Skimming Deep

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

Tag: farm

Home. Family.

It's been a little over a month since I left Boston.

I don't miss the city itself (traffic, crowdedness, fast pace, expensive-ness), but today, I'm missing people. One of my closest friends from Boston is getting married today (in the process of the wedding party as I write), and it's the first time that I've missed a close friend's wedding. I know all our good friends will be there. She, her partner, and their baby (my godson!) are like family to me; and I wish them all the best on this special day that seals their commitment and love for each other! Happy wedding, T and M!

This is my current home, for just a few more days to make a total of two weeks:

My bedroom. Views from my window. Can't remember the last time I slept in a twin bed!!

Kitchen where all the good meals are made. The living and joined dining room where we eat and read and relax. Sparse accommodations but clean and comfortable.

Yes, home for now.

My next home will be Christchurch where they had really big earthquakes a few years ago. I'm curious to see what the city looks like. They said the rebuilding hasn't even really taken place yet because the insurance companies still haven't released money for the damage and the government kind of hasn't been dealing well. Reminds me of Hurricane Katrina several years ago in New Orleans.

My housemates are now gone– one left yesterday, and the other just left. They were my family for the last two weeks, and it's a little sad to see them off, leaving just myself in the house for the next few days. We had meals together, worked together, chatted at the dinner table like family.

I think life is really about finding people who become part of your extended family– people you can trust, who care for you and you for them.

So shout outs to all my family out there!

  • to my immediate family– mom who's taking on organic gardening by storm! dad who I'm sure is worrying everyday about my health (so far so good, dad!). and my brothers and their families with their kids who are growing everyday! hugs and kisses to you all!
  • to my college friends (my first family outside of my hometown)– thoughts of all of you and your lives in their various states, shapes, and sizes!
  • to my Boston family– work, community, friendships. I know that the work continues. That good food is still being eaten. That good laughs are still being had. That people are growing, developing, building, and sharing!

And as it is the weekend, I'm eating well. Made this last night for dinner– oh, so yummy. A bean-grass fed meat chili is on the stovetop, and I'm planning on baking some treats this weekend… It's a rainy and windy day so great to stay indoors listening to my music and just relaxing (after I organized the whole pantry and tupperware drawer!).

Got the parsley, leeks, daikon, swiss chard, and spinach from the garden at Home Block. Then turned them into potato-leek-daikon latkes with green-cabbage slaw.

And these were some of my meals from earlier in the week-- potato-leek-daikon soup (so good!), tofu curry with lots of good veg, and grass-fed beef marinaded with a nice glass of Seresin wine (the leftover meat is being stored in a jar)


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.


Last Days in Taranaki and Permaculture

Argh. Just wrote a whole entry and then Blogsy froze up and I lost everything. Oh well, I'll just start over.

I'm back at the New Plymouth library, using their free wi-fi. Another day off after days of working. I extended my stay at the current (first) farm because I really have been enjoying being with the family and learning from them. Also, it seemed the next farm I was lined up for was a bit sketchy (or “dodgy” as my hosts said), so I cancelled with them and chose to stay on this place for a few more days before heading down to Wellington.

It's really been a wonderful week with this family at this farm. I've learned a tremendous amount about New Zealand, about permaculture and sustainable living and agriculture, about parenting, about living life off the grid. The family is so generous and willing to share their lives with me, and I've really really enjoyed it. I'll be sad to leave them. I'm kind of tempted to come back and see them again, to see the things they are just now starting to plant come to fruition in the summer and fall! But I'm also ready to move on to see another place and way of living.

I feel a little better about posting some photos of their farm, while keeping them anonymous. Here are some before and after shots of what I weeded:

a garden bed to be used for strawberries. I hadn't quite finished up, but you can see how much I pulled out in a few hours!

A view of the house from atop a hill on the family's property. Love the rolling hills and green! They have planted a bunch of trees to help to restore the earth by fixing excess carbon in the atmosphere.

I've learned quite a bit about permaculture, too. For those of you who don't know (I had never heard of it before looking into WWOOFing), permaculture is a concept/ set of principles developed by two Aussies, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, in the 1970s. Their definition then was “an integrated, evolving system of perennial or self perpetuating plant and animal species useful to man.” A more updated definition is “consciously designed landscape which mimics the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre, and energy for provision of local needs.” It's basically a way of desining a garden or space that is in harmony with nature and the environment and uses a closed system approach to living. The garden seems to be somewhat central to permaculture practices but it also bleeds over into all ways of life that seek to restore the earth and provide alternatives to using fossil fuels and non-regenerating sources of energy which just suck the earth dry of all resources.

I've had lots of talks with the couple that own this “lifestyle bloc” as they call these small plots of land where people live and just grow as they will. We've talked about how the current industrial systems and dependence on fossil fuels is just not sustainable and will end sooner or later. We've talked about what kinds of alternatives exist to those oil-dependent systems. We've talked about the importance of closed ecological systems which restore energy back to the earth. It's really inspiring to see what this family has done only in about 5 years.

They talk a lot about learning from their mistakes– what grows well, what doesn't; how best to compost; how many garden beds to have; how to grow their orchard; where to keep the livestock. The mother is the master permaculturist, so within the principles of what she learned from a permaculture design course, they have really made it all their own.

A view of the main garden beds in front of the house. You can see some of the paths hadn't been weeded yet. But this is the abundance even after winter! A year-round growing seasons down here!

Another view of the garden beds. You can see the greenhouse they built where they grow tomatoes.

This is a compost heap which they just put right on one of their garden beds that they keep fallow. They do a fallow bed rotation. This compost heap was where I dumped all my weeding! Those big stalks with flowers are weeds, not veggies.

It's always amazing how things converge in life when you pay attention. In the last week, I have been thinking of some recent conversations and visits with friends that I had who were involved with concepts like edible gardens, Steiner education and Waldorf schools, action research, CSAs and growing one's own garden; and I'm really starting to think seriously about what I make of all this information. And how to apply that to social change in some aspects when I get back to the states. More to think about and reflect on.

For now, I leave this post with a picture of one of the meals I had (I would have loved to take photos of every meal because they've all been delicious, but I felt too self conscious. So suffice it to say, the food is amazing. I've had steak from their cow, soups and stews from veggies from their garden, coleslaw, porridge, homemade goat cheese… all so good and healthy and ORGANIC in the truest sense.)

Stewed tamarillos in the small glass bowl; cup of black tea; and lentil, lamb, veggie summer stew. Yum!!


Resurfacing in New Plymouth, New Zealand

I've been in this part of New Zealand since Tuesday (Monday, for U.S. time). So that puts me at three or so days that I've been WWOOFing! This is where I am– where the red pin is:

At this current moment, I'm at the New Plymouth public library, making use of their free wi-fi. Woohoo! New Plymouth is in the Taranaki region of New Zealand, which is the southwest coast of the North Island. It's the center of oil and gas production in the country, so not the prettiest city, but there's a beautiful view of Mt. Taranaki, an old (but still active– the last eruption was 250 years ago) volcano. It's famous because it was used as a stand-in for Mt. Fuji in The Last Samurai. It's really breathtaking. You can see it way in the distance in this shot. It's snow covered most of the year.

Bridge over a stream on the Coastal Walkway from Bell Block to New Plymouth, which I rode by bike today.

I've been WWOOFing in a tiny town about 15 minutes north of New Plymouth. The host family asked that I not blog about them for the sake of their privacy, so I'm not going to talk about the family and their life. Instead, I'll just talk about what I've been doing and general statements about where I'm staying.

Getting here was a 6 hour bus ride from Auckland. It was a beautiful ride through the part of New Zealand that was used for Hobbiton and the Shire – the Waikato region. Beautiful rolling green hillls, stunning scenery wherever you turn. I tried to take some photos while on the bus but they just didn't turn out. You can google “Waikato” and see the landscape. Here's a pic I took that I doctored a bit with Instagram, but it gives you somewhat of an idea of the region:

I got in Tuesday night and then started right away the next day. Because it's spring, it's the time for weeding and preparing gardens for planting. So the last two days, I just weeded. How WWOOFing generally seems to work is that you “work” for 4-6 hours, as arranged with your host. And in this case, I was given the choice of 4 hours each day or 6 hours for two days and then a day off, and on for the week. So I chose to do more work on the two days so I could get a day off. Also, our farm is not close to anything, so if I just did 4 hours, I'd have a whole day of not much to do.

The family is completely off the grid– using solar and wind power for all their electricity and power. They built all those systems. The house was here when they bought the place, but they've added all the sustainable living components– garden (which supplies most of what they eat except for grains, cheese… and some other things); grazing land for chickens (which provide eggs), sheep (which provide meat), goats (which provide milk), cows (which provide meat), and the random goose here and there; a wind turbine; and trees for burning wood. They eat 95% organic and really are living a sustainable (or durable) lifestyle.

I'm learning a ton from the couple (they have two school-aged kids) about how to live a sustainable life. They really uphold the principles of getting off the industrial systems of food, energy, etc. This is a great place to start my WWOOFing experience.

The food is also delicious. Even though it's not real harvest yet (we're just coming off of the winter), we've been eating great meals– meat from their livestock, potatoes, pumpkins, porridge. As they say, it's a real “peasant diet”– simple, hearty, and tasty. They're both great cooks and bakers. And they're really living life as I would like– with critiques of the current system and an attempt to live simply and protect, value, and live in harmony with the earth and environment.

The weeding has been kind of fun in a weird way. Weeding is addictive for me, especially as the neat freak that I am. Once I start, I want to go till I finish a row or an area. I love the feeling of satisfaction you get when you weed an area and see how clean and open it is. My fingers are a bit sensitive, but the hosts said that weeding with gloves makes it hard to really feel where you're working, which I totally get. So I've been getting lots of dirt under my fingernails. I feel like a real farmer. 🙂 Haha.

I'll be here until Tuesday of next week (just a week stay here) and then off to another farm, actually in the same region. It wasn't the best planning on my part, but it's got an interesting description, so I wanted to check that place out. From there, I'll keep moving south.

So I'm having a nice afternoon. I got to this town by bike. My host dropped me off about 9km (5.4 miles, I think) at a Coastal Walkway entry, and I borrowed their bike to come out here. Breathtaking views of the Tasman Sea.

The bridge above is on the walkway that I rode. It's been about 50 plus degrees here. Sunny, sometimes cloudy. A bit chilly at night. There's no heat in the house– that's just how New Zealand homes are built, apparently. And I'm sleeping in a part of the garage that they made into a room with a bathroom. Nice private facilities. So I have a really thick down comforter and a hot water bottle. Very cute– it's for their WWOOFers, especially. I'll have to post a photo of that.

So very much enjoying my first week here. Can't believe it's not even been a full week. Feels like I've been here for a long time already! If all my WWOOFing experiences are like this, I'll be a happy camper.

#21: CSA and Fresh Veggies

I’ve bought a share from a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm for several years.  And this year I’m doing it again with a friend.  I love the idea of being a “shareholder” of a farm, helping the farmers continue their farming by buying their crops.  And it’s a great way to get locally grown produce.  This is the one that my friend and I are supporting: World PEAS Cooperative.  Got a slew of greens this week.

Swiss chard, garlic scapes, snowpeas, lettuce, collard greens, some kind of radish, and herbs.  Oh my! (don’t mind the Pop Tarts box in the corner!)

I’m really into this local economies kind of living– food, communal living, shared child care (though I don’t have kids), sharing of things rather than private ownership of things (like cars, garden and yard tools, washers/dryers, other big equipment that you don’t use on a regular basis).  I saw this TED talk once about the concept of “share”-ing things– she calls it “the Mesh.”  If only people’s mentality could encompass this idea that we don’t each need to own our things.  What would it take to wean us off the idea of private ownership?  What would this mean?

  • When things are broken, we work together to fix them.
  • We can potentially buy things that are more expensive, maybe better quality because multiple people pitch in to buy that thing.  Maybe that thing lasts longer.
  • We create a culture of co-dependence where it’s not just me living in my own place with my own things, but we have to communicate with others and create a system of sharing and accountability.
  • People would have to talk with others.

Is another world possible?

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