I first met Rachel last year when I
was in DC for the annual Campaign for America's Future convention.
But, I had been hearing about her for quite a while from her mother, friend and
colleague, Dr. Diane Perlman. I was drawn by Rachel's interest in holistic
medicine, healthful eating and organic farming. Welcome to OpEdNews,
Rachel. You've been deeply involved with organic farming for a while. Can you tell
our readers about that?
After college, I spend a few years working on small-scale organic farms in Pennsylvania, California, and Connecticut. At this point, however, I would say that I am more deeply involved with organic gardening, because I grow food in a small space, mostly by hand and by digging fork. Actually, even the word "organic" can be tricky because of the whole certification process. What I love to do is to tend the soil and plant seeds. I pull weeds to give plants space, I watch them grow, I share the harvest with friends and family, and I tend the soil again to put the garden to rest for the winter.
Rachel and garlic at Hidden Villa, California
What I love so much about this process is the many connections I can make to my
human existence. I need to feed and nourish myself with good food, water, and
sleep so that I can sprout healthy ideas, relationships and adventures,
manifest them, let the rest go, and keep moving around the cycles and seasons
learning a lot along the way. The more attention I give to each thing, the more
likely I will reap a good harvest from it.
And, there is a certain element of faith and observance that I practice as I walk through the garden and through my life. Both are full of ups and downs. Keeping a garden reminds and helps me to be more peaceful with the ups and downs in my life.
Where did the interest come from in the first place? You grew up in Philadelphia, in the burbs? Hardly a hotbed for organic farming.
My mom is ahead of her time. Back in the 80s, she fed me organic and vegetarian food. And, when I was 10, she found a vegetarian summer camp for me to attend, called Farm and Wilderness. At this camp, we had a big garden. My earliest memory of "farming" was digging in the dirt to find potatoes. I just rooted through the warm soil with my hands, and kept finding more and more potatoes. It was incredible. And, while I was away at camp, my dad kept a small vegetable garden. So I guess we can't underestimate the potential of the 'burbs...
How did you satisfy your farming fix once you were too old to be a camper?
Actually, I don't think I did. As a camper, I didn't really learn how I could have a garden on my own, I just explored while I did the task at hand. In the end of high school and beginning of college, I do not remember having a garden or feeling a close connection with plants... and I felt generally lost on my life path as well. I'm sure this is not coincidental. When I studied abroad in New Zealand during my junior year, I helped a family with their garden for a week. As a senior in college, I kept a few houseplants, and planted some pansies in the spring. I knew that after college I wanted to really learn how to grow vegetables, so that's what I did.
How did you go about doing that?
I signed up for WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms), and found a small farm in Ephrata, Pennsylvania called Scarecrow Hill Farm. Under the WWOOF program, you arrange with the farmer a work trade deal where you do a certain number of hours of work in exchange for room and board. This program exists all over the world. [A good website is http://www.growfood.org/]
So I learned there some basics of seeding, transplanting, weeding, watering and harvesting. We put together a 100 member CSA (community Supported Agriculture), which packs boxes of our produce to go to the members once a week during the growing season.
Once I started harvesting Pak Choi and scallions with frozen
hands, I knew it was time for a move. I went to California, where it is more
feasible to grow vegetables for most of the year. I found a farming internship
at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, and had my first year of a full season of
growing vegetables. I learned so much about how to plan and execute a good crop-growing
season, and have a good time. And, I got really excited about seed saving. It
was so cool to see a whole year of crop production from start to finish... and
back to start.
You're not still in California, so you obviously didn't stop there. Where did you go from there?
I stayed in California for over two years. After Hidden Villa, I went to work on a newly forming small biodynamic farm in Northern California. This farm was worked by hand. It was beautiful to be living there and starting this new project, but I began to understand what people meant when they talked about young folks having a romanticized view of the farming life. The Garden Song says, "all it takes is a rake and a hoe and piece of fertile ground." Well, I was in the midst of learning that is also takes a whole lot of strength, vigor and endurance. It's hard work. We double-dug most of the beds, did everything without machinery and after few months of that, I was either outside working, or too tired to do anything else. At Hidden Villa, we had the luxury of a 9-5 day. On this farm, we worked from sun up to sun down with a break in the heat of the day - mostly spent preparing the food we grew (which is also no small task). I still loved it, and was learning so much, and the food was delicious and made some of the work worthwhile. I began to question: is it sustainable to work so hard to have a wholesome home-grown meal?
This is when I began to learn that I need to listen to my body. Even though my mind and my spirit wanted to be able to keep up with the never-ending list of tasks on the farm, my body was sluggish and tired. Then, I got a mysterious internal infection in my groin crease and could hardly walk for a few days. My friend, who grew up on this land told me that the body is wise and it can heal itself. All I needed to do was to ask it to heal and give it time and space without pushing it too hard. I gathered medicinal flowers and herbs from the garden and made myself poultices, and took hot baths by starlight, and asked my body to heal itself. In the next week, the infection went away without taking any antibiotics, and I knew it was time to be thoughtful about my next move in life. My body was clearly telling me not to be a full-time farmer. And I was newly inspired by this notion that the body knows how to heal itself. I decided that I wanted to discover myself as a healer and help others learn about the wisdom of their bodies.
I also had been learning about the importance of seasons, and I had a profound realization that maybe I need winter. This was strange, especially since I fled to New Zealand and then to California to escape wintertime. It was the garlic plant that taught me of winter's importance. Garlic gets planted in the fall because it needs a period of dormancy in the cold to gather potential energy. Then, once it thaws out in the spring, the garlic shoots up and out! Through the spring and summer it transforms one clove into a whole head of garlic. Garlic that gets planted in springtime does not get as big as garlic planted in the fall.
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