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.
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.
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?
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?