Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Long Way Home

I began writing this blog entry in mid-April from the floor of our empty apartment in Minneapolis, and kept postponing writing it until I felt that I could provide some closing words of wisdom on the meaning of our travels. As you can imagine, this proved difficult for more than one reason. Writing the final blog post means coming to terms with the end of travelling (at least for the moment), it means conveying in an eloquent way the decision to return to Minnesota, and insightful comments on how I have changed through my experience. At this moment in time, I cannot provide those to you, my dear reader. Because I do not even know them myself. I will, however, tell you all about our Long Way Home.

We left sunny Texas in Early April, headed for home the long way through New Orleans, and Asheville, North Carolina. We had one day in NOLA and spent it on a classic tour starting with two orders of french beignets and coffee at the Cafe du Monde. We caught the trolley to ride across town and see the above ground cemeteries, ate fried alligator and catfish po' boys while drinking cold beer on a patio, shopped in vintage stores, walked along the Mississippi, and heard jazz drifting through the streets all night. In the morning we took off driving again, and ended our night camping somewhere in the woods of Alabama (only $3 a night for a campsite!) and listened as hail pounded the aluminum topper of the truck- while we remained miraculously dry as the storm passed overhead.

French beignets (puffy fried dough)


Above ground cemetary

Alabama camp site

Monday, April 11, 2016

Texas: Taco Trucks, BBQ, and Spider Bites

Leaving New Mexico for our next farm in Texas, we took a detour down south to visit Big Bend National Park. Spring break is the most popular time of the year to visit there (it's way too hot during the summer months!) and has the fastest growing visitation rates of any national park. Needless to say we shared the park with many other people, but managed to secure back-country camping permits for two nights. The combination of mountain, river, and desert ecosystems created a spectacular unique landscape, and there were pretty little wildflowers blooming everywhere. The cloudy weather kept us cool and comfortable during our hikes.

View of the Rio Grand, Mexico in the distance!

On the way to the top of the Lost Mine Trail

Lost Mine Trail summit

Sunset at first back-country campsite

Reilly on the way to the hot springs

Sunset at second back-country campsite

 Skinny Lane Farm

The next farm on our WWOOF agenda was Skinny Lane Farm, located in Elgin, Texas about a 30 minute drive east of Austin. The weather there reminded me of Minnesota in August- the first week was 80's, sunny, and humid, and everything was bursting with green. Unlike my native state, there were giant insects and poisonous snakes (Texans did not believe my claims that, besides mosquitos, most creatures do not bother us up north!). Luckily my only encounters with the harmful fauna was an assortment of spider and fire ant bites irritatingly between most of my toes.

Our daily responsibilities included taking care of the menagerie of animals, in addition to about 5 hours of working in the fields. My favorite livestock was the affectionate and curious Nigerian Dwarf goats, whom I would favor with imperfect strawberries because I enjoyed watching them nibble the treat out of my palm. There were also many different varieties of laying hens (white, brown, and green eggs!), a pair of Bourbon Red turkeys, and four Red Wattle hogs (named for the skin appendages on their neck). Both the turkeys and the hogs are a dwindling heritage breed. Rue the donkey, (whose mother died from a rattlesnake bite long ago), is the livestock protector and watches over the others.

Skinny Lane Farm has several large outdoor vegetable fields, a greenhouse for growing plant seedlings, and a high tunnel for growing in the winter. During our time there we planted hundreds of transplants (leeks, radish, squash, cucumber, pollinator flowers), weeded, watered, harvested, and finished miscellaneous farm tasks that needed to be accomplished. The farm is currently not selling shares for a CSA because owners Mike and Bekki both work at office jobs, and are planning to build a home on the land this year. We did harvest and deliver small orders to the local grocery store in Elgin and to a handful of committed customers across the area.

Mama goat enjoying an offering of lettuce

Goat cuddles

All three fighting over food!

Rue the Donkey

Red Wattle Hogs (heritage breed)
Bourbon Red Turkey (heritage breed)

Skinny Lane farm high tunnel

Marc and Reilly planting leeks

Sunset at the farm

Wildflowers in bloom!

*if you want to hear our baby goat story, ask us!

Austin & San Antonio

My favorite part of staying in Texas was being able to spend the weekends visiting Reilly's cousin Jennifer, who has a house in Austin. She has lovely roommates, a wonderful porch for lounging, and it was an all-around grand time to explore the city together.

We spent Easter weekend exploring San Antonio, strolling on the River Walk and stopping for drinks on the way. On Easter morning, we rented bikes and pedaled the trail south of the city to the Missions. By chance, we arrived just in time for a Catholic service at The Mission Concepcion which is "the oldest unrestored stone church in America", dedicated in 1755. It was quite an experience! Afterward all the neatly dressed children ran across the lawn searching for plastic eggs.

Downtown Austin and Town Lake

 San Antonio River Walk

 Mission Concepcion

 Breakfast of champions

I strove to collect as many essential Texas activities under my belt during our stay; I ate down-home barbecue and Elgin's famed sausages, swam in the frigid waters of Barton Springs, gorged myself at multiple food trucks, saw live music and drank beer, and even bought a big floppy hat for the sun. I love checking arbitrary items off a mental list and feeling like I have experienced the what I imagine to be the true character of a place. We ended our time in Texas with a huge brunch with Reilly's family at Jennifer's home, staying up past midnight the day before cooking all of the delicious dishes! It was a great way to say farewell to this beautiful place full of vibrant people.

Tune into my next blog for more info on our next steps!

Much love,

Monday, March 7, 2016

One Month in The Land of Enchantment

When we first arrived in New Mexico several weeks ahead of schedule, I must admit I was disappointed. In my mind before arriving, the entire state appeared at its political border, a simple black outline filled with dry hostile landscape. After spending over a month of my life there, it has become one of the richest and most beautiful places in my memory.

Phil and Nazca, with their little toddler Everett, were the first to welcome us to New Mexico (and rescue us from the false aquaponics farm in Arizona). We stayed with them for two weeks, eating delicious vegan food, building adobe structures out of the soil we walked on, and rambling over the hills behind the house after work. For more background, read my previous post Lost in a Search for Spring. They had more of a 'homestead lifestyle' rather than an actual 'farm operation' since they did not sell or market their produce, but it was still a valuable learning experience because they were experimenting with hugelkultur beds, water catchment, building adobe structures, growing mushroom cultures, vermiculture (cultivating worms!), and growing drought-resistant grains small scale for personal milling. They also had a lovely greenhouse attached to the front portion of their home, which helped with solar heating in the winter- and was conveniently located to grab a handful of greens or herbs for dinner. When our time in the tiny town of Ribera was up, we traveled west to explore Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

Front entryway greenhouse

Azul the family dog

Mixing adobe building material: equal parts native soil, straw, and water.

Filling the form with adobe mixture

Digging hugelkultur beds

Add logs which will eventually rot, adding organic material and retain moisture in the soil

Fill with half manure, and half native soil (filter out the rocks!) and water. Then you're done!

We climbed to the top of that peak in the distance!

Backcountry hike through an arroyo, Reilly is scouting the best way to the top

We made it!

National Parks

View of Tent Rocks

 Persistent evergreen

Carved out dwelling in Tent Rocks

Great Kiva at Chaco Canyon

View overlooking Chaco Canyon

Bodhi Farms

"Red" Greenhouse; pea shoots in foreground, Reilly harvesting in background

Bodhi Farms in Sheridan, NM (close to our previous hosts in Ribera, NM) was the most productive farm we have visited so far. It was so refreshing to see living green plants and get our hands into the soil! They have 3 large functioning greenhouses, two of them with running hydroponics systems. They also have many outdoor rows, three goats, and ducks and chickens for eggs. They sell weekly year-round at the Santa Fe farmers market. For an example of what they sell at the market, one week we brought head lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, tatsoi, chard, arugula, kale, pea shoots, several types of herbs, and dozens of eggs (and this was in February!) We nearly sold out of all we had brought.

Reilly and I lived in an extra bedroom in the house, with our own bathroom (YES!). The "Isopod" (pictured below), built by our host Brian, is a detached cabin on the property and is occupied by his apprentice Molly. She was a WWOOFer this past summer, and is joining Brian and Roxane again for a full year to help with the farm. It was so wonderful to have another worker our age to spend time with. After work we could hang out together in the isopod and on the weekends go hiking, play frisbee, have picnics, and visit the local hot springs. She really made our time at Bodhi Farms the best it could be!

Our host Brian was an excellent teacher, and had a lot of innovative techniques employed across the farm. In addition to a hydroponics system we learned about the use of compost tea, coconut fiber as a growing medium, no-till practices, crop rotation/nitrogen fixation, and many other useful agricultural tidbits. For those of you who are interested, compost tea is what they use as their fertilizer in their hydroponics system. It is a liquid solution of several types of beneficial fungi, bacteria, and micro-nutrients which inoculate the plants and boost their growth. To see how Brian makes his compost tea, click on this link. Coconut fiber was used as growing medium for plants in the hydro, it's more sustainable than peat moss (renewable and a byproduct) and has increased water holding ability. Brian would also plant large dense mats of pea shoots periodically in his crop rows to fixate nitrogen, and I thought this was a great idea since it allows the farmer to still harvest a crop while giving the soil a rest.

We were expected to work around 6 hours a day, 5 days a week (we also volunteered to work an optional extra day to see the Santa Fe's Farmers Market!) and our tasks included feeding and watering the animals, collecting and washing eggs, weeding, planting seeds and transplants, harvesting, and other tasks as needed. My favorite tasks were planting a small orchard of native plum trees and black locust trees (which fixate nitrogen), feeding all our weeds to the chickens and watching them get super excited, and harvest days every Friday for the Saturday market. Harvest nights were always homemade pizza nights, usually with toppings we picked that day.

The food at Bodhi farms was always plentiful and tasty. We had a constant rotation of homemade desserts; double chocolate pie, chocolate and raspberry pie, lemon meringue pie, apple streusel, pear streusel, chocolate mint pie... not to mention cookies, and homemade ice cream. Yum! Brian also made homemade breads, homemade breakfast granola, all with a selection of homemade jams and local honey. I was in heaven. Oh, and the fresh vegetables were great, too!

We accomplished a lot during our time at Bodhi farms, and I could feel that our help was appreciated. Reilly and I learned new agricultural techniques, made new friends, climbed a mountain, and spent some beautiful days working under the warm New Mexican sun. We will miss Bodhi Farms!

Reilly washing head lettuce

Outdoor row crops (mostly spinach and other cold-hardy greens)

 Brian, our farm host, manning the washing station on harvest day

Molly and Roxane harvesting in the "Blue" greenhouse. Hydro system in center

 Planting the hydro (Photocredit Molly)

Planting the hydro (Photocredit Molly)

 All done!
 Spreading peas for pea shoots in "White" greenhouse (Photocredit Molly)

 Me spreading peas, inoculated with compost tea (Photocredit Molly)

Molly and I in the Las Vegas hot springs :)

Friday Night Harvest day pizza! (with fresh pea shoots)

 Molly's Isopod

Hermit's Peak (10,000ft)

Reilly and Molly on the hike up

Reilly and I (Photocredit Molly)

Deep snow at the peak, don't fall through the crust!

View at the top (Photocredit Molly)

Reilly and I trying to call ravens to land on our arms (Photocredit Molly)

The Land of Enchantment

There is a strong magic in New Mexico pulsing underneath the "urban sprawl" that blankets the entire country. I have not been disappointed by this area in the way I have been with California or Arizona. Yes, there are still McDonalds and Walmarts in the Land of Enchantment, but there is also a stronghold of pure human energy and ancient culture that has outlasted homogenization. It's as if the people have inherited the work ethic of their industrious, creative, and persevering ancestors. Self-subsistence is a way of life, a mark of pride. At first glance the landscape seems hostile and unforgiving, but it is actually a cornucopia of nourishment for those who know how to look. I admire the people for their closeness to the earth, for their ability to thrive in an environment that most would consider useless for anything except mining.

The earth will provide for those who know how to utilize its gifts. It is not uncommon to use the native soil here to build homes, the pinyon and juniper trees provide perfumed heat in the winter, water catchment cisterns collect rainfall, and trading with your neighbor can supply items you can't produce yourself. I loved the balance of independence and community.

Thank you, Land of Enchantment, for the magical month.

Next stop is The Lone Star State...
Until then,

Love to all