One month at Green String Institute down, two to go!

Whoa it’s been a while! I have been writing up blogs this whole time, but we have very limited Wifi on the farm and it won’t connect to my laptop so they are trapped there for a little while. In the meantime, I bucked up and decided to write something from my phone. Apparently my last entry somehow got cleared so the TL;DR is that I am currently an intern at Green String Farm in Petaluma, California as part of their Green String Institute program. I have a blog post with details on what we do/our typical day/etc that should be posted soon :).

I wanted to litter this post with images, but limited time and data/control of wordpress from my phone is killing that idea. In the meantime, general photos can be found HERE and photos from all of our communal intern meals can be found HERE. Both are usually about a week behind.

For now, thoughts one month in! All quotes within this post are from Bob (Cannard, the leader of GSF and our teacher at GSI).

[Written June 25, 2016]

I realized suddenly this week that it’s one full month into our internship at Green String. It’s shocking that so much time has passed, and so quickly. My mom asks me at least once a week if I’m coming home yet and asks if I’m home sick, but we are so busy and tired that homesickness hasn’t been even a small issue for me. Being here still just feels right. I’m constantly saying “I can’t believe we live here,” and it’s true. This place is magical, at least once a day I stop dead in my tracks to take in my surroundings and marvel at how beautiful Green String is. The entire atmosphere is different than anything I’ve ever experienced and it isn’t just the beauty of the farm, it’s the people too. Green String isn’t a big money operation, so the people who work here do so because they’re passionate about what we’re doing (natural process farming). They care about the farm, the people who work on it, and the people we feed. Bob and his crew aren’t here to raise money {“I don’t need to make millions, I’ve already made millions and I gave it all away”), they’re here to save the world (“Our job is supposed to be to nurture nature”) or at the very least to feed it (“You’ve got to feed everybody, if you don’t everybody suffers”).

The farm is a bizarre little time warp bubble. On weekdays we have 6.5 hours a day to ourselves, not including some chores that require you to go back after class and in the evening, but these hours seem to easily disappear. Sometimes they’re stolen by a desperately needed nap, other times two hours are lost to lunch or dinner duty, and then there are yard work chores around our house (watering, planting, hoeing, digging a compost hole for Bob to inspect, etc.). We have 10-11 hours free on weekend days (assuming a day where you’re awake for 14 hours), and even when you have to work a weekend chore it usually only takes four hours (even though we technically are only working “two” hours on weekends). Weekends are the money hours where you can get the most done, but it’s tempting to sleep in or lounge around after working so hard all week. I’ve spent two out of four of my weekends in Oakland with Sarah, which is great but doesn’t allow for much rest or productivity. The weekends I’ve spent at home on the farm have been spent primarily in the school house reading or writing these posts, with a little bit of exploring the property.

I have so many things I wanted to do while here in addition to the farming and learning about natural process farming: writing these blogs (semi-successful), privately journaling (failing), painting (failing), working out (semi-successful), photography (success), data collection (success), reading (semi-successful), seeing Sonoma Valley (failing), etc etc etc. It’s reminiscent of my time off work last summer where I planned to do so many things and then the cruel reality of time management and my actual capabilities hit me. I’m not doing everything I want but at least I am getting some things done. Most notably I’ve begun running again. I try for two miles at a time, it’s hard because there are a lot of hills but it feels good to be back at it.

The good news is I am learning so much here. It feels great to be able to walk around the farm/our garden and be able to identify things now vs when I arrived and couldn’t tell anything apart. It also feels good to be told what we are doing for fieldwork and be able to get right to it rather than having to be taught everything each time. Some field work tasks can be super hard on your body, for example hoeing kills my right shoulder (I can’t figure out how to efficiently hoe with my left arm), and seeding/rock picking (yes, what it sounds like) really fucks with your back, but as we’ve gotten closer as housemates we’ve all found ways to zero out like exchanging massages and doing group workouts (yoga, stretching, strength training). As for learning about farming, I don’t know it all but I’m learning more every day, and if this is how much I have learned in 1/3 of the program I am excited for what I’ll know by the end of three months.

Green String Institute wouldn’t be what it was without Bob. Not because he teaches it, but because his heart and soul is really what makes up the program. Initially he seemed intimidating, but as time has gone by he has warmed to us more and more. These days he gives us gifts when he visits (fancy cheese, boysenberries, bread, wine for students of legal drinking age), and let’s us collect our own gifts when we work on one of the other farms, Lazy C (citrus, plums, garlic). Bob surprised us all this week on Wednesday when he suggested we bring our swimsuits and go for a swim in the lake at Lazy C Farm (where the drawbridge and castle are) after class on Thursday. He still doesn’t know our names, and likely never will (“I’m not going to cloud my memory by remembering your names”), but I got exasperated when I messed up a secondary transplant the other day and he gently patted my shoulder and proclaimed “That’s why you’re here, to learn my friend.” Friend! Mind you, it’s just a saying, but he gives us more knowing looks and does little things like wink at us that have turned him into a more familial feeling figure than before. Another intern commented the other day that they think Bob sees the interns from all classes as one big entity, and I’m sure in a way he does but it also seems like he likes us as people and that feels really nice.

This also makes class time feel more intimate. Bob is endlessly knowledgeable and shares just about everything with us now. Sure, he has a few crazy beliefs, but you just have to brush those off and try to forget you ever heard them. In addition to farming lessons, he talks to us about everything from his psychic abilities and past lives (“I lived 1000 years as a snake before this”), his thoughts on space exploration (“It’s just a fine activity”), and retirement (“Retirement? That’s when you die”) to the finances and struggles of Green String (“Every cent I earn goes back into this program”).

He tells us how to handle the pain in our lives (“A tincture of time is your best medicine”), what to do with our futures (“Broaden your interests! You don’t want to be a specialist!” ; “Have a creative and beautiful life”), how to treat all living things with respect (“Gophers need to live, too,” stated when we mentioned a gopher eating through one of the fields), the references to use and which to throw away (“Farmers almanac: Totally useless”), and how to prevent the “Federalis” from taking our money (“Put everything back into your business to grow it. I only made $XXXX in taxable income last year”). Green String Institute teaches you as much about life as it does about sustainable living.

One of my favorite things about Bob is that he is as forthcoming with his mistakes as he is his triumphs, which is refreshing but can also be depressing. We had our farm economics lesson this past week and it was pretty shocking to see how much funding goes into each crop (cost of seeds, labor to plant/transplant/etc, water, electric for pumps, side-dressings, labor for harvesting, rent, equipment, etc etc etc) vs. how much revenue is brought in by them. Bob’s mission is to keep our products affordable, which sometimes means a loss for the farm. It’s admirable that he stands by keeping crops affordable, but sometimes makes me worry for Green String’s future.

Bob recently told us he doesn’t consider himself successful and it made my eyes water. He told us a psychic told him his mission in this lifetime was to help 7 million people, and that he is sure now that he will be back for yet another life. While he hasn’t influenced 7 million people directly, Bob has done so much for sustainable agriculture as a whole, and his lessons are priceless and life changing, so it can be difficult to hear he doesn’t think he’s making a difference. If each intern class were full (12 students) over the past ten years that Green String Institute has run, he would have influenced 480 students just in this program. Sure, this is a small percentage of the worldwide population, but one has to consider that at least some of these students have taken their practices and spread them to others. This makes the actual number influenced hard to tally, but it’s certainly higher than 480. At the very least, many of the interns here were referred by friends from previous semesters, so word is still spreading and as long as Bob is around to teach at Green String Institute, he will be making a difference in the world.

This is just a small peek into life at Green String, but I wanted to get something out into the world sooner rather than later. Overall, it’s really beautiful here and I am so happy I came, and grateful to Ginger for suggesting I apply. I’m excited to finally get the other blogs up hopefully this week, and to continue telling you all about my journey into the agriculture field!

Links from this entry:

  1. Green String Farm
  2. Green String Institute
  3. Green String Institute Internship Photos
  4. Green String Institute Intern Communal Meals

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About tamarahala

Tamara is currently living in Pennsylvania working as a Scheduling Coordinator/Payroll Supervisor with Live Nation Entertainment. Looking for fun short-term opportunities during the off season from November to March.

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