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Archive for the ‘Wwoof’ Category

Inspired by the chronicles of the Barefoot Sisters (two sisters who hiked the Appalachian Trail barefoot), I have fooled around on various hiking trips, taking off my shoes for parts of the trail, testing my endurance, and “training” my feet to welcome the uncertainty of the ground. Never before, however, had I spent the entire day on the farm working barefoot. That was until I became increasingly aware of how I clunked around in my work boots while the animals roamed the pasture effortlessly with their bare paws and hooves. After that moment of blatant juxtaposition, I decided to liberate my awkwardly booted feet, and return to my primal being. With one shoe unlaced, my toes wriggled in anticipation to meet the ground. They were welcomed by grass that was still wet from yesterday’s thunderstorms. The grass refreshed my feet, and the cooling sensation penetrated my entire body. This was a worthwhile jailbreak, I decided.

Since my fascination with the barefooted people of the world began a few years ago, my ears have been alert to related news in the barefoot world. There is an entire subculture dedicated to regaining the lost sensation of bare-feet on the ground, and informing the public about the health benefits of the shoeless and sockless life. The other day, I stumbled upon this New York Magazine article, “You Walk Wrong.” Allow me to share with you some of what I learned.

– Your bare toes help you to grip the earth, and with that, provide you with more stability and balance.

–  There are a whopping 24 (or, for some people, 26) bones in the foot

– It is not against the law to drive barefoot.

– barefooters.org is the official site of the Society for Barefoot Living. They have some interesting facts and articles on their site.

– Shoes are unnecessary and can actually cause additional health problems, such as wear and tear on the knees.

– You should give it a try!

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: The pigs’ names are Hunky, Dory, and Papaya.

 

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I am moving to Mexico in a month! After just a little under a year-long application process, the Peace Corps invite came in late May. After careful consideration, I accepted. I will be living in Central Mexico and working on an Environmental Education project. Total dream job. I am excited. Terribly excited. Scared? A bit, yes. I can’t deny that one. The Peace Corps is life-changing some say. So Mexico, here I come por dos años y tres meses. In the meantime, I think I should brush up on some español, sí.

the twigster,
Josefina

PS: Guess who got some poison ivy working on Threshold Farm this week? This itchy girl.

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The beginning of a new adventure...and Biscuit the farm dog

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When we first arrived at the farm, we noted that the garlic wasn’t quite ready to emerge from the cool earth. No, as steadfast as it is pungent, the garlic was prepared to wait patiently for a few more days of intense heat, growing proportionally stronger with the heat index. So, we spent those days weeding and eating, all the while waiting for the garlic to summon us. As we were in the field, ripping weeds from the earth, the sun baked our backs. The heat the garlic needed, I grudgingly noted.

A few days passed, and a few less pounds of water weight I carried. Growing delirious from the sun, I walked over to the planted garlic. Just as I was about to reconcile that I would not be able to harvest the garlic during my time at the farm, I was given the signal. Several of the lower leaves of the garlic were brown, but the top five or six leaves were still green. The garlic was ready to be relieved from the dark den it had known the entirety of its life. The garlic was ready to metamorphose from a mere plant to the beloved raw garlic cloves we all reach for while cooking.

Francesca and I were so excited to harvest the garlic. This was the main reason we returned to Threshold Farm – to see a process come full circle. Cycles are inherent to the entire concept behind the farm, permaculture. Produce no waste, create feedback loops, and integrate the community. We loosened the dirt, and before long, the circle we began to draw in October, was complete.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: The vampires will stay far away from me. Hehe.

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Row after row of carrots demanded our attention. Overtaken by weeds, the bushy carrot greens signaled us down to their level. “Look,” they pleaded, “could you help me get some room to breathe?” As worshippers to the tasty and nutritious vegetables of organic farming, us wwoofers knew we had to answer the carrots’ request. A chemical spray certainly wasn’t worthy or welcome for the job. No, this was the job for a wwoofer, a job for someone willing to work hard to see the carrots thrive, a job for someone averse to sacrificing nutrition for ease.

Defying the 90° F weather, we started removing the intruders around 7:00 AM in an effort to evade the sun’s direct light for a few hours. 2 wwoofers hoed down the majority of the jungle of weeds, while another 2 wwoofers delicately picked out the weeds from among the juvenile carrots. Although hand-pulling weeds is a time-consuming process, it is also a safe way to ensure that you don’t eliminate your crop while trying to help it. On our hands and knees, we worked down the row, kick starting the arduous process of defeating the carrots’ competition with the weeds for light and nutrients.

Succulents, grasses, and stinging nettles were ripped from the soil, and placed in the valleys of the beds. Once the carrots’ pests, the weeds became the carrots’ allies, returning nutrition to the soil and nurturing the planted vegetables. As we worked, we began to see the defined rows of carrots emerge, their greens as glorious as the plumage of a proud peacock. Biscuit, the farm dog, visited us from time to time offering an encouraging nudge as we worked. When one o’clock came around, our weeding ended for the day and we returned home for lunch. In celebration of all we had accomplished, I loaded my hand-rolled sushi with a handful of sweet carrot strips, savoring each crunch that ensued.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Did you know that the greens of carrots are edible? Try mixing them in with your salad for a new twist on a summer dish.

Weeded versus unweeded rows

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Systematically, Francesca and I threw individual garlic cloves onto the raised bed. Clove after clove thudded to the ground, each six inches from the prior. As we worked, the white cloves began to transform the mounds of dirt into polka dot displays, a juvenile form of natural art. Snaking our way through the beds, we returned to the start of each to drive the cloves four inches underground using nothing but the force of our thumbs. Barefoot as we worked, we welcomed October’s cold and hard morning soil underfoot. So desperate to connect with the earth after too many months in the city, I wanted to align myself with the terra on every level possible. I savored the sensation of soil between my fingertips and welcomed the sun’s rays on my back. I watched the roaming chickens with adoration as the creatures pecked at the soil in pursuit of their morning breakfast. I inhaled deeply as the wind passed bringing with it the smell of cow dung from the barn. All the while, Francesca and I kept our system alive, mimicking the cycles of the earth. Throw garlic. Push garlic into the soil. Return to the start of a new row. A rhythmic routine.

Long after Francesca and I left Threshold Farm to return to the Big Apple, the scent of garlic followed us. We caught whiffs of the pungent yet somehow sweet odor lingering on our hands, and with that perfume still in our nostrils, Francesca and I vowed to return to Threshold Farm to see the fruits of our labor.

Now, five months later, we are back in the garlic beds, ready to reap what we sowed. Here we are in Philmont, NY. Stay tuned for more adventures on Threshold Farm.

the twigster,

Josephine

PS: Threshold Farm now has some piggies! Oink.

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Kurt Vonnegut explains it all

Volunteers at Lowernine.org came from all over the country and the world, and fittingly they came with different backgrounds and motives. Meeting people with different perspectives has always been an enlightening experience for me and this month was no different. My observations of interpersonal relationships as well as my own interactions with the volunteers forced me to confront the issue of labels. Surprisingly this issue was harder to live with than the hundreds of cockroaches crawling in the dish rack.

It is human nature to attempt to find similarities in what we know and connect the unknown to the known, but too often at Lowernine.org it ended with people being falsely categorized. As new volunteers came and went, I witnessed the following series of questions asked as a way for the questioner to gauge a person, feel him out, and then assign a label.

Where are you from?
How old are you?
What do you do for living?
What school did you go to?
What are you studying?

This list of questions can go on and on. Don’t get me wrong, you need to ask questions to get to know someone, but as I saw this happen again and again I kept returning to Kurt Vonnegut’s book, Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut terms granfalloon as a group of people that imagine they have a connection that really does not exist. For example, you meet someone who is from the same city as you and automatically you think you have a link or special bond. Contrarily, you meet someone who is from a city you dislike and mechanically associate them with all the ill feelings you hold for the city. As a New Yorker, I got that one a lot. Apparently we are all rude. So over the month, people tried to label me, and their fellow volunteers. I was labeled a hipster, rich city girl, hippie, privileged, and white girl. These categorizations built walls of separation between people, walls that were unnecessary and limited genuine understanding.

It was bothersome, irritating and flat out rude sometimes as I felt people who barely knew me and others judged one another unfairly and wrongly. In multiple occasions, I got into a heated argument with the farm director because she naively dismissed all the volunteers as privileged rich, white kids who were volunteering to feel good about themselves, (which may very well be in true in some instances but a gross generalization is never right). One time she had taken it to far, and I could not sit by idly as she insulted so many of my peers that I had grown to respect. Of course my stance, as you could probably guess from the sentiments of this post, was that she had no idea who the other volunteers were, their backgrounds, or their intentions for volunteering. An enjoyable evening at the levee soon turned into a fiery debate.

The next day at hoedown, the daily morning meeting at 7:45, I checked the chalkboard for my work assignment. To my surprise, I found myself taken off of farm duty and assigned to scraping paint from an old shotgun house. As a wwoofer I was always on farm duty. I was peeved because I was being “punished” for expressing my opinion, and defending myself. At the same time, I was satisfied because I had obviously hit a nerve with the farm director, and hopefully enough to have her rethink her outlook. So I made the most of my day. I jammed out with an I-pod with a paint scraper as a microphone while balancing on one of those treacherous ladders. Worth it? Duh.

Like anything else, this labeling nonsense was a learning situation. I reflected on my own judgments of people, how I had reached those decisions, and how I could better try to identify with a stranger without the standard series of questions. Work with someone, live with someone, and openly listen to them and hopefully you can avoid passing judgment, and perhaps realize that often people are way too complicated to be placed in a category and assigned a label. Let’s start breaking down the walls that separate us, because after all is said and done, we are all humans. If, however, you still insist on labeling me, I’ll make it easy for you. I am the twigster.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: Job training starts tomorrow. I was employed by Big Daddy’s today. Sounds like a strip club, but it’s a restaurant. The twigster will make it west!

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Back to City Life

When I awoke this morning I asked my sister, “Has it really only been a week since I got back from New Orleans?”

It is mind-boggling how we can transition so quickly into new surroundings and experiences, and then return just as fast to our routine lives. Of course we return changed as we take with us our experiences, our lessons, and the marks on our hearts from the people we meet along the way, but still, it makes you wonder about life’s transient nature.

Daily, I recall my usual morning routine at the volunteer house and compare it to my current morning. By 7:30 a.m. at Lowernine.org I would begrudgingly roll out of the comfort of my bed/tent, a private “den” I created for my lower bunk bed. I tucked my large paisley scarf, unzipped sleeping bag liner, and dirty towel under the top bunk to create a refuge of privacy on the lower bunk. While it successfully created a cozy sleeping “room,” it also created a trap to stay in bed: one of my best and worst ideas.

At 7:30 this morning I was still fast asleep in my New York City apartment. There weren’t 5 volunteers bustling around my room attempting to get dressed and snag one of the 2 bathrooms (for 20 people) so they could brush their teeth. There wasn’t a volunteer on breakfast duty cooking twenty scrambled eggs for all the other volunteers. There wasn’t silt in my sheets from last night’s bonfire on the levee. My room was pitch-black, and quiet. The biggest disturbance to my slumber was Milano, my 6 pound yorkie, squeaking for me to pick him up so he can snuggle up next to me.

Both mornings are beautiful in their own right, but like I said I just can’t get fathom how quickly life can change its setting, its work, its interactions. Needless to say, I desperately miss working on the farm in the Lower Ninth Ward. I worked outside all day everyday, with my hands in the soil, dirt on my pants, and sun on my face. I miss seeing Al, a resident of the area who was rebuilding a home right across the street from the farm and whose progress I would track daily. I miss coming home to a house swarming with like-minded people, committed to making a difference not only in the Ninth Ward, but also in the expectations they have for their lives and the lives of others.

So here I am back in New York plotting my next move. Immediate plans: Peace Corps interview tomorrow. Intimidating? Yes. Once that’s out of the way this twigster needs a job so she can find her soul on the west coast. This is the beginning of a quest for a sky full of stars, and a landscape uninterrupted by buildings. I told you I was a romantic.

The twigster,

Josephine

PS: Want to hire me?

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While in college, I was always thinking of crafting projects, which evolved into the establishment of the accessories line, Glitter and Glue. After a few Saints-themed hair accessories were created and worn with pride, G&G sadly tapered off. A new chapter of my life, however, has led to the establishment of yet another crafting brand! Allow me to introduce you to the new farmers market exclusive line, Oysters and Okra, O&O.

The other day at the farm, we ripped out some BIG okra plants. They had been planted a while back, so their production level and quality had diminished, and it was time to see them go. While the destruction transpired, I became fascinated with the roots of the plant. The roots are super long, malleable when wet and incredibly strong, almost rope-like. Pulling the leftover roots remaining in the bed, I started bunching them as I ripped them from the soil. Organically, the idea to make wreaths from these roots emerged among the farm crew, and just in time.

The farm has experienced a bit of theft the past two weeks, leaving us less and less to bring to the farmer’s market to make some money. The wreaths are an answer, a temporary answer at that, to the lack of produce to sell at the farmers market – an additional money-making endeavor. Over the past two days, we made about ten wreaths, all embellished with objects found directly within the local environment. Big, iridescent oyster shells stick out from the soil in our Lower Ninth Ward farm, making them an easy choice to jazz up our humble wreaths. Basil thyme grown on the farm is also woven through the okra roots, emitting its sweet scent.

Until we begin the nightly vigils at the farm to prevent thieves from slicing away our lettuce, it looks like we might need to get a bit creative. We’ll see how these wreaths sell at the market, Oysters’ and Okra’s big debut. If nothing else this volunteer house will sure feel homey with ten wreaths hanging on the walls.

The twigster,

Josephine

Hoop house we made today to grow some tomatoes

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The morning I was due to arrive at Lowernine.org, my anxiety crept up on me. The feelings reminded me of my first day of school every year, constant inner questioning about my preparedness, my skills, and my peers. Ashamedly, I had never spent an extended period of time in the Lower Ninth Ward during my four years in New Orleans, so I didn’t know what to expect. Crossing over the Industrial Canal into the Lower Ninth, I knew there was no turning back. Slowly my anxiety transitioned into eagerness as I watched the neighborhood roll by from the passenger seat.

Pulling up to the volunteer house, a boldly painted purple home with green trimming and gold accents, I grabbed my bags and built up my courage. When I saw my room, it was like I was in Costa Rica again: small living space, bunk-beds, dirty and smelly clothes strewn in every square inch, yep, I was back to simple living and it felt good. After claiming a top bunk, a few volunteers and I walked down to the levee. In true New Orleans style, someone came over and offered us some nice cold beers. The generous people were a group of other volunteers working with the organization, Common Ground, which also rebuilds the Lower Ninth Ward and works to replant the wetlands.

After enjoying the sunset on the Mississippi, the night continued with an invite back to the Common Ground volunteer house. We shared some dinner, and swapped stories on how we had found ourselves with the same mission, a search for more meaningful work. Most of the volunteers I have met are around the same age as I am, recent college graduates, who view the failing job market as an opportunity to create and achieve something different rather than succumb to the usual and automatic entrance into the work world. Idealistic? We’ll see.

The twigster,

Josephine

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When I first heard of biodynamic agriculture, I didn’t take it to be any different from organic farming. I assumed it adhered to the same basic principles: no pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, just the good stuff. Little did I know that it involved so much more. Since I myself am still learning about biodynamics and all that it entails, I will do my best to share with you some of the knowledge that I gained while at Threshold Farm, a biodynamic farm.

– Biodynamics is indeed a method of organic farming.

The farm is viewed as one, single & unified organism.
There is a deep focus on the interrelationship of animals, plants, and soil as a self-regulating and self-sustaining unit. Biodynamics understands that all organisms are interdependent and the system uses those relationships to the farm’s advantage. For example, Hugh and Hanna (the farmers) allowed their chickens to roam the farm. The chickens’ instinctively scratched at the soil, foraged for insects, and left their droppings as they wandered. The chickens, therefore, served the farm as soil turners, pest controllers, and fertilizers.

– Biodynamics limits the amount of external inputs into the farm.
Farmers grow the food the animals need right on the farm. Think of how the farmers at Threshold Farm fed the rotten apples to their cows, making complete use of the apples (previous day’s posts talks about this). The herding dog, Biscuit, scavenged most of her meals and would often eat an afternoon snack of an apple.

– Use of manures and compost to fertilize the soil.
On the last day of our visit to Threshold Farm, one of the cow’s had unexpectedly died during the night. The cow was a healthy, young girl of about 6 years of age. Most of their cows live until they are about twenty so the farmers’ were fraught with worry that the cow’s death was caused by something of their doing – a staple overlooked in the field, an oversight of symptoms. Each cow at Threshold Farm had a name, and knew that name when she was called into the barn from pasture. This cow, Felicia, was no different.

After a morning of worry, the autopsy showed that the cow had a weak heart and had probably died of a heart attack. Although the farmers were still upset because of the huge financial lost involved with losing a healthy cow, they were much relieved that the death was something that could not have been prevented. The cow’s purpose on the farm did not end in her death, however. Her body was added to the compost pile so that she may continue to bring life to the farm, nourishing her caretakers and fellow cows.

– Use of an astronomical planting and sowing calendar.
The calendar takes into account the solar, lunar, and earth rhythms. When farming rhythms and these natural rhythms collide, biodynamic farmers believe that their crop will have an increased life force, nutrition, and vitality, which will then enhance human life and nourishment.

– Originated out of the work of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. To learn more about Rudolf Steiner, visit Who was Rudolf Steiner?

One must taste food grown on a bioydynamic farm, feel the richness of the soil in her hands, and understand the contentedness of the farm’s animals to truly comprehend biodynamics. Taste an apple from a biodynamic farm, picked right off the tree and you will know.

The twigster,

Josephine

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