Five Steps to Farming With Your Fork

We are living in times of created scarcity.

Each reveal spots our vulnerability.

Food is essential – and we all know why.

Food can be used as a weapon – and we understand how.

Food is a tool to awaken us.

Food activates power.

Food is a gift that is shareable.

– Dovanna Dean

Are you looking to start a garden from scratch, re-thinking your current garden, or realizing you need a long term plan to keep food on the table and in your pantry?

Farming with your fork is creating a demand with each bite for the crops and livestock we want on our table but most important HOW they are raised.  It’s a powerful and simple action that bonds families and communities and solidifies self-reliance.  Farming with your fork also becomes part of your self-care regiment.  I’m applying these actions into my daily “to-do chores” and it has become a lifestyle. By sharing these steps my goal is to inspire you and yours to become activated at your own rhythm.

Let’s begin this beautiful journey.

Photo Credit: Kim Mendoza

EXPLORING THE 5 STEPS OF FARMING WITH YOUR FORK

1. IDENTIFY YOUR GOALS FOR YOUR SPACE.

Create your site plan to get clarity about what you need from your space.  Ask questions like do you want to compost? Should you invest in an irrigation system?  How can you extend your growing season? Is it best for you to start a garden in containers or in beds? Do you have space to store the bounty of your harvest?

Asking questions provides direction and focuses your energies towards reaching your gardening goals.

2. COLLABORATE.

Look around… You may be surprised at the under used spaces you have access to use. Talk to family, neighbors, and community groups who may have unused spaces along with resources and develop partnerships. Work out mutually beneficial relationships. Look into tool sharing collectives, seed saving groups, and start reading to expand your knowledge and build your confidence… I enjoy reading seed catalogs because seed companies want you to thrive so they offer an abundance of tips and resources.

With more space there is no limit to what you can nurture and learn to grow.

Photo Credit: Kim Mendoza
3. CHOOSE YOUR CROPS & LEAVE NO SPACE EMPTY YEAR ROUND.

Resist the urge to start a massive amount of seeds at one time. Instead get on a schedule to start seeds every two weeks for a staggered harvest. Most important is to always plant in season – do not start tomatoes at the end of summer and expect successful growth as the weather gets cold. If plants are started out of season much of their energy is used up working to combat unseasonable weather like cold, heat, rain, or drought. The plants are left with less energy for balanced growth and can become prone to diseases and insect attacks. There are many products and tips to extend your growing season. Grow a vast variety of veggies and herbs. Plant fruit trees and berry bushes. Grow all kinds of potatoes. Try growing grain crops like amaranth and beans you can dry and eat past the harvest.

This strategy ensures you are eating garden fresh year round.

Photo credit: Krista Sherer
4. REACH OUT TO LOCAL FARMERS, RANCHERS, AND FOOD PRODUCERS.

While you are setting up your garden and realizing your “green thumb” support the work of small scale farmers, ranchers, and food producers.

Next time you get to a farmers market start collecting names and numbers and keep connected. Also ask if they need help harvesting or planting in exchange for yummy farm grown goods.  Another priceless bonus from this action is that you get to take a day trip with the family and experience farm life. 

Keep in contact with small scale/local food producers like bakers, cheese makers, bee keepers, prepared foods, etc. In the event farmers markets are stopped you maintain a line of communications and you keep their passion of producing local foods alive.

Supporting the works and efforts of these small businesses creates a strong demand for their goods.

5. START A BUYERS CLUB WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS. 

In a buyers club, you work as a group to share the expenses of bulk items and yield buying power for good prices. Being part of a buyers club takes organization and a commitment of your time. In one buyers club I was a part of, we rotated responsibilities to give everyone the opportunity to know all the jobs associated with running the club. To avoid being charged delivery fees we worked out meeting the delivery truck at one of its super market stops.  To make it extra fun we had pot lucks on delivery days so we could try new items. This was a great opportunity to experiment with new ingredients before buying.

Forming a buyers club puts you in direct contact with suppliers and enables you to be an active participant in the supply chain. You become a link in the system.

Photo Credit: Kim Mendoza

5 steps to farming with your fork becomes a starting point towards food security and solidifying access to healthy foods. It does take work and collaboration.

Be creative and do not give up. You are on the path to farming with your fork!

Dovanna Dean is a practitioner of Permaculture. She is also a lover of animals, plants, house music.

Farming With Your Fork

At the beginning of the 2020 global pandemic, I reached out to neighbors, friends, and family to make sure folks where OK – physically and emotionally. The common thread of our conversations was a calling to get serious about gardening but beyond that – it was about living as a self reliant community . Garden related “wishes” we chatted about centered on gaining practical skills and further exploration into actions like putting up a greenhouse for year round growing, starting micro-greens, getting serious about composting, or preserving the harvest. I fueled the conversation by asking about their companion planting plan? How many harvest where they planning on trying for the season? Are they starting seeds in succession to have a continual harvest? What integrated pest management techniques they think they will try? Gulp – I think I got WAY too excited. However, at the core of each conversation was the desire to cultivate self – reliance by growing foods, medicine, and beauty. These chats have motivated me to outline my 5 steps towards turning your garden into a “farm” that becomes your “grocer” – in essence your garden becomes your farm with your fork as your grocer.

Growing up during the 80’s Brooklyn, gardening was the thing older folks from the South did and no one else paid attention to.  One day on the bus I sat next to a sweet elder lady who looked over at my biology textbook about the part of a plant and commented “I never had a book to tell me about plants – we always knew what each part did, how to use it, and which ones to stay away from.  I guess these days you have to learn somehow ‘cause you are no longer connected.  I looked up politely and she continued – “we had huge gardens.  We saved our seeds for the next season, we preserved and canned, we used the throw-away stuff to fertilize the soil, and we cooked and cooked and cooked – mostly everything we needed was in the garden our in our neighbors plot…” She looked off into the distance and smiled.  I asked “you didn’t have a supermarket?” “Baby”, she said,” our garden farm was our grocer! “- “and we hardly got sick, we never went hungry, and Sunday dinners was a fest that lasted for days.”  I smiled not understanding the power of her words.  As she got off the bus she sealed our connection by saying “So much power in putting your hands in healthy dirt.  It’s up to you kids to continue doing these things!”  And these words would have a profound guidance on me and choices I would make years down the road.

During the 90’s Los Angeles I was a college student in the middle of the reaction by the community to the Rodney King verdict.  The town was on fire, people frustrated, and I watched stores burn.   I went back to my dorm and decided to stop my formal college education and seek a more practical and hands on path to reliance and peace on earth one garden plot at a time.  Yes, that conversation on the bus years earlier jumped into my very existence and steered my life path.  I started studying and practicing Permaculture shortly afterwards. Permaculture is a coined phrase for a set of principals and techniques for the harmonious integration of our landscape to benefit YOU and the Earth. “Farming with your fork” is a powerful and simple action. We create a demand or market with each bite for the crops and livestock we want on our tables AND how they are raised.

“Control oil and you control nations. Control food and you control people.”

Henry Kissinger, US political figure

2020 has shown is that we cannot continue to depend on outside forces as the sole provider of food. If its not the changing weather due to cyclic earth changes / grand solar minimum creating crop loss, disruptions in the supply chains, or corporate greed feeding us products based on destructive mono-culture farming techniques – we are at the mercy of factors that are not sustainable. What a sobering reality…

We can take charge by creating a demand by supporting your local farmers and ranchers, creating food buying groups, working together to turn empty spaces into abundance with gardening, and preserving and sharing the harvest. Each step becomes your template for abundance, community and self- care from your loving labor. Gardening is humbling to me because these are no mistakes – only actions you don’t repeat or you need to modify for better outcomes. We create “food security” with passion, imagination, courage, and community. Continue the conversation with friends and neighbors. Work together towards your community food security.

Photo Credits: Kim Mendoza

Dovanna Dean is a lover of dirt, pets, plants, and house music.

On the Pains of Xeriscaping: Toward Waterwise Living

It’s hard to have an ugly yard in California. Many residents in Southern California pride themselves on lush gardens with blooming flowers and Tennessee Bluegrass, but for environmentally-conscious people, watering thirsty plants in this hot arid land is untenable. Add the challenge of the dry Santa Ana winds from inland that desiccate the land and summer temperatures that rocket to the triple digits for weeks at a time. Basically, transforming a garden to a waterwise feature is not easy in the high deserts of Los Angeles County.

Owing to SoCal’s intense heat, gray water makes inhospitable ground for new plants, even adapted species and natives. The water here is mineral rich, causing calcification to household appliances like dish and clothes washers. One needs imagination to maintain efficiency will modifying a typical garden to a draught-tolerant, water-wise and creature friendly environment. Like all major changes, the transformation is not always easy to bear, to see or experience. Homeowner’s curb appeal may be temporarily reduced. That’s why many people pay gardeners and landscapers to do the work. But not me! I like to feel the dirt under my nails and the strain of my back as work this good earth.

Gardening always embodies mindfulness: One must pay attention to everything. I learned that the earth here is packed solid as rock in summer–especially without persistent watering. The soil is dense and claylike and water does not penetrate the top layer. It remains on the surface until the sun and wind evaporate it midmorning. The earth acts like a terra-cotta planter; roots cannot penetrate the solid surface. This hurts plant roots and hinders growth. All this means a gardener must use plants that will tolerate less water and consolidate plants in areas where water is used efficiently. Even so, to keep such a garden content, soil amendment is required.

Among the challenges of xeriscaping a property is adapting to the local conditions and climate as well as finding plants and arrangements that optimizes water use, while minimizing the demands for potable water, an increasingly scarce global commodity that is essential for life. I don’t mind the awkward transitions; xeriscaping my property gives me hope, because I can model a patient approach to land stewardship that embraces the local environment and creates a sustainable environment for all of us.

A happy draught-tolerant Palo Verde tree after soil amendment for better drainage.

Edissa is cultivating an organic edible garden and xeriscaping her SoCal property.

Wives’ Tales: Winter’s Cold Brew

Medicine is not only what can be bought with a prescription. Medicine can be grown in a garden, found on the herb rack, and prepared in the average kitchen. After our national and unsuccessful war on drugs, (more than 55,000 people died in 2015 from accidental opiate overdoses many of which were prescribed drugs; that number is expected to be topped in 2016) it’s time to look into traditional forms of healing to soothe the pain.

Since I was a girl, my mother would stop along the street in New York City to show me plants growing out of the cracks in sidewalks, or springing up along hedges. My mother would tell me the names of the plants and how to use them. Her wisdom is increasingly useful to me as I find that Western medicine does not always work in the way we need, want or expect. Sometimes, a little help from Mother Nature’s pantry is needed. Here’s a recipe that has gotten us through the bitter winter colds in resilient health. Try it.

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Winter’s Cold Brew

 

In a quart pan, combine the following ingredients in cold water:

Star Anise, 3-4 stars

Cinnamon, 1 stick

Jamaican Allspice, 10-15 pearls

Clove, 15-20 pins

Fresh Ginger, ¼ cup, thinly sliced

Heat the mixture under the lowest flame possible. It should take about an hour to boil. When the infusion is roiling, add 1-2 tablespoons of Echinacea let that boil for 8 more minutes (Okay to use 2 tea bags in lieu of fresh herbs). In an 8-ounce cup, add fresh lemon and honey. Strain the brew into the cup, and drink it as hot as possible. The various herbs and spices work to boost the immunity; many act as analgesics and astringents to soothe a sore throat, reduce and expectorate mucus and clear a stuffy head. You can drink as many cups a day as necessary to abate cold symptoms.

Stay healthy, and happy healing!

 

Making Peace with Gophers: How Personal Transformation Can Transform a Garden

 

 

In May 2015 I went to a Mindfulness Meditation retreat in the tradition of Community of Mindful Living, where I was reunited with old friends and made some new ones. The road to Ukiah was a long one, as it led to the journey within, to an interior of long-untouched places. There were many surprises, many unexpected openings, and even more healing and flowering of possibilities. Among my awakenings, I learned to care for my inner child with both historic tenderness and fierce protectiveness, both long overdue for my little girl. In the fertile ground of introspective work born of being thrown into close proximity with many people, the idea of equanimity both challenged and unfurled in me, holding my attention as I grappled with the realities of the concept as it applies to my emotional, physical and mental bodies. The question arose in me, What is it to make room for the other, the beloved?

 

I borrow from Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s book, Embracing the Beloved, for their work of naming the conscious relationships that can unfold and are encompassed when one allows for and embraces the “beloved”. They write that the “Other is the basis of every cruelty, all bigotry and war” for it is a practice that permits us to dis-identify as connected, a state wherein we are “nonfamily, nonfriend, nonrelationship, nonhuman, nonfeeling.” Indeed, these are all the many ways we separate ourselves. We can see this behavior and thinking everywhere. It is the most terrible disease of our modern times. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into this casual Othering and judging. For one, I am the Other, and two, the Beloved is me. The Beloved is all of us, our neighbors and those we don’t wish to hold close or dear: The shooter and the shot. We cannot chose. We must hold all in our center. That is equanimity.

 

As I breathe into this new-found understanding, I touch hesitation and resistance, discomfort and relief. When we hold the Beloved, the precious one, we hold ourselves all the more tenderly: Our adorable screaming infants, as well as our well-behaved and compliant studious children, held with the same love. We don’t get to choose any more than we select our skin color, birth order or origins. When I get angry, I aim for a smaller tilt and less unraveling. I come back to myself with purpose.

 

The mindfulness retreat was a place to practice all the things I’ve been studying in Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies for six months. With most of the day spent in silence, the focus turned naturally inward. I found myself utterly depleted after Dharma talks, crying uncontrollably after meditation, enraged by a benign comment. Could I really be carrying all that unclaimed emotion around with me? Yes. In fact, I have been moving in the world, unconsciously acting on a lifetime of unacknowledged feelings, sensations and urges. When feelings are not taken care of properly, they act out on our physical and mental bodies. They will be heard. They will kick, scratch, ache and strain to be seen. By opening the door and committing to my whole self, experienced in the full breadth of my existence on earth, I have felt more than I ever imagined. Part of my work was also attending to my needs: To cry and be held; To laugh and share joy; To risk shame; To open and be rejected; To stand firm in my own convictions. I had no idea of the degree of capaciousness in me, that I could feel so much and not explode, and I found myself alive like a newborn star, delicate, bright, precious.

 

This process is not surprising to me, since as the years pass, I’m more inclined to look for and invent the path of least resistance. That is not to say that I’m afraid of conflict and confrontation, for I’m learning to deal with both, as they arise, with skillfulness and tact though it is not and has not been easy, and they will doubtless continue to instruct and inform me as firm and loving teachers. Still I look within and without for solutions to the habitual patterns, some destructive, some not, that have kept me from growing spiritually and emotionally, and these are surely the treasure troves of my own renewal.

 

Even before leaving home for the retreat, some calcified, implacable obstinacy in me had already begun to give way. Perhaps tired of the hunting, I had asked Hal to construct some cages from chicken wire we had in the garage. I had the idea to bury the cages to protect the dahlia bulbs and the broccoli roots in the garden, favorites of the gophers, who seemed to have voracious appetites and greedy spirits for my own favorites. As I returned home to my full self, the container of violence in me seemed to crack open, if only a hairline. I saw the chicken wire as protecting the gophers from me, from my need to control and contain the order of the universe represented as my garden, according to my plans. The chicken wire, then, has become the symbol for my own countermovement away from fighting toward boundaries that allow and invite. After all, what is an organic garden for if the gophers cannot roam there as well? Why has so much hate and violence been activated in me and directed to a creature whose own natural habitat I have cultivated with rare and delicious delicacies?

 

Through meditation and the observation of the land and my own habitual reactions, my own vigilance and anger have subsided, and I have begun to see fewer signs of the gophers’ presence though they’re clearly still in residence. The furious hiding, tunneling and unearthing seemed to have quelled into a gentle, beneficial tilling of earth and dirt. With less resistance, I have found that our gophers have eased up on their devouring, ravishing hunger and have become the tunneling resident foragers they’re meant to be. Could this all be my imagination? I don’t think so. I hope not. Hal now puts in shallower cages as we consider the needs of vegetable roots. There’s enough here, a whispering says.

 

I’ve stopped worrying that the dahlias will be eaten or that the blueberry bushes will disappear one morning. This is life, the very reason I garden, to witness the cycles of life up close, participating in the dance of seasons with the Beloved.