Saturday, November 3, 2007

Thinking out loud (about next year)

....Still trying to figure out about next year -- do I want to do this? And if so, how would I do it differently?

.....I guess what it comes down to is that I WOULD like to run the farm next year, if the conditions change to support my work here. If the conditions don't change, then I need to quit and start life over in some other locale, with some other job. I'm dreading that; I don't have as much money saved as I'd like, and I'd prefer to already have something lined up that I can slip into easily when I do leave here, both for my own comfort and my cat Sukey's; I'm concerned about her. If I leave here suddenly, I'd have to find a place for her to live while I looked for my own place, which could take a month or more; then I might end up finding a place in a city, which wouldn't be as good for her as the country, since she's used to the great outdoors.

What I have started thinking more about is my six friends -- 3 couples -- up at Full Bloom Farm in southern Oregon, near Jacksonville. They were all farm apprentices at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, two of them in the same class as me, and we've remained good friends. My friend Ryan Ginn inherited some money and used it to buy land -- 287 acres -- up in Oregon, and he, along with his partner Eden Luz, Jo Ferneau & Rosie Demmin, Matt & Aria (can't remember their last names right now) have set up an intentional community there. They're spending this year setting up the infrastructure for a farm, building housing, getting permits and building a commercial kitchen to bake bread in. They're looking ultimately to have 10-12 adults living and working on the land (there are also 3 children living on the land now).

Anyway, my dream since coming home from farming and living communally abroad 12 years ago has been to start an intentional community with friends, which has both spiritual and permacultural components to it. What my friends up there are doing fits all of that, and ever since they started it a couple of years ago, I've day-dreamed about the possibility of moving up there. The things that have stopped me are 1) it's a long drive away from my family and friends in the east bay, 2) I don't know what I'd do, work-wise, up there, and 3) I'm not thrilled about the idea of being the only single person among couples.

It's been a hard summer here for many reasons, but the main one is the fact that I'm alone up here; I live alone, for the most part I work alone, and the work, and life in general, doesn't seem to have much meaning when I'm not sharing it with people. I don't enjoy carrying the stresses of managing an entire farm by myself (which is partially why I started this blog -- to verbalize the things that I'm otherwise keeping to myself). I had expressed some of this feeling to Jo, Ryan and Eden when I saw them at a wedding on Labor Day weekend.

A few weeks ago, Ryan called and said that he, Eden, Jo and Rosie had been talking about me, were concerned, and had decided that one of them would call me every week to check in. Hearing that was so heart-warming, made me feel a little less alone here. Then I had a phone conversation with Eden, who was verbalizing some of her stresses around living in community, around figuring out what her work is there. She's interested in herbal medecine, and in growing herbs, and was trying to figure out how to incorporate doing that into the farm. We'd talked about that a few times over the last couple of years, and brought up the possibility of me coming up there to live and grow herbs as well. Anyway, she said something about wanting to do her own thing on the farm, but not do it alone; in other words, she wanted to do work that she had some control over and responsibility for, but she didn't want to do it off by herself. And that expressed exactly what my struggle here has been. I AM doing something that I have control over and responsibility for, which allows for great creativity. But I'm doing it alone, and it's no fun. I'd rather collaborate on a project.

I was musing over the conversation in the field the next day, and thinking about the various possibilities that Eden had up there with respect to herbs. I remembered this article I'd read in a local paper, describing a landscaper down in Santa Cruz, who specialized in permaculture and native plants. One of his practices was to involve a local herbalist in his projects, who would work with his clients to determine which herbs would help their health the most, which he would then plant in their gardens. I got to thinking about CSAs, and then about a CSH -- community-supported herbiculture -- in which, along with whatever veggies each member would receive, they would also get medicinal (and culinary) herbs, which had been pre-determined by an herbalist who had prescribed herbs for all the members, which we could grow. It was just an idea, a seed, but it was really fun to think about, and I realized that I finally had something, work-wise that I could get passionate about while living at Full Bloom Farm. That, combined with this grateful feeling towards my friends there who care about me, got me thinking more seriously about moving there. Also, I realized that I could be an uncle of sorts, and have some meaningful relationships with children, which would be so great. As for the other s0-called obstacles I mentioned earlier, well, I can't really control the romantic situation in my life, i.e. who i meet and when, so there's no use in seeing being single as an obstacle to moving up there. It certainly will be easier to meet women up there than in my current situation. So the only remaining thing that gives me pause is how far it is from my family. But I'll never have everything I want in one situation. And if it really feels like a hardship after a few years, then I could move back, closer to home.

....Right around the time I started thinking about all this, my dear friend Sharon called me and asked if I wanted to drive to southern Oregon to see her sister Arbel, who lives in Grant's Pass -- about an hour from Full Bloom. I could really use some time away from the ranch, and it's an opportunity to also see my Green Gulch friends, and talk with them about this possibility of moving up there. So it's all arranged, I think. I'll go up there for four days, see my friend's and Sharon's sister, and get the ball rolling with regards to seriously considering moving up there.

So that's one idea. I don't have a lot of money saved, and whether it's Full Bloom or some other option, I need to work, so the question remains, will I stay at SMIP Ranch? And if I do, what would make life livable here?

I've got a car, something I didn't have the first year I was here. I've got some semblance of community now -- I know a lot more folks here, including new friends, and old ones who've moved closer. What I really need is a work situation that is manageable. As it stands, the work isn't really any easier than it was last year, even though I had 30 hours/week of help this year. The reason it's not easier is because I have twice as much to take care of, harvest and deliver. Last year I farmed close to the same amount of land, but if a row got too weedy, I would ignore it and move on to another row, since there was too much food out in the field for one restaurant anyway. This year, there are two restaurants, which means that I can't just ignore crops that are weed-infested; I have to take care of them. It also means that there is twice as much to harvest as there was last year; actually more than twice as much. So 30 hours/week of extra labor really doesn't cut it.

The question is, how much labor do I need, and can I do it with labor alone, or do I need to buy a tractor with implements and other equipment that can boost production by cutting down on labor costs and speeding up farming tasks. This is a major question, and to answer it I'm gonna need to sit down with several farmers in the next month and a half to get a proposal on paper that I can present to the powers-that-be.

Also, I need direct access to someone representing the funders of the farm, to talk about money issues that come up. Right now, I cannot for the life of me get ahold of Tim Stannard, who holds the purse strings of the farm. It is incredibly frustrating. He is very busy, and it is understandable that he doesn't have time for me. But I need a stand-in for him, who I can talk to every week, in person if need be, about finances, who can help me manage a budget better, who can do the bookkeeping for me. There are many crucial decisions that need to be made on a farm, in a timely manner, and if I can't reach the funder at the right time, the farm falters.

Ok, that's it for now. I'll continue this discussion later, when more thoughts materialize.

Thanks again for listening.