Farmer-in-Training: Planning the First Garden

For the past six months I’ve worked on an urban educational farm. This has been the longest and most consistently I’ve actively done agricultural labor in my life. Even though my degree is in Environmental Studies (very on brand) my program was theory heavy and taught me much about systems thinking, agricultural histories contextualized within race, gender, and class experiences in the United States, and very little about the technicalities of growing for production. So being on the farm every day and planting radishes, using 128s and flats, having to constantly know the 10 day forecast, it all has been so refreshingly and terrifyingly new. It’s felt like a pastoral aesthetic version of a brand-new high power job in the city, and I’m Anne Hathaway still learning to walk in stilettos. The last half year has been a huge learning curve for me, and lately I feel like I’m really rounding the bend towards becoming a bonafide farmer. Well, a Farmer-in-Training. That’s what one of my volunteers calls me.

Going from studying food systems to actually growing food for the community has been eye-opening, deeply rewarding, and highly confusing. It turns out that I know a lot less than I thought I knew. While my first year out of college has made me feel significantly less confident and self-assured in general, farming has made me acutely aware of my shortcomings between my ideal self and my current self. If we lived on the liberatory farm tomorrow, we would starve and I say that without hyperbole or irony.  I’m learning in deeply experiential ways from almost entirely oral instruction. There are real consequences when I fail--we lost onions last week because I didn’t water them for a day. I have to find ways to get my half broken body to do things it really doesn’t want to do and punishes me for later.

I feel connected to my great great-grandmother, Emma, who ran away from the family farm in Como, Tennessee at the turn of the century to live in Lansing, Michigan with the love of her life because he got a job at an automobile factory. I feel close to her mother, Alexandria, who lived on and ran the farm alone after her daughter left and her husband died. These are women whose handwritten recipes card (all containing lard) I have in a box but have never used. What did these women feel for the land they tended? How would they feel about their genderqueer descendant returning to this work they left behind? Putting theory into practice sometimes feels like plucking at old ghosts lost in the shuffle to city survival.

This work has also made me so hopeful. I’ve been dreaming about a summer garden and I think I’ve found a plot to grow most of my own food with a partner. There’s also a Queer + Trans garden starting up that I think I’ll be a part of, as well as a community garden at the elementary school nearest my childhood home. I can see my summer before me: full of land and sun and plant things to whisper love to. I’m excited to spend so much less money at the grocery store because I’m going to grow what I eat. Right now I’m planning on trying for tomatoes, cucumbers, brussels sprouts,  peppers, radishes, swiss chard, kale, collards, lettuce, mizuna, mustard, spinach, basil, parsley, and mint. Ambitious, but I feel open to the experiment.

A lot of what I hope to grow I’ve been growing at the garden house I work in, but this will be my first time trying completely on my own. So naturally I’m nervous as hell. At work I have a brilliant and experienced farm manager (also a badass queer lady), and there’s a huge safety and comfort in that. But this summer is for a fledgling farmer season. I need to do this so I can learn through trial and error, fuck up a ton, and still come out the other side having grown things for myself and my friends. Since it’s February, I’m in the deep planning stages. Come late next month, I’ll be making moves to finalize my garden maps and start seeds. Consider this the first part of my Farmer-in-Training series.

Me with some gomphrena we grew last summer and dried for CSA distrubution. I didn't know what gomphrena was seven months ago. 

Me with some gomphrena we grew last summer and dried for CSA distrubution. I didn't know what gomphrena was seven months ago. 

17 Artists that Fucked Up My Life in 2017 to Introduce You to in the New Year

Ibeyi--do yourself the greatest kindness and go listen to their album Ash right now. A Franco-Cuban solo artist, their two albums are the feeling of a wave washing over you and the undercurrent pulling you harder than is comfortable but you like it.

Kehlani--Musician and dancer. I was lateeee to Kehlani I know. But I heard You Should Be Here in December and mind.blown. Listened to on repeat along with SweetSexySavage for the entire remainder of the year and if I’m being honest, it’s still in my ears.

Lia Kim--Choreographer and dancer. Her dance troupe’s YouTube videos are very popular. She is the reason why.

Ari Fitz--YouTube creator, model, comedian nonbinary baddie, dreamboat. My favorite thing they do is their "Lesbians React" series. Everything else they do is gold too so check out all their ish.

Brie Larson--Actress. I saw the movies Room and Short Term 12 for the first time in 2017. Larson’s acting is incredible and so spot-on. Working in a residential home myself, Short Term 12 especially holds a place in my heart and Larson’s portrayal of being someone traumatized working with people whose trauma reminds you of your own is something I identify hard with.

Heidi Heilig--Author. She wrote two of my favorite reads in 2017! The Girl From Everywhere and The Ship Beyond Time. Her sci-fi YA novels crafted worlds with maps I wanted to fall into and built-out diverse characters I fell in love with. She also has a stellar Twitter.

Trung Nguyen--Illustrator. An incredible print media artist, draws Sailor Moon things that I love, has an upcoming tarot deck that I love the most.

Cristina Carrera--Illustrator. She did all the art for Dirty River by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. She also has a tarot deck that has my heart.

Ruby Tandoh--Baker. A QWOC  who came out in an excellent Twitter clap-back. I learned about her book Eat Up in 2017 and while finding links for this post, I learned that she has multiple books. Go Ruby!

Asali--Tarot reader, herbalist, blogger. Self described “Black queer femme community healer and earth worker.” She gives tarot readings, practices witchery, and sells handmade spell-imbued tea blends. She also maintains a database of QTPOC tarot decks.

Erinn and Celene--YouTubers. Traveling duo recently married couple that creates content very regularly. I love their life and their relationship and how they allow their audience to be with them on their journey.

Anders V.--Multimedia artist. Profoundly gifted, a very good friend of mine, and long-time supporter of this blog, they launched their latest project last year, a podcast entitled How We Met that explores love and relationships through the lens of colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, cisheterosexism, and all the other things that are in play when we meet and grow to care about each other. 

Catherynne Valente--Author. She writes the children’s fantasy novel series The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (if you’re sensing a theme here, I should mention that I nearly exclusively read Children/YA fantasy and sci-fi novels in 2017).

Jasika Nicole--Actress, podcaster, seamstress. I knew her from voicing Dana in Welcome to Night Vale and then being the main narrator in Alice Isn’t Dead, both podcasts that I love, but then this past year she starred in the film Suicide Kale and lesbian websites everywhere went wild for it! I actually still haven’t seen the film but I’ve seen the trailer lots and it’s high on my watchlist for this year. Additionally, Jasika is an artists-of-all-trades, she makes all of her own clothing to resist capitalism and build her own intimate relationship to appearance, is there anything she can’t do?

Cacheila Soto--Print and digital media artist. I saw this artist’s work La calma at the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan last July. I haven’t seen any other of their work but I was so moved by this piece, refinding it again for this post was being stunned into awe all over again.

Lexie Bean--Author, performer, and another friend of mine. I contributed to one of their projects in 2017. It is an anthology (their third!) that trans survivors of domestic and sexual violence wrote to parts of their bodies. The collection is entitled Written on the Body.  Writing my own letter was such an intimate, painful, and releasing process I can’t wait to read the rest. Shameless plug: You can preorder the book here.

New Year, New Resolutions

Okay, I’ve had some time to think. I had some time to spend with friends and not think. I did a couple tarot readings. And here they are. The list has come to me. My resolutions for 2018:

  • Location goal: Move somewhere warm with someone I love. This isn’t a goal so much as it is a plan already in motion, but it is a big bold task that I’m endeavoring in 2018 so it can make the list.

  • Physical health goal: Be able to survive the zombie apocalypse. I have a really tenuous relationship to exercise. Mostly it stresses me out. I danced growing up, but was not athletically inclined and felt (feel) very embarrassed by my body movement and sounds of exertion. For the past few years, since I had PTSD, exercise has not been enjoyable. I also have a chronic thing where when I stand for long or am very stressed I get dizzy and occasionally faint. So, what happens to my body when I exercise feels very similar to what happens to my body when I have panic attacks--sweating, raised heart rate, numb fingers and toes, blurry vision, dizzy, and/or like I’m outside of my own body. Instead of those glorious after-endorphins, workouts leave me feeling fatigued, scared, and on the brink of breaking down. But I want to be stronger and honestly if I want to cut it on the farm I need to build some muscle. I’ve toyed with the idea of faking myself out--exercising but making it seem like it’s not exercise. So I’m bribing myself with the idea of surviving the zombie apocalypse. “I’m not doing these pushups because I’m working out, I’m doing them as practice for when I get thrown down to the ground by a brain-eating monster and have to push myself back up.” The distraction, with a lot of water breaks, I’m hoping can get me through the moments of all-too-familiar panic.

  • Travel goal: go two places I’ve never been before. This should be possible and fairly achievable during my two weeks of vacation in March. It’s looking like I’ll be driving to New York and if I go through Canada I’ll hit Toronto, Montreal, Bar Harbor, and Portland--all of which I’ve never been to before.  

  • The Big 3-6-5 goal: Write something every day. It could be a poem, a diary entry, something for this blog, less than a sentence. There are no restrictions. Only the rule that I need to do it every day. I’ve never successfully done an everyday thing, but 2018 is about proving my doubts wrong and proving myself possible and proud.

  • Honorable Mention: Be more tender with your limits. This was a friend’s goal for me and I’m not totally ready to commit but I do know that I need to grow more comfortable with not being able to do everything all the time. I want to be all the things! But I won’t be any of them if I don’t prioritize my time, listen to my feelings, and work on what is most present. So perhaps there can be newfound tenderness in 2018.

    + that is where I’m at as I write this on my last night in Chicago. I came down here for three days to see friends and ring in the New Year. Filled with the energy of the first and the full moon, everything feels sparkly and attainable. What are you striving for in 2018?

3 Steps to a Good New Year

As you may remember, last year by New Year’s resolution was “moisturize everything to soften all wounds.” Well, I still have severely chapped hands, but I have also been softer with myself this year. Not perfectly so, I struggle with beating myself up especially since I have gone off my medication and am not seeing a therapist, but I have made movement in the realm of holding myself to realistic expectations, giving myself time where I do nothing productive and being okay with that, and forcing my attention to progress instead of being engulfed by past error. As I take note of these shifts in my attitude towards myself, I am thinking of how to approach 2018 and wanted to share my process of shedding this year and what resolutions I’m setting after that midnight countdown.

Take Stock. In the same list that I wrote “moisturize everything,” I also wrote some goals for 2017. As this year ends under two feet of snow, I’m digging out that list and seeing what I did, what I didn’t do, what I could have done differently, and what I need to accept happened just as it should. As I review this, I’m noting my emotional response to my accomplishments (or lack thereof) but not giving them power. This is the neutral stage. Feelings come next.

  • Have three months worth of savings. Not met.

  • Have favorite places in Boston. Met.

  • Have a five year plan. Met.

  • Have a job I love. Met.

  • Remain close to my chosen family. Met.

  • Stick to my blog post schedule. Not met.

  • Feel good about what I eat. Not quite met.

  • Be able to survive a zombie apocalypse. Not met.

Congratulate and forgive yourself. That list makes it seem so simple but even just reading that list my thoughts spiral. What I did and didn't do evoke disappointment, pride, feelings of loss, happiness, and a lot of frustration--at both myself and the world. I beat myself up for being a work in progress instead of being inspired by all I have yet to do. I dwell on how this past year was really, really tough. Not very many things went how I anticipated them going. I made countless compromises--way more than the Karalyn at Oberlin would have settled for. And sometimes I lose sight of what I am doing this for. That’s where my thoughts leave me. I’m proud of myself for the challenges I faced and the ones I overcame. I feel lost in all the ones that I let myself down in. While it's okay for that to be my feelings surrounding the past year, I have to find a way to let forgiveness edge in. If I don't, I'll just grind to a halt. And I need to keep moving.

Look ahead. Because at the end of the day, I’m doing this all for myself. It’s my own life that I’m charged with and living out. The sacrifices, if they can be called that, I make now are so that I can make momentous shifts in the not-too-distant future. I want to be my own boss. I want to grow my own food. I want to live somewhere warm where my fingers don’t freeze as I type blog posts. The living at home, the job, the restrictions, the dissatisfaction, apathy, discomfort, etc. that I experience now, is so that I can save my money, gain the skills, and make the connections that will allow me to live in a fulfilling and satisfied way down the line. Is that worth it? I don’t know. But it’s survival pending revolution, so it’s the strategy for the time being.

This is where 2018 comes it. What needs to continue in the upcoming year? What can I let go of? Where have my reflections brought me? What is shifting underneath my feet and what can I shape between my hands?

I need time to rest my sights on these answers. I’ll let you know what the list is on the first.


State of my Bank: December 2017 Financial Report

Doing this last month helped me so much, so I'm making it a regular thing! Here we go:  

Total Income: $ 1,738.13
From my AmeriCorps Position: $828
Environmental Femme: $34
Foster Home (@$10.30/hr): $463

Expenses: $783.00
(before any credit card payments or savings)
$152.00 Insurance
$153.00 Car Payment
$75.00 Gas
$54.00 Coffee Shops
$68.00 Eating Out and Pizza (I love pizza and I will never apologize.)
$124.00 Groceries
$103.00 Haircut + Personal
$54.00 Movies and PodCon
Remaining: $955.13
$220.00 Credit Cards
$300.00 Savings
Total Expenses:  $1,475.13

Remaining:   $263.00 (to go towards the first two weeks of January)

How I'm feeling: Mostly I'm feeling good. I was able to save over twice my savings goal this month so that's excellent. I put $100 on my Capital One credit card because of when I needed to pay for something and when I got paid, but I set off alarms in my head and I paid it off in full before the due date. It sometimes feels hard to rationalize saving when I have so much that extra $150 could go to my car loan since it's interest bearing...but at the same time if I do end up moving in nine months I need to have a cushion and in order to have that cushion I need to aggressively save. I do continue to feel exhausted. I work more than I would ideally, and I don't get to distribute my work in a way that feels good. "If it were up to me" I would spend more time writing. Which feels odd to type because, in fact, it is up to me. But it feels as though it's up to my financial responsibilities, not my soul desires. Money feelings are tricky in that way. But I'm calling this month a win. Steady on.