Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: community

#10: Memory

Two nights ago, nine African American individuals were shot and killed in cold blood while in prayer at Emmanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The killer has been apprehended. This tragedy has left me stunned, angry, sad, frustrated, and questioning.

Our country’s collective memory is short, especially when it comes to racism and the oppression of people of color. And then something like this shooting happens, jogs our memory for a short moment, gets us talking and acting, and then the 24-hour news cycles ends and moves us on to the next big movie or celebrity gaffe.

The memories this moment jogged for me were other awful events from the past few years:

  • the killings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and the many other black lives whose soul and breath were taken unjustly and unceremoniously by police violence
  • the shooting in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School
  • other mass shootings perpetrated by white men who were often written off as mentally unstable with no recognition of the larger system and society that has created these killers

President Obama gave a speech after the shooting. Some of his statements really resonated with me as I try to stay hopeful and optimistic that maybe THIS time there will be more action taken to control the rampant presence of and access to guns in our country.  He said, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”

He also quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from a speech he gave in response to the killing of four African American girls when a church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by Klan members. I went to read the full speech and it’s amazing, beautifully written (and I’m sure spoken), and inspiring. Here are a few excerpts, but I encourage you to read and re-read the whole thing:

And yet they [the four girls] died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death… They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. They have something to say to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

and then there’s this:

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

Let our memories not be so short at all the injustice people of color, especially black people and communities, have endured. When will Dr. King’s dream be realized?

The Power of Community and Culture

I've been at the Seresin Estate for a little under a week, and each day has been different. What a change from my previous place where I was pretty much weeding a home garden everyday, which was really nice and rewarding, of course! Here, there has been a lot of variety, which has also been really educational and interesting. And I've been eating self-cooked meals everyday which has been nice for a change.

Front view of the house where I'm staying. Cozy, quaint. In the middle of vineyards!

  • Monday afternoon: I arrived and we weeded. By “we” I mean the two other WWOOFers, the head gardener, and his apprentice. A nice team of five with lots of chatting, storytelling, and jokes. Made chickpeas and veggies with rice for dinner.
  • Tuesday: in the morning, we did more weeding (a different area from the day before– maybe it was onions?) and then all afternoon we did the biodynamic preparation 500 that I explained in my previous blog post. And that “we” included our team and about 20 other volunteers and employees from the vineyards and winery. Made swiss chard and pasta with feta and colby cheese and cooked up some lamb sausage from the farm for dinner.
  • Wednesday: we continued weeding onion plants, a challenging job because the onion shoots were not much bigger than the weeds! And that was it for that day. This was the most tedious work we've done so far, but enjoyable because of lots of conversation and nice weather. Made falafel and pita with the others in our house for dinner. YUMMM!!!
  • Thursday: we prepped a section of land to plant potatoes using stakes and string. And in the afternoon we planted a few hundred potatoes in teams of two with a few more additions to our team of five. That was cool– planting all these spuds by hand (most people nowadays do it by machines, especially when doing on the scale we were– a lot!). Made grilled cheese sandwiches with swiss chard and spinach for dinner.
  • Friday: planted more potatoes, the rest for the land that had been prepped. Good morning's work. Filled some packets of wonderful composted soil for tomato plants which will be planted in a few weeks. Then after lunch did the preparation 500 again at the other estate, Raupo, which is the biggest area and where the best grapes are grown. Extra long day but felt quite accomplished at the end! Had some pancakes that one of the other WWOOFers made for dinner.

Strawberry patches in one of the garden areas on the estate.

To give you an idea of how each day works here, here's a typical day's schedule:

  • Wake up with the sun (I have my shades open for this reason) around 6:30 or 7am.
  • Lounge in bed a little.
  • Do my morning routine.
  • Eat breakfast– usually some muesli and yogurt or milk and a piece of toast with tea.
  • Read or take a morning walk.
  • Go to the estate (which is about 3 miles up the road) by one of the WWOOFers van or by walking (about an hour walk) or by bike (about 20 minutes).
  • Arrive at the estate by 10:30am-ish just as the employees are finishing up their morning tea time– a break where they eat snacks and drink coffee and tea. They start at 7:30am, but not us!
  • Get started working. Go until about 1pm when we break for lunch in their “smoko” room– basically the break room which is called “smoko” because it used to be where people would take a smoke for breaks; but people don't smoke here.
  • After a half hour lunch, work some more until about 4:30pm. And then head home.
  • Get home and relax a bit.
  • Make dinner with the other WWOOFers.
  • Take a shower. And then relax for a few hours– read, write, check email, just sit and chill.
  • Go to bed by about 9:30 or 10pm.

I'm outdoors all day which is wonderful. Such a reversal from life before where I'd be in an office all day with a glimpse of the outdoors on my walk to and from the train station and maybe during lunch if I had to go buy my lunch that day. Being outside for at least 6 hours a day is really do-able here in New Zealand. Even if it's a little cold or cloudy (or rainy), it's so beautiful. And there are the sounds of the wind, the birds, nature.

One thing I'm really getting exposed to here at the vineyards is the power of community. Even though it's a company– producing wines for sale all over the world– there is a feeling of family and closeness among the employees and even with the managers and higher ups.

Every Wednesday, they have a company smoko where all the winery and vineyard staff get together with the managers to give updates over some kind of food that they take turn preparing. Last week, the person on made amazing cheesy scones. So everyone hears the company updates and gets familiar with how the business is running. They also hear updates about the garden, which isn't so much part of the company side but is really about keeping some biodiversity and using the land for positive and meaningful things. The WWOOFers are also acknowledged at this meeting, which was held, not at a stuffy conference table, but standing around on an outdoor patio, over coffee and scones.

In addition to that meeting, I get the sense from the people I see daily over morning tea and lunch, those who work in the vineyards, that they all have each other's back and enjoy each other's company and respect each other. They truly believe in the organic and biodynamic principles. They really value each other as individuals. They value the earth and the animals on the farm. And they get paid doing this!

I've learned that the winemaking/ vineyard industry is really that, an industry as any other, and that few growers and winemakers think about the impact on the earth as Seresin does. Why do we have to rip up and destroy the earth to get what we want out of it? If we take an approach of respecting and giving back to the earth in exchange of what we take out of her, everything is more beautiful, sustainable, harmonious and productive.

Here's an example:

Notice the difference in these two unedited photos of vineyards. The top photo is of a conventional vineyard which uses herbicides and chemicals. The bottom photo is of one of Seresin's vineyard rows. Notice the color difference– brown grass on top, green grass on the bottom. Notice the feel you get– dry, brittle, a bit barren on top; lush, gentle, relaxed on the bottom.

So good wine here is about a holistic view– from the soil to the plant to the grape to the production to the people to the gardens amongst the vines to the treatment of their animals and people. It's about building a culture of sustainability, of respect, of value and love. Something I also really believe in and want to bring to anywhere I go and work and live.

I'm learning to read the earth these last few weeks. It's like learning a new language: what are edible plants, what are natives versus exotics, what is herbicided versus organic, what different birds are, etc. I can't wait to come home and see if I'm able to read the earth as I'm doing here.

A view outside the house where I'm staying. Hello, tree, said the bush.

 

B is for “Build”

We build many things in our lifetime. My life is in a state of constant building and growth over time. What are some of the things we build?

    • Build friendships and relationships. Where would I be without the many relationships in my life over the many years– both those that are part of my life now and those that have come and gone. They’ve all played a role in me becoming who I am.
    • Build hopes and dreams. My life has been a succession of hopes and dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled. Hopes of finding a best friend. Hopes of fitting in. Hopes of getting into a good college. Hopes of getting married. Hopes of having children. Hopes of figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Hopes of traveling. Hopes of finding happiness. Where will I go next? What dreams will be built next?
    • Build movements. I had a choice to take the blue pill or the red pill, and I chose the red pill. Since then I have not been able to turn off the critical thinking lens of viewing the world. And I think the only way to change society for the better, to be more just, more democratic, more sustainable, is to mobilize and politicize PEOPLE. So I’m involved in efforts to do that, to build slowly, bit by bit, person by person, an inexorable movement toward changing from the bottom up.
    • Build communities. One of my strengths is connecting with people and the connecting people with other people. I envision a world where we live in communities that love and cherish each other, where we take care of each other, where mutual respect is where we start an interaction. This comes from people eating together, working together, sharing stories together. We need more of this to happen in small pockets everywhere.
    • Build a home. Part of building strong, connected communities starts in the individual homes, not just a “house” that is owned, but an environment with a roof and rooms where people of varying ages live and love together. My path toward this was derailed for a moment, and I hope to find it again. I hope it is in the cards for me.
    • Build sand castles. We are never too old to build sand castles, whether it’s on the beach, in the mind, in the air. These are our ideas, our plans, our projects that may see too big, too unattainable, too out of reach. But I read enough stories of those who have made their sand castles REAL that I believe it can happen for me, too. I know I’ll have to work toward it– dream, vision, reach, act, move, take risks, jump and leap, and get out of my own way. But it IS possible to realize my sand castle.

Building is a process. It isn’t a state. It’s not always linear either (forward, backward, up, or down). It’s cyclical, messy, starting and restarting, in and out, up and around.

Building is also legacy. It’s imprint. It’s left behind. It’s remembered. It’s carried on.

What am I building? What are you building? What are we building?

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