Welcome, dear readers, to another month of taking put out of the meditation cushion and into the world.
April showers found me goat for a young family with a nod to the world's most famous fictional nanny: Metta Poppins. Mayflowers allowed me to grow organic produce for a market garden supplying bags of vegetables by subscription, as well as local restaurants and a weekly stall at the farmers market.
I dropped my leopard-print suitcase—my XNUMXst-century Mary Poppins carpet bag, because I change places regularly—into the mobile home where I would be staying, and immediately changed into what I affectionately call my play clothes. Back in elementary school, we had a second set of outerwear, so we didn't have to worry about getting our good clothes dirty during recess.
It was a sunny, almost summery day and the team I was joining was busy planting seedlings. The seedlings had been sown from seed a few weeks earlier, propagated in the polytunnel, and then hardened off outside on rows of wooden pallets. It was time to put them in the ground so that they grew fully and were ready to be harvested.
Watch the team run a tape measure along a 20-meter zero-digging bed – one of dozens of rows regimented across several hectares – and check crop plans on their devices, mumbling various measurements to one another. others of the type "Four rows with a space of 30 centimeters for this one, no sorry, a space of 25 centimeters between the plants but 30 centimeters between the rows, staggered, only one cell, first rake the wood chips on the way, mix some manure and be sure to use the dowels to plow the rows first so they don't disconnect and follow the drip pipes. Then toss them and snap them,” it seemed like a foreign language to me.
And it felt even more alien, like all the cultures I had experienced so far in my year of volunteering on organic farms scaled down to maximize space, diversity, and nutrition, and all the gardening I had ever been detonated to minimize maintenance, interference and effort.
Our first lunch break together gave me an idea of the new agricultural planet I had landed on. Market gardening appeared to be the middle ground between large-scale agriculture and small-scale horticulture. My first impression was of a very diverse group of people all working together to nurture the soil and their community in a more sustainable way. During the conversation, it emerged how many people had gone through some form of Steiner education and/or practiced biodynamic farming, one of the earliest forms of modern organic farming.
If the name Rudolf Steiner is new to you, he was an Austrian social reformer who founded an esoteric spiritual movement called Anthroposophy in the early XNUMXth century. This gave rise to an education movement, known as Steiner or Waldorf schools, an agricultural movement, known as biodynamics, a medical and beauty products company, known as Weleda, and a social care movement, known as Camphill Communities for children and adults with developmental disabilities. disabilities.
Attending my first formal team meeting gave me another indication of the new working planet I had landed on. After an update on the financial difficulties of the nearby micro-dairy and the pressures the young woman running it was under, we were asked to help where we could. When I raised my hand to check what form that help could take without ever having met it, I was simply told, “Be as nice as you can.
It was music to me put to the ears of the meditator as well as to the bruised and battered heart of my volunteer. I had secretly wondered if any form of organic farming was truly sustainable, rather than just an extension of unsustainable modern workplaces that seemed to both exhaust its people and the planet by putting competition above the rest. cooperation.
Previous articles in this column over the past year have explored all the weird and wonderful motivations (other than an interest in organic farming) of the volunteers I encountered. But I had yet to come across a truly sustainable organic farm, one that supported itself and the planet cooperatively.
Between us, dear readers, rather than wonderful new ways of living and working, I had probably encountered stranger and sometimes downright nasty ways of living and working on this journey of volunteering discovery: mental health issues, addiction, illness, cruelty to animals, domestic violence. , debt, discrimination, burnout, etc.
Some days I secretly wondered if I had simply traded in all the old-fashioned ways of living and working in the city for all the old-fashioned ways of living and working in the countryside, only with a prettier setting and a better tan!
Over the next few weeks, I did the best I could, laughing and learning from my mistakes almost every hour. The team patiently corrected me as I clumsily sowed tray after tray of seeds, watered tray after tray of seedlings, planted tray after tray of hardy plants, weeded row after row of maturing crops, and harvested box after box of produce. The scale and flip of the plots and polytunnels from day to day was like a kaleidoscope quilt constantly rearranging its patchwork.
The satisfaction I felt in bringing what was ready to eat to the weekly local market stall surprised me because, strictly speaking, we had not produced a finished product as most people would understand the idea, but instead we nurtured a natural process.
Other than as another pair of hands to help with the endless invisible steps from seed to belly, why was I here in particular and still volunteering in general? As I sat with these questions in meditation and held them in my heart and mind while working alongside the team, the first put seeds have been sown.
Daylight hours quickly lengthened and conversations about the garden quickly deepened as the summer solstice approached. It occurred to me that my predominantly female teammates had been made to feel unwelcome or exploited or had inherited obsolete issues by entering farming. And it turned out that the land we were regenerating was both a former dairy and a landfill for all the earth excavated to build the giant supermarket in the next town.
Listening to their experiences as a woman nearly two decades older than most, it saddened me greatly that the so-called glass ceilings are still getting stronger, even in the plastic, open-air polytunnels! And yet, many of the most inspiring colleagues I've met in the workplace and the most inspiring organic farmers I've met over the past year were actually men.
Regular readers will know that while I generate put for all the problems in the world, I also aspire to generate down to earth solutions. . . . Regenerator put, If you want. As I sat with this feeling of inner and outer exhaustion and gender paradox, and held it in my heart and mind while working alongside the team, the first put the seedlings have germinated.
Learning the basic principles behind zero-dig, min till (minimum till) and biodynamic farming has watered my insides put sowing. Essentially, I was learning to feed the soil first, which in turn fed the produce, which in turn fed the eaters, while increasing non-interference and biodiversity, and keeping the process as local as possible.
Although I could write a year of articles about all the practical techniques I learned and the moving conversations I had in May, what stood out to me the most and spoke to me the most was a combination of the two: real agitation.
When our head cultivator mentioned that her mentor was meditating to fight off pests, like slugs or rats, my put the ears of the meditator erect. And when his mentor arrived for one of his weekly visits with a wooden tripod to hang over a giant bucket containing water, compost and a spoonful of biodynamic preparation, I watched in awe. as it twitched so fast it created a vortex within seconds. in one direction to break the chaos of outdated ways and in the other direction to build a new order. I happily volunteered to “stir up” these intentions for the entire site as soon as it opened in the morning and last time it closed in the evening.
Our head producer then sent me on a "hustle" at the nearby struggling micro-dairy, where we all sat in a circle, each stirring our own buckets for an hour because the big drum they would be using normally had a leak. I went in with an open mind and came away convinced when after an hour the water definitely felt thicker, a bit like churning milk into butter.
We then chose different sections of the earth to "brush", i.e. dipping a brush in water and throwing it skyward so the sunlight could shine through the droplets, then making it quickly pass over the earth before us to spread beneficial bacteria and good intentions across the land. Ideally, this is done in the late afternoon when biodynamics consider the earth to inhale, instead of exhaling in the morning.
The interior put seeds sprouting their first seed leaves rejoice in being brushed away, undoing all that no longer worked and inviting in what might, as well as blessing and nurturing the soil and its microbiome to eventually bless and nurture our digestive microbiomes.
As with the rapid growth cycle of the market garden, the indoor put the crop from that afternoon's bustle was also ready for the next farmers market.
Our head cultivator and I were busy serving customers when the energy vampire described in " by Metta Long Corridor” reappeared from the most excruciating placement I had encountered in my year of volunteering.
It was the first time I had seen her since February, and I had since heard of and met several vulnerable souls whom she had preceded and exhausted over the years.
As she attempted her outdated form of hustle (shit) with a seemingly gracious offer to take away all unsold product from us as a donation for her current crop of volunteers, I silently remembered all the seeds of chaos and scarcity it had sown during our time together.
Our head cultivator pointedly stared at our nearly exhausted market stall table with her growing smile, while I suppressed a sneer that the only two items left for sale were bunches of fresh garlic.
Karma may be a bitch, but she's also a poet.
And, dear readers, whatever vortex of outdated chaos may be developing in your own lives at this time, please trust that at any moment the turmoil may turn unexpectedly into a new direction with compost, community and a spoonful of put.
Or for put-morphose, Bob Marley's song "Stir It Up:"
Since I have you in my head
now you are here
(stir, stir, stir)
I said it was so clear
To see what we could do, putta
Just you and me
Come on, get moving, little darling!
Shake it up, come on, metta!