Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 39

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need no more,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The Earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

I am larger, better than I thought;
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All is beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women, you have done such good to me, I would do the same to you.

From "Song of the Open Road" by Walt Whitman

Yesterday my permaculture course ended, and after five weeks of compost toilets, solar showers, and mud ovens, I'm feeling more connected to the Earth I stand on than ever before (and what an insanely beautiful Earth it is!). I presented my permaculture design project (a rooftop garden zula for the Kibbutz's community center) and I received my permaculture design certificate, so I'm practically qualified to tear down your house and rebuild it out of straw bale or cob. And while that might be a tiny exaggeration, it is truly unbelievable how much I've learned. (If you're ever curious I can tell you how to propagate just about any vegetable). I'm so grateful for all of the knowledge I'm taking away with me, yet it's still hard to say goodbye. Though it's only been a month or so, the Kibbutz is so small (only about 50 members) that it feels like home. I know who's in who's family and who to expect at Shabbat services. The gardens have become my open buffet; I'll miss being able to nibble on chard and cherry tomatoes at my leisure. But so is life, it's time for the next adventure. And more than anything, I'm so thankful to have experienced the communal lifestyle of the Kibbutz. Everyone has chosen to live in a way that offers equality to all of its members, and of course it comes with some sacrifices (or benefits depending on how you look at it). Everyone puts their salary into a pot that is divided evenly amongst every family, adults have to perform toranut, or chores, like milking the goats and cows, serving in the kitchen, working in the date plantation, etc, and most have given up their native language in favor of Hebrew. And though all isn't perfect (there are often money problems and the desert can feel extreme) they've all chosen to devote their lives to making it work. They have literally built their community from the ground up, and I think that is supremely admirable (especially compared to growing up in a bustling city where I hardly know more than my neighbors' names). I'll miss that intimate connectedness of the community. And I'll miss the long, blossoming garden beds, the expansive clouds that hover over the Arava Valley at sunset, the desert in all it's enchantment. But I know those mountains and the night sky with its bright stars will always be here, waiting for me when I come back.
And now I'm at Kibbutz Samar, a funky anarchist community just thirty minutes South of Lotan. My new Israeli friend, Tamar, and I are helping a family with the final coat plaster on a mud extension to their house. The kibbutz is beautiful, there's a horse stable behind the house, and there are tons of young and groovy Israeli's who I think do a lot of drugs. It sort of feels like a liberal arts college. Anyway we started work this morning at 7:30 AM and kept mudding all the way until 5 (I don't think I've ever done so much physical labor in an eight hour period). The first thing the dad, Yanai, said to me this morning was, "Emily, you have problem working on ladder?" For some foolish reason I said no, and I shakily carried a heavy bucket of sloshy mud up an unsturdy ladder (meanwhile it was windy and raining - why the heck is it raining in the desert!). Once I got the hang of it I was feelin good , but I can guarantee that a year ago I never would have spent hours slabbing mud onto a wall from a shaky ladder (I'm a warrior goddess!!). So after a long day of mud mixing and smearing my arms feel like they might fall off but it was a lot of fun (and the mom, Tammy, made us chocolate cake so it was all worth it). And hey now I really am ready to build my own mud house! (one day...)
Amen Walt Whitman, I did not know I held so much goodness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Day 30

This weekend I awarded myself the title of goat-milking goddess and boy oh boy was it hard to earn. My best friend Elan came to visit the Kibbutz this Shabbat because he had a weekend off from the army, and Friday afternoon we learned how to milk the silly and sometimes stubborn goats. What a thrill it was! We squeezed the utters in every which direction (and into our mouths to have a taste of their warm, sweet milk) and learned how to latch on these suction devices that slurp out the milk while we give the goats a sort of weird utter massage. Compared to the cow milking on the Kibbutz, which is completely mechanized, it was fun to have more contact with the animals and learn to be in tune with them. A lot of the goats, especially the mamas, were really feisty and would kick and stomp and go wild, so we had to stay patient and calm and send them our positive energy (yet another test of my 2012 resolution for courage). It was all a lot of fun, and hey maybe I'll become a goat farmer!
Anyway, I was more happy than words could say to see Elan this weekend and introduce him to the kibbutz and all the cool people I've met here. And I only have a week or so left, how wild! But I'm always on to new and beautiful things. Today while we were straw bale building I saw a butterfly and of course took it as an omen.

Attempting to squirt goat's milk into my mouth

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day 22

I helped a volunteer milk the cows at 2 in the morning! Life is crazy! 

(Meanwhile my sprouts just keep sprouting!!!) 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Day 19

Shalom from your sweet compost queen! My green thumb is growing greener by the day (my red corn and sunflower seeds have begun to sprout!) and I've become dear friends with all the local worms and cows. To be honest, I agreed to participate in all these kibbutz shenanigans before I knew what I was getting myself into. I got on my plane without a clue as to what the next month would hold. Well now I'm here and it turns out we're focusing on this rockin philosophy called permaculture. (What the heck is permaculture? You may ask). Permaculture is a method of gardening or farming based on the ethics and goals of sustainable agriculture. The whole idea is to get rid of commercial monocultures (where only one crop is grown across hundreds of acres of land, like corn or soy in the Midwest) and make small "forest gardens" that mimic Earth's natural ecosystems. Monocultures are bad because such ginormous pieces of land with only one crop can make soil vulnerable to a lot of diseases and pests, hence the need for pesticides and genetic modification. Permaculture gardens and farms, on the other hand, plant all sorts of seeds close to each other because the more biodiversity in an area, the more stable and fertile the soil, which of course means no hormones or pesticides are needed. And what's wild is that scientists have proven that these smaller permaculture style farms are producing more food than the huge monocultures. Where as small scale farms can grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, and even animals, the large scale farms only grow inedible corn that ends up as hydrogenated corn syrup or sitting in storage tanks because there's nothing to do with it. You would think with so much extra corn laying around the farmers would stop growing it, but the US government pays them insane subsidies to just keep growing! It all seems a little crazy, especially compared to permaculture which feels like common sense. Now I'm no farmer (yet) but anyone can become a permaculturist, no matter their gardening experience or lack there of, because it's all about interfering with nature as little as possible, aka being lazy. No need to continuously till the soil or prune this and that, you just let nature do the work!
One of our many permaculture projects this week was building a "sheet mulch" garden. Sheet mulch gardens are a really amazing tool because you can build a gardening bed when the soil in an area is bad (or has no soil at all) without having to buy loads of new soil! (And I'm sure that every household has at least a majority of the following ingredients). You start it off with a layer of cardboard about 3 pieces thick, this gives your new garden a good foundation to kill off weeds and absorb liquids so that no water is wasted seeping into the original bad soil. Once the cardboard was down we heeped on the food scraps and I earned the title of compost queen. It was some of the most disgusting stuff I have ever smelled but why in the world just throw it out when you can turn it into the most rich and fertile soil! After the food scraps came straw and alternating layers of green garden waste and straw up until the 10th layer. So now our sheet mulch garden is quite tall but while the layers begin to decompose we can sow all sorts of seeds. (To my Mom- get ready because I'm doing this in the dried out planter by the pool when I get home). I think this project is so damn brilliant because you can do it anywhere you could imagine! And it utilizes compost which is a huge part of permaculture. Composting is the collection and decomposition of food waste, paper waste, green garden waste, straw, really any organic products, to produce the most unbelievable fertilizer. Of course it doesn't happen overnight but why send it all to the landfill when you can use it! The kibbutz dining hall separates compostable items from trash and in our eco neighborhood of mud domes we have composting toilets which make "humanure." To be a good permaculturist you don't have to compost your own poop, but with the help of a few worms it's so easy to create healthy compost soil. You don't even have to turn it or monitor it, and you're using your waste in a productive way! (Mom- I'm also going to make a compost pile).
This last week was cloudy and full of rain (once a year kinda thing for the desert) so we didn't get to continue our mud bench construction but hopefully this week will be clear again. Cheers to a sunny week in the desert and a sunny week wherever you are!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Day 11

Shabbat Shalom my friends! Tonight I helped in the kibbutz kitchen cooking and preparing food, serving, and cleaning. It was great fun and I met a bunch of wonderful and wacky kibbutzniks. Here's a groovy song to accompany some pictures from our Thursday harvest and hike through the desert mountains.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Day 9

Here's a rad video of Bill Mollison, the co-founder of permaculture:

Today I built a mud oven, harvested cherry tomatoes, and baked oat-tahini-dark chocolate cookies in a solar oven! Lech lecha!