Saturday, November 3, 2012

Eleven Months Later

The dust rose and the dust has fallen. The first rain has come, and so has the second.  The soil is wet and the seeds are sprouting. The dust is washed from the trees, and the forest floor feels alive. I have exhaled.

As I flash back through the hundreds of pictures that capture just a portion of the work and spirit that has gone into this beautiful piece of land, I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment, awe, and wonder. The vision in my mind is in motion, and with every passing day, every passing project, more detailed pieces of that vision take form and draw me further down the road of this unveiling creation.

This past week I took my "work trade" crew out to lunch at Ikes Quarter's Cafe. This marked the end of the "work" part of the trade on the farm and this was but one way for me to show my great appreciation for this group of people who have helped with countless infrastructure projects and harvest days on the farm over the past seven months. Amazing what a bunch of people can get done in such a short time. Thank you ALL!

Harvest on the farm is not quite over for the year. The last harvest for the Briarpatch Coop was two weeks ago but there are still two more weeks of the Nevada City Farmer's Market , and I'll continue providing kale, chard, and collards for Ikes Cafe through December, but the bulk of it is over, and the remainder is manageable by myself. I relish these cool Fall days when I get to work alone and reflect on the year's unfolding, dreaming of the next one to come and how things will be different.

I put the last of the cover crop in the ground right before our second storm, which feels so good. I've been dreaming of those fields full of green cover crop since at least late August! It's up to the seeds and the rain now.

Following are some "before, during and after" shots of this year's work. Enjoy!

Poised and ready to make the first pass with the disc. Note the smoke in the background.- slash piles from around the field are still smoldering.
Fresh transplants: kale, collards, chard

Taken in late October after amending the field and seeding cover crop. Putting it to bed for the Winter.

A childhood friends operating the backhoe, digging trenches for the worm bins inside the soon-to-be greenhouse.

Vince Booth visits for a week in February to help out with projects. Here is' framing in the recently dug out worm trenches with "pecky cedar"

Four foot partitions to support the plywood tops. 

Wood chips add the finishing touches for the day. Looking good Vince, and my shadow. 

The greenhouse frame being assembled. 

Plastic going on, pallet tables in place, sliding front door nearly complete. Just about ready for starts!

Here is the newly arrived tractor parked in the future goat penn area. 

We didn't waste any time and went for the most effective tool right away. Here vince trenches through the very dry and compacted sloping dirt floor.  
Here we are making long trenches and compacting the bottoms. 

Once the tenches are dug out we frame them with wood to prepare for pouring concrete. These long concrete rectangles will serve as rails for the tractor bucket to slide along, assisting in cleaning out the goat bedding. 

Freshly poured concrete gets a piece of steel "floated" on top and anchored within. The metal top plate will make it easier for the tractor bucket to slide without chipping the concrete. The dirt in between each wall will provide good drainage for the bedding. 

Suuzi looks with amazement. 

I barely got the new cedar siding up on the left before the storm hit that night. The concrete is covered with straw so that it doesn't freeze and lose its structural integrity. 

To the left are the hay mangers. Ready for goats. 

They know what to do. 

Here is one planting block in the upper field. Right now it's covered with about four inches of wood chips and wood debris. This is my Fall planting block.

And that's how you do that. 

This is the lower field, near the creek. In the background is a load of compost, ready to spread and till in. 

Amended, tilled, and ready to irrigate transplants. 

Potatoes love sandy soil!

Cool season crops - in the summer!

Beets, Beets, Beets

Fingerling potatoes galore!

With the changing season so the changing work. Now that the harvest season is winding down I'm looking forward to improvement projects. On the docket for this fall and winter are numerous new sheds, a walk-in refrigerator, and loft in the goat barn, and much more!



Wednesday, January 18, 2012

To be a Forty-Niner

I live a blessed life. As I sit in front of my computer I see to my right, tacked to the wall, a list of "rules"published by the Immaculate Heart College Art Department - does this place really exist? I don't know.... Of all ten rules, I think the one that I most live by is number seven, "Rule 7: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It's the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things." Rule 6 might be number two on my list, "Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail. There's only make.  I live a blessed life because opportunity is constantly around my corner. My most recent blessing is the fortune to have been born into a family willing and capable of supporting me in pursuit of my life endeavors. Soon, I will be living and farming on a piece of land large enough and beautiful enough to get lost in. The feeling of this fortune is indescribable. I feel my roots growing and growing and growing and not sensing bedrock any time soon.

It might sound strange to hear, but I feel like a 49er. I've struck it rich and the nuggets in the river are just the beginning. That's on the one hand, on the other hand I feel like a 49er because I just read a book called "The Diary of a Forty-Niner". Yeah, folks, I'm talking about the gold rush Forty-Niners, not the football team, although, I could probably draw parallel's given this year's season. Where do I live? How did I come to be here? How did it all happen? What was it like, in that beginning? My mom, Ginger, bought this book for me because, well, we live in the gold country! And not only that, we're right in the thick of it. This Diary of a Forty-Niner tells the story of how it was in those days right in my new neighborhood! Terms such as Brush Creek, Rock Creek, Selby Flat, Nevada City, Yuba, and Round Mountain are thrown around like it was somebody writing about this place today! And yet, this diary is over 150 years old! The new farm is ON Brush Creek proper. 

Reading this book has given me a tremendous sense of place. I mean, I grew up in this "place" that we call Nevada City, inside Nevada County, in California, in the United States of America, and yet, what this book has inspired in me is a new feeling. I feel a much greater understanding of the history of this place, at least as back as far as these European Immigrants turned Americans goes. This is the history that I identify with more than any other. I love this place, I always have, but now, to have a sense of beginning, of where "we" come from in the recent annuls of history has brought a deeper understanding of the spirit that emerged at that time. I felt a strong sense of fellowship with the man who wrote this diary, I identified with his appreciation of this place and the freedom that was found through living in appreciation to nature here. Not to say that these guys were not also vastly degrading the landscape simultaneously, but that there did exist, at least within this fellow, a deeper sense of connection. Parts made me sad, like the reference to sugar pines regularly being twelve feet in diameter, or the new mining techniques that used water to wash the top soil off and away, down the streams and rivers, so as to expose the sediments below that contain the gold, against the bed rock. Not to mention the racist attitude towards the Mexican "greaseheads" and the Chinese "chinks". But, still, to imagine this place at this crucible in history. A time when unprecedented "wealth" in the form of gold was being discovered left and right and the effects of this drove a transformation of the country in waves and tides with the influx of all types of people, products of "civilization", and a invasive mentality of the earth as resource existing primarily for the benefit of man - by man I mean White people. 

Despite these facts, there was something else that brought me in and gave me a greater feeling of belonging, or at least understanding, here, of this place. It was all about the gold. Most people did not have plans to make a life "out there in California". If there was gold, that was the point - it was worth more than anything. Get your fortune and head back home to New England a rich man. And so what many people thought would be a short-lived extraction of a resource followed by abandonment became two and then five, and then fifteen years ongoing, towns began to build themselves, people started to make a home out here - either in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada or by the Bay, in San Francisco. 

California was becoming etched into the cultural consciousness as the land of plenty, the land of opportunity, the land of freedom. 

Today, still, the inertia of the gold rush is in play in California and in the minds of people throughout the United States and the World. It's the spirit fostered by the gold rush that has continued. I look at my life, my life here around Nevada City. My life here is not about gold. It's not even about riches! But it is most definitely about this PLACE! This is my home and I LOVE my home. I love the tall pine trees on the horizon, I love the amazing sunsets we seem to get every other evening, I love our dry hot Summers, our perfect Springs and Autumns and I even love our relatively mild Winters. I love the Yuba River, not for it's accumulation of gold from its tributary streams, but for the smooth granite rocks, the greenish blue clear water in the summer and the mossy trees on the north facing slopes. I love the ups and downs of the terrain. The micro-climates, the plants, the animals, and the PEOPLE. The people here love this place. They know what special place it is. I might go so far as to say that one of the reasons that this spirit of appreciation is so strong here has to do with the little not-so-secret-economy of this place. Much like the gold rush allowed folks to live a life with a certain freedom and mobility, thus endearing a spirit of gradual opening to "the different", the ganja economy has supported a new wave of Forty-Niners who actually do want to live here, who have chosen to live here because of the beauty they see and the community they sense. Now don't get me wrong, it is definitely NOT all about the ganja economy, directly at least. I, for one, do not dredge the ganja streams to support my lifestyle. Undoubtedly some or a lot of those folks hanging at the patch or shopping at the farmers market are spending their "green" to buy my veggies.

I might have digressed. Basically, anybody living in Nevada County, and definitely Nevada City, should read this book, "The Diary of a Forty-Niner". It is a tremendous part of our histories and in me it has instilled a deeper sense of appreciation of that time for what it was and a new sense of wanting to discover more of that history. To visit the historical library and find out more about where exactly I live!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reading the Landscape

I guess it was an epiphany - it was definitley one of those "ah hah" moments. It was such a pleasing moment that I'm pretty sure I looked around me to see if there was anybody else around, because, were they as excited as I was? Haha, only the goats in their pen chewing their cudd like they do with half their life's hours... No matter if there was nobody around at that moment to share my excitement, there was some doin' to do!.

I first got goats three years ago, in the Spring. Pete (Shan's son), up on the ridge, was getting rid of his goats and I was just wanting to get some of my own. He gave me three goats, one was in milk - that was Gretta the "Queen Bitch", an Oberhausli with some Nubian crossed in. The other two were pregnant and due to kid out some time between April and late June, in other words, it was not really known when they had been bred. One was named Peaches; a smaller goat, a Kinder - which is a x number of generations of two different breeds back and fourth or some thing like that, never was too sure about that one - never the less, she was definitely a grandma and a grandma with a 10 inch goat-tee. She was old, she knew it, and she didn't take crap from any of the goats - not that she needed to be the top of the herd , she just really felt that she deserved some respect around here. The third goat Ganges, formally know as Ganja, was a some what ill-tempered goat that held very little respect for the other goats and the semblance of a herd that they were. She was a loner, basically - except that whenever she jumped out of the enclosed pen or the portable electified netting, all the others followed suit. She taught bad habits.

If I remember correctly I brought the goats back from Pete's in the back of my small Toyota pick-up truck; tethered together and anchored by a lead rope through the back window of my truck to the head rest of the passenger seat. Economy. The plan was to have the goats where we lived. We was myself and Vince, later to be followed by three more interns: Kate, Danny, and Tommy, oh yeah, and Teeney, who was only there for 6 weeks of the summer. This was the farm site on Wet Hill Rd. It was the first year there so everything was new. The field was freshly tilled, the outside summer kitchen was recently constructed (just having been gutted from the remodel at In The Kitchen and transported to Wet Hill), the solar hot water shower was not quite warm yet, and we had no area prepared for the goats - no fencing, no cover, and virtually no experience caring for goats. I did know how to milk, however.

Well, the goats were here now, so we better construct a pen for 'em. We had a stockpile of used, used, and used again fencing up at the Jacobson's on Cement Hill Rd, Bluebird Farm, so we made a trip up there after tethering the goats to a long line and some willow where they could browse at their convenience. 15 minutes later we were back with a few roles of four feet high old rusted "livestock" fence. We had already decided to construct the penn towards the back of the property where there was lots of forage for them; willow, blackberries, vinca, hawthorne, some wild iris, and a couple wild rose. It was thick - so thick that we couldn't see all the way through it or even hack our way to the other side. There was some old fencing already set up down there, long ago over-grown by the jungle, but we thought it would at least keep them at bay for a while - until they ate their way into the impenetrable. We set up the "new" fencing on the open side next to the pathway using state of the art fence-building skills we didn't have. T-posts, light weight baling wire, yeah, that was all. For the first week the goats got out at least 6 times per day. After that it was down to one or two as we made the already visually-unpleasing fence more so by the addition of sticks, small sections of more fencing, and the colorful array of yellow, blue, and orange baling twine zig-zagging across the gaps in the fence.

Gradually, over the course of the summer, the area we had enclosed was revealed to us; in part due to the goats, but mostly because of my extra-curricular machete work. We're talking about an area at least thirty by fifty so densely over-grown with willows and blackberries that I could put in a good two hours in the evening hacking away and barely notice a difference. It was a bit perplexing to me at the time, that this 25ft tall thicket was mostly filled with dead wood - minus the fresh green tips swaying high above my head that the goats devoured as quickly as they fell. Bit by bit the area was cleared; the old fence became exposed, its sagging form hardly able to pass for a fence. We cut out the old wire; rolling it up for the next trip to the dump, and pulled out the T-posts, all of which were of a make no longer in common circulation. By this time the Fall was upon us. The ground was wet again and the area we had cleared was especially boggy. It was a drainage, some what naturally, but at some point in the past there had been some major earth-moving in the area and so now instead of allowing the water to flow the area acted as a relatively flat catchment; intercepting the incoming wtaer, diffusing it over the entire area, and allowing only an ooze to exit.

One of the owners of the properties (the Wet Hill Farm Site is actually composed of two separate parcels), Allan, had recently paid Mitch Mitchel to have some tractor work done to improve drainage in front of his house so I quickly took advante of the close proximity of this incredible machine. In about an hour Mitch trenched a shallow canal through the boggy area, immediatly creating better drainage. In the mean time we had decided to build a small goat/chicken barn on some of the dryer recently-exposed ground. Winter was right around the corner and those goats needed some protection!  We threw it up in a couple of days. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it didn't cost much and it was a dry space. Being that I have a hyper-awareness for the improper expose of soil to the elements, I made sure to seed the mucky ground now lacking all the cover from the dead willows with various grasses and some clovers and to cover it with straw.

For the next year I made several attempts to establish different grasses and clovers so as to create a pasture for the goats to graze. The chickens, being that their coup was right next door, kept getting through my barriers and scratching away the freshly germinated seed. This pasture just was not meant to be! And so it was that a few months ago I was struck with the brilliant idea to plant willow in the area! Of course! I spent all that time clearing the dead wood out and so logically it was time to now plant it back! Huh, really? As I mentioned earlier, goats love willow and it's really good for them. The problem is, however, that as the willow grows taller and taller it becomes out or reach to the goats. Being that goats can eat things totally impalitable to humans such as bark, the goat then starts to scrape the bark off the lower trunk of the tree, eventually girdling the tree and killing it. This is neither good for the tree or the goat.

I was going to plant willow but I was going to manage the plants - that is, I was going to create willow bushes  with many thicker, lower branches capable of creating abundant tender growth each year. I would then let the goats browse the willow growth when it reached a certain size. This would do a number of things. By maintaining the willows as bushes I would be providing the goats with a renewable food source while maintaining the longevity of the willow due to the tightly growing and thus impenetrable nature of the bush with its closely growing laterals. Of course, good animal husbandry and land management are both dependent on the vigilance of the person doing the managing and this would require that I, or whoever would be here after me, maintain a close eye on the growth of the willow as well as the duration of time that I allow the goats to graze the willows. If I let the willows grow too much without grazing I will soon have that thicket of dead willow I began with. But if I let the goats browse the willow for too long of a period I will soon find that the willow loses vigor and dies for lack of photosynthesis and even excessive girdling.

In effect my plan is to use the goats to simulate the effect that a wildfire (or a controlled fire) would have on a thicket of willow. A thicket full of dead willow would, eventually, under "natural" conditions, be caught by a fire, burn down, and regrow from the roots and debris of the old plants. Fire would clean out the tall, old wood and allow sunlight to stimulate the growth lower down. Because of our efforts at fire suppression the next fire on my farm might not be for a while. But is fire really the only thing that can bring the desired vigorous new growth to my patch of willow? Of course not! Goats will replace the effect of fire on my farm while providing the three M's - Milk, Meat, and Manure. Mmmmm.

Willow is an amazing plant because of its ability to root itself so easily. You will more than likely find willow in very wet areas - mine are on Wet Hill Rd - go figure. Because willow loves growing in water so much it makes sense that it would have developed the ability to send out roots from virtually all parts of the plant. Anywhere a leaf can emerge so can a root. One of the easiest plants to propagate! This is what I did:

In March right around the time the willow was just starting to bloom I took hundreds of 10 inch cuttings of the two the four year old growth from the many plants growing on the farm. This young growth is typically very green in color and is very vigorous and so it roots well in the moist soil.  In areas that I wanted to revegetate (the especially wet areas) I stuck clusters of three sticks in the ground half way. This means five inches of willow cuttings were in the ground (for growing roots) and 5 inches were above ground (for growing leaves and photosynthesizing). I did clusters of three because my thought was that this would lead to even bushier plants - and this is what I was after - plants that could protect their "inners" from bark hungry goats.

Here is a close up of the "nodes" that will send out leaves or roots depending on if they are in contact with the soil or the air. The slightly red bumps along the sticks are where the new leaves will sprout. 

This is the drainage I have been talking about. There are many clusters of willow planted and just starting to take root and leaf out. Over the next few years I will maintain close attention to the plants and form them into bushes four feet wide and four of five feed high.

Here is an example of the bush shape I'm going for in my plants. Notice how tight the lower branches are growing - this will provide protection to the plant from the goats by not allowing them to easily strip the bark. The willows in this picture have not yet leafed out.

Below is a shot of a typical willow stand that has not been managed by fire or proper browsing. Notice how the plants all seem to by laying in one direction. The plants compete with each other for light by reaching higher and higher for more sunlight. Eventually a snow storm comes and breaks branches and this creates a thick mat of dead and dying willow that blocks light from reaching lower parts of the plant, contributing to more die-off.  This particular thicket of willow on the farm will be undergoing restoration through grazing, clearing, and some replanting, soon. More pictures to come!

And of course, some of the little goats themselves.

Born March 12th 2011

I've been planting tons of willow on the farm. I still have plenty of areas where it's all pasture but adding willow to fence edges or in areas unsuited to pasture is a great addition to the forage options for the goats - or sheep or cows for that matter. And why stop there? Hawthorne is another plant that easily takes root and can be maintained more as a bush that can provide nutritious and prolific forage in the spring, summer, and fall.

Through this experience of observing the landscape and the plants and animals I've really gained an appreciation for the process of time. If you look at things from a long term perspective you'll begin to notice the details. Consider this; all the hills around Nevada City were at one time, not too long ago, clear cut. All the growth of the forests that we see today is (for the most part) younger than 100 years old. The trees useful for lumber were harvested and milled up - this includes the firs, pines, and cedars. Some of the trees such as alder, blue oaks, black oaks, canyon oaks, live oaks, and cottonwoods were likely spared because they were not as useful for lumber. After the lumber trees were harvested more light was allowed to penetrate to the forest floor. This gave advantage to some of the riparian species such as alder and cottonwood which don't grow as tall. It also opened the door for a lot of non-native and invasive species such as blackberries, black and honey locust, scotch broom, etc. Now, after 80 or 90 years of regrowth the tall species are back at the top. If you look closely you'll notice that below the canopy of the firs and cedars, and pines are the dying species of these previously mentioned plants - the oaks, alder, cottonwoods willows as well as some of the invasive species which all require more light than they are now receiving. It's the story of the landscape that I'm striving to understand. The more I understand the better I can help create a landscape that's healthy for the diversity of plants, provides food value for our livestock and the wild species, and speaks to us through the vibrant new growth of every year.

 I really believe in the need for stewardship and management of our lands. If we sit back and and think that by doing nothing we allowing nature to follow its best course we're practicing poor management. Humans have played a hugely significant role in shaping the plant and animal communities around us for ever. It's these communities that have supported us for generations and generations. We are in a unique situation right now where we really are not dependent on our local surrounds for our immediate support and so quality management practices have fallen to the way side and the knowledge of how to properly maintain the land has vanished. Through my farming I'm reconnecting to this source of support and striving to understand how to best steward the land and animals in one relationship.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The naming of a thing - First Rain Farm

    I'm the one who crafted the name "Living Lands Agrarian Network". Actually, if you want to go back even further there were three others who, one evening some time in the Spring of 2007, while hovering around the kitchen table of a student-created conscious-living coop (The Claremont Coop - Facebook it!), were dreaming  big. The four of us were best friends, early and mid-twenties, idealistic, passionate, capable, and moving. Myself and one other, Adam Forbes, were just finishing up our degrees at Pitzer College. Noah Westgate had graduated from Pomona College a few years before and had jumped into creating this Claremont Coop with his friend Geordie Shurman - Both of whom where highly instrumental in creating the amazing Pomona College Organic Farm while in school. The fourth person present was Christopher Remmers; a native to the San Bernardino Mountains, a talented artist and young but experienced natural builder. The four of us became close while living together at the coop and working to improve the place and live together (with some others as well).

   Time's were changing ,for all of us, and we saw it coming. So anyway, that evening we sat down around the table and began envisioning how we would stay connected through the work we were all interested in pursuing - ranging from organic farming to natural building to starting more coops to creating a non profit that could be the nexus of education for all of these things! None of us were really interested in more formal education like that which we received at college - not to say that we were not grateful to have been educated in that way, but that we were ready for what was next - we wanted our next education to be through living and feeling. We wanted to be connected to the earth, to nature, to soil, to land, to people, to community and to create the meaning of our lives through these connections.  There we were, totally excited about this non-profit that we were going to create, like tomorrow! - and so of course we needed a name! How can you go forward without a name, you know? After a bit of brainstorming we came up with Living Lands. That was it. Living Lands embodied what we were after in our lives. Explicit in its connection to the Land and in the form we wanted that relationship to take - through our Lived experience - It also expressed our view of the Land as a Living thing, and worthy of total respect. We had been at this brainstorming session for a while so we called it quits for the night - content to leave it at that - with a name and the idea that this non-profit organization would provide the body through which we could all work together, in education, while geographically separate at times, and in the different interest fields we all had.

And so our lives continued on but the vision of Living Lands remained in our heads only. That's okay though because it just goes to show that the time right then, right there, was not ripe for the total fruition of this vision.

I graduated from Pitzer College in May of 2007 and packed my bags, leaving Southern California and the Claremont Coop permanently. Two days later I found myself back in Nevada City, California; hands in the soil, wide brimmed hat on my head, and happy as can be working side by side with Leo (then Lennard) Chapman at Bluebird Farm. Finally, I was doing what I had been dreaming of; working and living on the land with every hour of sunlight - not to mention enjoying the company of so many lovely folks into the evening every Thursday under the presence of the giant English Walnut tree. Now I'll admit, in that first year back home (yes, I'm a Nevada City Native - having grown up on Banner Mountain in the Little Deer Creek Watershed) those potluck dinners were mostly attended by folks in their 40s and 50s - Leo and Deb's friends mostly. Thankfully, however, several other farms in the area including Mountain Bounty and River Hill had interns that year and most Thursdays I could count on at least a few of them to show up! So yeah, there was a lack of young people, not only in the social sphere, but also in Nevada County Agriculture.

Having just completed my senior thesis on the topic of Peak Oil and the ways in which United States Agriculture would have to be re-structured to adapt to the changing conditions precipitated by diminishing energy availability, I was highly tuned into the dire need for More Farmers! Learning how to farm - about fertility cycles and our local conditions - was a major goal of mine that summer but there was another part of me that yearned to do more than just this! I saw my involvement in agriculture as so much more than just growing food - I felt a calling to engage with people, to confront the barriers prohibiting their involvement within farming; land access, knowledge of farming, support, start up costs, marketing, and socially-stimulating engagement with their peers and elders!

This was when Living Lands became Living Lands Agrarian Network, or at least through the process of myself and Leo throwing ideas back and fourth about how to go about this endeavour. The concept was far too great for only two people to hold completely. We went for it, never the less, and by the beginning of that next year we had expanded to a total of four farm sites within the Nevada City area, had five interns joining us for the season, had expanded our growing into the realm of staple crops like beans and grains to provide for our food needs year round, and were raising chickens for eggs and meat, spring lambs, and pigs! The vision was still young but it had started to take material form and due to our dedication to remaining flexible we were able to remain on the path of This Progress, adapting where adaptation was necessary. This year was, in many ways, still defined by the name Bluebird Farm more than Living Lands Agrarian Network. Our ideas were still forming as to what Living Lands was, how it would function, and how to include others in its creation. One of our interns from this year, 2008, Vince Booth, or, as we fondly referred to him, Number 1 (because he arrived first), had been greatly impacted by the season of farming with us, so much so that he was prepared to stay another year, this time as a partner.
Also joining us in that next season of 2009, which would turn our to be the most formative year for Living Lands, was Maisie Ganz. Maisie had been one of the interns at Mountain Bounty that first year on the farm. She and I took a likin' to each other early on in that season - both of us so passionate about farming and what we were able to do with our lives and the possibilities of living this vision that we were creating! After finishing up her year at Mountain Bounty she worked as the Journeyman Farmer at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, CA - gaining further understanding of growing for a CSA and incubating her vision for what she was most interested in doing. The next season she joined Me, Vince, and Leo up here in Nevada City to take part in the first official year of Living Lands Agrarian Network. I take full credit for bringing Maisie back to Nevada City and although our romantic relationship did not last through the season the vision that we worked to create together surely has thrived and we continue to work together in wonderful ways.

This was the year that Living Lands became an official 501c3 non-profit organization. The four of us were the founding Board of Directors and thanks to the help of Shawn Garvey our application for exemption was smoothly submitted and quickly accepted by the IRS. So many of the various components were coming together; we had the people, we had the land, we had the support of the community, and now we had the non-profit! But we still needed more people to hold this vision! We learned tremendous amounts in 2009. We learned about farming, each of us building on the experience we already had. We also learned about balance. We discovered that each of us has a different level of comfort with work and leisure, that sometimes it was helpful to have clearly defined lines between work and non-work, we learned that money can create invisible, or at least transparent, ties to one another. You see, in this year we were all more or less "employees" of the non-profit. We all worked together, most of the time, and whatever we made was pooled under the non-profit and then we were all equally compensated for our work. Our job descriptions were more or less undefined and we were flying by the seats of our pants! While we were all good friends and enjoyed each other tremendously, we still struggled to find ways to clearly communicate how we were feeling and to articulate our needs.

We were a non-profit now but we were not able to take advantage of this status for lack of energy and time, although we did get a small grant of $4,500.00 in support of the internship program, again thanks to the guidance of Shawn Garvey and the help of Leo's daughter Rebecca. The Fall season was now finally upon us and we were able to exhale, to begin looking back on the path we had traversed. The beauty of it all was tremendous and the room for improvement was staggering. Change was in the air. Change was necessary if we were going to continue.

Through the great fortune of the community, Maisie had befriended Willow Hein, herself a Nevada County Native, and the two of them had been scheming of ways in which they could collaborate in the coming season. Willow was a farmer, having just finished her first season on her own field off Lake Vera Rd, but was really interested in collaborating with more people and finding support in that. Willow's mother, Julia Kelliher, just so happened to be an amazing communications specialist. Throughout the past 30 years Julia has been working with businesses, organizations, individuals, and groups of people in helping them understand the underlying social and power dynamics affecting their behaviours and the health of their relationships. Maisie suggested we, the Board of Directors of Living Lands, schedule an appointment with her - we agreed. By this time, however, Vince had already departed for the Northwest where his roots are, and had no plans to return permanently. Lacking one board member we elected to invite Willow on as a replacement for Vince's position. She accepted the offer and seamlessly became a part of Living Lands. Once again four strong, we met with Julia and began the work of understanding our organizational structure and the dynamics that were at play. Priceless was this work with Julia. We worked through some persistent issues and came to agreement about how to proceed into the next season. We were all in agreement that we needed a division between the non-profit and the farmers/farm businesses. We needed to maintain the creative capacity of our and farmers and to do this we needed to provide for a greater degree of autonomy; financially, schedule-wise, and allowing each farmers to focus on Their main Interests and to not be diluted by the totality of interests in the group. At the same time we wanted to maintain the positive aspects of the collaboration; working together at times, exchanging ideas, providing education to interns, creating a strong non-profit that could support the farmers through developing on-farm infrastructure and continuing to draw the community into our work through our collective spirit, food-centered events, and other festivities.

We finally settled on a hybrid model. The non-profit would be separate from the farm businesses, focusing on its charitable mission of providing agricultural education to interns, supporting our farm-to-school  program, hosting educational workshops for the general public, and supporting beginning farmers through providing access to land, markets, capital, and a social support network. Each farmer would be responsible for running their own business. This means that each person or partnership is responsible for their own financial well-being as well as deciding how much they work, when they work, and how they work. In exchange for access to land, capital, markets, and the social support provided by the non-profit, farmers would be responsible for hosting the interns one day a week and educating them on the workings of their particular farm. To maintain the inter-connection of the different farms we decided to have one day a week, Wednesdays, where all the farmers, interns, and any volunteers work together on one of the farm sites. This day rotates from site to site each week and keeps everybody together as well as provides a big work force for especially large projects - it's cross-pollination!. Farmers are also expected to participate in the fundraising events throughout the year that are crucial to the financial well-being of Living Lands.

We changed a lot, but we all felt good about the decisions. Now it was time to put the new ideas to the test. The 2010 season was profoundly different than 2009 for the balance the new arrangement provided all the farmers. It opened the door for growth within the organization, largely because it freed up people's creative energies, but also because it was a clear-cut way that people could become involved in the network as farmers. The proof was in the pudding; The 2010 interns ALL decided they wanted to stay and join Living Lands as Farmers in 2011! And so it is that we have created four new farm sites this year to accommodate the various projects each new farmer aspires to create. Another part to the success of 2010 was Rachel Berry. Rachel, in the beginning of the season, worked with us as an event coordinator helping with the Farm Tour and Membership Drive in July as well as the Fine Dining in the Fields dinner in September. Being able to hire Rachel freed up energy for the Board of Directors and was she the right woman for the job! So right that she has remained with us in an expanded capacity as the Director of Living Lands; maintaining databases, organizing fundraisers, grant writing, working on public outreach, organizing our workshop schedule, providing valuable perspectives on different issues, as well as bringing her unique set of skills related to herbalism and wild-crafting - which she shares with her husband Matt, from whom we have also reaped benefit.

First Rain Farm. By now you're probably wondering why that name was even in the title of this blog posting. Keep reading. It took me all of the 2010 season to go through the "separation" process from the name Living Lands Agrarian Network. The name had become so much of who I was - all of my energy for the past three years had gone into creating this Thing! And now we had created a sharp division between this thing and me and the other farmers! I farmed in 2010 more or less under the name of Living Lands and towards the ladder part of the season I began thinking about My Farm. It was all up to me - so what was my farm? I have a perpetual habit of trying to do everything - and not being content with it until it's done the best it can be done. So you can imagine how I must feel some times - trying to grasp on to all parts of agriculture while being stretched further and further apart as the reality of time and energy constraints become apparent. I grow lots of greens and mixed vegetables for Briarpatch and the Nevada City Farmers Market, I raise dairy goats for my own milk habit and a few other folks, I have a small flock of egg laying chickens, I make a fair bit of compost, worm casting, I grow 30 varieties of vegetable seed for Sierra Seeds Coop, I raise pigs with Mathew Shapero for direct sale and the farmers market this year, I teach gardening workshops throughout the year, and I grow the produce for a small fermented foods business I have with my sister, Wendy Van Wagner, and her husband, Joe Meade, at In The Kitchen. I farm on three parcels of land - One one Wet Hill Rd. and the other two on Cement Hill Rd. - the total area is about 3.5 acres.

In thinking about a name for my farm I really wanted a name that embodied something beautiful; some words that spoke to the essence of an experience.The name Living Lands Agrarian Network was very explicit in that it is a network and it's a network of people involved in the agrarian lifestyle. Over the past five years we've all been aware of the growing number of farms and new farm names, in Nevada County and beyond. Many of these names embody the spirit of the emerging local foods movement; food justice, ecological practices, fertility loops, healthy food, etc. These names are telling you what they are about -  letting you know that they're not not just any old farm but that they have greater moral aspirations. I appreciate these names and the aspirations behind the names but for my farm's name, I find myself wanting to settle into the comfort, the beauty of this place where I farm. Through the name First Rain Farm I am attempting to convey the essence of something beautiful in my relationship with this place.

First Rain as a name would not make sense in all places for the reasons I have chosen. It's a place-based name in direct relationship to our climate - there must be a fancy-sounding french name for such an essence, anyone? First Rain speaks to the fact that for a long portion of time during our summer months we receive no rain. The ground becomes parched unless irrigated, the air is hot and dry, the grass turns brown, and the dust kicks up, covering the leaves of the trees on the way to the river. And it takes its toll on us as well. Our skin is dry and dusty. The sweat evaporates before it drips and our eyes squint under the intensity of the sun filled sky. Once in a while we might get a thunderstorm or a light sprinkling of rain in August, but certainly not every year, and usually not enough to penetrate the ground. The First Rain I'm talking about is the one that comes in late September or Early October. It's the one that moistens the ground many inches deep, it washes the leaves of the trees, cools the air, relieves the plants, and releases that amazing fragrance into the moisture-filled air. It's the big sigh of relief after a scorching summer of long days without this all-powerful respite. This is the First Rain that brings enough moisture to germinate seeds and to green up the dry, brown grass on the hills. This is the return of life.