Back on the path to Farming!

I believed my tenure at No More Empty Pots would expire at the end of the August when the CISCO grant was completed.  I approached my boss, and our CEO, Nancy Williams, to talk about my exit strategy but she had other ideas.  Instead of taking a sabbatical to explore creating my urban farm on my own, she invited me to do just that under the umbrella of No More Empty Pots.  Nurturing my current relationships with The Nature Conservancy, Fontenelle Forest, and other agencies, No More Empty Pots will allow me to broaden my reach and see who’s interested in joining us.  

Merica Whitehall, from Fontenelle Forest had spoken to Nancy and me about the possibility of using land at the Forest for the farm pilot.  We met and viewed the land...it looks spectacular and has a great name already: Camp Brewster! Now, I’m settling into research to explore inclusive urban farms.

 Camp Brewster - with the Missouri river on the top right.

Camp Brewster - with the Missouri river on the top right.

Effects of invading someone else’s domain

Earlier in August, I spent a Saturday working outside in the yard and garden.  The weather was sunny and warm, since Dasher was spending the weekend with us, I had company.  I planted a new cover crop in Zamarian’s garden and then began to weed in the far corner of the yard. This is my resource spot where I keep items that could be used in the future. I have stump mulch, stones, bricks and all sorts of abandoned items.  

In the midst of weeding, I noticed was Dashing jumping around and yelping and then I started to feel the stings myself. I brushed off a few bugs from his back and we both started running for the house and I hailed Glen to help. We ran into the garage and  I felt stinging everywhere and was crazed trying to get the bugs off of me. Dash still had one on his back. Glen brushed it off and it stung him.

We were googling how to take care of bee stings and heard a buzzing sound. We cornered and killed the insect, then looked him up online and it was a yellow jacket wasp. We figured out that soap/water followed by hydrogen peroxide was the best way to treat the stings.  We took care of Dasher and then each other.

At this point, I felt the worst was over.  That afternoon, Dasher looked lethargic so I googled how to care for beagles with stings, it wasn’t really anything more than we’d already done. The next morning, each of my sting spots (7 in all) were red/inflamed, hard and itchy. It was very painful.  

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I’m not mad at the yellow jackets, they were just doing what came naturally to them - protecting their home.  

I know now where my domain ends and their's starts! 

Experiencing the Pressure of Food Waste

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One of the topics of our Building IoT + Food Systems program was to show learners the truth about food waste.  Not many people are aware that we throw away up to 40 % of all of the food grown in the US today.

One article states that we throw away one per person per day which totals 150,000 tons of food a day.  Rotting food clogs up landfills and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.  I know this, I teach this and yet I found myself throwing away strawberries, cucumbers and an old orange today.  While tossing this into my compost pile doesn’t feel as bad as putting it in the garbage to go landfill, what about folks who don’t have compost options?  Last week, while shopping in my grocery store, I saw store employees checking dates and piling food on carts to be removed. While some may be rescued, most of it will end up in a landfill.  This saddens me, but what can be done?

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My first hug and other learnings

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In my last week of teaching at NorthStar, I shook each learner’s hand and asked them their names as they entered.  It was remarkable the difference it made in our class dynamics. Just meeting each person at the door, shaking their hand and looking into their eyes allowed me to connect with them.  

One of the learners would not shake my hand and tried to walk around me.  I would not allow it so Jayden finally gave in and shook my hand but wouldn’t look me in the eye. I figured that we were starting to connect.  Later in our time together, he shouted at me that I wasn’t his teacher and he didn’t have to listen to me, he didn’t have to follow my rules.

After class one day, the Director stopped by to chat. She was wondering why so many of my students are asked to leave the classroom.  It was a method I adopted after the advisors were not helping with disruptions, I asked the learners to leave until they were ready to engage.  Hana explained that their leaving the class is seen as a huge move towards being expelled from the program. I was not interested in this strong of a message.  

Hana also said that she’s had to break apart fights at high schools where the teacher is just standing by, uninterested in getting involved.  For some of these kids, NorthStar is the safest environment they experience in their entire day. Safer than home, than school, than the streets.  She encouraged me to teach to these disruptive behaviors. This is more new learning for me. I told her about Jayden expressing himself and she said he should be asked to leave but there was something I needed to know about Jayden.  He has a special qualifier because he can’t read above the 1st grade level.

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So, the next day, I tried a new tact.  Bribery with fruit snacks. It worked. Jayden worked hard to get 5 fruit snacks, more than anyone in the class.  It was wonderful to watch him shine.

He hugged me before he left.

On Friday, Jayden was expelled from the program.

Today, I am finished with the program and am left feeling empty.

STEP UP helped me step out

So the first two weeks of July our team hosted the 39 STEP UP participants in our Food Hub, Garden and Admin Office.  STEP UP Omaha! provides jobs and paid internship opportunities to youth and young adults during the summer. One of our gals taught culinary arts in the kitchen, another agricultural education in the garden and me, the Internet of Things in the Admin Office.  These learners are 14-15 years old and come from all schools, mostly in North Omaha. Our Director of Operations, Susan, opened each session with a level setting time and also finished our time together every day.  Each of us had each group twice for 3 hours or so. It was a HOT week which played into the Admin Office meeting space, which usually holds 8-10 adults and we had 13 large bodies who were busy trying to make impressions in addition to engaging with me and the content I wanted to share.  The afternoons wore on and were tedious, I left each day exhausted. They sucked the life out of me, that is for sure.

The last day of our 2 weeks together, we hosted a graduation ceremony at the local Community College.  It was a sweet celebration and Susan asked each teacher to give a three minute speech to summarize the class.  I had selected 3 or so learners from each group that had been engaged and interested, and showed leadership. I’d planned to lead with the Vince Lombardi quote, “Leaders are not born, they are made.”

When my name was announced for me to speak, the kids started cheering.  Seriously, cheering and yelling out “sister”, which is what I called all the girls because I couldn’t recall each of their names.  I was overcome. Tears welled up in my eyes and I lost my direction on what I’d prepared to share. After a few moments, I did regain composure and delivered my speech on leadership.

I walked away from the experience in shock.  Days later the shock remains.

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2 generations later = more bleakness

In teaching another group at NorthStar, I was again surprised, overwhelmed, encouraged, exhausted and perplexed. I spoke with our Director of Operations, Susan about this and she provided perspective.  In explaining to her that I was teaching in Watts 30 (again that large number) years ago, I thought I was prepared for an urban teaching setting. Susan explained that 2 generations makes a big difference. It hit hard.  Years of struggling and never seeing results or experiencing change, hardens everything. Especially hope. Those four-year-old students, may have spent years working several jobs, watching their children get shot, dreaming about success following their passions and contemplating a way to get out...all these things but nothing about their circumstances changes.  Responsibility for this aside, hardened hearts and weak spirits result. What I experience in the classroom is just a little taste of their tough reality. These kids are used to people not showing up, not keeping their word, and having to figure out things for themselves. The support I offer isn’t trustworthy, because they haven’t been able to trust many or much at all.

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2 years makes a big difference!

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This week I started another program delivery of Building IoT + Local Food Systems.  These learners were rising 9th graders, the difference between them and the rising 7th graders was notable.  They were taller, they were quieter and they look more intently at me. At first, it was off putting but then, it was refreshing.

Their questions, their input and their engagement was at such a different level than the others that I found myself more excited and engaged.  Perhaps, it’s because it was my third go round for delivering the content, or else it was my dear cousin’s encouragement to pray this:

ask God to give you a love for each student, to open your eyes to their incredible value to Him....kids know when their teacher loves them....and they respond with tenderness and vulnerability that they don't risk in most places or with most of the people in their lives.

What’s changed in 30 years of teaching!

Wow! I’ve forgotten so much about teaching, but the NorthStar rising 7th graders helped me to remember, painfully at times.  This, in addition to publicly admitting that 30 years ago I started teaching in the inner city of Los Angeles.  Another pain point!

I remember my first group of learners, 4 years old, as being curious and quiet.  Once they trusted me, the noise level rose but so did their level of engagement. I found myself going into school earlier each day so I could create new learning centers and activities for them.  I don’t remember their disrespect or annoyance, but that could have been their age, or mine!

The group of learners I just taught were 10 years older and much more hidden from me.  They didn’t seem to care about what I said, or what innovation I shared or what their neighbor told them about the internet of things, all that mattered was feigning apathy, or so it seemed to me. My colleagues at work encouraged me that this age of learner just wants to act cool, actually attending to the teacher makes you uncool. Nancy, my boss, explained that if I can gain their trust, let them know that I care about them, I should consider my time with them a success. This is new learning for me.

As I’m processing this to prepare for the next delivery, I’m thinking of ways to incorporate a faster pace and delivery of content, use music effectively and engage the learners who are interested, allowing the others to go sit on the sidelines.  To me, much of this goes against what I believe as a teacher. So, I’m changing my own paradigms, not an easy or desirable task!

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And I guess this is what hurts the most, I'm not sure this past group of learners know that I did care about them learning.  How do you share your heart when the disdain and disrespect is the strongest emotion in the room?

NorthStar is more than I expected!

This week was my first week teaching The Internet of Things +Local Food Systems at NorthStar Academy.  Here is their program description:

NorthStar programming is intended to provide additional academic, athletic and social opportunities for student success. NorthStar serves boys in grades 3 – 8 through an open enrollment process.  

I was nervous to get started.  Momma and I spent the better part of three days redesigning the curriculum when I was in tears over it late last week.  Her 33 years of teaching expertise provided the much needed bench strength for me to gain comfort in knowing and managing the content.  I was still apprehensive as I as my audience entered the classroom at 9 am on Monday morning. It was their first day of summer school, or “programming” and  I assumed my teaching experience in inner city LA would help relate to these learners. Little did I realize that the 30 years that has past (Yes, it has been 30 years!  That’s another blog entry.) had created an entirely different learner audience. These “rising 7th graders” are a tough audience, I left the first day disappointed, exhausted and forlorn.  After gaining counsel from our Head of Operations and CEO, Susan and Nancy, I felt more prepared to return to the class for Day 2. They encouraged me to work on trust in the learners, create experiences that help them see that I care.  Forget about the content of the Internet of Things or Local Food Systems, let them know I care. Today, I just completed Day 3 and have honed my expectations to be more realistic but am still learning the steps to this different tap dance I continue to modify from my days teaching PreK in Watts.

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Seeing the Food Hub through Others

This past week, my Aussie friend, Beth, joined us for lunch during Restaurant Week at our Culinary Workforce Training Program.  She was unaware of No More Empty Pots, our Food Hub nor our CWTP. As a PhD in Zoology, Beth travels the world frequently but also digs into her community in Omaha.  She is actively engaged with neighbors and friends who need rides, help figuring out aspects of life and just need someone to listen to them. Beth doesn’t shy away from hard stories or hard work and was eager to learn more about the Food Hub and No More Empty Pots’ work after entering our world.  She wanted to know how we found people for our programs, how our programs found our people, where the produce was sourced and what we did with the food we produced. Then she saw the shared use kitchens where one of our entrepreneurs was baking cookies and learned about our program for entrepreneurs.  She was intrigued and capped off her tour by cornering Nancy, our CEO and Founder, to ask about specific people she knew who could benefit from our program. Seeing Beth’s curiosity and kindness piqued by stepping into the Pots’ environment helped me to understand what a unique environment this truly is.

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Why should we collaborate together anyway?

A New Narrative

Michael Rozyne concluded his lecture by stating that we don’t need to convince someone of your values, you just need to share one pragmatic common goal.  

I want to pull apart the first part of that sentence.  I find it interesting that most conversations I experience (if they can be called conversations) are centered on convincing someone that they are wrong and more importantly, they are limited in their thinking.  Usually the person listening is assumed to disagree with the speaker’s position. Usually it is assumed that the reason the listener disagrees with the speaker is because they are lacking in some way: intelligence, sensitivity,  being informed, and a willingness to see the world from another’s viewpoint. These conversations are rife with sound bytes and authoritative speech which negates opening a discussion. The end goal for the speaker seems to be to make a point and win the argument, even though this is a conversation.   

When I’m the listener in this type of question, that is usually all I do.  I used to think it was because I didn’t have my facts correct, or know enough to participate fully.  On reflection, it is because I don’t feel safe. I don’t mind discussing things I don’t know, how do you learn?  I do mind assumptions that are made of me because of the way I look or how I assumed to have voted.

Michael’s lecture cheered me, it made me hopeful that conversations can be had when we have different values as long as we share a common goal.  He believes we are all capable of creating a New Narrative. I look forward to having conversations that aim to create a New Narrative on all sorts of topics.  Michael’s new narrative that he encouraged us to see is that sustainably, responsibly grown and economically available produce would allow for more people to have better food to eat.  This has opened me up to not being an “organic only” proponent but being open to this new type of thinking.  I’m excited to see how this works with our first visit to the farmer’s market under our belt.

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Purists and essentialists - what’s the difference?

I attended the National Good Food Network conference in New Mexico in late March.  One of my favorite lectures was by Michael Rozyne who stated that there is an important difference between being a purist and an essentialist about organic foods.  This was new territory for me because I believe (or did believe) so strongly in being an organic purist.

Michael wrote a book, “What are we Fighting/Collaborating For?  He had three main points in his lecture:  Survival, The Story First, Why Collaborate?  In Survival, Michael explained that he has a dear friend, John Lyman, a local apple and peach farmer who became allies in their stance on IPM (Integrated Pest Management).  In New England, it is almost impossible to grow organic fruit so both of these farmers use synthetic pesticides (IPM).  Because of their solidarity on this issue, Michael was unsettled when he learned that John believed in intelligent design and a young earth, because Michael believed in evolution.  They came to an agreement, and it wasn’t just to agree that they could disagree but it was to listen to the other person’s perspective.

In these days of polarization on everything from politics to potty rooms, I was elated to hear this.  I long for actual discussions of topics without opinions defying opposing viewpoints. Michael went on to explain how this transpired, by stories. I’ll discuss reframing through stories next week. Back to purists and essentialists. While it is great to have organic food only, 1% of all produce grown in the US is organic, so what’s everyone supposed to eat?  This attitude doesn’t take into account what it means to be a responsible grower. There are plenty of growers who maintain sustainable practices, they use cover crops to create more organic matter. They may not be able afford organic certification but they are still producing good produce. Customers that are more interested in prices are okay to look at conventionally grown produce if it responsibly grown.  

Michael ended this section of his lecture by saying that we live surrounded by synthetic products but people are against using synthetic pesticides. I read a book a few years back called Essentialism, I think it’s time to check it out from the library for a refresher. I’ve been an “organic only” gal for some time now, I want to learn more about the farmers who grow sustainably and responsibly. That I’ll need to learn more about as well.

 

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Challenging the Cult of Speed

I've read a lot of about multitasking and the negative effects of this method.  Even while I've learned that it's not good for many reasons, I succumb to it's draw.  While I'm posting, I have a thank you letter to write on my left, pictures to transfer from phone to laptop, book club dates for 2016 to send out, etc.  We all know the drill.  It is seen as an asset in today's culture.  

I've found another approach to limiting my multi-taskedness and that is to embrace slowness.  Yes, slowness.  It was this article from Shane Parrish, on Farman Street that helped me realize steps I could take to slow myself, my work, my mind...down.

Points that made sense to me were: We live in a world with more information than ever yet we understand less.  Understanding comes from focusing, chewing, and relentlessly ragging on a problem.  Thinking requires time and space.  It's slow.  It means saying I don't know. We're expected to have an opinion about everything and yet our time to think is near zero. we have more opinions than ever but have less understanding.

Instead of thinking deeply, or letting an idea simmer in the back of the mind, our instinct now is to reach for the nearest sound bit.  In modern warfare, correspondents in the field and pundits in the studio spew out instant analysis for the vents as they occur.  Often, their insights turn out to be wrong.  But that hardly matters nowadays: in the land of speed the man with the instant response is king. The electronic media is dominated by what one French sociologist dubbed "le fast thinker" - a person who can without skipping a beat, summon up a glib answer to any question. 

"Fast and slow do more than just describe a rate of change.  They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life.  Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed superficial, impassion, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: clam, careful, receptive, still initiative, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity.  It is about making real and meaningful connections - with people, culture, work, food, everything" The Red Queen Effect, Shane Parrish.

Fast eats time.  One consequence of fast is that we make poor decision after poor decision.  Poor decisions eat time.  And in a culture where people wear busyness as a badge of honor bad decisions actually lead us to think that we're doing more.

 

 

 

Organic is about being Observant

Many of my perceptions and understanding about farming and growing things have changed dramatically since I started my apprenticeship at EarthDance Farms.  Trying to list them would be difficult because they morph into each other.  One way to capstone this would be to focus on observation.

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My childhood experience of observing would be to note when the plants needed watering, weeding, harvesting and removal.  I learned what a mature green bean, eggplant, tomato or strawberry looked like and became adept at harvesting.  Weeding, while it took understanding of what was/was not a weed, was a simple yet constant task in our farm garden.  Overripe fruit was always a treat to find, especially if a sibling or shed was nearby to receive a rotten tomato or cucumber boat. 

We would observe our auntie’s gardens too, if we choose to go on the Sunday strolls through on them on their farms.  I would usually start off with the tour but rarely made it to the end, unless it was fall and we’d end up in the apple orchard.

But that was the extent of my observing.  Perhaps it was my age but I am convinced it was more the setting.

At EarthDance Farms these past four months, I’ve been taught how to observe many things.  Flight paths of the honey bees, chickens that are ramming into the electric fence, beans falling over because of their proximity to the green house fans, just to name a few!

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Monica’s gift of observation and ability to teach us how to observe has affected how each of us engages with our fieldwork.  We don’t grab a bug that we find crawling across the zucchini leaf but we first observe.  We decide what kind of bug it is in order to figure out if it is harmful or beneficial to the plant.  If we don’t know what kind of bug it is, we ask snap a shot of it on our iPhones and google the image to see if we can learn more about it.  If it’s a new bug we are unfamiliar with, they we observe it to see what we can learn. 

Observe her cherry tomato fashion statement.

When we all were getting stung by our farm bees for several weeks, Monica observed that it was the probably because of the new constructed high tunnel.  It was in the way of the bees’ flight pattern to/from their hives and they were confused. 

One day, when I was harvesting kale with another Farmy, Steven, we noticed there was a chicken outside of the fence.  Another Farmy, Daikon Dave, picked up the chicken and returned to inside the fence.  As we watched the chicken join up with the brood, we noticed that other chickens started ramming the fence from the inside trying to get out.  It was such odd behavior.  So, of course, we went to Monica.  She observed the chickens for a bit, looked around and thought aloud, which I appreciate a lot!  Monica noted that on this particular day on the farm, there was a road being constructed through the farm.  There was a dump truck and a bobcat making all sorts of noises…loud ones. While we were not affected by this commotion, evidently the chickens were.  Monica believed that they were trying to get away from the noises that were less than 50’ from their coop and fence.  AMAZING!

Then there's the green beans. They were growing well, beginning to size up and then suddenly all of the plants were lying down, looking like something had knocked them over. Indeed it had.  Monica observed that the green house fans had kicked in during the hot spell we were experiencing.  The fans were blowing air out of the green house into guess where?  The green bean paddock, so the beans were blown over by the green house exhaust fans.

I’ll conclude with a quote from one of my favorite farmers, Wendell Berry and a fabulous fennel for you to observe.

If we represent knowledge as a tree, we know that things that are divided are yet connected. We know that to observe the divisions and ignore the connections is to destroy the tree.