Archive for ‘new adventure’

December 1, 2013

Buying the Farm

My windowsill garden

I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve wanted to have my own farm since I was a little girl. I planted a peach pit in our back yard near a big Doug fir and dug it up nearly every day to see if it was turning into a tree yet. I baked my own bread and painted my face with blackberry juice.
I didn’t really know about farms then, or where my food came from, really, but eventually I would figure it out. Where I started was with an insatiable love of the outdoors, of things that grow. Although I had no idea what was actually edible out there – and neither did my city-born parents – I pretended it all was anyway. When I grew up to learn that humans were expected to spend most of their lives indoors, I followed along with the plan briefly but soon found myself joyously yanking weeds in the mud of the University of Oregon’s Urban Farm.

I’m 27 years old now. Recently, I received an email from a young woman named Erin. She’s about to graduate from engineering school and was seeking advice on entering the field of sustainable agriculture. She felt that she could make a positive contribution.
I sent a couple of links to apprenticeship programs but she pressed for more information: What path had I taken, she wanted to know. What mistakes had I made, and what experiences were invaluable?
I think what she really wanted to know was, is this really possible? Can an idealistic young person really go into the crusty world of tractors, almanacs, fruit fly breeding cycles, pressure canning, agricultural zoning rules and Carharts and make it as sexy as designing green buildings or a more fuel-efficient car?
There is a huge chasm in agriculture today, but maybe it’s always been there. It’s the difference between our romantic view of cuddling baby lambs, and hosting potlucks in our rustic farmhouses and the reality of growing enough food for the planet’s 7.5 billion people and making it as cheap as possible. Today, the romantic view of farm life has grown to include an expectation that changing the way we grow, distribute and consume food can actually save the planet. So, can it?

I have to admit that I lied a bit in my responses to Erin. I didn’t tell her that no farmer I’ve ever met has actually recommended that I follow in their footsteps, go into debt for a large piece of land, and spend the rest of my life tied down to it. I didn’t tell her that most of the early 20-somethings I met just out of college who, like me, worked a variety of low-paying but highly satisfying farm-related jobs, are now settling down to earn real money and buy their food from the grocery store like everyone else. I failed to mention how incredibly thankless it is to be a farmer, that no matter how much people in your community seem to embrace the idea of buying locally and building regional food security, you will still meet people at the farmer’s market who will fail to understand why your apples are more expensive than those at Safeway. That’s when you smile and try to be nice, and you don’t try to explain that the old expression “he bought the farm” means he died, because when you try to live off the land that’s the only way you do live.

I left these things out because I still believe that the baby goats are worth it, and that, as Alice Waters said, we really do vote for the kind of world we want every time we choose what we eat. Maybe this is why there are still farmers in the world, why there continue to be young farmers even though the average age of a farmer in America is now upwards of 60 years old. The trend of college grads going back to the land may have hit its peak at the height of the recession in 2009, when I graduated from college, but there are still Erins out there, and there are still people like me and Hannah, who just can’t seem to settle for a nine-to-five job under the protective roof of a building in town. There’s a smidgen of boldness and a bit of stupidity there, too – no matter how many farmers we’ve met who barely scrape by, we seem to think we can do better. Maybe, just maybe, we can have it all.

Now that we’ve settled in Southern Oregon, we’re taking a look around, feeling the soil and watching the weather. We have friends who want to invest here, too, noting the influx of Californians and the popularity of local vineyards. Land isn’t cheap, but it is only getting more expensive. The farmer’s market is a busy place here. Perhaps there’s room for one more pair of crazy young people with a table full of the ripened labors of their love. Once we get it going, I fantasize, we’ll let the local college know that we’re seeking interns. We won’t pay much, but they’ll never be the same once they go for a walk through the fields in the early morning, taste the first ripe tomato of summer, and see a baby goat take its first shaky steps into life.

September 16, 2012

Food Cycles Bicycle Tour: Literally, a revolution.

Hello, blog readers.

Since 2007, you’ve been reading on this blog about how backwards, out of control, inside-out, unsustainable, inequitable and outrageous our global food system has become.

This platform has been my way of speaking up, of questioning the accepted truths about where our food comes from and where it goes, and of sharing my personal experiences on the ground, first in India and now around North America.

At one point, I described the mission of this blog “to be a quiet voice in the corner for more sensible food policy and to endorse the consumption of edible flowers”.

Sure, quiet has its place. For the past two years, my partner Hannah and I have been quietly working our service-industry jobs while also quietly working at NettleEdge Farm. We’ve been quietly talking to people about why they should ride their bikes more and depend on their cars less; quietly, we’ve been advocating for sustainable communities and an end to consumerism. And we’ve been quietly outraged that America just hasn’t been listening to us.

We will be quiet no more. We are going to speak louder, yell if we have to, gain some attention, and start spreading what we’ve learned here in Eugene, Oregon to the rest of the country. And we’re going to get there on our bicycles.

Here’s the plan: We leave in December 2012 from the Oregon coast. We’ll travel five months, across the southern half of the US, and arrive in Boston, Massachusetts. From there, we’ll take the train back home. We’ll carry only what fits in the two bags on the back of our bikes. Using the WWOOF program, we’ll stay at farms along the way, where we can work for the good, organic food that will power us across the continent. These farms will be our mileposts, from the cranberry bogs of the Oregon coast to the plantations of the South. Along the way, we’ll write and blog about our experience, we’ll talk to people from all walks of life, and do what we can to draw attention to this small act of defiance.

What can you do? Follow our blog,, and share it with your friends. Become a food cycler by reducing your weight on the global energy system – bike more, buy locally, and challenge yourself to source as much food as possible from your own backyard.

This new project will be my focus for the next eight months or so, and I probably won’t be posting here on my Tuulips blog. I do anticipate doing a lot of writing from the road, however. You can find it all at the Food Cycles Blog.

Over the years, I’ve put in many hours researching and writing posts to share here on my personal blog. The idea has been to provide an alternative to shallow food writing as well as guilt-driven, finger-pointing environmental journalism.

If you’ve enjoyed my efforts and my style and ever felt like you should be doing something to support my writing, now’s your chance. This trip will provide more fodder for blog posts than I’ll ever catch up on, but I’ll try. To make it possible, Hannah and I have launched a fundraising campaign for Food Cycles on Indiegogo. If you prefer, you can also contact us to contribute directly. Either way, you’ll be helping us get on the road and spread the good news: That good food doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to obtain. That we don’t have to rely on a global system on the verge of collapse to sustain ourselves. That our sun provides all the energy we need to grow our food and power ourselves, to wherever we want to go.

Thank you for your ongoing support! I look forward to entertaining you with tales from the (bike) saddle.


PS Please help us spread the word! Forward this blog post to your own circles. You can also “like” us on Facebook:

Or follow me on Twitter: @TuulaRebhahn

July 10, 2009

>First impressions of the farm

It took about six hours to reach Port Alberni (the town on Vancouver Island closest to Collins Farm) from Seattle. Shortly after crossing the border, I arrived at the ferry terminal just south of the city of Vancouver (just for the sake of confusion, apparently, the city of Vancouver is not actually on Vancouver Island). I missed the midafternoon ferry so waited around for the evening one, entertaining myself at the food court/mini mall/casino placed on the dock just in case passengers don’t feel broke enough after paying the $60 fare to get a car across the water. The ferry trip took about two hours, gliding comfortably across the grey water under a grey sky. It started raining shortly after we departed, but when I arrived at the other side and drove off the ferry, things started to clear up. I shot the above photo just off the highway on my way to Port Alberni. My car and I felt like we were in some sort of ad.

The view off of my new front porch at the Collins’ farmhouse. In the background you can see the faint outline of Mount Arrowsmith, the highest peak on the island. Just below that are three huge cottonwood trees, rumored to be the largest in the region. Most of the farm acerage is either forest or campsite, but the fields visible in this photo provide fodder for cattle, donkeys and horses (five thoroughbred Canadians and one Belgian mare). The Collins ran a dairy operation for many years but changes in the laws that used to protect dairy farmers ran them out of business. Diversification is their current survival strategy: The garden beds are planted in carrots, cabbage, squash, corn, peas, radishes, kale, chard, artichokes, flowers and a few other veggies. In the middle we have strawberries and potatoes in large number. The foreground? I’ll give you a hint: get ready for a deluge of blackberry recipes.

Here comes Jessie, the Belgian draft horse. She’s 18 hands with hooves the size of dinner plates, but don’t let her size fool you – she’s a big softie who loves a belly scratch.

The two Canadian stallions, Paris and Ripley. Listen closely, you can just hear it… “Eh?”

This is the Arrowvale Campground office and cafe. We mostly serve up coffee, pie and ice cream, but the kitchen has become my fresh produce laboratory and personal bakery. The cafe is also the location of our Saturday pancake breakfasts in conjunction with the farmers’ market we host. The rest of the week, it’s sort of a farmhand break room and second home for Bob, Ann and me.

The view to the north, off the deck of the office. The river is just below.

On Canada Day, Crystal (another girl who helps out on the farm part-time) and I went to town to see the parade. Canada day falls on July 1 and is Canada’s equivalent of the US’ Independence Day. The parade featured dozens of horses, even more 4X4 trucks, some old tractors and logging equipment, and a ton of cute kids. After that, we watched them cut a gigantic cake in the form of the Canadian flag, ate some overpriced Chinese food at the “International” festival, and retreated back to the countryside where we decided we’re better off.

The Stamp river, which flows into the valley’s main river, the Somass. It floods regularly and rarely runs low; salmon migrate up and downriver each season to the delight of fishermen and bears. We pump irrigation water straight out of the river, no water right required. It’s a very different picture from Oregon and the rest of the American West, where, as Twain famously said, “whiskey’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ over.”

Crystal washes vegetables for market on Saturday. We sell the fresh produce outside the office, where farmers from across the river also sell eggs, herbs and vegetables. There’s also a Saturday farmers’ market in Port Alberni, which we view as a good sign – enough people are forgoing Safeway’s offerings to be able to support two markets in the coummunity.

Some people get crop circles, we get alien carrots.

Full moon from earlier this week over the farm. Andrea, our full-time garden manager and my personal farming mentor has been interested lately in planting and harvesting by the moon. According to this school of thought, the moon influences plant life cycles just like it pulls the tides in and out. It all has to do with water and gravitational forces. Anyway, since the moon is full, we seeded new carrots today (root vegetables, which grow best when the moon is waning). I’ll be sure to post an update on our celestial gardening. Speaking of the moon, it’s probably up now and time for me to hit the hay.