Liza P. Burkin

Organic Farming 101

Post originally published at Freewheeling with Liza Burkin

View from the front porch at R-evolution Gardens in Nehalem, OR

I wholeheartedly apologize for the long absence, but I have a pretty good excuse– for the past two weeks I’ve been living and working on an organic farm where there is limited bandwidth and long hours. I landed here via the awesome website, which stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or Willing Workers, nobody can seem to agree on the acronym). Basically the idea is to trade labor for room and board. And man oh man is the board worth the work! But I’ll get to that in a moment.

With thousands of farms to choose from, I ended up applying to about ten on the Oregon coast. After reading the positive reviews of R-evolution Gardens on the site, I thought the wee 3-acre farm just eight miles from the beach would be the perfect place to try my hand at farming. I could not possibly have made a better decision!

The four-year-old farm is owned by two friends, Brian and Ginger. Ginger is the head of the farm, doing all the day-to-day work of growing vegetables, raising animals and selling their products. She has two interns, Joel and Emily, who are here helping for the entire season (March-November). This is the first year the farm has taken WWOOFers, and apparently over 50 of us have rolled through this summer! Ginger says that it’s been a really fun and diverse group, but is tired of having to train and re-train people almost every week. I can definitely see why. I’m so full of questions and uncertainties, I can only imagine that she’s answered the same queries thousands of times in the past few months. Right now, my friend Sean and I are here with one other volunteer, a rad Aussie named Kate. The other owner, Brian, is a boat-builder who teaches kayak construction workshops, the profits of which go back into the farm. In addition, Brian builds and maintains all the structures and energy sources on the farm.

This brings me to the most important thing you should know about R-evolution Gardens: it is off-the-grid, completely powered by natural energy sources. A dammed stream a few hundred yards from the house provides both running water and a small amount of hydroelectricity. Two giant solar panels provide electricity when it’s sunny (which isn’t that often in coastal Oregon), and wood stoves in each building are used for cooking, hot water and heat. Between the three sources it is a completely functioning, sustainable system. Incredible!

Everything at R-evolution Gardens is done with a local and sustainable outlook. We eat salmon that Brian catches in the river and use all-natural toothpaste. To make dinner, we have to make a fire in the oven. Other goods like soap, meat, cheese and chocolate, Ginger trades her produce for with other local farmers. Brian and Ginger joke that it’s because they (and a lot of other small farmers) believe the collapse of the Western industrial system is nigh and they want to be prepared. But really, they do it because it’s socially, economically and environmentally responsible.

Before I get too preachy, I think the best way to describe what being here is like is to walk you through a normal day on the farm. It goes something like this:

7:15 a.m. – Wake up, hit snooze three times.

7: 30 a.m. – Actually wake up. Crawl out of my tent (which is sheltered and on a platform) and pull on my dirty-ass work clothes. Feed and change the water for the baby chickens, my morning poultry duty. Drink coffee and eat breakfast.

Baby chickens!

8:00 a.m. – The workday begins. Depending on the day, we can be doing a variety of things. But usually, we harvest vegetables in the fields. R-evolution Gardens makes money in two ways: farmer’s markets and CSA (Community Shared Agriculture). CSA is basically a farm subscription– households pay for a seven week season, and every week they get a big box of fresh produce delivered to their door. It is an incredibly cheap (it averages out to about $20/box) and easy way of eating local and organic without even having to go to a market. Right now, the CSA families are getting tomatoes, cucumbers, chard, kale, spinach, winter squash, eggplant, cantaloupe, peppers, onions, carrots, basil, beets, broccoli, beans, salad mix, and zucchini in their boxes. Not a bad deal! CSA is a widely available alternative to buying products shipped thousands of miles from Chile, Mexico and California. Check it out!

Harvesting is not all we do, however. After the veggies are picked they have to be washed and beautified for market or CSA. Some days we plant new beds of vegetables, weed, work on random projects around the farm, and generally do whatever is asked of us. There are also the animals to take care of. R-evolution Gardens is home to chickens, a new set of baby chickens (they can’t be mixed together because the big ones will attack the little ones), ducks, and three hilarious cats. Selling the eggs supplements the veggies at market, and makes for amazing breakfasts.

The best part about working here is not thinking. Volunteering on a farm is the perfect antidote to 20 years of schooling followed by two months of lightning-speed travel. Ginger will tell me, “go pick ten pounds of beans,” and I’ll go down to the field, put in my iPod, and zen the fuck out on beans. I’ve never been so happy to just take orders and let my body do the rest. Although weeding carrots is probably the most obnoxious and tedious thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, most of the work is just plain good. And the reward, the freshest of fresh food, is even better.

12:00 p.m. (ish) – Lunch. We rotate making lunch, which can be anything from an elaborate affair of baked salmon and salad to something quick like soup and salad. There is always salad.

1:00 p.m. – Back to work, usually a little more slowly at first.

4:30 p.m. (ish) – If it’s nice out and we’re not too tired, Sean and I usually race to the beach in the sleepy village of Manzanita as soon as we get off work. Only a fifteen minute drive away, the eleven miles of perfect sand and raging surf is one of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever been to. Although it’s definitely not warm enough to swim or even take my sweatshirt off, it’s still an incredible way to wind down from the work day with a book.

Photo credit: Sean McDermott. Cartwheel credit: me.

7:30 p.m. – Dinner. In a household of foodies, dinner usually is a somewhat elaborate affair. Or maybe it just seems elaborate because the ingredients are so outstanding. Brian says, “With ingredients like these you really can’t fuck up.” This two-week period eating three meals of food-grown-outside-my-door a day is probably the best I ever have or will eat in my lifetime. Salmon has frequently been the main event, and I’m not getting sick of it. The first day we got here Brian pulled a thirty-pounder out of the river…on a kayak! Literally, this fish laying on the ground was the first thing I saw when I got here:

9:30 p.m. – Bedtime, or “farm o’clock” as they call it. Getting up early and doing manual labor all day makes for an inordinately early bedtime. This is the most consistently early I’ve gone to bed since the 7th grade.

So there you have it! I hope this gives a fairly good idea of what life is like on a small organic farm. Good people, good food, and good work. Since it’s getting to be farm o’clock, I’m going to cut this blog post short even though there’s still so much more to write and muse about. This has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life, and once I process the ridiculous amount of knowledge I’ve received in the past 10 days maybe I’ll be able to analyze what it means for my future. Right now, I am determined to start a garden next summer at home in Narragansett. After that, who knows!

Friday is my last day here, and after that I’ll be camping in the southern Oregon coast and northern California, with the goal of making it to San Francisco by Sunday night! While it will be incredibly difficult to leave here, I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to feeling the wheels of motion carry me off into a new unknown.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos and a promise to not let another two weeks go by before the next post. To quote myglobe-trotting cousin Alex, “I recognize that there is a balance between really being present in the moment, and taking time to record and reflect, that I may never strike.” All we can do is strive to find that balance and try to accept the results!

One of the three fields

Home sweet home

A typical lunch- baked salmon, rice, heirloom tomato salad, green beans straight from the vine. All cooked in an outdoor kitchen!

Sean mucking out the chickens

Chicken and duck eggs. Farm rule #56: wash your hands after touching chicken shit

Super stoked to go work in the rain!

Artichokes are crazy cool

This entry was published on September 28, 2011 at 12:24 am and is filed under Food & Farming. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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