self-care, appreciation, fear, clarity

Greetings readers, from the lovely Slocan Valley (yet again)! I’ve been putting off posting for the last few weeks because so many things have happened that it’s overwhelming trying to make something coherent out of it all. So, this is my attempt.

To give you a brief idea, some of the things I’ve been up to recently include living off-grid, going to my first garlic festival, observing the power of intuition and intention, harvesting lots of root vegetables, skinny dipping in Kootenay Lake, and hunting for delicious wild mushrooms!

Pebble beach, on Kootenay Lake

I suppose some of those things don’t sound very farmy, but they’re all relevant, I assure you! I was reminded recently of a moment last year (my first farm year) when I realized how important self-care is. I’d been observing my exhausted team mates skip snack breaks and work past schedule trying to get things done. I’d always felt relaxed about the farm work, never rushed, but I knew that things were moving at a good pace. Still, there was always so much to do. Any (or all) of us could have worked through the nights during peak season and still had many tasks on the list. I saw some of my team mates stressing about all the work that had to be done, and as a result, maybe not taking care of their own needs as they should have been. I decided at that point that if we could work 24/7 and still never be a step ahead, the worry and stress was counter productive. I never skipped a snack break because I know that I have more focus and energy for the tasks ahead when I’m not distracted by hunger. There were many days that I (and others) stayed late to finish up some weeding or transplanting, but it was not an everyday thing. I know my limits and take care to recognize needs like sleep and a good meal and some time to unwind, and am fortunate in that I can honour those.

I say this as someone who has never bottom-lined a farm. I’ve never had to be concerned with taking responsibility for crop failures, flooding, or ensuring the farm would bring in enough money to stay alive as a business. Because of that, I’m sure it’s easier for me to look at things this way. But I think that a lack of recognition of our needs, and a failure to address them when we do recognize them, is too prevalent and that needs to be changed. If each of us can’t take care of ourselves individually, our interactions as a team start to become strained. There were days when my mentor farmers would arrive early and leave late to set up irrigation or take care of the greenhouse, or come in on weekends to make sure things were going well. They were tied to it in a much bigger way than I was as an intern. The obligations we take on when we do something like grow food for 250 families are great, and that is often under appreciated. But we grow food because we love to and it’s necessary, as this video, made by one of my intern successors from the farm I interned at last season, demonstrates so well. Keep this in mind next time you see someone selling organic veggies at the market and you think $3 for a bunch of green onions is too much.

Anyway, back to updates. I was fortunate to spend 10 days at Gaia Shifts, a wonderful WWOOF place near Nelson, which is a women’s land trust in progress. So many things inspired me about this place, and I almost didn’t make it there but the timing worked out and for that I’m very grateful! This place embodies so much of what I hope to live in future.

EDIT 2014: Gaia Shifts has since moved to a new piece of land, and as such, some of the features described here are no longer a part of it, but I still encourage you to look at their website. They are amazing people.

The entire piece of land is off-grid; water comes from a river and a well, power comes from solar panels (they even power the pump for the well), wood is harvested from the forest to heat tipis and yurts (one of which I got to sleep in). In fact, splitting wood was mostly what I helped with while I stayed there, as well as some gardening and fixing the roof of the chicken house. Canvas buildings like the yurts and tipis are created in the sewing workshop on site by one of the residents. Other projects based there include women’s self-defense workshops, non-violent communication workshops, and global involvement in women’s rights movements. The land is a protected wildlife corridor. The garden is small but provides decent food for the 4+ folks living there at any given time. I could go on and on about this place, but there’s so much that it’s probably easier for you to look at their website.

The Isis yurt, where I slept

Inside the yurt

Although it went down to 5 degrees some nights, I was too warm with a fire going, so slept without one. The windows are covered by thick plastic and screens; some can be opened by peeling the plastic covering back (it’s velcroed on the ones that open.) Sleeping here allowed me to hear the birds, see the moonlight, and hear the trumpeting of elk who wandered through the field.

The main house, where some residents sleep and where everyone shares common space and meals, was designed to be passive solar. An example of this is this soapstone wall adjacent to the 2-storey window, which faces south. In the hotter months, the sun is high enough that it doesn’t shine in much, but in the cooler months when the sun is low, it shines through the window onto the soapstone wall and floor. The stone absorbs and holds the heat very well! The house also has other strategic window placement (none on the north side) and a wood stove if needed, and the north side of it is built into a hillside where the outdoors can only be accessed from the 2nd storey. The root cellar is on this side of the house, insulated by the earth. Some of the insulation in the walls of the house is made from recycled denim (yes, jeans!) which has an extremely high insulation value (about 2-3 times that of standard fiberglass insulation). The attic has a ventilation system for letting hot air out of the house.

Big window and soapstone wall


Outside view of the house and big window on the south side

A favourite feature of mine – the caravan! In true tiny home fashion, this caravan was built by a local using many scavenged materials; the chassis was from a 1-ton truck at a junk yard, and the shingles on the upper exterior are cast offs from a violin maker. As with the yurts and tipis, the fact that this is a moveable structure means building permits are not an issue.

Inside the caravan, a work in progress

The sink in the above picture will be put in the counter, and the wood stove will be operational for the winter. This picture shows about half the space inside. As meals are shared in the main house, there isn’t much of a kitchen area in the caravan, although the wood stove has a burner on top. Again, large south-facing windows let in the sun.

Cosy sleeping area in the caravan

Two books about tiny homes, which have inspired me for the past few months

Speaking of tiny homes, the neighbours across the road have this lovely little A-frame cabin!

As I mentioned before, we went mushroom hunting! A few of us headed to Slocan lake to find some wild edible goodies, and came back with a load of treasures. We found many chanterelles, lobster mushrooms, and a few boletes and pine mushrooms. I learned more about how to identify mushrooms, such as bruising them and observing a colour change, taking note of the gill and stem characteristics, and of where the mushroom was growing – in the ground? on a dead stump (if so, what kind?), near certain other plants? etc. In one hour we had 3 canvas bags full!

White Chanterelles! Gills extending down the stem, which does not break clean but is stringy if snapped

Pine mushroom (not yet fully open), a new discovery for me. They have a very distinct and delicious smell

Anyway, as you can see, I had a blast at Gaia Shifts. If you’re interested in things like land trusts, small canvas dwellings and women’s rights, I highly recommend checking out their website. They also accept work-trades and paid stays in the house, yurt, or tipi, for short or long term, which I would definitely also recommend!

So, as I mentioned, I’m back in the Slocan valley now on a wonderful familiar farm. We’ve been working on many things, like harvesting lots of beets and carrots, enjoying very sweet snap peas, planting strawberries for next year, and sowing fall rye into some of the empty fields as a cover crop. I don’t have too much experience with cover cropping, so I’ve been happy to be involved in this part of the farm, especially since crop rotation and cover crops are so essential (the building blocks, really) to organic farming. I’ve also witnessed some living mulch in action, in the form of white clover growing under kale, cabbage and broccoli plants. It keeps the weeds away, enriches the soil and just looks so darn pretty.

First frost, just a couple mornings ago

One unexpected thing that’s happened since I arrived here was a visit to a slaughter house. We went to a local farm to get some supplies recently and were unaware that they were killing chickens that day in their on-farm slaughter house. It was a tough morning. For years I’ve been well aware of the process by which “food” animals are killed, and occasionally had the chance to observe it, but decided against it – I’ve seen enough disturbing things happen in this industry in my life, and assumed I would feel helpless and responsible if I chose to stand by and watch the deaths of so many creatures without doing anything about it.

And then we were suddenly faced with this. I stole a few glances at what was happening – it’s hard to avoid, when you can hear what’s going on, to avert your eyes completely from this kind of thing. Although I suppose this experience lends me more credibility as a vegan (not that I need any after my animal biology, aka factory farming degree), I certainly won’t be forgetting it for a long time and the whole thing left me squirming and feeling on edge for days. Let me say as a disclaimer that I’m not a squeamish person. I can handle blood and guts, I’m not a fainter, and I have an ability to remain objective in crisis situations. What really did me in, though, was the sound. I watched workers grab birds by the legs and stuff them head first into metal cones, which would contain their writhing (conscious, I might add) bodies while their throats were cut in order to keep them from putting up a fight. (Did you know that “poultry” – birds and rabbits – are exempt from the “humane” slaughter act in the US? Now might be a good time to read up on this.) These birds were definitely awake during the ordeal, and I’ve never heard such an anguished, panicked sound come from a chicken, as those that came from the birds who were killed that morning. The slaughter house was very small – “processing” just 300 birds a day – and many people take this local, small-scale idea to mean that an operation is also humane. Having to work with those sounds in my ears was certainly not humane, and the deaths of those birds was far from it.

A photo of the “killing cones” (I didn’t take this one, it’s from the internet)

I could (and do) go on and on about my reasons for being vegan. Environmental issues, the parallels between the abuse of animals and the oppression of humans, the non-violence aspects, etc. But the bottom line will always be the same: when I witness something like this, I’m filled with rage, despair and anguish over the fact that so much harm happens to so many individuals. When you see the terror in the face of someone who knows they’re about to die, and you hear their cries when the deed is being done, you understand exactly what’s happening (and so do they). No claims of “humane” or “welfare approved” or (I hate this one) “happy meat” seem remotely plausible anymore because you are witnessing the suffering that these terms veil. (This entry makes some good points about euphemisms, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts as well). There’s no such thing as “happy meat”. Meat is dead; it can’t be happy. It’s also not a necessary part of the human diet, which makes it hard to justify this much suffering.

Anyway, after a harrowing (ha! farm pun) morning there, we left in a daze to head back to the farm for lunch. Luckily my hosts are vegan, and the farmer who stayed home that day made us a delicious meal. Although the sounds of the birds’ cries remained in my ears for ages (and still echo in them once in a while), I’ve never been more grateful for the ability to choose not to support those horrors. I view every meal since as a celebration of non-violence, of compassion, and as a rejection of the idea that money is more important than ethics. I eat my meals with relish as usual, and with joy knowing that I had no part in that suffering. I’m grateful for the choice.

Delicious vegan peanut butter cheesecake!

As you can see, it’s been an eventful few weeks. In spite of the disturbing slaughter house day, I have to say that choosing to WWOOF this year has brought me so many wonderful and valuable experiences that I probably wouldn’t have and will not find elsewhere. The people I’ve met while on the road have been extremely giving, welcoming, and uplifting. After years of feeling distanced from people, being suspicious of strangers and having fear driven into me because I’m female, some of my faith in humanity was restored thanks to the folks I met this summer. The world needs more of you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Observing others open their homes, and hearts, to strangers so willingly helps you open your own. We need that. Don’t let your life be ruled by fear! Fear gives us nothing but shackles, from which we must to be freed if any of us are to live happily. I’ve learned alot about letting go of fear this summer. I hope any of you reading can also have this opportunity.

Oh, and next time you go to the farmer’s market, talk to your farmer about how their season went, and let them know you appreciate all their hard work!


About tino

I'm an aspiring organic farmer living in canada. I talk about farm life, things I'm learning, other relevant topics like feminism, social & environmental justice, nature, animals, vegan food, and fun.

Posted on October 4, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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