Food Ink 19

Communal Living

(5 minute read)

Hello friends and farmers,

This past week, I've been in Sebastopol, California at Green Valley Farm + Mill, which I didn't realize is also a collectively owned intentional community. Think commune, but without the cult-y connotations that usually come with it. I've been interested in the idea of communal living for a while now, and seeing it in action here has given me a great glimpse into what it can be and tons of ideas to build on.

Green Valley Farm is quite an idyllic setting on 172 acres, much of it wooded. In the open parts of land, there's a small herd of 5 Jersey cows that support a raw milk herdshare; a community garden that grows a variety of vegetables and herbal plants; a plant nursery; a creamery where the dairy farmers make cheese, yogurt, and ice cream; a mushroom hoop house; and parcels of land leased out to other farmers who live off the property.

There is so much life here, even more than in the specific, cultivated parts mentioned above. The abundance and diversity of life bulges from the seams: lizards darting across the stone ridges chasing insects and each other, pollinators bouncing from flower to bush to tree, a mother quail hopping towards the shade with her chicks trailing behind, countless songbirds calling to each other across all corners of the sky, riparian life in and around the river flowing through a corner of the landscape. There is an ecosystem here, and the farming is just a part of it.

All of us students in the Climate Farm School are staying in the big guest house on one side of the landscape. We've all been cooking meals together, visiting neighboring farms, learning about ecosystems and food systems, sharing stories and ideas by the fire at night, and helping with some plantings in the garden and propagations in the nursery. We've brought our own life to this place, new and fleeting as it may be.

There's a big barn across from the guest house with two floors. Most of the ground floor is a big open room with several oak tables and benches, while one side is partitioned off for storage space and a milking room for the cows. On the top floor, we've held some group discussions and a couple kooky but fun movement classes led by one of the other students. This barn, I was delighted to learn, is about to be the site of a possibly Harry Potter-themed "farm prom" for one of the farmers' birthdays.

In between the guest house and the barn is an 80-foot long arbor draped with hanging lights on one side and buttressed by flowering trees on the other, creating a living wall of lush green leaves dotted with bursts of pinkish-red blossoms. The pillars of the arbor, spaced every 10 feet or so, straddle two impressively long oak tables, the site of many on-farm banquets I'm sure, including the one we had last night.

This whole experience has been, for lack of a better word, magical. I don't mean that in a fantastical, otherworldly, sort of aggrandizing way. I mean it in the very real and simple way that there is magic in place, and our interactions with it, and in connecting and communing with people, particularly over food and when unencumbered by cellular data and the limitless yet much less substantive connections it allows. What I'm talking about is the magic, in the least cheesy way possible, of life.

It's been two years of this pandemic and intermittent quarantining. I've returned to the paradoxical density and disjointedness of city life in Manhattan after a year in the isolating yet intimately bonding remoteness of rural Georgia. After all that, I find myself craving some happy medium: a communal and somewhat cooperative lifestyle, with both privacy and collectivity, with a meaningful connection to place, and a unifying ethic around how to live. Something within and a part of nature, but not a total departure from civilization.

As I sit writing under the arbor, bathed in sunlight, I can't help but think this ideal, and largely the experience I've had here, is steeped in privilege and a romanticized nostalgia of simpler times. The duality of wanting to create this kind of life while recognizing its inaccessibility is a kind of conflict I find myself facing often. I haven't found a way to reconcile this type of duality yet, though I suspect the answer may lie somewhere in community.

I wanted to share more this week, but in the interest of getting offline and back to enjoying the last hours I have with this community, I will end this edition here and just share this week's delight below.

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😊 Delight No. 8: This week, I learned a bit about riparian ecosystems and some of the work that organizations like Point Blue Conservation Science are doing to restore them. We helped some scientists from Point Blue remove the arbor shields from around several trees that had been planted near the bank of a river to strengthen it.

That river, once an important channel for spawning coho salmon, had been blocked by a land bridge built over and through it. Only recently was that river reconnected by constructing a sort of spillway under the bridge, allowing the coho salmon to swim upstream once again to reach their spawning habitat.

Standing there on the riverbank, in the rain, after learning about the once thriving system of life it contained, its blockage, and then its subsequent reopening, I was filled with a childlike sense of wonder. I imagined the new life that would come to thrive in this place as the river continued to thrive. I had always thought of rivers as one-way channels, bringing water, and whatever else along with it, from mountain tops and higher ground down into ponds, lakes, and oceans. I had never thought about how animals like salmon were also bringing nutrients from the ocean back upstream.

Anyway, here's a video I took of that spot, because something about the sound of the rain hitting the top of my hood and the surrounding trees and the trickling of the water was too serene to not try to capture.

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Betting the farm,

Edlin