  • pulled cover crop roots out of the ground on a slope and then pushed a ball of cover crop greens up the hill to a wheelbarrow
  • pushed a wheelbarrow around the hilly Up Garden with various loads
  • witnessed single-digging and double-digging
  • helped single-dig a bed in the Up Garden
  • stayed up late playing cards and board games in the Farm Center
  • baked three loaves of sourdough one day and six on another
  • spent 12 hours cooking three meals with another apprentice, featuring a lot of kale and beets!
You can view all of the photos from my time on the farm in this album, and the captions contain more information about what I've been doing and learning.
The view from the farm fields today with Monterey Bay in the distance. It's still unbelievable that I live here.

This past Saturday was my 25th birthday and Earth Day, so I celebrated a quarter century on this beautiful planet with nearly everyone in my family as well as close family friends and neighbors I grew up with. Among the generous gifts I received was a very special photograph from my dad's mom, who is also a gardener. Taken in May 1942, it shows her with her brother and grandfather (an organic farmer) on his farm in Minnesota. She wrote a note to accompany the photo, which reads, "[My grandfather] had pulled the wagon of manure with his tractor and I had used the pitchfork to distribute the manure between the rows of his field. I don't remember what he planted but it could have been corn. I wrote on the back of the picture it was the best day of our vacation. We had gone back to Minnesota from California for a week." My great-great grandfather Hank, who was born in 1875, was 67 at the time the photo was taken, and my grandmother was nine. She continued in her note, "I hope this picture reminds you the organic gardening genes are still alive and living in you."

I have the photo sitting on a card table (which belonged to my mom's grandfather) in my tent cabin. I love knowing that the knowledge, practices, and gardening/farming habits that I am learning and doing are part of my heritage. We all come from farmers eventually in our ancestry; it's so special to me that I don't need to look too far to find gardeners and farmers in my close family. Both of my parents, both of my grandmothers, and other family members that I've grown up spending time with are gardeners. My great-great grandfather Hank was an organic farmer, and I imagine that there are many other people in my relatively recent ancestry who farmed land, knew how to bake sourdough bread, canned surplus veggies, and maybe even kept chickens! In my generation, I know that at least one of my cousins is keeping a backyard garden, and last year, my cousin Jack participated in this Apprenticeship at UCSC and now he's farming near Santa Barbara. Growing food and flowers, taking care of the soil and our fellow people, and knowing the joy of fostering plant life are all human practices that I am blessed to experience and feel deeply connected to through my family. I am so grateful to my fellow gardening and farming family members who continue to inspire, encourage, and support me in my journey.

Until next week,
Green Gal

Monday, April 17, 2017

Farm Apprenticeship Week 1

Woah, an entire week of the UC Santa Cruz Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture has already come and gone! It was a full week of meeting new people (40 apprentices plus the staff!), learning all of their names, getting used to group meals three times a day, enduring the cold of my tent cabin, and enjoying the beautiful view. Since last week was the first week and here in Santa Cruz we had rainy skies and saturated soils almost every day, we spent a lot of time inside the Village A3 building meeting everyone, learning about the program and policies, and getting trained on food safety and how to avoid ticks, mosquitos, bee stings, and black widow bites. Oh my!
One of the many perks of living on a farm--abundant flowers to decorate your tent cabin!

Early in the week, we prepared our spade and fork. They come with a plasticky shellac on the wood, which we removed and sanded down so that we could apply linseed oil instead. This should make the wood last longer than the shellac would have. We also sharpened our spades. Some of us also used a wood burner to carve into our handles to make them identifiable and unique.

Fortunately, they didn't keep us indoors the whole week! Half of the group spent some time in the Farm Garden (the hand cultivated garden at the main farm), and the rest of us spent some mornings up in the magical Chadwick Garden, where the first UCSC student garden began fifty years ago. Up at the Chadwick Garden--or the Up Garden as its called by people who apprentice, intern, and work here--I planted cabbage seeds in the greenhouse, learned from Orin Martin about the parts and yearly growth cycles of fruit trees, heard some history of the Chadwick Garden, and learned a little about cover crops. You can read about the history of this garden and the apprenticeship program on the CASFS website here.

A small glimpse of the Chadwick Garden, with the chalet in the distance where we eat lunch when we're working up there, as well as experience stories and educational talks with Orin Martin and other Chadwick Garden staff

One afternoon, we also spent some time with Rick Flores and Julisa Lopez learning about the Amah Mutsun Relearning Program at the Arboretum, traditional ecological knowledge, and the California landscape management and care provided by indigenous people for thousands of years before European contact. Learn more at the Arboretum website here.

Friday was Compost Friday, which meant we spent all day focused on the wonderful world of compost, microbes, macro-organisms, carbon and nitrogen ratios, and more. We had readings due that morning (some of which are available online here), spent time with Christof Bernau in A3 learning about compost, and then watched a pile-building demo in "compost row" in the Farm Garden. After lunch, we split into the two garden groups and built our own piles. My group's pile was a "vegan" pile, meaning it had no animal manure in it. It consisted of some straw, lots of "greens" or recently chopped cover crop, coffee grounds and filters, and soil. We used machetes and spades to chop up the cover crop into smaller pieces to increase surface area and thus decomposition rate, so we named the pile Caffeinated Chopped Salad. It was quite an accomplishment!


I really appreciate that we had multiple opportunities to learn the key concepts and details through the readings, lecture, demo, and hands-on opportunity to build our own pile. We will continue to learn about compost throughout the program, and this morning we actually measured the temperature in the piles and uncovered some of them to take a peek. We also spent some time today removing cover crop from underneath some fruit trees and then transplanted peppers, leeks, flowers, and more for the annual Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale coming up the weekend of April 29-30. If you're local, you should come by to say hi and buy some plants for your garden!

If you come by, you might just see one of the very friendly farm cats, too! Here are two of them. There's also a black one named Millet and two up at Chadwick named Buster and Posey.
 Spencer AKA Beans AKA Frijoles
Nanuk

Thanks for reading! If you want more regular updates, check out my Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/greenbeangal/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greenbeangal.

Green Gal

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