Friday, August 24, 2012

Farm & (Versus?) Garden

The crew at John Jeavons' Ecology Action in Willits, CA
Green Gulch's Farm & Garden Apprenticeship Program started in 1994.  At some point around 2004 the apprenticeship was split into two distinct programs.  I don't know much about what initiated the split but I can guess that it may have had something to do with the challenges of rotating people between the two areas when continuity and efficiency go hand in hand.  The farm in particular needs to maximize efficiency as they harvest incredible loads for sale.

This division may be helpful in some ways but it has also led to some tensions that may be inevitable but could be more deeply explored.  I will do my best to present my observations objectively while acknowledging that I am a gardener and wouldn't trade it.  There's the usual banter of shit talking between the two apprentice groups just to give each other a hard time but sometimes it hits a little too close to heart.  Some of it is simply fact.  The ratio of land to apprentice is lower (higher?) in the farm than the garden so each farmer has more ground to cover.  The farm grows almost all annuals so they have higher turnover of crops.  They sell more product so their harvests are much larger, time consuming, and time sensitive.  Because they sell more they make more money.  They use tractors.  So in the end much s*** is thrown around about one group working more or harder than the other.  Is that the point?

Another level of examination needs to mention that organic farming is very sexy right now.  Which is great!  Farming, small farming, needs to happen.  As conventional farms poison the earth and ALL its inhabitants somebody needs to be preparing and learning techniques to feed people when conventional food becomes too expensive for most.  The side effect of this sexiness is that the farm gets a lot of attention.  When journalists write about Green Gulch or photographers/directors want to shoot film they all spend most of their attention on the farm.  The garden is like the quiet child in a large family who is well behaved and gets all As.

Finally, there is beauty and function.  On the surface it is easy to say "oh yeah the garden is pretty but it's not much use for anything."  As the Zen saying goes, "everything has its merit according to function and place."  Sure we can all recognize the function of the farm, it provides food and we need food to survive!   But it's not that simple.  Much of what the farm grows is lettuce, which, while delish is not so nutrient or calorie rich.  Also due to financial decisions most of our produce leaves Green Gulch where it can fetch a better price at market than here from our own kitchen.  On the other hand, the garden is beautiful and, I would argue, contains some of most dynamic art "installations" in the world.  Art has served some human function since...the beginning of time.  I wouldn't want a world without it.  So in the end I say we need both beauty and function and you don't have one without the other.  And at Zen Center farm and garden serve as containers (environments or structures) for practice and examining the self.  One might say they foster different types of practice or skills or we might just say different people need different containers.  (We could probably also try a little harder to bring the farm and garden worlds closer together)

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