Work day, new day

I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you to everyone who has been there to listen and to offer their support and guidance as I’ve made my way through the many mullings that have led me to Berkeley to work on an urban farm, and which are continuing to help craft the path I find myself coming to accept and acknowledge with a renewed vigor.

Enough about me: let’s talk farming. This weekend, we had our first big work day at Urban Adamah, and what a day it was! We had almost 20 folks on the farm working in small groups to help mound beds, wheel mulch, haul soil, fill trenches, whack weeds and plant trees. The Ber-man himself, Adam Berman, can be seen kicking the day off here:

The Ber-man

I had the pleasure of helping lead a group of folks who were charged with the delightful task of filling large blue barrels to the brim with sandy soil, in preparation for the planting of our gobo crop. I had gotten things prepped during the week with a bit of my own elbow grease, and it was awfully nice to turn the task over to some fresh arms.

All around, folks seemed to be having a great time, and I overheard a number of people saying how much it meant to them to come out for the day to help out on the farm. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but I honestly feel that farming, when done right, is medicine. When you’re surrounded by things that grow, how can you not want to do the same?

Haulin'

Growin'

Casey - what a guy

And when you’re around smiles like this, how can you help but smile?

Smilin'

Now that’s how you graft. Already – we’re seeing buds on the trees we grafted two weeks ago! I couldn’t help but take a peek at a couple of my own grafts, and indeed, there are some tender leaves timidly starting to poke out the top. The feeling of accomplishment in seeing a successful graft is unlike any other sort of success I’ve known – and it’s wonderful to know that there’s more to come. That tree, if it does grow up to be healthy, won’t bear fruit for at least the next 3-4 years, if not longer – but what a great day to look forward to. Planting trees is the sort of investment I can see myself making again soon.

Today, we began flying on our second greenhouse. I’ve always been a fan of symmetry in life (like moving from Portland, ME one year to Portland, OR the next), and it makes me happy that, as I approach the end of my time here on the farm in Berkeley (for now at least), we’re working on a new greenhouse, and getting the chance seeing how far we’ve all come.


Greenhouse the second

Already, within two days, we’ve made so much progress. I wasn’t even here for the first, and came in today blown away to see a fully finished frame, ready for side walls, doors, and hoops.

Full frame

After finishing a cover for one of the pipes that was sticking up from our irrigation system, I had the chance to hop up, and put in the first of our supports for the side hoop and wall unit. Admittedly, I ended up making a notch in the wrong place, which was rectified with a quick chop and some glue. ’cause really, what can’t you fix with some glue, am I right?


With glue

I’m a lucky man – this week is all farming. I re-certed my CPR training tonight, and it feels like things are picking up all around. I’m putting it down in words so I don’t forget – tonight is a good night, ’cause I’m right here.

Like glue,
David

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Starting to look like a farm

The pallet beds are primed and ready. The seeds have been planted, and the starts started. The fruit trees have been grafted. The landscaping fabric has been laid out. The chicken coop is ripe for the clucking.


Tipping point

After three months, Urban Adamah has reached a tipping point. We are really starting to look like a farm.

Starts

All of us as apprentices have gotten to a point where we’re able to take a real leadership role, and this Sunday, we’ll be hosting a work party on the farm from 10am – 1:30pm. The aim is to install our mounded beds, fill up our blue barrels with enough soil and sand to support the growth of Gobo, and to pump out the last of the needed materials for our final block of pallet beds. If you’re free and in the area, I hope you’ll come out!

This past week has been full of seeding and more pallet bed prep. After a day of slicing burlap, Peter and the bags truly became one:

Peter in his burlap tunic

The man is just tenacious. We’ve decided that all our volunteers slicing burlap should be designated wearers of the burlap tunic. It’s fun. Believe me.

Sid and I also got some serious composting done. He and Tali had just gotten back from a passover trip into the deserts of California, and Sid brought back with him all the leftover food from the journey. And when I say all, I mean all. As in six trash barrels full. I was fortunate to escape the juicy process of transferring the food from the truck to the ground, however, I was recruited the next day to scoop the smelly slop into a new compost column Sid fashioned with ease from leftover hardware cloth (the man never ceases to amaze me). It’s probably clear from this photo, but Sid loves compost. A lot. The goopier the better.


The goopier

Lastly, today, I worked with Sid and Tali to lay out some serious landscape fabric, in advance of putting in a series of mounded beds on Sunday. The advantages of mounded beds: 1) they’re easy to set up (i.e. keep adding soil in a mound); 2) extended surface area for planting (a dome shape provides more surface area for planting than a flat raised bed); and 3) a mounded bed creates a variety of microclimates for growing, by providing different levels of shade and moisture retention along the edges of the bed. Not too shabby for a pile of dirt.


Landscape

Not too shabby at all:

Not too shabby

Mounds of love,
David

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Village Homes to Point Reyes

This past weekend, fully inspired by Thursday’s concert, I had the pleasure of venturing up to Davis California for the first time to play guitar as a member of “The Bearded Ladies” – and band composed of good friends from potlucks, farming and Camp Tawonga. Besides just having a great night playing bluegrass tunes, I also had a chance to explore Davis a bit. What I found was spectacular.

1) Heading to the Davis farmer’s market, and discovering a raw milk stand. For those of you who have never tried raw milk, or never heard of it – I can attest: it is delicious. I swear, you can taste the nutritional value. If you want to learn more, I recommend checking out http://organicpastures.com/. I had a great long chat with the two folks who were running the farmer’s market stand for Organic Pastures, and learned that they had left their video production jobs in LA to take up a life of farming. As former customers of Organic Pastures, they decided one day to take a tour, and before long, they had joined the team as farmer’s market salespeople. It was a great reminder that life is always what we choose to make of it, from LA to raw milk, and everything in between.

Raw milk is another fascinating issue on the modern agricultural scene. When you get down to it, raw milk, because none of the vitamins, lipids or bacteria have been tampered with, is inherently more nutritious and naturally fortified than the pasteurized, homogenized milk we get in our super markets today. The trick is that it only lasts for about a week before it starts to turn sour, and you have to treat your cows right. Pasteurization, as I learned from the folks at the farmer’s market, became necessary as farmer’s started feeding cows things their bodies couldn’t process (i.e. corn), and as distributors began shipping milk vast distances to be sold in super markets. Sadly, while the process of pasteurization kills all the bad bacteria, it also kills all the good ones naturally found in milk – the same great bacteria that have to be artificially added back into yogurts like “Activia”. The take away: local, smaller scale, humane milk production means healthier milk. Say what?

Raw milk is wassup

2) I had heard of Village Homes when I was first taking an introductory permaculture class back in Portland. Bill Mollison, in one of his epic 80s videos about permaculture, walks through Village Homes to show it off as an example of what community living could look like if we put our minds to it. Today – it still shines as a powerful example of an alternative to suburban sprawl.

So green

It’s hard to capture everything that made Village Homes incredible. Everything just seemed to coalesce and make sense: having the front yards all face inwards and away from the streets, connected by walking paths, and shared by neighbors; kids climbing in and swinging from trees, playing together outside; food growing EVERYWHERE, and totally free for the picking along public paths; the smell of blooming wildflowers; garden spaces in front of every house, and vast tracts of managed gardens and farmland, including vineyards and olive groves; houses oriented to capture heat and energy from the sun, and properly designed to ventilate during the day, and retain heat at night; a shared community center, greens and playgrounds, to balance with the privacy of the individual homes and family units.


A community effort

It was like seeing the principles of permaculture completely come to life in a neighborhood design. Each house was designed intelligently, but it was really the overall intelligent layout of the community that blew me away. I found myself wanting to study it and to learn more about the layout, design and planning.

Growing over

Another interesting note: unlike many of the intentional communities Than and I visited during our road trip, Village Homes was completely tapped into municipal water and electricity, and was located fairly close by to downtown Davis and the university. It was a great example of balance between separation from and incorporation with surrounding neighborhoods and community, which I think is key to any community’s success (though it’s important to remember there’s no formula for that right balance – only what makes sense for a given area). Just driving by, it might have been easy to mistake Village Homes for any other neighborhood in Davis. It just seemed to fit.

Walkin' along

Village Homes seemed to me like the sort of community that most people I grew up with and know would be happy to live in, and it makes me wonder if that sort of design is the direction we’re heading in. The Village Homes neighborhood was designed and started back in the 70s, and it still is ahead of the game today. My hope is to help take successful models like Village Homes, and to bring the lessons to other communities and neighborhoods, that similar designs might be implemented that fit a given region. ’cause let’s admit – they can’t all be California.

Classic

To close, a few moments of zen from a weekend out in Point Reyes National Seashore:


Wild Iris


Baby Maya!

Ocean

Dan the man

Love out on a limb,
David

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Mumford, Sharpe and Crow

Music has the power to move us, that we might move the world around us. Last night’s concert made me feel like scooping up those I love, and lifting them up on my shoulders that they might see the beauty from a greater height.

So much love

That’s what I came away with after listening to Old Crow Medicine Show, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Mumford and Sons. It’s hard for me to believe that three bands of such epic proportions were all on the same stage, trading songs and harmonies, as the sun set over the Bay Bridge, in a venue never before performed in. I got to see the Bay Bridge from beneath the tall cranes of the Oakland port, structures I had only glimpsed at a distance from the I-80, and hear music that opened my heart to views of equal newness, thoughtfulness and connection.

Sun over the bridge from the other side

Last night, I felt so much joy and love, as I watched my fellow longish-haired dude, Than, perform on stage with Edward Sharpe, joining all the bands for a final encore at the end of the night. There are few moments in life where I feel I’ve been able to genuinely delight in the joy and achievements of others, and I feel that such moments are one of the truer markers of “achievement” in life. After all – why do we have kids, or feel called to teach, or plant trees that won’t bear fruit for decades?

Than on stage

Than - in it

Than looked like he belonged up there, and we all did our best to let him know that he was the star of the show in our minds. According to Than, we stuck out nice and clearly in the crowd, beaming with big smiles – and not to just to him, but to all the bands who performed. I feel lucky to be part of such a beaming bunch.

Than with the lead singer from Mumford

It’s hard to capture the power of dozens of musicians all on one stage, all playing and singing together without a conductor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of bands that were all so in tune with one another, that they could coordinate between three drummers, three guitarists, two accordions, two banjos, two fiddlers, a harmonica player, and a whole host of people singing, dancing and stomping. That in and of itself, beyond the music and the words, was incredible to see: people who were directed not by a baton, but by a common intention, joy and basic rhythm.

No baton needed

To me, that’s a dance of intention and skill – and from those two emerges a system, a song that is truly beautiful. Love and passion; skill and focus – in isolation, they only carry us so far, and something tells me neither can sustain itself for long without the other. Both matter: how you plant the seed, and where you plant the seed. The seasons roll on, and soon it’s time to plant again. When you really get down to it, we don’t know why music exists and works the way it does any more than we understand how soil came to be and function. And betwixt them both, there is a system – an underlying rhythm – that when we operate with love and skill, we can’t help but seem to find.

All together now

With my ear to the ground and heart to the sky,
David

P.S. For those interested, here’s a link to all the photos from the night.

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Life is Beautiful

Just a reminder for myself and for others. ’nuff said.

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Passover

No photos from tonight – but it was another wonderful evening, full of reminders of how important it is to dwell in community, and how important food is, both to the establishment of community, as well as tradition.

For those who aren’t familiar with the holiday, Passover is a time when Jews celebrate their escape from bondage in ancient Egypt, and their 40 year exodus through the desert, leading to the eventual delivery of the 10 commandments and entry into the land of Israel.

Tonight, we took a slightly deeper look at the traditions and stories underlying the Passover holiday. Typically, the story told is that of all the Jews in Egypt breaking free from slavery, not without a little help from God, who along the way delivers 10 plagues to their oppressors and splits the Red Sea in half (you know, minor stuff). In truth though, whether you read the work of anthropologists or historians, or take a deeper look at the Torah, it is clear that the Jews weren’t the only ones fleeing oppression in Egypt. The Torah itself says that multitudes of people (including many non-Jews) made their way out into the desert – most of them of similarly impoverished.

Whether you relate to the story distinctly as a celebration of Jewish liberation or not, it strikes me that it really can be looked at as a story of people making the tough choice to take matters into their own hands, and to take the risks that lead to revolution. It’s a reminder that what oppresses us doesn’t always come from outside, be it in the form of slavery or racism or hypocrisy, but from within.

Would we have the courage today to heed the words of a burning bush? Today, one man lighting himself on fire has triggered a wave of social uprising across Tunisia and much of the Middle East. It makes me wonder: can we ignite change without the fuel of frustration and oppression? Is it possible that a comparable gesture of love could trigger a wave of awakening and growth across the lines of towns, cities, counties, states, and countries? Do we need to bear out the “plagues” that may await, or can we share in the creation of something new?

The sea was split, and the Jews still questioned – still built a golden calf out of fear that they had made the wrong choice. Leaving Egypt was a powerful gesture of faith, but the wandering that followed is where much of the work took place: facing the difficulties of the desert, and of living that leap of faith in daily life.

A willingness to wander and to accept – that to me sounds like a revolution. A willingness to recognize what one has done that isn’t in line with one’s true self, morals and values – that to me sounds like a revolution. A willingness to walk in hand in hand with the feeling of being lost, with fear and pain, and to say “I love you” – that to me sounds like revolution.

One straw is all it takes.

I love you,
Dave

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Too long

I have been away from my daily practice of writing for far too long!

It is remarkable to me how the past couple of weeks have just filled up. Between Urban Adamah, COCHS, learning about urban planning and community design, recertifying as a wilderness first responder, and just generally having good times (like roaming with good friends down Mission Street in San Francisco, serenading random folks and stores with the sweet sounds of guitar, mandolin, fiddle and harmonica), there’s been nary a moment to spare to keep up with the blog – and yet so much to share!

As I have in the past, I think I may have to defer to the highlight method, so as to not overwhelm anyone with unwieldy amounts of text.

Highlight Numero Uno: Getting Bedder and Bedder

We have so many beds now! We had a veritable bed building bonanza last week. This is product of one day’s focused labor:

Beds

Here, Than demonstrates his flawless pneumatic stapling technique, helping stabilize our hardware cloth with salvaged pallet boards (donning the latest in farming/lumberjack fashion no less):

Than the Man

And here Than is again demonstrating appropriate snacking techniques with one of our stalwart regulars, Gilad:

Salsa

Their coordination is flawless, am I right? And the same goes for the building of our portable garden beds. We’re almost to the triple digits now! That’s even with Classic relaxin’ on the job:

Classic relaxation

Highlight Numero Dos: Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

Rainwater catchment – ingredients: large bin that can hold water; rain.

Big ol' bins

To be honest, I’m not sure if these are meant for rainwater catchment, or if they’ll be used to hold soil and plants, but apparently Sid and our director of education Casey sourced these bad boys, and had some serious fun rolling them down the street. Urban farming or hootenanny? You decide.

Casey, holdin' it down

Highlight Numero Tres: Grafting

Despite the deep cuts on my fingers now totaling two (one from slicing burlap, the other from grafting), I have to say: learning to fuse one tree to another – definitely one of the cooler things I’ve learned in my life. Just the idea that we can take a new limb from our favorite apple tree and attach it to another tree of a different variety, or to a wholly new rootstock, is incredible to me.

Sid, talkin' rootstock

Who first figured out you could do this? Was it by accident? Or was there someone who just decided one day that they were going to try to fuse part of one tree onto another? Even as I was writing this paragraph, my curiosity overcame me, and I decided to look it up. Apparently, people in China were grafting by 1560 BC (at least, perhaps earlier!), and both Aristotle and Theophrastus wrote about grafting in ancient Greece. Just another incredible reminder that so many of the truths we turn back to today are ones folks had figured out long before our time. At the end of the day, not too much has changed about what makes plants grow.

Purple Mizuna

Quick lessons learned from grafting: 1) Anyone can do it. Seriously (and there’s plenty of tutorials online/on YouTube); 2) You’ll want a grafting knife, which is special in that it has only one beveled edge (i.e. is sharpened/slanted only on one side); and 3) You want to think of it like tree surgery, and constantly keep your tools sanitized with alcohol. Otherwise, you risk spreading a fungal infection between various grafts.

Grafting Knife

There’s of course much more I could share, and mayhaps I will dive in a bit more over the course of the week, as I’m committed to working full time for COCHS while another colleague is out of the office. Until soon,

All my truest love,
David

P.S. Old tubs make great beds. ’tis the beauty of urban farming:

Tub bed

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Going Green!

Remember this shot from a week or so ago?

Marker

Well check it out now!

Growin'!

Okay, okay, so maybe it isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but it feels at the very least ground-breaking to me to come back, and to find green shoots where I had pressed seeds ever so gingerly into the soil only a week or so ago.

Yummy greens are beginning to sprout up all over the place, most especially in warm, moist environment of our hoop house:

Sproutin'

And wouldn’t you know it – guess who wore the perfect colors for the occasion:

Sid!

Our main man Sid is back in town, and totally legal!

Today, we buckled down in a serious way (well, as serious as we get on the farm anyway) and prepped materials for a forty bed-building marathon over the next two days. We’ve recruited new volunteers (see Miriam in the purple below), and now, after two long months, we’re getting ready to welcome back Than and Ari!

Miriam!

The take away from today, looking ahead to tomorrow: if you’re going to grow something, why not grow it with friends? My housemate Christina (who has also volunteered at the farm) had a great quote to share from John Valenzuela (who came by to visit our farm not too long ago) that I think really speaks to this idea. In his words, “If you want to create a space for community, you should start by building a hearth.”

Roots

The boys

There are so many words embedded in the word hearth, it seems to me like the perfect multi-functional element to aim for when starting a community effort. And to me, starting a project with friends and seeing it grow to welcome others: there isn’t much that’s more heart-warming than that.

Gettin’ by with a little help,
David

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From Palm to Pinnacle

West Palm Beach. Just when I thought the weather couldn’t get better than California, Florida had to pull out all the stops.

My mother’s birthday was this past week, and the whole family (including aunts and uncles) flew out to surprise her this past weekend. My dad even hired a boat to take us through a park, home to alligators, blue herons, and beautiful mangrove trees.

Mom and dad

Needless to say: it was nuts. Hard to top time with family, no matter how brief.


Mikey

One thing I will say: Florida, at least the area we were in, definitely gave me a little more perspective on the bubble that is Berkeley. There was something about all the restaurants being in boxes and everything being accessible only by car that made me feel really lucky to be where I am – and also made me realize again how much work there is to be done, even in a place like Florida, where it seems like you could grow a ton. I couldn’t help but get a kick out of things like this:

Maintenance

Ah, the things we do to maintain golf courses. Not as bad, I suppose, as the ones I saw out in the desert by Joshua Tree.

I had a few minutes to recover from the weekend at home, and then the next morning, it was off to Pinnacles National Monument to lead a backpacking/Jewish education trip. Pinnacles, if you haven’t heard of it or been, is a beautiful park in the central valley of California, home to some of the last condors in the United States, and a host of strange rock formations and talus caves.

Pinnacles

Besides enjoying the views and the fresh air, I had an opportunity to organize the most ridiculous game of capture the flag ever, with forty children in complete darkness, all trying to elude four counselors tagging them with flashlights. I’m proud to say that one sprained ankle was the only injury recorded – and that was after the game no less!

I also got to facilitate a variety of team challenges for the group of twenty seventh grade students, the most fascinating of which was simply trying to let them come to consensus without intervention from myself or my co-leader. Seeing the kids try to establish a system for communicating was incredible. I will say: a talking stick was crucial, and the whole process was uncannily similar to watching our own government trying to vote on a budget. Maybe we can send our representatives on a backpacking trip the next time they get stuck 😉 I’ll bring the sunbutter.

Lookin’ forward to some more bed building on Tuesday. Until then,

Love from Berkeley,
Dave

P.S. This guy!

Charlie!

P.P.S. And this guy!

Than!

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Remember

Deep breath. Whatever weight there is, I find myself having to remember it is only that which I put on myself.

Lately, I have been struggling, feeling drawn between two worlds: one, in which I still desire success as I once understood and saw it, and another, where I am trying desperately to relinquish those desires, and to simply live (live simply) with intention, presence, focus, and love.

Falls

Like bringing a farm into a city, I continue to believe that there is some way to bring these disparate worlds together, but I am continuing to find that this takes time, focus, energy and patience. Admittedly, it can be hard to remain patient when so many things around feel imminent. I am 26 – shouldn’t I be settled in by now? Shouldn’t I have done something with my life, or at least know where I’m going? Shouldn’t I be letting go of my idealism, and accepting that life isn’t always an adventure?

Sprouts

One moment, I feel the desire to throw up my hands and accept something “safe”: a job, a clear career path, working towards having a home and a family. The next, I want to sell all my things, pay off my student loans, and see what really happens if I completely let go of the material things in life. The edges are always where things happen, right? Or as Doug Tompkins, founder of North Face says, “When everything goes wrong – that’s when the adventure starts.”

I’m certainly not suffering where I stand now – but it’s important to be honest with myself that walking the middle path, or at least seeking it, is not always easy. I am finding that true humility – not desiring things simply to satisfy my own need for recognition and accomplishment – isn’t a peak conquered in a final push, but a long and slow journey up the mountainside, where it can be all to easy to get stuck looking at one’s feet.

In the midst of all of this, today, I put seeds in the ground for the first time in my life. To me, this is absolutely crazy. It’s taken me 26 years to take part in one of the most basic acts of being EVER. Sure – I’ve been there to help with weeding and building; I’ve been there to lend design advice and to lead educational programs – but before today, I’d never been there for that first step. Today, I put seeds in the ground. And it felt amazing.

Seeds

This to me, is the beauty of the urban farm, of the home garden, of the reclaimed curb – of bringing nature back into the places where we’ve pushed it out. No matter what metaphysical hiccups are happening within us or actual crises are occurring around us, putting seeds in the ground will always be a productive act. Today, I feel like I did something – something important, something beautiful, something I needed, and something I think a lot of us could use more of. Today, I put seeds in the ground.

Water

I found an old notebook of mine from last year, with this sentence written in it: “I find it odd the number of times it takes for a remembrance to be remembered.” A year later, I am coming back to the same things – and each day, I have to keep reminding myself of what I already know. I am 26 years old, but I could plug any number in there, and I believe the sentiment would be the same: this life isn’t some peak to be conquered. It’s the day to day, long and slow journey: the search to everyday wake up and say to oneself: “here is exactly where I want to be.”

Soon, I will go to sleep. Tomorrow, I will wake up, and help to build an urban farm. Tomorrow, I am going to sow more seeds. Tomorrow, I am going to be where I want to be.

Shungiku

Starting now,
David

P.S. Remember to keep learning.

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