Skimming Deep

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

Tag: organic

Checking in from Berkeley, CA

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote about being in a holding pattern.

I am now living (!) in Berkeley, CA.  3095 miles exactly (according to Google Maps) from my previous abode.  With all my old things, and some new things, including a roommate and a new bed.

I don’t think it’s quite sunken in that I’ve really relocated across the country.  After all these months of planning, thinking, contemplating, wavering…  It’s now a reality, and it just feels the same, except for some key differences:

  • the weather is TRULY spectacular.  The whole two weeks I’ve been here, it’s been cloudy maybe one day.  On other days, it might have started cloudy and become sunny by late morning.  And on most days, it’s gloriously sunny and blue-skied, a temperate 70s during the day and in the 60s in the evening.  And no humidity.  I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky, but it really is beautiful here.  Also, there are flowers on trees and in gardens.  There is fruit hanging from branches.  It’s just lush and green.
  • the produce is amazing on so many levels.  It’s way cheaper than in Boston.  It’s way fresher.  And there’s so much more variety.  I mean, there are multiple types of mushrooms and carrots, as one example.  And I have been able to check out a variety of markets.  Berkeley Bowl is a favorite and was one of the draws for me to come out here.  A huge fresh produce section– both conventionally and organically grown stuff.  Whole Foods is right around the corner, but a bit steep for me.  Trader Joe’s is near Berkeley Bowl, and it’s good for dry goods.  And then there’s the recently discovered Monterey Market which has an equally amazing produce section with organic produce at ridiculously cheap prices.  It’s such an adventure to go shopping!  And I am also happy to report that there is a great Korean market nearby as well. I am in heaven!

So those two main things are making it wonderful to be here.

Now the thing that I’m sending out into the universe is that I’m hoping to get a full time, fulfilling, decent-pay job by the fall. I’m lucky to have a summer job working with a great youth program, but that ends by mid-August.  Universe, please send me some good opportunities!

No photos to show in this post.  I really haven’t taken many photos.  Partly because I’ve been driving alot, which I’m hoping won’t be so common.  But also, as someone trying to “fit in” as a resident, I feel weird busting out with my iPhone to take a photo of mushrooms or beautiful beets in the market.  So maybe these photos will come at another point.

I’m hoping to get back to regular blogging with a purpose– maybe revisiting my action steps and aspirations, now that many have been met.  Maybe with more musings on life now that I’m on the “left” coast.  Maybe some photos of food…  We’ll see where my inspirations guide me.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and supporting me in my journey!

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The Universe Gives

I don't know if I'm just a lucky person or if it's something in my optimistic and overall positive outlook, but (knock on wood!) I think the universe has been good to me, not only on this trip so far, but also in my life. Maybe I'm jinxing myself by saying this… (hopefully not!)

Case in point: I'm currently at a really cool place. But this wasn't always the case. After I left the vineyard, I was set up to stay at a home in Christchurch. It seemed all good to go, and the couple had received a good review, so I thought it would be as great as my other two places were. I won't go into too much detail because this is a public blog after all, but it just wasn't a good fit for me. The couple was really nice, but there were environmental issues that didn't work for me, and I decided after a day and a half that I didn't want to stay. So I found this place on the WWOOF website, and the woman of the house responded straight away (that's another Kiwi phrase– “straight away”) that I could come– perfect timing, she said.

The property consists of 13 acres of paddocks (grassy fields) divided into sections for different types of animals; a beautiful big house; gardens; and other nooks and crannies with little treasures in the form of statues, courtyards, little hideaways for kids and adults to enjoy. The family has lived here for a little over a decade, and it's obvious they've put a lot of work into it. There are endless projects that both woman and man of the house are working on– everything from the man of the house's little personal cottage to an earthquake-damaged spa pool room that could be converted into a study to more gardens… Intense! But they love it, for sure.

View into the gardens from the front of the house. The two brick pillars are actually their chimney which fell down from the earthquake, so they installed them here as an entryway to their garden.

A little about the animals, most of which are as pets and amusement:

  • 4 llamas: Obama, Humphrey, Yoda (a miniature llama), and Cameo. Those are funny animals, and I guess they sometimes use them as pack animals– taking them on hikes so they can carry the equipment and stuff.
  • 4 horses: Starbuck and Paloma are more just pets– beautiful. Jimi (named after Jimi Hendrix) is a thoroughbred which the youngest daughter will be training as a show horse. And then there's Wolfie, a little miniature horse– such a cutie.
  • About 9 chickens, I think– kept for their eggs. A funny clucking bunch.
  • 4 cats: India (the mother), Muffin, Prince, and Totoro (yes, named after the Hiyao Miyazaki character! He's a cute little grey cat. The rest are black with various patches of white.), each with their own personality. And much loved by the owners.
  • A few cows– for milk, which they sell to the local community. I don't know their names and haven't formally met them. 🙂

So my jobs on the farm mostly consist of weeding and helping here and there with odd jobs. I feed the chickens and Jimi and Wolfie each morning. And feeding the chickens also involves collecting their eggs. That's quite interesting– I have to physically remove the hens from their roost to get the eggs that they're sitting on (not fertilized since there's no rooster). A bit close for comfort, but I haven't gotten pecked yet. I've also picked up sticks so the man of the house can mow the lawn; cleaned out their courtyard (weeding and raking leaves); and weeded and weeded and weeded!

A before and after of my weeding. This patch took me about an hour, I think. Isn't it lovely?

My daily attire (as it has been on all the farms) includes:

This family definitely doesn't have a shortage of gear, especially gumboots. These are ALL for WWOOFers! All shapes and sizes!

  • gumboots– these are basically used as rainboots back in Boston, but they're essential on a farm as you're walking through dew, manure, dirt, and all sorts of terrain. My mom, before I left, asked if I should buy my own to bring because she saw them on everyone's feet when she was researching WWOOFing (to ensure that I was going to be safe!!). But every WWOOF host has WWOOFer gear, including gumboots. I will never look at rainboots the same again!
  • work jumpsuit (not sure what's the exact term)– a full body suit, made of cotton, to keep your clothes clean when you're brushing up against hairy and furry animals, working with dirt and manure, pruning rose bushes… Also to keep you warm. I have yet to come across a snugly fitting suit– most are too big for me, but they're great!
  • gloves– super important for whatever– weeding, picking up chickens, protecting your hands from thorns, pricklies, dirt, bugs, etc. I have yet to use the gloves that my youth back home gave me as a going away present (best ever!) because every host has gloves, so I don't have to dirty mine.
  • sun hat– I brought this, and it's been great to have to keep my face shaded. Supposedly there's a big hole in the ozone over New Zealand so the UV rays are stronger, and it does feel brighter here than back in the U.S., so a hat is really important.

I'm feeling lucky that I landed here. I'm learning so much from the couple that owns the place. About farm life from the man of the house and about sustainable and spiritual life from the woman of the house. “B”, the man of the house, is teaching me about correct terminology– tools, equipment, and the like. He's adamant that I know the correct vocabulary so we can communicate more efficiently and effectively with each other. He's all about logic, efficiency, working smart. He's a hard worker and his “doing” orientation really makes this place run.

From “F”, the woman of the house, I'm learning about things to feed the soul– making bread, eating organics, the beauty of gardening and going with the flow, living for the moment, following your dreams. She's so different from her partner, and such a kind and beautiful soul. They make a fun and interesting couple.

My tiny little cottage (?) off of the house. Just a bed, desk, stereo, some books, and bureau with a few windows. I use the bathroom in the main house. It's a cute little set up.

So I don't know if I've just lucked out to land with such amazing hosts because I'm sure not all WWOOFing hosts would be the perfect fit for me, but so far it's been great. I'm eating well here, too. And learning about a different way of sustainable living. They're not off the grid like my first host was– definitely plugged into the real world and technology. It's interesting to see different lifestyles where making and growing your own food is central.

I have so many books I want to read when I get back to the U.S., and so much I want to look into– permaculture design course, biodynamics course, gardening clubs… Just have to take one step at a time.

Back to the title of this post, then– I think the other part of receiving so much from the universe is that one has to be open to receive whatever comes. Turning lemons into lemonade. Or making the best of any situation. Or seeing the good side in whatever happens. So maybe things have happened to me that may have been unpleasant, negative, even bad (?); but I've been open to whatever it is I'm supposed to learn from that situation and moved forward.

There's an alchemy here of positive attitude, optimism, luck, benevolence of the universe, and acceptance, I guess, which is important in living day to day. I'm so appreciative of all I'm receiving right now. Thanks, Universe!!

Ataraxia

While on my road trip through the U.S. with “S,” we came upon the word “ataraxia”– her dictionary word of the day. It was a perfect word for the trip and for my own journey, and it came to mind again today.

Ataraxia: a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquillity (from dictionary.com)

This has been my first free weekend since July, maybe. Through August, I was traveling, packing, moving, having going away parties and all that craziness. In September, before coming to New Zealand, I was in transit. And then since arriving in New Zealand, I've been WWOOFing with days off in between during the weekday. At Seresin, we work during the weekday and get the full weekend off, which is nice.

Yesterday (Saturday), I stayed “at home” all day and really had a lazy day with some spurts of productivity. Did my laundry, and made three square meals. Also read Chocolat, wrote some, and just sat both inside and outside watching the weather go through periods of sun, clouds, rain, and lots and lots of wind. It was a wonderful day!! I didn't even get out of my pajamas all day. In the evening, my housemates and I watched part of Gandhi, which I've amazingly never seen before! But then, a combination of a wonky DVD player (which kept freezing up the video) and the late hour (for us farmers– it was 10pm and we were all falling asleep!), meant we only watched about a third of the movie before retiring for the night.

I just wanted to show off my meals from yesterday, so you can see how beautiful and healthy they were:

At least half of the ingredients on everything was from the garden at Home Block: swiss chard, spinach, lamb, eggs, daikon. Upper right is sesame-peanut sauce pasta. The rest is self explanatory. Yum!

And then today, I woke up late-ish (around 7:30 or 8, I think it was), had a nice simple breakfast of cinnamon toast and lamb sausage and two oranges and then took a long walk to Home Block (the main vineyard and farm area of Seresin), which is about 3 miles away. Walked around the vineyards and took photos of the areas where I've been working, since I feel weird doing that when I'm actually working.

Different views of the main entrance to Seresin Home Block-- where their main vineyards and winery are. Employees have a back entrance (that includes us WWOOFers!).

Views of the organic, biodynamically grown vineyards and green space on the land at Seresin. You can tell it's organic by how GREEN it all is. Gorgeous and lush and peaceful.

Gardens are created between a few of the vineyard rows. Upper left: spinach and silverbeet (swiss chard) and leeks in the back. Upper right: where we planted hundreds of potatoes. Lower left: lots and lots of garlic plants. Lower right: broad beans (i'm pretty sure).

With such scenery, the end of a busy week of WWOOFing, great weather, and good food, how can one not feel free from anxiety and disturbance? I can't believe I've only been in New Zealand for about three weeks. It really feels like longer.

Don't worry, friends and family, I'm not settling here, although it's beautiful and all that. I'll be coming back to the U.S. in the end; but for now, I'm so glad I chose to come here and to WWOOF. I definitely recommend it (WWOOFing in New Zealand, specifically) to anyone who's up for some work in gardens and fields, who wants to avoid touristy sightseeing, and who wants to see the country through the eyes of those who live and work here.

 

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.

 

Wine Country: Seresin Estate

I have landed on another really interesting and beautiful site for my new WWOOFing experience: Seresin Estate. The owner and founder of the estate (vineyard, olive orchard, farmland) is Michael Seresin, a Kiwi cinematographer. He doesn't really live at the vineyard anymore, but leaves it to be run by some amazing people.

A view of some vineyards and the mountains in the distance. Note: these aren't Seresin vineyards- you can tell by the brown grass that these growers use herbicides. Will be posting pics of Seresin's organic, biodynamically grown grapes in my next post. Edited with Instagram.

I'm staying in a house down the road from the estate where we work with two other WWOOFers and a contracted worker who works with the wines. It's been interesting being with other WWOOFers, my first time since starting this whole thing. They're both young women, one from Holland, one from Montana (in the early 20s!); and they've both been in New Zealand since April or May. Wow. And they're both planning on staying for a full year at least.

View from the back door of the house where we WWOOFers stay. Overlooking some of the vineyards of Seresin Estate.

This set up is definitely very different from my other WWOOFing experience:

  • We cook our own food, which is all provided (even with ability to make requests) by the host. So a lot of the food is from grocery stores, although they do try to give us organic food. The meats are from their farm and livestock (which includes work horses, chickens, ducks, goats, cows, and ducks). Veggies are from their garden but there's not so much available right now– swiss chard (or silver beet, as they call it), kale, spinach, salad greens (rocket, aka arugula), and parsley… It's nice to be cooking again, and I'm making some request for sesame oil so I can cook some Korean food! 🙂 I made chickpeas and rice yesterday, and today made swiss chard, feta pasta. The three of us share cooking and eating which is nice. They can cook, too. I'll try to take a photo of some of my food at some point, but it's pretty much what I would make at home– nothing too out of the ordinary!
  • The land is quite big and used for commercial purposes– grapes and olives for selling wine and oil. Their garden is for their own purposes, I guess, but it's huge. All together, it seems there are probably about 20 or so people who work on the land– in the vineyard and winery, in the garden, on the fields… It's very different from my previous home garden!
  • They aren't off the grid, like my other place. No alternative energy sources, as far as I can tell. But what's interesting is that they use both organic and “biodynamic” principles for all their living things. Biodynamics is a new concept that I just recently learned about– the gist is that you believe that the earth, humanity, and a greater spirit world are all interconnected, and when you do anything from planting to composting to harvesting, you use things like the alignment of the moon, stars, and planets to inform when and how you do things. It's really quite interesting. They have a woman on the farm who specializes in calculating all those things. I'm hoping to learn some more about that in the coming weeks.

I've only been here a day and a half and have just done some weeding and sundry garden work. But this afternoon was really interesting– it was a big day in their biodynamics processes. I'll try to explain a bit here– it's called biodynamic preparation 500:

  1. There is a process involving a cow horn, cow manure, and some soil mixture and leaving that in the ground for a period of time. That happened before today.
  2. Then we stirred that manure into big barrels with water and other minerals. This was a big communal event where about 25 of us took turns stirring these huge barrels. It required a certain stirring technique and also required us to give good energy, spirit, and vibes to the liquid mixture.
  3. We then took the liquid (mostly water along with the manure bits) into smaller buckets and all walked around the entire property with a brush and basically sprayed the land with the liquid, kind of like the way a priest sprays holy water on people during special holy days in the Catholic Church. This happened in a methodical way because there are lots of rows of planted vines, trees, and gardens, and we had to get every patch of land.

The whole process took about 2.5 hours with a lot of walking up and down rows and spraying plants. It was really amazing, a collective process with all 25 people well organized and giving a piece of ourselves to these organic beings in the earth. And the preparation is supposed to be a kind of fertilizer to the plants. We were really lucky to be there– this is something they do twice a year, and it's timed specifically based on astronomy among other things. I didn't get a full explanation.

So far, interesting, and it's only been a day and a half here!

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. And the scenery is stunning. Here are some views of the land (and remember, photos often don't do justice to the landscape which is beautiful from every angle!).

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