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A Babbling Comma

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We walked along the railroad tracks. The sun rose high, sending frequent, fleeting memories of warmth through the cooling fall air. One’s gait along railroad ties is always a bit awkward. Every plank is far too frequent to please the rhythms of a casual saunter. Every other feels like bounding, but not quite. This step stretches just beyond comfort. It makes you acutely aware of your feet. Where you place them. With every step.

We arrived just in time. The river flowed beneath and the rope hung from the tree. Just as planned. Its trunk leaned out over the water. Trying to see around the riverbend, perhaps. Trying to see where the water goes. Dave went first. He held the rope just above the knot tied near the bottom. He crouched, arms extended forward, leaning back, trusting the rope with his weight. A gentle hop. No turning back. For a moment, there was no movement. Hanging in the air until the river beckoned. Gravity obliged. In a precarious parabola, Dave swung into the open air. For a moment, there was no movement. The Apex. Splash.

I stood at the top, with the rope in my hands. Holding it just above the knot tied near the bottom. Trusting the rope with my weight, testing, I lean back and close my eyes. There is no hop. Fear is pounding through my veins. Shortens my breath and informs the slight shake just above my knees. Genuine terror is not a common commodity these days.

Poised at the top, the option to not jump is seductive. It lures you in with the false sense of security. If you don’t jump, you won’t get hurt. You wont be terrified. It is the route of cowardice. This is ‘playing it safe.’ If you don’t jump, you won’t risk betraying yourself and letting go midswing. If you don’t jump, the wind won’t push back your cheeks and eyelids and you won’t experience the weightless confounding glory of flight. You will stay on the riverbank.

Terror. A sensation in which we explicitly and truly believe that we are in danger. It is intrinsic. It is extreme. Cannot be feigned. You can be frightened by many things, discomfort is a dime a pang. Terror, though, is rather inexplicable. It does not oblige to requests to subside. It exists for a reason. Deep rooted, it knows. Instinct would generally indicate that leaping into a 40 foot void would not be intelligent.

It is irrational, however. The rope will hold. Gravity will pull and inertia will push and the water will be there waiting to catch me. Rationalization and logic have no bearing in these circumstances. There is no assuaging, no compromise. The fear stays and the apprehension grows as every eternal second passes. There are really only two options. Step back and stay on the riverbank, or hop. Hop.

I’m sitting in a rocking chair and my heart is pounding. In Camden, Maine, I’m staying with Suzanne at her family’s cabin. The phone is pressed to my ear and with every empty ring, apprehension builds. What will I say when they answer? Will they be irritated, annoyed, confused when a stranger starts babbling on the other end? I’m just a person, a nobody, why will they want to host me? ‘You’ve got to be concise and verbose and present yourself well and make sure they know you’re not a creepface. Don’t listen to your heartbeat, don’t freak them out’ I told myself.
When Lydia answered, there was nothing but grace and compassion in her voice. I spenttwo days at Tinder Hearth, with beautiful results. I didn’t know it on Friday September 3rd of this year, but the call that had just transpired would repeat itself every few days for the next three months. For all intents and purposes, it was the first day of the trip thatI’ve come to call Farmrun.

Sweep to the other side. December 3rd, San Francisco, California. For all intents and purposes, the last day of the trip that I’ve come to call Farmrun.

Originally, it was my intention to make a short film compiling some of the delightful bits of media that I’ve collected over the past ninety three days. A teaser. A conclusion. A trailer for the film I’ll likely never make. It would be slow but not too slow and it would have some nice music that would probably feature a banjo. It would start slow and then build up and be real nicentwangy and Dave Snyder would say inspiring things about accessing urban land indefinitely and James Godsil would let his voluptuous words flow out overtop of delicious shots of Jon Savanna kneading his milk dough and Caitlyn Galloway weeding her kale beds, then there would be non-narrative clips of farmers laughing and hugging and smiling their big nice smiles and then a banjonic climax where everything would STOP. A moment of weightlessness. And ‘Farmrun’ would melt onto the screen.

But that didn’t happen. Because plans change. And time has a characteristic way of moving forward, sometimes even before you’ve been able to fit in all of the things on your List. I’d gander to say that Time’s stubborn selfishness was a dominant color of this trip. There are still millions of essays to write and films to make and farmers to profile and eyes to open. This time, I didn’t get to it, and that’s OK. I didn’t make a feature-length film. I didn’t write a book. I haven’t even laid out a ‘zine.

That’s the point of these prattling words, I think. I’d like to continue on with this essay right now, relaying highlights of the trip. Sharing wisdom shed by those I spoke with. I’d like to tell you whose inspiration drove deep inside me and left resounding marks. Who’s shaking up their local conventions most. Who brought the silliest livestock animal into their living room during brunch. Who is an unexpected champion poet. I’d like to tell you all of the wonderful things that people are doing and how they are finding ways to grow food and the beauty with which they are surrounding that activity. But there’s no time. For now.

I think that the point of these prattling words is to say explicitly that this will be my last update for a while. I am moving on for the winter months. I will not have regular internet access, nor my fancypants expensive electronic Things. I will be taking some time to perspectivize.
And the question remains, will there be a singular definitive cohesive substantial product? Definitely maybe. I do not know. Maybe not. The intention of the project was never to make a film. I was not making a documentary. I was not writing a book. These are still prospects. I truly believe that there is great potential for the information I have collected to be expanded upon and turned into something beautiful and timely and informative. There is great potential.

At the height of a leap, the apex, there is no motion. Energetically speaking, it is the point where all of your kinetic energy, the unfathomable velocity with which you have been traveling your path, has been completely converted to potential. You are no longer on the move. Your displacement is zero. But the force about which we speak cannot be destroyed. It has been gathered and condensed and concentrated inside. And momentarily, everything is still. Time seems to stop and the world around swirls and blurs. And for a moment, there is blissful stagnation. For an eternal instant, you hang in the air. Tethered by nothing, attached to no one. Splash.

Jamming Up Business (video)

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Shakirah Simley is making moves in the world of sticky substances that are often spread on bread and bread-like vessels. With her fledgling business, Slow Jams, she is serving up concentrated fruity mush of all kinds with an innovative, well-planned and socially inclusive business model. SJ has been documented very well recently, so I won’t waste too much more of your time.

In a communal food-business incubator kitchen called La Cocina, Shakirah jams with fruits sourced in large part from the urban environment. Yes. She, personally, hand chops, cooks (though the stove does most of the legwork here) and cans all of her jammy products and cites her mission as expanding the dialogue about responsible food sourcing and production to communities that have historically lacked access to said knowledge.

Beyond the beautiful commentary on business ownership above, one of the most compelling topics Shakirah and I discussed was that of the role of private businesses within the context of both the urban/Good food movement and socially driven entities. She argues that small, private, social enterprise businesses can and should be in a much more dominant position within the greater context of social (and I would argue can be extended to environmental and economic) development. In the currently predominant non-profit model of social provision, the organizations that serve our underserved needs are at the mercy of the stipulations of the grants they receive, not to mention allocating substantial time, energy and personnel to hounding grants and granters, and fostering a bitterly competitive environment between non-profit organizations seeking similar grants with the unfortunate and inevitable effect of declarations akin to ‘we are the most needy.’

Please excuse the tirade, and I want to slow down for a moment, because I do believe that non-profit organizations serve an important and irreplaceable function within the greater context of ‘good work’ that must be done in this world. I only mean to bring about certain concerns of external reliance that I don’t think I am alone in considering.

Shakirah’s and other similar for-profit models, ideally, have the same mission and motives as if they were registered as non-profits, only they seek to provide their own means. I’ve thrown in ‘ideally’ because I think it is important to note that, even forgetting for a moment that Shakirah is working with a food business, it’s furkin’ hard to maintain a profitable business.

Slow Jams is in it’s first year, which, according to Shakirah, it has inevitably lost money. But she has big visions. Planning for expansion. She is talking to people and people are talking about her. And even as we spoke, after two hours of chopping pears, with six more to go, I could see that she is so passionate about her business and mission that there’s nothing that anyone could ever say to her that would ever convince her to stop.

Mateo, On Sensibility (video)

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Mateo Rutherford, of Green Faerie Farm in Berkeley, CA has been farming a few thousand square feet for 25 years. He’s got goats and chickens and rabbits and vegetables and SO MANY FRUIT TREES. Currently, the only product he sells commercially is his goat’s milk under the guise of pet food. It turns out that we have decided, collectively, that it should be illegal for small scale farmers to sell their produce to their neighbors and community members. Because we might make them sick. And they might sue us. Hm.
 
thoughts?

A Matter of Marketing

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This is Rachel. And those are puppies. We found out she can only hold three at a time. Rachel and her partner Evan are running a remarkable operation, Boondockers Farm, just southeast of Eugene, OR. Starting with two ducks in their small front yard in Eugene six years ago, they’ve grown to be just about the sole authority on  Ancona Ducks, an heirloom breed exploding in popularity at the moment.

Beyond their poultry operation, Rachel and Evan keep three dairy cows, breed Great Pyrenees dogs (to protect the poultry and fill the farm quota of adorable), and cultivate an impressive variety of heirloom vegetables.

Quite honestly, what Rachel and Evan are doing on their three acres should be described as nothing short of visionary (though there is a discussion to be had here – whether the practice of saving your cultivated genetic material is vision or reversion. regardless, it is practice which is not often enacted these days). Not because they do ducks. Not because they’re young, nor because they are making a profitable go at small scale farming. It’s their focus on preservation. Facilitation. Empowerment.

Every life reared on Boondockers Farm is composed of completely viable genetic material. This is not a mistake. Whether plant or animal, all of Rachel and Evans’ efforts are geared towards respecting each species they choose to cultivate by helping them pass on their encoded instruction manual to their offspring. To ultimately re-create the (relatively) closed loop farming system that we so romanticize and yearn for from generations past. All of their vegetables are heirloom, all of their animals are heritage. By saving and selling seeds, and breeding their dogs and ducks on farm, they have successfully managed to incorporate both the monetary and ideological benefits of farming with industrially unadulterated inputs.

Expectations

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Can be debilitating. Frustrating. Enlightening. Enlivening. Challenging. Freeing. They’ll shove you out into the cold wearing nothing but a pair of socks. Nothing. Ask you to stretch your arms far beyond their fixed length. They will demand that you examine where you are standing, conisder your presence. Are you there?

Viability, Part Deux (video)

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Robert Litt, founder of The Urban Farm Store, in Portland, OR, comments on his customer base, and more generally implicated, the makeup of the patrons of this ‘urban agriculture’ movement going on. The Urban Farm Store is approaching it’s second birthday, and is smack in the middle of Portland’s southeastern side on Belmont St. They carry everything from remay to brewers mash to chicken feed.

An interesting perspective, indeed, because Robert is supplying the folks who are farming in the urban space of Portland. As he says, the majority of ‘urban farmers’ he serves are not so much farmers in the sense of producing goods for a profit, as they are in it, as he says, for the pleasure and educational aspects. Hobby farmers. Which brings us back to the question of viability in the realm of urban agriculture. Does a business that profitably supplies urban hobby farmers count as an urban agricultural endeavor? Wait…what is urban agriculture again?

Turns Out the Left Coast is Pretty Pretty

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The past seven days have easily been the least ‘productive’ of the entire trip. Seven days without visiting any farmers or writing any things or even planning for the future. And it was fantastic. Jim and I explored the coast of the west part of the US of America. After careful consideration, I’ve decided several things. First of all, it is quite misty. If you go, bring a rain jacket. And pants. Second, in many parts, especially southern Oregon and northern California, there are many large trees. In preparation, perhaps do some neck exercises. They are remarkable. Finally, there are many neat things to take photographs of. Like large mounds of kelp and delicious melty horizons and very pretty sunsets.

We have landed in Davis, California. We will stay here until Thursday, when I’ll be joining The Greenhorns in Winters, for one of their Young Farmers’ Mixers and doing some documentation. Then, it’s on to the Bay Area, where there are many good people doing many good things.
In case you didn’t believe me, here are some pictures from the coast.