Ride Like the Wind, You Naturally Grown Warriors!

I don’t know about you out there walking around on different parts of the Earth, but Riceboro, Georgia just got hot. We playfully spent Spring maintaining low humidity, cool breezes, and an abundance of rain and then suddenly, humidity hit, the breeze slowed, and the thickness of the Deep South settled accross the Low Country. Doesn’t make you want to do much more than eat watermelons and shell Crowder Peas in the shade. We finally recovered from all the soppy marsh soil we’d been managing for the two weeks of rain, and the farmer and the farm are still a bit behind, but we all seem to be trimming up nicely. The vibrant colors of summer articulate the landscape like paintings and our Okra plants are sharing with us their brilliant blooms, a deep blood red surrounded by a hue that seems to dance on the rainbow between the colors green and yellow.

Our meals hum with intensity as we feast on Hot Peppers, Fresh Tomatoes, flavor oozing Okra, and whatever delicious meat we picked up from the farmers market on Saturday. Something about the summer makes us feel alive, like all the colors on our plates bring out all the colors in ourselves. The struggle of Summer in the South is one of a Southern Farmer’s greatest lessons. Summer brings heat from the sun, lack of rain, and thick humidity resting on your shoulders. All of this love and loss, effort and strife for sliced tomatoes and delicious homemade Mexican feasts. A Farmer in the South is probably a lot like farmers all over the place, but it does seem true that anyone farming down at the bottom of our Nation has a dedication to a strong back and a good tomato sandwich.

The wilds of the internet have given me a window into the farming lives of people from all parts of this Nation and the diversity in season and the variation in seed choices is enough to bring hope to any struggling thinker. The idea that so many people are sharing the important task of bringing real food to their community is something that brings me my second wind on a Friday afternoon when there is still a list of things to do and a temperature that has more than 2 digits. Knowing that dedicated customers support these brave people fighting to make a difference in a world that is not ready to change is what motivates me to get up at 4:45 AM every Saturday and put on my best, “I swear I am in a great mood and of course I want to set up the Market Booth!” smile. Saturdays are long days, but every single person that tells me a new recipe or asks me if my food is “Organic” is a reminder that people want to be good to each other and good to this world we share.

The truth is, we’ve got a rocky road ahead of us. Our food administration is hell bent on protecting anyone with enough money to cushion the immediate impact of their actions. Discount factors are high among humans and trapping our poorest brothers and sisters in the nutrient desert that is convenient, cheap fast food is not an empowered system and is a laughable evolutionary miss step. Forgetting how to take care of each other is how money has made us feel powerless. We have a world here, and it can be anything at all that we want it to be, we just have to settle for a little more sun on our skins and a little less sugar and empty nutrients.

Sometimes I am overcome with worry, but tonight, tonight I am in awe of you warriors out there bringing life to our communities and kindling for our souls. I am immensely grateful for such constant inspiration from people I have met who are promoting a healthy food system through their daily actions. I feel absolutely fulfilled when I see a tired Mother bringing her beautiful children to Market every Saturday to pick out the food they will eat that week. Getting to see these young, future fate holders of our planet eat a tomato right from the table or get excited about Okra is enough to put a permanent smile on my face. As I skim through the pictures of Farms growing everything from corn to kale, from tomatoes to turnips, I am less at odds with everything. I fight less for the cynical side of my mind and root more for the power of the individual, for the strength of the masses.

And Then She Said, “Let There Be Love!”

I have been sitting here staring at this screen trying to figure out what doomsday scheme I could write about this time, something deep seeded in human evolution or otherwise manifested from the evils of our greed and really all I could think to write about today is Love.

Throughout my life I have gone through plenty of my own external and self made struggles, I have found comfort in sorrow and being solitary and I have, on the other hand, felt moments of enlightenment, positive self awareness and shed many insecurities to truly feel days from the first bursts of warmth billowing out from the sun to the cool breeze of  a new moon.  Mostly I have found the elixir of life to be laughter, exposure to the outdoors, a positive self image, hard manual labor, and devouring delicious, homegrown foods.  Surely a lot of people could benefit from this combination of physical and mental treats, but there is one other component that has become very evident to me this past month which is ever so easy to take for granted, and that is Love.

Elliot and I got married on March 31st, 2012 and my goodness what a process that turned out to be.  Trying to get the farm where it needed to be in our growing season along side this Wedding planned right in the kisser of the annual Spring growing madness made for some very extensive work weeks.  It seemed like the intensity of having a homemade wedding with the expertise of some wonderful friends here on the Island and that of some of our most beloved traveling kindred spirits and family erupted in a rain storm that started about 2 hours before the actual ceremony and ended as my father and I stood, waiting to walk down the isle.  Most times there is nothing more calming to a farmer than a rain shower after a week of dry weather and surprisingly the rain did just that on our wedding day.  It was a wash of the anxiety, the chaos, the overwhelming thoughts of celebrating and solidifying a journey that we had already begun with the recognition of our friends, family, elders, and role models.  When I stood in front of the people who loved us enough to make the journey all the way to Riceboro, Georgia, looking into the eyes of the Love of my life, at the farm where I pour my heart and soul into the soil everyday, I felt so humbled.  It reminded me how small I am in comparison to all of the incomprehensible pieces at work in our physical and spiritual realities.  I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to Love this beautiful man for the rest of my life, receiving his Love in return, united in an effort to be good to all people in our path and to nurture the small corners of the planet we choose to inhabit.

Of course the Love felt on your wedding day is not at all limited to that which is shared between you and your new spouse.  Every person I interacted with during the entire process gave so much of themselves to help create this beautiful occasion.  Even during the times when the stresses of the components were at their most crippling, my heart was full to the brim with support, advice, and compassion from people who dotted timelines on every stage of my journey as a human being.  When a crowd is drawn together from the desire to celebrate the harmonizing of two hearts, it turns out to be quite the magical symphony of people indeed.

 

This one chaotic moment in time has had the added benefit of heightening my awareness of the Love shared, lost, savored, and denied throughout my day to day.  Love is no simple feeling and often comes with several ups and downs, none of which happening in any sort of predictable formation.  While it may very well be the most important function of our brains, it comes with a lot of costs and Love equates most easily to a struggling commitment over a chance happy ending of true bliss.  There are times when nothing in your life hurts more than your Love and times when other emotions such as resentment, fear, jealousy, and intolerance feel like a more appropriate fit. The true challenge in all of our lives here on Earth is letting Love prevail.  Not in some contrived sense, but in the sense that when you are able to Love others openly, your friends, family, partners, neighbors, those that have done you wrong, those that continue to do wrong, and most importantly, yourself, you will find an inner peace that cannot be achieved from any purchase, any achievement, or any social status.

To Love openly you must turn your judgements into curiosities.  You must find the inner strength to give value to yourself and your circumstances and to have the same compassion you have for others, for yourself.  It is a difficult task becoming so comfortable with who you are that you do not find the need to ridicule the physical and mental state of others.  While this is a life long journey for all of us, if we can attempt to approach more of our interactions, our communications, and internal thoughts with Love, there is a chance that humankind as a whole gets a little bit better.

One of the most special parts of the sustainable movement Elliot and I are a part of, in my opinion, is the sense of Love built upon this collection of fading traditional knowledge taken from our ancestors.  The willingness the youth of this generation has to work hard for very little reward beyond the fulfillment felt giving such incredible gifts to their communities is absolutely beautiful.  These ambassadors of sustainable farming and living are reminding all of us in this greater world the importance of putting Love into everything we do.  Love takes a lot of effort and the effort put into these old world trades reflects the Love and intention that is required to create such masterful pieces of art whether it be picked from the field, harvested from the woodlot, or crafted in the shop.  These individuals use Love to harness a work ethic required to mend cut corners and revitalized tortured landscapes.  All the while, all of this effort, this artistry, is shared willingly and joyfully with those who choose to be around it.  I’ll take my Love where I can get it, and fortunately for me, my lifestyle rewards me with some of the most wholesome, abundant Love this world has to offer.  I just hope to meet it with an open heart and graceful, patient spirit.

We’re nearing the end of January in the marsh and the warm, full days followed by the long, cool nights remind me of a Northern Spring.  Flocks of migrating waterfowl, including hooded mergansers, wood ducks, and grebes are collecting in the tidal canals.  The deciduous trees have dropped the last of their green and have further dramatized the elegant, spanish moss and stark, upright pines.  It is a beautiful, quieted version of the marsh, though not quite as quiet as the snow covered birches and quaking aspens I can just barely remember.

The farm is probably the most alive looking place on the entire island.  Our vegetable beds shimmer and twist in the wind as the winter rye triumphantly heads for the heavens.  Patches of clover slither through the undergrowth and fill out from left to right like a delicate carpet of lace.  Rows of young onions and garlic, just as green, have ventured higher still with their long stalks thickening ever so slowly during these short, January days.  A few small rows of collards and scallions hang on for our own uses and a beautiful germination of baby spinach has popped up its first true leaves.  There are still a few lemons left to harvest and our strawberry plants are taunting us with their slow trot towards maturity.  We’ve cut the last of the sugar cane, put away about 250 lbs of storage roots, and the dead ferns of asparagus have been chopped and mulched to provide the young spears of 2012 with some added nutrients and protection.  The warm weather has ignited our ambitions and the greenhouse is already packed with the first favorites of Sping time crops.

I know this beautiful, mild weather should be enough to satisfy me in the present moment.  However, my racing human brain already has me fixating and fantasizing about the first squash harvest and first tomato sandwich.  I certainly remember the torture of the exotic heat and humidity of the deep South but I almost find myself longing for that as well.  I never considered myself one to desire pain and discomfort, but nostalgia has me remembering what it felt like to step out of the sun in the shade of the pines and catch a subtle, sea breeze.  The pleasures of working in the sun when it seemed so unbearable and taking the moonlit, sultry nights to enjoy the beauty lost to the heat of the day.  The wood storks, white ibis, spoonbills, many of the egrets and herons have left for their winter stomping grounds and the quieted version of the marsh has me feeling lonely.  The king fishers, bald eagles, and pileated woodpeckers should be enough to keep me full, but still I hunger for more.  I suppose cabin fever has a way of stretching its fingertips into more than just my cabin.  I suppose that maybe this year I will be even more Southern than last.

We awoke last night, several times, to the abrupt leaping of our canine companions to the windows and doors towards some outside disturbance.  Generally this involves a lethargic armadillo making its slow path around our cabin or a raccoon quickly ascending a tree.  Mostly we ignore them but do not always discourage their protective nature in the strange and random event that it could prevent us from harm.  Last night, it was a little bit different.  They jumped and snarled and ran about the house on the usual mission and then suddenly became nervous and quiet.  They came to our bedside and laid down, anxious.  Being only one tenth awake and nine tenths asleep, I rolled over and uttered something like, “Good Dog,” or maybe “Finally.”

My eyes were wide open seemingly before my brain had time to process the sound.  A pack of coyotes descended on the cabin with their haunting yips and yowls.  They were so close to the back of the cabin that we could hear the low, rumblings of their snarls and growls as they meandered through the forest floor.  A few would sound and silence and the loudest of the carols would quickly be replaced by heavy breathing and deep, throaty notes.  Elliot awoke in just about as much panic as I and we, all four, laid still, barely breathing, listening to the eerie sounds of the nocturnal predator.  I had no real cause for alarm, but the sound, the unpredictability of the noises, the thought that they could be stalking something with their excellent moonlit vision, it all wrapped me up in a tight bundle of nerves.  Their presence disappeared several moments after their last high pitch notes melted into the music of the night.

This certainly wasn’t the first encounter we have had with coyotes.  I can remember on several occasions throughout our journey being stirred from rest by the shrill call of a pack of dogs tearing through the night.  One night when we were living in a Yurt in Northern Vermont we experienced a similar rude awakening by a fisher cat moaning in the moonlight.  All of these experiences, though we are completely out of harms way, leave us unsettled and shaken.  Our brain power has removed us from the circle of life by eliminating predation upon our species.  We’ve been cunning enough to eradicate the wolf, tame the bear, and make minute the threat of the wild cat and for that reason we have made more available to our own species all the resources our lands have to offer.  It is so earth shattering to us when someone is attacked by a wild animal or falls into the lion pit at the zoo.  The idea that an animal would take our lives, passionately, rocks us to the core.

But the species to species fight for survival is not an uncommon theme in the natural history of this watery paradise we inhabit.  Most creatures on this planet spend their days working towards furthering their species while narrowly evading their untimely demise at the jaws of a hungry creature.  There was even a time during our own evolutionary journey when this was a very big part of our own reality.  I recently watched the film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary based on the Chauvet caves of Southern France where the oldest pictorial creations of human kind have been preserved in an air tight cavern cracked open by the modern human world.  Within this cave are the most intense and soul-stirring images of predators and prey extinct long ago.  During this time in the human form it appears that our spiritual connection to these creatures and the land were much stronger than that of today.  The everyday encounters with these incredible beasts exploded within the human species an artistic representation of their affect on the lives and minds of the early humans.  After seeing this film, I spent several days completely consumed by the images and implications of the film.  It is only until recently that I have been able to digest the images, the abyss of time, and the journey we have made as humans to what our realities reflect today.

It has always bothered me when humans have boasted their intelligence and ingenuity over that of other species.  While our expansive use of tools and problem solving has served us better than many wild adaptations found in other forms in nature, there has always been something so very respectful about the way animals interact with one another in an ecosystem.  Something about that connectedness, that reliability plants and animals have with one another, sometimes in very exclusive ways.  This always seems to me to be a much richer form of interaction over that of humans to say chickens in chicken houses or cows in the dairy houses of today.  There is also something so seemingly enlightened about the way an animal caught by a predator seems to accept death once its fate seems sealed.  All of these beautiful displays of symbiosis can easily be chalked up to being animal, nonthinking, and obviously not as strong as humans as we enter a bottleneck of species extinction unlike many before, but this one cave in the South of France gives me hope.

Why?  Because it shows that there was a time when human beings were more associated with this united energy.  There was a time when human beings had to fight for food or become food and what did they do?  They began to paint the animals around them.  They were in spiritual awe of the world they shared with the other great predators of their time.  They showed a complex understanding of the movement, physical traits, and emotional displays of the creatures they interacted with.  Maybe they didn’t understand modern day economics, or how to start an assembly line, but their understanding of their surroundings seemed absolutely profound.  This brings me hope because I know that this unbelievable connection to the plants and animals around us could not be completely severed.  We carry many similar qualities to these early humans and we have the same opportunity to reconnect to the wilds of the Earth.

I’m not saying it is time to put on the loin cloth and set up shop in your neighborhood park.  I’m just saying that if these creatures, these predators and these prey species, were so important to the early humans that it was the first images they felt spiritually compelled to recreate; that maybe they are important.  Maybe the way that animals think and behave does not come simply from their inability to be like us, their inferiority.  Maybe if we payed more attention to the wild spaces of our planet we could learn a thing or two about being present, being patient, and treating each other with respect.  Maybe at night when we hear the coyotes yipping and dancing, that bone chilling feeling we have is the soul of the forest beating on our spiritual drum.  I say we dance to that drum beat and rethink our desire to excavate all open spaces for the singularly forward movement of our own species.  It starts with curiosity.  First we have to take an interest in these places, these creatures great and small.  We can only build compassion for them if we choose to understand them.  If we fail to find them important, their spirits will be forever caught in photographs and images like those painted on a wall in a cave in a forgotten dream.

Farming and the Ancient Spiritual Stirrings of Fear

The Gift of a Poor Farmer Christmas

A modern day Christmas Carol from one poor farmer to you.  Please read in a very excited, husky holiday voice.  Happy Holidays!

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A Farmer woke in mid December with thoughts of Spring kindly remembered

Prepared with a cloak of nostalgic sunlight to block the cold winter air

But the stillness of a winters sleep-or the silent death of a morning freeze

Brought real the season of rest for which other seasons do not compare

The season in which you collect, reflect and ultimately prepare

For a Spring time lost out on the horizon, laying in wait somewhere

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She tied her boots and adjusted her socks, checked her wrist where she found no watch

And boldly stepped out into the world so calm, so cool, so fair

Sparrows and Cardinals fluttered up and down from the trees and to the ground

And through the limbs would proudly sound as if to righteously declare

That their courageous winter’s stay in the marsh gave them ownership to the air

Gave them rights to the best roosting places that have recently become bare-

As their avian counterparts took flight in the fall in search of warmth somewhere

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Her farm was grey though plants grew on-root vegetables went on to sing their songs

And the greens drew sweetness straight from the breaths of wintery air

There were still enough treats to stew and roast, still enough food to slow cook and toast

As the outside world continued to reduce in color and flare

As the outside world waits patiently, quiet, still and rare

For the life giving heat of a distant star promising to soon be there

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But Hark!  She remembered the celebrations, of food and gifts and stiff libations

Bound to the Holiday Season filling the cold with warmth and care

The time we have created for the great grey anticipated

Where we’re hermit-ted, locked in and slated against the introspection and despair

Of a mind whose hands are so accustomed to being busy beyond compare

When the farm she tends is in full swing with life whose fruits do bare

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But what does a poor farmer have to give to those whose love has helped her live

When life has left her down and out-self conscious and self aware

How can she repay the gifts of others from her dearest friends to her loving Mothers

All those who have thoughtful, plentiful gifts to present with care

She searches her pockets only to find a few pennies jingling there

Seemingly nothing but a bad back and the dirt under her fingernails left to share

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But what about those summer months when she gave food away to everyone

And she swore an oath to protect the land and the creatures that inhabited there

If only she could steal some of that sunlight and the starry, sultry summer nights

To stuff in the stockings of those she truly cares

Bring a little taste of nature’s grace to the boisterous Holiday affair

She closed her eyes and imagined a basket full of the best of summer’s wares

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She sulked away from her farm and into the woods where it was dim and dark

And sat atop an Oak Tree’s arm, nature’s perfected outdoor chair

With close attention she discovered that though nature seemed still and covered

That the forest felt full and frenzied and life persisted everywhere

That when the cool, still winter rests it head in nature’s lair

No plant or creature turns its soul to grief, self pity and despair

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No life continued at some gate prepared and glad, no time to waste

The world itself is gift enough for the oak, the ants, the hare

No bow could add more splendor than what the natural world can already render

Everything from soil to embers-things worth more than any billionaire

Things that can be neither created, destroyed nor mechanically repaired

Things whose very manifestation leaves us breathless and unaware

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“So, perhaps that’s it!” She expressed as she fled the Oak as if fledging her nest

And pondered the gifts she contributes to the incredible reality where

Where her work days are transparent and her intentions sink deep into the planet

And she feeds her fellow humans the best nature has to share

By being a steward to the rare gifts that lie in wait out there

The things we stand to lose if we live the way we choose and do not think to care

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So maybe that is what she has to give-the chance to grow and let things live

The chance to mend the soil who has always been generous and fair

A chance to show a desperate humanity that our chemicals and waste go beyond insanity

That the world outdoors is diverse, enchanting and rare

Without it our world would lack in many things we share

Everything from food to fire, clean water and fresh air

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She smiled mostly with her eyes as geese reinvented geometry in the sky

And the Holiday Spirit danced through her messy, knotted hair

The spirit that has little to do with what you can buy and what you do

And was born out of the community of living life aware

Of being true to the ones you love living here, or living there

A sense of understanding towards each other and the greater world we share

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So the gift of a poor farmer comes to you free of charge or-

At least priced something most would consider fair

We promise to nurture the ones you know as we labor our lives to grow

Food that comes to you with the utmost integrity and care

From the very soils that catch your boots and grant you access everywhere

A Christmas gift we hope to give to all of you all year.

A World Occupied, (Wall Street and Beyond.)

Here I am.  In the present.  Growing food organically, biodynamically, in the heart of a thriving marsh ecosystem in the deep, dense coastal range of South Georgia.  I rise in the early, cool mornings to the light awakenings of the birds fluttering and chattering as if the music of their songs brings the sun up across the horizon to begin another day.  The coastal breezes aren’t enough to sway my body like the tops of the tall Pines.  It is too dense with tissues, blood, bones, thoughts.  Too heavy to be carried effortlessly in the breeze like the leaves of the Live Oaks and the almost lifeless, weightless fingerlings of the Spanish Moss.  The way my curls of hair catch in the whispers of the wind is about as close to flying as my human form can get.

The marsh is alive.  More so than most any place I have ever been.  I can take my clumsy morning steps towards the farm and pass several different kinds of amphibians, birds, reptiles, mammals, and a list of insects so long, it could wrap circles around the sun.  I spend much of my time outside of trying to grow food in the marsh, trying to grow a connection to it.  It is absolutely incredible to realize that all of us, all creatures on this planet, are sharing the same resources and evolving in turn to be more specific, more concentrated on this niche or that to increase our chances at survival.  It is unfortunate to realize in that same thought how our broad, sprawling evolution into most any niche has contributed to the destruction of many of these sanctuaries and the end of the road for many of these creatures.

Many times, human beings find themselves believing so much in the success and accomplishments of their own kind that they fail to acknowledge their part in the greater society of living beings on Planet Earth.  Our minds are so riddled with emotions and morality that we can sometimes get caught up in the mastery of the forms we have created.  We take science as law, medicine as health, and our own interpretations of life, history, and progress as having been written in the stars.  We find our habits to be above those of any other living creature and our desires as if they have been stewed in some melting pot of divine longings.

But lets step back a minute.  Take a step outside of ourselves, maybe above ourselves as if we were looking down at an Antler Beetle or a patch of Jewel Weed, waterside.  Here we are, this squishy, naked creature with a giant head and these hands so capable of manipulating resources.  We need food to eat, the healthier the food source, the better, and we need clean water to drink.  We need shelter from the elements, a bath (now and again,) and a place to do our “business” that isn’t close to where we feed.  This all seems consistent with a lot of beings on life, even Antler Beetles.  Still not convinced?  There’s more..

Violence, ingenuity, sex, territories, crime, monogamy, infidelity,  intolerance, compassion, nurturing, social order, civilization, consciousness, greed, gluttony, intelligence, understanding, communities, domestication (just to name a few.)  When we think about the modern day dramas carried out by our species, we think of them as being very human, evolved matters of the mind.  In reality these conflicts, bumps in the road, disorder, order, the beauty and the beast are all very common themes in the intricate pathways of nature.  To assume that humans are the only creatures defensive enough about the differences in race and belief structure to go to war is to assume that nothing else in nature battles for the better passage of its kind.  Every creature on this planet has the will to survive and has the intuitive knowledge that where there are more creatures like it, the likelihood of its own survival and that of its offspring heightens.

Our human ordeals are the same dramas carried out on different levels of consciousness throughout our marshes, woodlands, lakes, and oceans.  To assume that we are the only life that is so inextricably complex is to walk through the world with our eyes closed.  The beauty of our species lies not in how different it is from other creatures in nature, but in how it is actually so closely connected.

When humans are at their best, they are compassionate, considerate, artistic and capable of incredible feats of intellect and creativity.  We are strong and so incredibly aware.  It is only when we forget that our trials and tribulations are just natural order and disorder magnified by our consciousness  that we begin to do unconscious things.  The inconceivable scale of communication and the exchange of goods has us not only believing in the systems we have created wholeheartedly, but also being enslaved by them.

You do not have to view yourself as a wild beast (thought I kind of like to,) to acknowledge that you are a complicated, nowhere near perfect, ever-evolving organism in a very messy, changing world.  Our concerns and efforts are all born out of a few very powerful, basic instincts.  With our incredible hands and minds we should be able to manipulate change out of these destructive wasteful habits we have become so tied to and back into a world where our day to day dramas are more mixed and mingled with those of other species.  If we are such an animal superpower, than it should be clear to us that the elimination of most life on Earth will not contribute to the indefinite continuation of ourselves.

Change starts when things don’t work.  It starts many times in anger, fear, frustration and blossoms into hope, determination, and passion.  The state of our world will remain hopeless if we don’t start within ourselves.  Our current political climate, the globalization of words, products, and powers, and the capitalistic endeavors of our societies will continue to enslave our people and retain order in a system that is causing disorder in all of the natural systems in the world.  The almighty dollar has been in charge of our happiness, health, intentions, and judgments for far too long.  It is time for us to take responsibility for ourselves, acknowledge that we are just animals trying to survive and that survival would be much easier if we considered our relationships to the natural world and to each other.

Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations sprouting up in this country and beyond are beacons of hope in a world distressed and devalued.  If we can figure out how to treat ourselves better, to put love where money has placed indifference and hatred, there may be a time when strong human communities reunite with the woods and waterways they’ve been severed from.  The best you can do today is to support the 99% whether in protest or in priorities.  If we all lived our lives outside of the economic guidelines of this country, we would be a force so powerful that stealing our money would be last on Wall Street’s morning “to do” list.

“I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.”
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“I Just Don’t Have a Green Thumb.”

Sun Dog Farm is living true to its name as the Sun has been out everyday for what feels like months.  We haven’t had a decent rain and many of our Spring time crops are showing signs of stress.  We are fortunate to have a deep well that has given us hope and kept our plants alive through the arid 90 degree weather.  Our chickens have done well enough laying eggs everyday and our other livestock have made the best of it by staying under the shade of trees and in areas of cool, dense brush.  The Summer crops seem to grow a foot a day; Tomatoes already whispering words like trellising and blooms.  Our Eggplants look as if they are war veterans with Flea Beetle holes like gun wounds creating leaves of delicate lace. Timid Squash plants have nervously set their first fruits as their rivals, the Squash bugs, have begun to lay their eggs upon the Squash greens.  The battle for food in the summer heat has just begun and we can only be hopeful for a spell of rain and the balancing acts of Nature’s grace.

Tate Tewksbury of Tewksbury Farms - Good Groceries

All of this slaving away in the field during the immense heat and aridity has brought me to thinking about what it takes to grow food for yourself and others.  We’ve put in hours that far surpass the average 9-5 job and yet we awake in the early morning with smiles on our faces, a little bit of anxiety to keep the ambition alive, and the desire to do good work and heal people utilizing the natural world, everyday.  The concept of a “green thumb” is troubling to me.  I have spoken with several people recently about how they just “don’t have a green thumb” and I can assure you that it has nothing to do with your thumb (besides the evolutionary advantage of having a thumb, that is.)  Having a “green thumb” is an oversimplified explanation for a connection to the natural systems of the planet.  By stating that you do not have a “green thumb” you are simply saying that you do not understand or are removed from what it takes to make a living organism thrive.  There are varying levels of difficulty when it comes to making plants and animals survive that have been domesticated by the human species.  While I do understand how our modern civilization has removed many of us from the ever important task of nurturing life, I do not take “I don’t have a green thumb” as a reasonable excuse for being oblivious to the role that our natural world plays in our everyday survival.

Lori Mason of Stems N Roots Garden

First we must examine the plants and animals we eat.  These creatures have been bred to produce high levels of fats, sugars, starches, proteins, and other necessary nutrients we crave and grow on.  They have been manipulated by our hands and have grown to produce more of the beneficial structures we now rely on to gain weight, utilized energy, and reproduce.  This is somewhat of a double edged sword for both the human species and the animals themselves.  Our manipulation has assured their species survival, but it has also eliminated their instincts and other attributes that allow them to survive on their own.  That makes tomato plants, cows, chickens, watermelons, goats, lettuce, and other plants and animals very vulnerable to our abuse and misuse.  Having a family milking cow or a small grass based dairy is the most respectful example of the human to animal symbiotic relationship while the factory farm dairies in the United States and beyond are examples of how easily these relationships can lead to abuse and exploitation.

Russel Bennett and Robert Bishop of Plow Point Farms

Second we must review our role as stewards of this planet.  It is not our fault or the fault of any other organism on Earth that we have evolved such that our frail bodies have been time and time again protected by the ingenuity of our brains, allowing us to reach such great numbers.  Having been placed in that position, it is our responsibility to regulate the actions of our culture and the needs of our societies.  We have created a reality so vast and consuming that many of us do not even recognize how the natural world plays a role in our everyday lives beyond the lifestyle Soap Operas we all operate in; human centric and based on the idea of commerce.  Having a “green thumb” is left to the hippies, the idealists, and the outdoorsmen (and women) who, for reasons beyond even their own comprehension, open up ornamental nurseries, hike the Appalachian Trail, plant school gardens, or start working for close to nothing raising food for themselves and their community.  I believe that the desire to grow is a part of our intuition, it is the realization that human beings were once delicately placed in the balance with all organisms working together, not  in competition, to share this place we call home.

Rashid Nuri of Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms

The modern age of convenience has robbed many of us of the ability, the work ethic, and the passion to take care of ourselves using the most basic of human instincts.  We’ve taken the lessons you learned from your grandparents about cooking food and growing vegetables and handed you Poptarts and an Excell spreadsheet.  We’ve compartmentalized your day so that you value only parts of your life as yours and accept that much of your life belongs to others to fulfill endeavors that are not your own.  This has been normalized, advertised, and explained to anyone who will listen as being the “American Dream” that will lead you to happiness, peace and prosperity.  But what does this really lead us to?  It leads us to a hierarchy that ensures that the “Haves” will easily and efficiently keep control of the “Have Nots” while swiftly overusing and wasting our natural resources

Michael Hendricks of Indian Ridge Farm

So what do we do?  What can we do in a system that is so slated against those of us who have a dime in our pockets and a full time job meant to support ourselves and those that we care for?  We have to find it within us to explore the instincts hidden deep within our bodies and souls.  We must not accept that we just “don’t have a green thumb” and become more in sync with the rhythm of life that surrounds us and keeps us afloat.  We must plant gardens and watch them fail season after season before our questions and prayers are answered and our first perfect Tomato is enjoyed, as is, with a touch of salt.  We must enroll our students in the school of Universal-Reality where they realize that even at their smallest size, their bodies and minds can affect the greatest change.  We must take this age of convenience and feel bored, mentally exhausted, and thirst for the satisfaction of a hard day’s work that serves as the best weight control tool, making us look better, feel healthier, and all the while steering us away from having to wear spandex in a room full of other humans rhythmically lifting and tugging on weights made of synthetics.  Your body was meant to do things, it has evolved to be strong and accomplished, to be beautiful every day and it is a sad waste of your precious figure to be glued to a desk with a screen, a Snickers Bar, and a bad attitude.

Michael Shoptaw of Tagyerit Farm

Change is not easy or quick, but the most positive aspect of it, is that it is happening all of the time.  We are moving towards a sustainable future and so many of us understand the benefits that lie within ourselves and in the hidden geometry and complexity of nature and it is only a matter of time before real change can be seen within Atlanta and the United States as a whole.  The more Urban Gardens that fill vacant lawns and parking lots, the more farmers that fill the rural horizons of Georgia, the closer we come to embracing our “green thumbs,” our instincts, and our natural ability to nurture and take care of our resources and each other.  All is not lost and we are very close to a future that may allow us to leave this landscape in better shape than we found it for the children we raise and the lives they will one day lead without our guidance.  It is time to take value from the dollar bill, the clothing store, and the appliance outlet,  and apply it to the green things in our lives that are at risk of disappearing all together.  It is time to take this movement from a trend and turn it into a real way of living life.  It is time to support all farmers and growers who respect your health and the health of their land, everywhere.  You and I both may have little money, but we are powerful.  We have the perfect set of thumbs for the job and we can make change.  If we work together and recognize the biological world as kin, we can make things in our hearts, our forests, and in our gardens, grow as one.

Transplanting Flats and Agri-Bats

Well Georgia, you have officially made me a wimp to cold weather.  I knew it was happening long before I admitted it, but at last here we are.  It is about 50 degrees outside and I am huddled inside, bundled up complete with soft slippers and my geek gear (sweatpants and a Star Wars t-shirt I bought for 2 dollars at Goodwill a year ago.)  My cold blooded Yankee past is starting to mix with the warm sugary ways of the South and I find myself very confused and concerned for the rest of the Country when I hear about temperatures in the 20’s and snow on the ground.  I don’t know that it is such a bad thing, adaptation is natural and maybe all this time spent in the humidity and sunlight is making me more of a native species.  In any case, the farm is misty and magical this chilly, spring day.  It feels like all the spirits are whispering; our bright jackets and mud boots set off by the gray sky allow me to imagine I’ve been transplanted into the U.K.  We awoke, back in Georgia, around 5:30 this morning to bolts of lightening so menacing and close to the homestead that it felt as though Zeus himself was trying to light us all on fire.  Fortunately for us, his firework display left little but puddles in our crops and some pretty frazzled goats.

The progress of Sun Dog Farm is somewhat incredible when viewing the pictures of the property before tines churned up the Earth and seedlings explored their way towards the sun.  The greenhouse we built from scratch has successfully raised hundreds of transplants, some now making their home in the deep, drip tape irrigated beds.  With little help from me, Elliot has put up an impressive deer fence that will protect our young growth from the devastating appetites of our four legged friends.  We’ve successfully converted a former chicken tractor into a mobile goat shelter and completed construction on our new, improved chicken mansion that is currently providing us with gorgeous eggs everyday and providing our chickens with high class shelter and fresh green grass.  Our direct seeded crops are starting to put on true leaves and we anticipate our newly established transplants to blow up after this quenching rain.  We’ve already spent long, hard hours out in the field building a farm and getting things growing this Spring and it finally feels like we’ve got this show on the road.

So what’s next?  Well, we’ll be selling our produce once again at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market every Saturday starting on April 9th.  We look forward to seeing all of those friendly, familiar faces of folks excited and inspired by food farmed with love.   Our first CSA drop off will occur May 4th and we’re anxious to share with our members the delicious results of their contributions to our farm.  We’ve got a lot to do between now and then and I look forward to many exhausting days met by beautiful dreams brewed from hard work and stars.  I’ve seen one or two fireflies at night and the host of migratory bird species have returned, all reminding me that before I know it the land will be lush and the heat will be on.  The beautiful chorus of frogs from the pond and the buzzing and clicking of returned insects has brought even the nighttime back to life.  We know that the return of warm weather not only brings about growth for our crops in the ground, but also the growth and life cycles of so many creatures, both helpful and harmful, and it is once again time to challenge ourselves to find balance in all of it.

We’ve been lucky enough to spend some evenings by our pond as the bats stir from their roosts and take to the night’s sky.  Discernible from birds by their flight patterns and wing strokes, they can be found bobbing and weaving through the air, their wings fluttering seemingly frantically as they scan the pond and fields for food.  They are an incredible companion to us here at the farm, consuming a third of their own body weight in insects every night.  This can be as much as 3000 mosquitoes in just one nighttime prowl.  Helping control our mosquitoes is a wonderful advantage to having a bat population in our ecosystem, but bats also eat many other insects such as beetles, moths, leafhoppers,  flies, gnats, and grasshoppers.  Many of these creatures themselves, or the larval stages of their life cycle, feed on our crops.  Helping support our bat population by growing food without the use of pesticides and leaving dead trees to stand as roosts helps us keep our pests in check.  What you learn when you start working with the cycles of nature is that the complete elimination of one problem does not cause resolution.  Generally in order to protect your plants from the harm of predators, you must view the problem holistically.  Many times this means balance in soil nutrients, balance in water and sunlight, and balance in pests and beneficial organisms.

Photo by John Lynch

While we delight in the presence of our unique furry fliers, the bat population of the United States is undergoing hardship that is not at all delightful.  More than a million bats have succumbed to an unusual illness now named White Nose Syndrome.  This illness, caused by a fungus, has been confirmed in 14 states and has affected nine known bat species.  When a bat catches White Nose Syndrome, a white fungus forms around the mouth and nose of the bat during hibernation.  This initial symptom leads to emaciation and ultimately starvation.  Theories suggest that the illness works in two ways.  First, the fungus initiates within the bat an immuno-response as the bat’s body attempts to fight off the fungus, which in turn forces the bat to metabolize more of its stored fats.  Second, the fungus may actually increase the amount of time that the bats are awake during times they are typically hibernating which can also lead to unnecessary metabolizing of food reserves within the body.  Generally this leads to bats consuming all of their stored nutrients before their hibernation period is over and they starve before they have a chance to wake up.   Other factors that have been said to exaggerate the harmful nature of the illness are, global warming which has changed the temperature in caves across the United States interrupting normal hibernation patterns, and the increased spraying of pesticides including Malathion which has also been said to affect the metabolic rates of bats.

White Nose Syndrome - Photo by SierraActivist.org

With the United States bat population in serious decline, it is time to start asking ourselves what we can do to aid this important creature and nurture the population back to health.  While we have already lost to extinction a host of exotic creatures you may have never heard of before, losing something as commonplace and symbolic as bats would not only be dangerous for the balance of our everyday insect pests and prey, it would also be shameful.  It is time to rid ourselves of our ridiculous fears of this “scary” bedtime creature and embrace them in our own backyards and farms.  If you don’t have a woodlot with scattered dead trees containing loose bark and holes, put up a Bat House mounted on your own house or on a pole in your yard.  Try to landscape your vegetable and flower gardens and lawns without the aid of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pest control.  Read about them and appreciate them; go out in the evening hours and marvel at their moonlit flights.  Just like all other life here on this planet there is a connection, a way to help this creature that will always in some way, also help us.

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” – Henry David Thoreau

The Last Passenger Pigeon

I was recently reading a short literary work by Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924) entitled “The Last Passenger Pigeon” and it, of course, took my mind to so many deep and horrifying places of thought that  I woke in the middle of the night with the need to write.  The piece examines the world she grew up in, where people were still settling this country, burning down old growth forest here and there, everyday, cutting their paths through the endless woods.  She remembers when water was abundant and quail were so many that her parents would often let them collect quail eggs and eat them as a treat.  She remembered the Passenger Pigeons, sometimes in such incredible flocks that their sheer numbers had been known to break limbs from trees when roosting at night.  The New World was still so pristine that only those who truly knew the landscape and felt the symptoms of the forest could tell that it was starting to change.  Even then her father had noted that natural waterways were drying up and quail numbers had begun to diminish and there were people concerned for the imbalance human progress was starting to create.

Photo Credit: Animal Planet Online

Gene Stratton-Porter saw two of the last Passenger Pigeons in 1910 in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens (the last Passenger Pigeon known to exist died in 1914.)  I could feel through her words what it must have felt like to look into their eyes knowing that they were the last and we were solely to blame.  The birds, a male and a female, never took to mating in captivity and both died shortly before their 30th year on Earth.  They probably did not “know” they were the last, in the way that humans with their analytical minds “know” things, but I do believe it is possible that their instincts instilled in them a sense of urgency that was at least uncomfortable.  Being an animal myself, it always bothers me when other humans state that animals cannot think.  While they may not be able to think in the same way our own brains function, it does not preclude their thinking at all.  We all evolved from the same soup and nerves firing, reaction to stimuli, need for the consumption of energy, and the desire for social interaction are things that much of us here, who are left on this planet, share.

Small Whorled Pogonia - Northern Georgia Mountains (endangered)

It unfortunately makes a lot of sense that the Passenger Pigeon has gone extinct along with a long list of other creatures who lived in competition with the human species.  Their numbers were so great that one stop at a farmer’s house and the entirety of the crop was diminished to stalks and bird droppings.  This being devastating when you were growing more of one crop than another and maybe not just for yourself but for others who intended on purchasing or trading for the good.  People on Earth during the time of the Passenger Pigeon outlived it, they found balance in the masses of birds and adjusted their practices to ensure their own survival.  As the human population has broadened and inhabited most every region on the planet, we have brought about a bottleneck of extinction.  Creatures are not only killed by our methods on the ground, in their own habitats, they are killed by the by products of our development which go on to affect biological communities far from the source of  the disturbance.  In the early 1900’s this was just a whisper of a problem, not acknowledged and not directly affecting the human species itself, thereby making it invisible.

Shiny-Rayed Pocketbook - Chatahoochee River (endangered)

Our over specialization and relinquishment of survival skills has not only made us incredibly vulnerable as a species on this planet to the failure of our own creations, it has enabled us to better manipulate our environment for our own needs.  There are people in our society given the time and resources to study subjects to their very core and determine how we can use more, crudely eliminate competition with nature, and manufacture products with and without true purpose.  These products, the vastness of our population, and the institutions of management we have created over them, have us all tied up with little time to evaluate the condition of the ground we stand on.  With almost no one personally growing food for themselves or their communities, our food system has reached such a grandiose scale that our only methods of controlling it have started to corrode the very soils and waterways we need to grow the food we eat.  Our reliance on human manufactured foodstuffs not in tune with nature has brought about a host of illnesses and diseases trying to fight off the imbalance of our species, but we have adapted in turn to stave them off.

Cherokee Darter - Etowah River System (endangered)

This is not simply about me being a free-loving “hippie” or simply about my sorrow over the loss of  beauty of the creatures that inhabit this complex planet.  The fact that Europe no longer has a Wolf or that Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, China, and Afghanistan no longer live in fear and respect of the Caspian Tiger means nothing today in comparison to the faulty educational systems, the poor communities suffering injustices, and the over all modern human condition that is as complex and difficult as the environmental one.  But at what point does it become imperative that we pay attention?  Maybe losing the Polar Bears, the Blue Whales, migrating birds, the fisheries of the oceans, and the amphibians of the rain forest and your own backyard are not that important in a crude sense, but every being on this planet has been manifested from the energy transfers that have taken place here for millions of years.  This fabric of life has created all of the current environmental conditions that have enabled us to thrive.  As our chemicals and concrete spread their withering fingertips into the last existing natural spaces, we stand to lose the balancing forces that have been holding it all together.  Without trees, bees, bats, and heirloom vegetation, we also stand to lose even the crudest of necessities we get from our natural world to continue our own survival.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Georgia's Barrier Island Beaches (endangered)

Our ambition to recognize our biological community, to work within the cycles of the sun and moon and all forces that have sculpted all else here on planet Earth, and our respect and admiration of the commonplace bird or snake here at Sun Dog Farm does not simply come from a whimsical desire to “love freely.”  While I do know that my personal affections for the wilderness may root deep within me as love, it is that instinctual urgency I believe I feel.  We here at the farm are not free from blame; much of our day to day action contributes to the continued elimination of the world around us.  We are slaves to the economic and political systems of our species and we all must do what we can with the time we have to free ourselves and the planet from the clutches of waste.  I write these words today not because I do not recognize how incredibly consuming the stresses and problems of our modern world present to all of us each day.  I write these words because the situation is not at last out of our hands.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker - Mature Pine Forests of Georgia (endangered)

Instead of watching television at night, go outside, even in the winter, and examine this world around you.  There are still plenty of organisms who can thrive within human disturbance and gracefully inhabit urban spaces.  Buy local, naturally grown foods not only because you have been taught they are healthier for you, but because you can acknowledge that they are healthier for all life.  Do not write off even the most meaningless or irritating living being as it has its place here on Earth and giving it the respect it deserves would lead you down a path more rewarding than knowing the coolest new band or the latest gossip about some wasteful celebrity.  Show animals to your children.  Teach them about how mosquitoes feed so many different species and that worms complete the incredible task of transforming life back into usable nutrients.  Try and create systems in your day to day that eliminate the need for over consumption.  Cultivate a sense of community and love those in your life as they are because love, understanding, personal action and patience are the only useful tools of change.

Indiana Bat - Northwest Georgia (endangered)

“In all civilizations man has cut down and consumed, but seldom restored or replanted, the forests.  In biblical times Palestine was lovely in foliage of palm, and the purpling grapes hung upon her lovely hillsides and gleamed in her fertile valleys like gems in the diadems of her princes.  But man, thoughtless of the future, careless of posterity, destroyed and replaced not; so, where the olive and the pomegranate and the vine once held up their luscious fruit for the sun to kiss, all now is infertility, desolation, desert, and solitude.  The orient is dead to civilization, dead to commerce, dead to intellectual development.  The orient died of treelessness.”

– J Sterling Morton (Founder of Arbor Day)

Join Us at the Farm to Table!

Every night I close my eyes and dream.  I dream of events from the day carelessly mixed with memories and elaborate confusions.  Every night time is spent lost in my mind where all of my worries, excitements, insecurities, anxieties, and fantasies go to tea together.  The only thing consistent about them, or the passing of them, is that when I wake in the morning, Sun Dog Farm is one day closer to Spring.

Being one day closer to Spring, everyday, is a little intimidating and mostly exciting all at the same time.  Our greenhouse has finally been dressed and newly sown seeds are pulsing with life in seedling trays, gently moving upward towards the nourishing rays of the sun.  The smell of soil, humidity, and a sharpie always cause us to reminisce of every Spring we’ve spent organizing energy and nurturing these tiny, miraculous life forms.  Some seeds are so similar and yet as they grow the diversity of their genetics turns the greenhouse into a miniature rain forest of so many different leaves and stems.  The tags denoting their varieties emerge from the greenery like poems, “Vulcan, Early Jersey Wakefield, Champion, Giant of Italy, Henderson’s Charleston, Vates, Dinosaur, Skyphos, Black Seeded Simpson, De Cicco,” and on and on and oh, it is just the beginning.

As I sip my tea, scratch my head, and type, I can hear rain falling with some urgency outside.  Rain has been a common companion here at the farm as of late and we can’t say that we’re too distraught about it.  The risen water table will hopefully contribute to a nice, lush Spring and help give our vegetables the life giving water they need to carry on into the hot, unforgivable days of Summer.  It has been; however, too wet to wander out into our growing space and begin sculpting the landscape into segments and rows in preparation for transplants and seeds.  Organization has been key in this newest operation of ours and Elliot and I have spent our fair share sitting in front of Microsoft Excell trying to figure out how we had deleted an entire column of crops or why half of the spreadsheet had become bold.  It is all a part of the process, every bit, and there is nothing more empowering than making something from scratch.

To be empowered.  My daily commutes to and from the City of Atlanta for my off season job have given me a unique perspective on modern human development.  I drive from way out of town, in the boonies where Sun Dog Farm makes its home.  I drive over landscape that quickly transforms from rolling hills and clusters of forest still hanging on into the strip malls and fast food chains that spill over the edge of Atlanta as its population over boils.  I get closer still to the perimeter and more lanes are added to the road, more elaborate concrete has been poured for on and off ramps, overpasses, and a sturdy median.  As I breach the perimeter I am finally at the belly, Downtown where the money is, or in a lot of cases was, and the flannel shirts and baseball caps quickly mutate into flashy suits, designer glasses, and a sales pitch.  It would all be too much for me (I would be thrilled to never look at a billboard again,) except that I get to do it all in reverse on my trip home.

And what of this city life?  I have never done well in a city setting; the weight of human reality always in my eyes and ears sends me into some serious fits of zombie.  Everywhere you look, there is something to be sold or bought, a mostly naked woman here, a familiar celebrity posing with their favorite milk shake there, the most crude and hollow examples of our civilization on display guiding us and our youth further down the road.  It is complicated and complex, constantly changing, yet so much remaining dangerously the same.  Atlanta is just a city like others, facing the same problems, overcoming similar obstacles, but there is this one thing that keeps bringing me back.  It would be easy for me to write off the entire city of Atlanta, except for one thing: Food.

Food has always been the great peace maker in my life. Now the uniting forces of food are swiftly taking over small sections of the city where empowered and beautiful minds gather to go outside of the boundaries of modern culture and economy and stretch the limits of a “normal” city life. Rashid Nuri at Truly Living Well Urban Natural Farm, Joe Reynolds at Love is Love Farm at Gaia Gardens, Oakhurst Community Garden Project, Dunwoody Community Garden, and the increasing numbers of Farmers Markets and other growing spaces around the city are contributing greatly to awareness and the access of those in the city to healthy, sustainable food. I urge you to run to these places immediately and get involved!  Restaurants have also become savvy to the desire of their customers for thoughtful food and the importance of supporting those who grow it. Some of our favorite and, in our opinion, most influential Chefs in the food movement include; Steven Satterfield of Miller Union, Joshua Hopkins of Abbitoir, Todd Mussman of Muss and Turner’s, Kevin Ouzts of Spotted Trotter, Thomas McKeown of the Grand Hyatt, and arguably the most revolutionary of the bunch, Chef Linton and Gina Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, Holeman and Finch, H&F Bread Co, and H&F Bottle Shop. These individuals have spent their lives sculpting not only incredible foods, but incredible food pathways. As a food conscious human of Atlanta, I urge you to put down the taco bell, save up your pennies, and support these businesses because they have made it their business to support people like us.

“The greatest delight the fields and woods minister is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable.  I am not alone and unacknowledged.  They nod to me and I to them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

We’re all in 2011 Together

World!  It is 2011!  It is 2011 and there is so much to do, so much good to replace bad, so much healing of humans, wildlife, ecosystems, and communities.  There is an ever evolving list of things to become more conscious of as we move into a future less connected to the land.  It is 2011 and we are losing important habitats all over the world at an alarming rate, changing the world in ways we don’t even realize will eventually change us.  We are relying more and more on technological advances in medicine to keep up with our unhealthy lifestyles.  We are less attuned to the natural forces of our planet and more of our time is spent inside focusing on realities that are entirely human inventions.  The distractions of this modern age of people do well enough keeping our brains constantly stimulated, always something to worry about, always some way to progress, reach success.  It gives us very little opportunity to search within ourselves for what truly brings us peace.  When the forces of our economy and practices of waste are added up, it seems like a desperate time, but this is the year.  This is the year to start over, to rethink the ideas sprouting from “how” and start asking ourselves “why?”

This year, the first official year of Sun Dog Farm, will be one of great hardship and tiny battles won.  With every person who grabs a CSA share or purchases Kohlrabi at the Farmers Market, a person, a couple, an entire family may be fed clean food whose roots dug deep into a landscape nurtured and replenished.  The hearts and minds of our nation are currently being redesigned as more individuals are becoming aware of our devastating food system.  More people want to feed their children the best of what’s around.  More people bring their own bags to the supermarket or even teach themselves the skills to avoid utilizing the supermarket or drug store.  The year 2011 should be embraced by all as the year to reclaim our world from the clutches of wasteful consumerism, malicious advertising, and fear mongering and start moving into an age of self reliance, community, and grace.

All of this change requires an immense amount of patience.  Humans beings do not purposely cause harm to each other and their world around them, for the most part.  Much of the change we have to muster within ourselves needs to be spread to others through vigorous education and empowerment.  We are only as strong as our weakest links and we must do our part in picking up those who have fallen into despair due to the excess of others.  This is made ever more complicated with the value system put in place by the highest rungs of the economic food chain.  We need to take the time to educate individuals (without expecting an economic return) as to what is really important and necessary in a lifetime and guide all of us toward a more simple, responsible lifestyle.  It won’t be easy or fun and there will be failure  and an awful lot of resistance along the way, but it will be the sort of challenge whose rewards are so sweet, they will slowly enrich the quality of all life on Planet Earth.

As for Sun Dog Farm, 2011 has already held several wins and losses.  The epic ice storm that closed down the City of Atlanta for a week locked us within our little homestead on the farm and made for some pretty mentally exhausting planning and plotting.  All the time spent nestled in the belly of our property gave us the opportunity to continue to explore our own self sufficiency and the weaknesses we feel we have as stewards of this landscape.  Big plans hatched, re-hatched, erased, and blossomed into ideas that will either lead us to victory or teach us some serious lessons.  The snow and ice keeping us from straying too far out of our county gave us the time to enjoy and learn from those in our wonderful community.  The ice has prevented us from planting onions, turned our goats and sheep into ice skaters, and caused our chickens to eat some serious feed.  Our lack of current income made it impossible for us to cover our greenhouse with plastic just before the ice hit, saving us from having to manage or replace plastic during the storm.  I don’t know that there is a real balance to it all, but there certainly is an enchanting rhythm to aligning your life with that of the natural world.

Times have been pretty tough at the farm as our anxiousness for spring grows and our vegetable plot gently hibernates.  Driving home from Tagyerit Farm, owned and operated by the wonderful Michael and Mary Elizabeth Shoptaw (and their adorable son,) I distinctly remember feeling that inner peace that we all seem to be endlessly searching for.  Something about being around so many good people who love all life on Earth and have made it their personal goal to defend and support it connects all the dots in my soul.  The sun was setting over the white glazed pastures, brilliant pink reflecting from horizon to footstep.  I remember squeezing Elliot’s hand and recalling the amazing number of Meadowlarks I had seen earlier in the day.  It’s not perfect this life of ours, but my goodness is it beautiful.

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama