Week 11: August 10-16
A strawberry Oasis up in the clouds
Wolf Gulch Farm, Jacksonville OR
Feeling the Aliveness at Happy Dirt Veggie Patch, Medford OR
The layered beauty of Willow Witt Ranch, Ashland, OR
I T I S M A G I C !
Harvesting enormous white eggplant... ...and long beans....
Established in 1985, Willow Witt is 440 acres at 5,000 feet 10 miles up and out of Ashland. Their pasture and wetland valley is nestled between pine trees and rock outcroppings. Herds of goats roam in the distance, making friends with the chickens in their mobile hen house home. Within the wooden fences next to the house is a thriving vegetable garden from which we harvested potatoes and multicolored lettuce for our dinner. Under the care of Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt, Willow Witt Ranch is an immaculate balance of tamed and wild, functioning farm and approachable space, experience and ever-new adventure.
Suzanne and Lanita first fell in love with the land. Their daughter then wanted to raise pigs for 4H, and that is when Suzanne and Lanita, then both in medical professions, embarked on the journey of raising animals in a humane, respectful, personal way. When Suzanne got her first pair of goats she had never milked before in her life! "I had the goat on the stand, udder in one hand, book in the other, and a pail," she said laughing as prepared dinner in their cozy wood-and-tile kitchen.
Willow Witt has been one successful experiment after another for Suzanne and Lanita. Always gardens, first pigs, then goats, selling at the Ashland growers' market and to local restaurants, and now agritourism.
"I first ran it as a B&B," Suzanne explained as we crunched on our new red potatoes, "now we have the studio attached to the house, the two luxury tents at the top of the hill with the outdoor kitchen, and the campground where you are sleeping tonight. People don't come to be in the beauty--although it looks like a National Park, doesn't it?--they come to be on the farm. To see how the farm works, to learn where food comes from and be a part of it. I've seen the experience of being on the farm change people's lives." Hospitality is the latest learning adventure Willow Witt has added to make the ranch truly sustainable, and to share the land's beauty with others. As Suzanne tells her own love story with the ranch, "When we first came here we said, 'Oh! We have to bring people here!' "
One of the luxury tents. No, we didn't stay in it, but we did a heck of a job making the beds!
We labored in the delightful shade of hanging garlic painting signs for this weekend's upcoming Farm to Fork dinner party at Willow Witt.
With a generous spirit Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt welcome everyone to come experience sustainable ranching in one of the most breathtaking locales we have been fortunate to see thus far.
Up a valley dripping with blackberries and nestled by green ridges, over a hill smothered in oak trees, and at the very end of the longest, steepest gravel road in Oregon, you will arrive at the farm above the clouds: Wolf Gulch Farm. The high elevation and mountainside topography of this land have encouraged unique irrigation and planting systems inspired by permaculture principles that take full advantage of scarce water supply and a short growing season. While climate and resource availability at Wolf Gulch is optimal for seed production it is not ideal for producing the well-rounded assortment one might expect in a CSA box. That is why Maud Powell manages something very clever and communally beneficial: a cooperative CSA!
A cooperative CSA is a relatively unique operation because it involves, guess what? Cooperation! Maud insisted that the team effort is possible because it grew organically from existing relationships with a group who possessed the same quality standards. But we have a sneaking suspicion Maud’s big-picture vision and charisma were the last pieces to the cooperation puzzle.
Maud Powell is thinking big picture in a number of ways. Firstly, she recognizes that in order for the growers of Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative to be successful, members and organic farmers alike require organic seed that has been cultivated in an organic environment rather than genetically adjusted for industrial inputs. A shortage of organic seed in the marketplace due to the consolidation of a few mega companies patenting seeds has motivated Maud and Tom Powell to produce organic, openly pollinated seed in order to restore the right of seed ownership and control back to farmers. They work with a group of seed growers under the organizational structure of the Family Farmers Seed Cooperative to directly supply farmers with seed.
As founding members of the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, the Powell’s began managing the coordination of the group’s CSA. Maud simplified the work of 10 farms by coordinating production planning and undertaking the marketing needs for the group that continues to supply 140 families weekly. Maud describes the weekly produce packing gatherings as a total joy and a time when she rarely stops laughing. She also explained that coming together once a week to pack produce allows regional farmers to share challenges, solutions and insights. Maud has helped to create a platform for social connection both through the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative CSA and also through OSU League of Women Farmers network which allows female farmers in southern Oregon to invest in social capital through educational or activity based opportunities. LWF events allow for business networking, expanding knowledge, and socializing in a supportive open environment.
What Maud has illuminated in her work as an organizer and big picture thinker is that growing food is only a crucial fragment to what is required to heal our industrial growing system. Maud highlights the necessity of cultivating feminine characteristics in the farming world through her own work building social capital through farmer gatherings, protecting life through seed production and cultivating relational understanding through permaculture logic and social network.
We are looking forward to posting a story Maud wrote for the latest Greenhorns book, a very unique and compelling description of how gender roles have developed in her personal life at Wolf Gulch Farm
Last spring during finals I felt like frazzled barb treading water in the deluge of work, endless unknowns of graduation, and churning thought- eddies about My Future. I was wound tight, my concern with Me and Mine constricting my capacity as if I were a wrung-out cloth. In the midst of this frantic mode, I went with a class to Tsechen Kunchab Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Walden, New York not far from my college. Stepping onto the monastery grounds, a profound sense of calm blew through me like the gray breeze rustling thousands of multicolored prayer flags in the trees. The depth of the grounds, saturated as they were with wisdom and loving-kindness, lowered my shrill pitch to a gentle silence. The place asked me to ask myself, “How am I living? Who am I?"
A similar transformation of spirit that Tsechen Kunchab Ling brought also unfolded at Happy Dirt
Veggie Patch with farmer Aluna Michelle. Places, crisscrossed by the minds of people, animal tracks, plant growth and decay, hold profound energetic qualities that sway, move, and settle us. The land is a vast receptacle of experience that collects memories and actions, holding them together as they soak the ground like nourishing rainfall. The intentions and contributions of people on the land add to its wisdom. People in place and the wisdom of places have the capacity to re-center us in wordless knowledge of what is true. At Happy Dirt, this feeling was immediate.
Aluna’s intentions for establishing Happy Dirt with her farming partner Matt were to feed people and to set down roots, but over time the farm’s real meaning to her has revealed itself. “I began to see the real power of it is the constant growth it stimulates and supports,” she tells us on the sunlit porch as we sip her delicious green breakfast smoothie concoction of kale, bananas, dates, spices, algae, and love.
She continues, “This place is a physical manifestation of the growth I see internally. The farm is constantly helping me elevate my awareness of who and what I am in the world.” For Aluna, the relationships and cycles of her farm provide allegories to her emotional and social life; the farm is like a reflecting pool in which she sees herself within the whole world. “I am part of the physical cycle here,” she says, “Sweating into the soil, eating from the soil, breathing, drinking… the physical and metaphysical become one and the same. The more physically present I am, the more I am part of the flow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Farming is a way to hone my sensitivity to myself and to the life force flowing through me.”
Finding fruit, vegetables, meat, kindness and bliss in the shade of Shasta
Belcampo Ranch, Shasta Foothills CA
Aimee Danch is the Pasture Division Director at Belcampo Ranch. In the midst of what was clearly a busy day she took time to walk us around her beloved Angus, Hereford, and Wagyu herd. Her passion for raising cattle is infectious and tangible. She lights up talking about how much she loves herding cattle to new pasture, "I can't describe it, I just love it!"
While some of Aimee's passion remains undescribable, she thoughtfully articulates her sense of her work's importance. Zipping around in a four-wheeler full of moveable electric fencing our hair blows everywhere as she tells us, "The most important part of what I do--and this might change if you asked me in two hours or two days!--is being a conduit for agricultural knowledge of generations before. Millenia of accumulated knowledge is there, in our grandparents, but they aren't going to be around for much longer. So I feel like I'm learning as much as I can while I can and transmitting it to my own generation and the ones below me. We need to maintain and replicate the knowledge of past generations because technology sure [...] won't solve it."
The intergenerational mindfulness that Aimee holds is emblematic of what women are contributing to the world of agriculture: big-picture awareness. The woman farmer, or cattle rancher in Aimee's case, sees her herd as part of a network, and sees herself as the holder and teacher of knowledge often excluded by money-minded narrowness. Rather than stubbornly squinting forward, women farmers look around and they look back. Their minds stretch back in time to respect, honor, and practice the wisdom of earlier eras. Importantly, women farmers like Aimee also seek to continue their own learning and share it with others so that the knowledge and benefits can forever grow.
Aimee's vision reminds me of a Zen brush painting, simple black ink strokes on white paper. When looking at the painting the question is, do you see a singular bird, or do you see a bird soaring in the endless sky?
By the time we rolled into Belcampo it was already about 90 degrees, we met Sean and Jay who tend to the garden and also experiment with creating delectible value added products in the on campus certified kitchens. Sean was eating a dripping white peach and directed us to where we could find some of our own. "In India," Jay said, "it is thought that the fruit that has fallen from the tree is a gift." With the sun warming our backs and the dewy grass cooling our feet we crept around the orchard finding gifts around the bases of the trees. I have never received a better present.
Mark Klever (above) is the General Manager at Belcampo Ranch and is as happy and youthful as the fresh grass growing on the compost-enriched fields he strives to make increasinly fertile and productive. "In some ways," Mark said, "everything we are doing here is about soil and making it healthier for the long term." Belcampo Ranch practices management intensive, rotational grazing that allows the cattle to cultivate a natural herd mentality while promoting field plant diveristy and soil enrichment. Belcampo claims that these practices will allow for the most nutrient rich and full-flavored meat possible. Thanks to Mark's generous spirit we had the opportunity to put this statement to the test, and I can honestly say, BEST MEAT EVER!
Everything on my plate came from walking distance of my seat. Pretty incredible that we were blessed with that meal and company that produced it.
Trying to make my eyes as wide as these carrots...
Belcampo creates a clear line from field to table
by managing its entire food chain.
Working with plants and soil and paying attention to the wisdom the land holds has a centering effect for Aluna, one she hopes to share with others. She hopes that Happy Dirt can be “a place where I, and others, can be invigorated by a connection to plants, animals, others and ultimately ourselves.” Feeling the transformation in my mindset after spending two days with Aluna I can attest to the positive and profound effect her presence has, and how inspiring her small but expansive life is.
At Happy Dirt, Aluna is going for a quality of “aliveness.” Aluna’s aliveness starts here, starts now, and starts small. “I am trying to develop my own willpower, mind, heart, and let that have whatever ripple in the world. Going directly for impact in the external world seems to be a very tricky thing, it doesn’t work… I am the only entity that I could even hope to control—at best! So aliveness is an ever-present seeking to be alive and cultivating the life force within by cultivating the life force without. The change I seek is from within; that is where power lies and begins.”
Like the calming effect of the monastery, the expansive heart, genuine curiosity, and open questioning Aluna brings to her farming practice made me feel like I was stepping into wisdom. At Happy Dirt I walked in an orbit and on soil that made me ask again what is important and true. Aluna is someone who, with humility and joy, takes full responsibility for her life.
Asking eternal questions like these is not always peaceful. When asked honestly with a clear mind, they reveal endless hypocrisies, struggles, simultaneities, and of course unknowns. Indeed, Aluna has one question she recommends we all ask, as it is the only relevant question to her in her life.
The question is, “Who Am I?”
Yahooo! Thanks for a great wake up Caitrin!
Breakfast in bed? not bad... not bad at all :)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY LAKE! I wouldn't trade your friendship for a lifetime supply of sungold tomatoes!
Pssssst.... Who can spot the lurker?
A philosophy of integration lies at the core of Belcampo. They take great care of every step in the process of growing meat, from the soil to the soup.
We felt beneath our feet the density and health of the animals' forage as we walked with Aimee into the herd. The health of the soil, and therefore the plants, is integral to the animals' wellbeing, a truth that Belcampo understands. They move their herd of a few hundred onto new pasture everyday, which protects both the land from overgrazing and the animals from diseases. When the entirely grass-fed animals are ready to be turned into meat, they take them to a nearby USDA-approved slaughterhouse. Belcampo oversees the processing then ships the meat via truck to Larkspur, CA, where they sell the meat at their butcher shop ("the Tiffany of meat," says one customer) and at their adjacent restaurant. They are soon to open a few more stores in Southern California.
We asked Aimee, Belcampo's herd manager, why they do it this way when clearly the larger economy has moved towards discrete specialization and economies of scale. Aimee responds, "We're trying to prove that this way of raising animals and having an integrated business model is possible on a small-to-medium scale. We are trying to prove it can be done."
Belcampo's small-scale, integrated ethic of land, herd, and business management pioneers a new-old solution to caring for the land while feeding ourselves well and sustaining an economically viable farm. Aimee adds, "We have to go into past practices and wisdoms and adapt them to present needs." Amen. Now I feel like I need a Belcampo burger!