10 Lessons Learned from Living and Working on Organic Farms

Three years ago on a life-altering journey, tears streamed down my dirt stained cheeks while I sat barefoot on a rock face to face with a pod of dolphins on a secluded pocket of beach in Big Sur, CA. It was in this journey that I was confronted with the painful realization that my life’s creation was not mine. It was constructed for my family, peers, and societies approval. It was a creation that kept me safe, secure, and on the track of external approval. And what was mine — was pushed to the side as not being worthy or legitimate enough to sit at the “adult-table.” I was sleepwalking along clutching a willful naivety; praying that the next thing on my linear trajectory might source me the fulfillment that I knew deep down would continue to escape me.

I was at a crossroads; I saw the timelines laid out clearly before me. If I was to start playing my own game, I had to act now. I decided to embark on a journey.

I chose to explore the farthest thing from the life I was living by committing to spending one year unplugged from technology, living and working on organic farms in remote locations. On a conscious level, I chose this path because of my budding interest in medicinal herbs, growing my own food, sustainable-living, and learning what it means to be a steward of the Earth.

On an unconscious level, I chose this path because I knew that the only way to get in touch with whomever was trapped underneath my pseudo-life’s construction — was to get to a place where my soul saw that I finally had internal space to surrender to a process of many deaths and many rebirths.

My one-year commitment somehow turned into three — all desires for comfort, normality & security vanished. I write this while peering out at the beautiful farm I have called home for an entirety of almost two and a half years. (There were other farms visited during the three-year time span, but I was very loudly called back to commit to this special piece of land — so, I listened.)

I am in a magical pocket of the Pacific Northwest called Hood River, Oregon. Here we sit on the iconic Columbia River, where salmon run and views implode your heart into thousands of tiny pieces. We sit between two massive volcano-mountains — Mount Hood and Mount Adams. They protect with the strength of a thousand warriors and simultaneously bring everything laying dormant to the surface with a cutting tenacity.

The farm is nestled in a thick, powerful forest who has held me time and time again, without judgment, like the strong arms of a lover. It sits up against a loud, rushing river whose moods change, without guilt, as fluidly and quickly as the feminine. As I peer out the window I see the jolly, magical Ginkgo tree’s leaves fully committed to their transition from forest green to sunshine yellow. It looks as if a divine force has come down and splashed its brush across the foliage. To my right, yellow leaves are falling from the cottonwoods like butterflies, in a dance so rare, eloquent, and moving that like a prayer; I must stop what I’m doing to witness. There is the tall Doug-Fir standing above the other trees, guarding the river with a seriousness, providing a place for hawks and the occasional solitary great blue heron to land and observe creation’s masterpiece that they are so effortlessly a part of.

I have become a part of this land and this land has become a part of me. On long hot summer days, my sweat has dripped into the dry caked dirt. Time and time again, I have fallen to my knees weeping, my tears gently absorbed by the sweet grass and the wet nourishing soil. I have given my blood to this land. I have let rage pour of out me, to become composted into nutrients. I have sung to the flora and I have danced with the fauna. I have laughed — so, so much — I have laughed until I have cried and until I have peed.

This land has revealed parts of myself that I despised. When I tried to run from them the land called me back, “Sweet child, can’t you see that this is where you belong right now?” This forest has taught me lessons of the feminine that I believe no mother, teacher, or amount of money will ever be able to. She has shown me the meaning of fierce devotion, of gentle strength, of necessary destruction, and of sweet, sweet darkness. She laid me down and whispered, “This is what quiet sounds like; this is the medicine of stillness.” She has cleansed every last bit of smog and city out of my lungs with her crisp, clean air.

The mountains have taught me lessons of the masculine that society was never able to. They have blanketed me with a protection that I had no idea my soul was longing for. From the moment I stepped foot onto this farm — they have facilitated painful internal and external eruptions. They have systematically dismantled my outdated stories, addictions to toxic ways of being, lies — so many lies — and anything standing in the way of my truth. They have pushed me — oh have they pushed me — to stand the fuck up. They have laughed at my smallness. They have inflicted storms upon my victimhood. They have awoken my inner-warrior.

I have spent the last three years wondering how I could ever begin to do justice to my experience at this farm through the written word. And, like anything worth experiencing in life — capturing the essence of it is always near impossible. As I near the bittersweet end of my time on this land — here is my humble first attempt at distilling the wisdom gifted to me through this experience. Wisdom that I know will continue to percolate throughout lifetimes. Wisdom that I pray will be passed down through generations of my lineage.

I humbly present ten of the most potent lessons I’ve learned during my time here:

1. We think we’re farming the land, but we’re actually farming ourselves

This lesson presented itself quite quickly — on the first day of work, actually. It was spring; the soil was still in its difficult and tired defrosting process from the winter. The air bit me with it’s chill; my Southern California was showing. The forest was yawning as she awoke from her slumber. We were instructed to weed. It became increasingly apparent that either I was very weak or the weeds were very strong (looking back, both were true). Boiling with frustration, I used all of my might and body weight to pull as I seemed to trip and fall into an underworld of pain. The harder I pulled the deeper the pain pulsed until I was sitting on the ground covered in wet mud, crying.

This moment is branded into my memory. The metaphor did not escape me. I felt deep in my bones why I was here. I was here to tend to the land and the land was here to tend to me. From that moment forward I walked with the awareness that everything I would do to the land had a mirrored, internal effect within me. As I learned what the land needed, I also learned what I needed.

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

— Masanobu Fukuoka


2. Some of the most powerful witches, medicine men & women, healers, wizards, and magicians (are hidden), living and working on organic farms
 

Words will never capture the magic of the humans I was blessed to cross paths with on the farm. I could write each of you a too long, sweet, sappy, love letter — expressing all the ways in which you’ve touched and transformed me. I’m sorry that I’m condensing your immensity into this minute section…

… I have never encountered such a quantity of high-quality, committed, passionate, aware, sensitive, intelligent, connected group of spiritual warriors.

The people here changed me, smashing my well-crafted Southern California ego into shards. The quickly built connections and deep levels of intimacy experienced cracked my heart wide open. In what felt like an overnight process, strangers became friends who became brothers and sisters.

I had the privilege of living above a couple who are a true example of what it means to dedicate yourself to the Earth and all of her creations. They have rehabilitated the soil on the majority of the property, they do not turn away any stray or sick animal that needs a home — regardless of their condition — and they lovingly steward the land and hold the space that facilitates transformation for anyone who hears the farm’s call.

I met women so deeply connected to the flora and the fauna that they were able to intuit what the Earth needed before she showed us. I met men who were dedicated to the fungi — spending hours in the forest in silence, alone, patiently waiting for mushrooms to appear. I met a brother with sarcasm so rich it dripped like honey and eyes beaming with such purity that it felt like peering into the soul of an angel. I met a sister who carries and distills the medicine of the child-self; play, laughter, silly-ness, innocence, and trust.

Time and time again these humans witnessed me. They saw a version of myself that I had yet to see and — sometimes gently, sometimes with force — pulled her out into the light. They held me in all of the seasons of my experience.

They embodied the path of deep self-approval; never once did I see anyone altering themselves to try and conform, receive acceptance, or fit in. They questioned everything. Without fear and with great courage they blurred the boundaries of what’s “acceptable” and “normal.”  They are a motley crew of convicted, individualistic, plant-worshiping, spiritual tricksters — each carrying their own unique medicine and pouring it with grace into every person, plant and animal they encounter.

This group of humans — they care. And I know the act of caring sounds simplistic and “easy” – but, quite frankly, it’s not. It is a medicine so fucking necessary for the health of the planet and our entire human-family right now. Caring requires acceptance of what is, without letting cynicism or the weight of your awareness destroy you. Caring involves the courage and commitment to be a change-agent; to walk with your heart open and too, time and time again, get into your body and let spirit work through you.

3. Mother Earth will heal you. But first, she will kill you

The concept of the Life/Death/Life process is beautifully laid out in Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves. My time on the farm catalyzed this cycle as a loud force in my life.

Connecting too and spending time with Mother Earth, in any way that delights you, is medicine. And where there is medicine, there is healing. Where there is healing, there is new life or re-birth. In order to create space for this life we must greet death at the door.

“In our culture, the Life part of living is supported, however, the Death part of living is too often misunderstood and feared. And yet, unless we accept the dying embers from each passage of life, we cannot create sufficient space for new initiations to commence.”

Laura Grace

As the wheel spins through fall and winter we are forced to become intimate with the death process. Leaves fall, animals disappear, plants let go of their need to stand and topple over (laughing the whole way down). The natural world does not resist this process but rather surrenders to it with grace. Mother Earth teaches us that death and life are two sides of the same coin.

She has shown me that becoming attached to whatever life cycle I’m in is futile. I arrived at this farm with a tight grip on a linear timeline full of attachment, “should’s,” “hows,” and “needs.” I’m leaving with a looser grip, carrying the teachings of the spiral: vision, aligned action, non-attachment, trust, surrender, and gratitude for the delicious fruits of death.  

I’ve learned that death desires nothing more than our mere presence and our willingness. Death begs us to be the student of every sensation and emotion she has to offer. And as soon as you start to drink the sweetness of her nectar, she is out the door — disappearing with a final deep breath — leaving you purified and once again, open to life.

4. Wherever you go, there you are

I believe everyone comes face to face with this axiom, regardless of where you go. When we decide to take a journey, no matter how extravagant or spiritually inclined, the physical distance doesn’t rid us of anything we may be trying to escape. Wherever you end up — you always meet yourself.

When I arrived at the farm I brought with me the same suitcases of trauma, buried emotions, patterns, and ego shell I had left with. The difference was that I finally had the eyes to see it, and the space to feel and face it all.

This journey and my nomadic phase throughout it, has taught me that regardless of how the quest manifests, you can never outrun yourself. Thus, it behooves you to befriend yourself along the way. Not just your ego-self, but also your whole, wide, deep, dark, messy self. The self that you’ve thought a certain lifestyle or journey could absolve you from.

Before I left, I glorified all of my transient friends who seemed to never stay in one place longer than three months, appeared to travel the world effortlessly, and looked to be committed to nothing except freedom. Now that I’ve gotten a taste of that world, my rose-colored glasses have dissolved. You can have an extensive list of super-awesome things you’ve done and still be a person unwilling to show up for the work of dealing with your bullshit. Wherever you go, there you are.

5. We are losing touch with what it means to live seasonally and slowly 

We live in a society addicted to speed and instant gratification. Amazon delivers packages within 24-hours, articles are now prefaced with TLDR (too long, don’t read) because we’ve somehow lost the time and attention span it takes to read a full piece of writing, and the majority of us can have whatever produce we desire, year-round, regardless of where we live.

Farming took all of this and forced me to look at it — and I mean really look at it. Time and time again, the process of working the land humbled me. I can’t tell you how many times I threw a tool in frustration because of the sheer difficulty of the work and my lack of perseverance. When I began farming I was impatient and quick to walk away from something that was “too hard” or “took too long.” As time traversed on, the lessons started to distill, producing growth and change. I saw that nothing worth being proud of happens instantly and how every process requires presence, discipline, and patience. I also experienced the pure, child-like, irreplaceable joy that comes from growing and waiting for seasonal food.

6. Intentionally working the land lives in all of our bones

A fascinating process begins when we return to the land. Within weeks of farming a primal energy that had been lying dormant inside of myself was activated. I lost interest in shoes, shaving my armpits, and showering more than once a week. I rapidly gained a huge appetite for heartier, real, dirt-stained food, deeper connections, and more passionate intimacy. I became dirtier, louder, and all around wilder. A sister of mine, who was experiencing the same process, wisely noted that we were doing the work of our ancestors – thus, connecting us to an ancient primal energy that has existed for generations in all of our bones.

When the women worked together, I could feel the deep crevices of my being pull my consciousness back through the lineage of women we came from who did this same work, day-in and day-out.

When I made my own herbal medicines, I was transported to a time when medicine making was common practice for every woman in the house. When harvesting vegetables while singing to the garden was a morning meditation. And, when plant-communication and offerings to the land were both widely accepted and seen as necessary.

This experience gifted me with an activation of an ancient, primal intelligence that technology (a glorious thing indeed), instant-gratification, and the commonplace fast-paced Western lifestyle were blocking. This activation has changed the way I operate. Yes, I can’t (and don’t want to) entirely avoid the rapidness of the modern-day lifestyle. But I can now act from a place of awareness. I can weave slowness into my days, I can tend my own little vegetable and herb garden, I can set boundaries with technology, I can continue to practice daily offerings to the land I am blessed to exist on, and I can honor and be in relationship with my ancestors.

7. Addictions cannot be willfully ignored

I recognize this is a pretty intense blanket statement and not entirely true for everyone who has farmed. I myself witnessed many people come-and-go, addiction(s) still in tow. However, what became very clear is that if you were dealing with an addiction — it would become very loud and very obviously asking to be dealt with. If you weren’t willing to deal with, you would be energetically kicked out or removed by some stroke of a cosmic bitch slapping.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was fueling this reaction. It could be that the farm was situated near Mount Hood, who’s known to have lay lines running through her and also is quite fond of the plutonian trickster archetype — without fail, bringing everything up. Or, the reality that whilst farming, your external reality will become very quiet and distractions will be unveiled. It could also be that Mother Earth wants us to return to her — but in the process of that return, she wants us to let go of anything that could be standing in the way of witnessing and receiving her magic.

I personally feel it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, I watched almost every person that showed up at the farm face off with and/or dissolve an addiction. Like clockwork, anybody who showed up smoking cigarettes decided to quit upon arriving. I watched people battle with drinking as a numbing agent. I had a front row seat to my partner quitting first tobacco then, one year later, cannabis. I watched a sister realize and compassionately work with her addiction to romanticizing things and living in stories that kept her from facing reality.

I myself came up against an addiction to coffee, to playing the victim, to self-absorption and selfishness, and to control — just to name a few. Each and every time I tried to push it to the side as not a big deal, only to have it become louder. And each time, when I finally surrendered — I was held. Held by the forest, the river, the animals, the plants, and the beautiful humans that surrounded me.  

8. Permaculture is a practice that has the power to transform the health of the planet now, and for all future generations  

Before my time at the farm, I had a conceptual grasp of permaculture. I had read some articles here and there about it, attended a permaculture action day, and even tried to implement some of its more simple practices into the local community garden I was working at. Yet, in hindsight, I treated it more as a hippie-buzz word that gave you more Earth-warrior credit if you semi-knew what it was.

However, permaculture – and the entirety of its long-term magic and impact – gradually opened itself to me day-by-day, on the farm. Our vegetable and cannabis managers (two powerful witches) were well versed, well practiced, and passionately insistent on intentional land management. Essentially, they lived by the axiom that whatever patch of land they were tending — they would pour themselves into rehabilitating it, only implementing practices that were mutually beneficial (versus the way many food growing practices are single-minded in that they try and squeeze as much from the land as possible), stewarding it towards thriving, and leaving it more beautiful than when they first arrived.

These women were not joking around. I witnessed them, day-in and day-out, pour all of themselves into their pieces of the property. When they weren’t outside working, they were researching growing practices that caused the least harm and produced the most benefit, they were creating concoctions made entirely out of plants (to feed their plants) in order to avoid dosing them with chemicals of any kind and they were problem-solving (a constant when farming), with a reverent consideration of what the land and the plants were calling out for.

There is a lot to say about the semantics and practical integration of permaculture — the energy and time investment that is needed for it to truly impact and integrate onto large pieces of land. However, it is a system that works sustainably. Its practices take into consideration the land as a whole glorious organism that requires all pieces to be in communication and in harmony for any type of taking and receiving to be sustainable for both the Earth and humans.

And, it’s something that can be implemented into your life, regardless of where you live. City permaculture is actually the easiest to begin and produces the quickest results. I strongly feel that every human who cares about the planet in some way, should familiarize themselves with this system. I recommend the documentary, INHABIT (both renting and buying are well-worth the investment).

9. There is magic in the practice of observing

Before my time on the farm, I couldn’t see. When I say that I mean that I glanced at things quickly and then continued on with my life. Rarely, did I stop and take something in fully. And if I did, it was conditional, reserved only for certain settings and occasions: my nightly bike rides to the ocean, camping in the forest, looking at art. It took being surrounded by creation — alive and singing in all of her glory — for me to begin opening my eyes. There is so much that we are either trained out of seeing or simply don’t take the time to notice.

I was surrounded by the natural world in a way I had yet to experience and through this I became hypnotized by the immense beauty, the intensity of life and the abundance of intricacies. I found myself taking time each day to just sit and stare. It became a daily soul-nourishing practice of noticing. Noticing sweet details I would have overlooked if I hadn’t taken the time to be with. Now when I look, I take my time… I let the layers and dimensions of reality unfold. I recognize that in each observation, there is a world waiting to be seen.

I observed so much… worlds of mundane goodness that eventually began to satiate and replace my desire for entertainment via the television:

… The dramatic gestures and minute details of the landscape changing through the seasons: the community of cottonwoods I watched from my bed everyday and the ways in which their personalities changed from the boasting fullness of leaves in the summer to their sad, naked, winter bareness. I watched lemon balm go from adorable little girl to her bursting, obnoxious, teenage-party-girl phase. I watched the land become moody and broody in the rain, loud and proud in the sun, confused and angry in the hail, and quiet and tired in the snow.

… The river took on new shapes and voices with the seasonal shifts while retaining the position of watering hole for the local species: the pairs of mallards taking breaks from their journeys in her gentle side-pools in the spring and families of deer strutting across without a hint of worry or doubt. The way she filled and boomed in the winter and how she seemed to take a deep exhale and release in the summer.

… The joy in observing the colorful crew of animals all over the property — witnessing their mannerisms, social intricacies, and pure hilarity that could have been so easily overlooked. I got to know the social hierarchies in both chicken pens. I watched a chicken protest her way out of the group pen by refusing to eat or participate. All in the name of getting to live in her own special hut near the house, affording her a life free from the drama of the feisty all-lady pen. I became attuned to the moods of the goats — which morphed often and loudly. I saw that one goat who appeared hard on the outside was actually a soft baby crying for acceptance and affection. I watched ducks and geese go about their daily routines, only acknowledging my presence if they wanted food — demanding to be treated like royalty. I watched dogs that surely thought they were humans who owned the property. And I watched a gang of lady cats play the archetypal roles of homebody, sleuth, and constantly shocked.

10. Sometimes, even when you’re not looking for a pet – the pet will find you

I have always held having a pet as a large responsibility that requires a certain integrity and ability to invest time, money, and energy. Because of this I planned on waiting until I was settled somewhere and halfway decent at adulting before adopting my future best friend.

My first night at the farm I arrived when it was pitch black — a blackness that did not exist in the city where I had come from. I went to bed feeling exhausted, alone and wondering if I had just made a terrible decision. When I woke up, there was a large orange tabby asleep on top of me, purring. His mere presence seemed to wash all of my worries away. He looked at me with his piercing evergreen eyes and it felt as if he was staring into the depths of my soul. A feeling poured through my entire system that I had never felt so intensely towards an animal. It felt as if this cat was somehow… mine. It was as if we had been searching for each other and I didn’t know it until this moment.

His name was Sam. He had shown up at the farm a little over a year ago — skinny, beaten up, and feral. He was taken in and brought back to health. No one was sure if he had ever been domesticated before arriving. He was the perfect blend of wild, independent man and squishy, lumpy baby.

Sam and I became inseparable. I felt so deeply intertwined with this little orange man and I couldn’t begin to understand why. At first it was jokingly said that I should adopt him. However it didn’t take long for the jokes to become real and for me to see that I should, in fact, claim the little man as mine. I saw myself in Sammy; our wounds were similar and underneath any intimidating exterior, there was softness and a deep wounding around family and home.

He has been one of my greatest teachers in all of the big lessons us spiritually-inclined folks are always spiraling around — acceptance, trust, surrender, total approval of the self, unabashed self-expression, allowing oneself to rest, presence, and service. My archetypal role on the farm was often said to be the counselor, but I feel that the true healer was Sammy. He sleeps with everyone on his or her first night because he knows the first-night-fears that arise on this journey. He always senses who needs his energy and love most and gives them accordingly. He sees you, all of you — and he loves all of what he sees.

… Sam is just a small orange tabby with some seasonal chub (that he wears without shame), but his soul is massive.

This piece is dedicated to all of the beautiful humans I shared time and space with on the farm: Jeff, Ketrina, Caitlyn, Verne, Kelly, Max, Kaytea, Luke, Bailey, Chris, Hannah, Marianna, Megan, KT, Lauren, Olive, Jess, Matt, Jules, Mink, Jordan, Julissa, Sam, Solace, Petyr, Cece… Sam, Daisy, Tara, Charlie, Fiddle, Gritty, Midge, Gifford, Natayo, Peyong, Mary, the Guinea’s, the bunnies, Mama, Banjo, Houdini, Rooster-Face and all of the ladies he watches over, the three roosters from the all-girls pen, the all-girls pen, the geese, the duck.
I love you all. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

The healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit is the same process.”

— Masanobu Fukuoka