2016年3月12日 星期六

A Cool Farmer



“Get down, girls don’t climb trees. Nobody will marry you!” My grandmother warned me when I was a kid. I didn’t like my grandmother at all because she always was so harsh and mean to me. I was also wild and uncontrollable during that time, compared to my sister, brother and cousins. When I laid on the top of roof to take a nap, she shouted “If you don’t come down right now, I am going to hit you with a stick when I see you at dinner.” “Ghosts will hunt you, if you don’t come home now,” she said, when I wandered around outside late or played with neighbors at night. One time she caught me swimming naked with the boys next door during summer vacation when I was seven or eight. She pulled me up and pinched my right ear and said “are you going to marry 阿偉ā wěi, when you grow up?” I answered “NO WAY, I don’t like him.” with my cheeks turning red and a painful ear.


There was always distance between my grandmother and I and I didn’t know how to talk with her even when I grew up. Also, I felt that her favorite daughter in-laws were my two aunties instead of my mom. Compared to my elder and youngest uncle, my dad and my mom’s marriage was not a match made in heaven so I sensed that she wasn’t very fond of my family. We were not close at all and it seemed as though a wall isolated us. But I respected her a lot, knowing she had a really tough life. She raised four kids by herself. My grandfather passed away when my dad was only six years old. It’s extremely hard for a single woman who didn’t know how to read and write to feed four kids during that time by farming. As she grew older and older, sometimes I stop by to visit her and watch TV with her. Still, that wall was there. She passed away almost 12 years now and sometimes I think about her but not that often.


However, since my hands have touched the soil and I have begun practicing farming for almost a year, I missed her more and more. When people asked me, do you have farming experience I tell them no, but I grew up on the farm. My grandmother used to have a rice field, a pig pen and a vegetable garden. I watched her work so hard harvesting rice. She used a bamboo stick to carry water and fertilizer (human manure) on her shoulder for her garden. One time talked with a friend, Hunter who has his own small farm, Tequio Community Farm, he asked do you know how to slaughter a chicken. No, but I watched my grandmother kill chicken many times. She cut the chicken’s throat first and let the blood drain out. And then she soaked the chicken in the hot water that she already prepared aside and plucked the feathers from the chicken. Hunter replied, I hoped I can meet your grandmother. She sounded super cool. My grandmother was cool, what? I never thought she was super cool like the farmers I met at those conferences I attended.


One morning I was preparing a bed that I would plant potatoes into. When it came time for me to plant those potatoes, suddenly tears ran down my face like a waterfall and all of my childhood memory came to me in a flash back. I missed my grandmother so much. The soil was the bridge that broke down the wall, reconnecting my grandmother and I. 阿嬤ā mà, are you proud of me? See how I planted those potatoes and how happy I am. 阿嬤ā mà, can you hear me? I want to be a super cool, tough farmer just like you. Dear friends, let me tell you a story about a cool farmer, my grandmother. 

Happy planting, happy soil and health life!


Left, my grandmother; right, my grandaunt.

Farewell my teammate, Mayra! I will miss her a lot.

Do I look like a tough farmer?

2016年2月15日 星期一

It All Starts From Seeds

I knew nothing about seeds until I worked with Ellen, the Golden Rule Mini Farm manager. She was the first person to show me why seeds were important. One of her jobs at the farm was to test germination for seed companies. She explained to me that saved some of her seeds from the farm for her garden and also sold some of her seeds.


Last November I attended Ecology Action’s Grow Biointensive 3- day workshop. John Jeavons, a workshop presenter, gave a training and expressed how important it is to save our own seeds. He argued that when we save our seeds, these seeds will eventually be adopted into our specific growing regions and provide us with delicious and healthy crops for years and centuries to come. Today his words echo in my ears. So I started to pay more attention to seeds like how to buy quality seeds and how to replicate them in Taiwan.


At the Ecofarm conference, I mentioned to a MESA staff person, how much I wanted to buy seeds. She said, “Sue-jen, you don’t need to buy seeds, just go to the seed swap tonight and trade some seeds with others who have some of the unique seeds you are looking for. That night I followed her advice and I went to the seed exchange. Not only did I get a handful of seeds, but I also got tons of different kinds from all kinds of growers. For how much money, you guess? Absolutely free!


With my new fascination with seeds, I decided to attend another conference that only focused on seeds, The 2016 Organic Seed Alliance Conference in Corvallis, Oregon. I felt lucky to meet and talk to the best seed savers, growers and breeders from the US and Canada. They gave me tons of advice and of course I got plenty of free seeds as well. I listened with earnest how these seed growers shared their experiences and could sense how proud they were of their seed babies. After that conference, I decided to save my own seeds when I returned home to Taiwan. Even though I am not an expert, many encouraged me and told that I didn’t need to be. I can start easily with lettuce, beans, and tomatoes, then see what happens. According her book, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, Carol Deppe said that the US has developed so many variations of seeds because many amateur gardeners and farmers saved and exchanged their own seeds. Bill McDorman also gave a workshop and encouraged participants to start saving their own seeds, and to not be afraid to make mistakes. He explained that he still makes mistakes even though he is an experienced seed grower for many years. I can’t express enough how so inspired I was by both of these workshops.

Seeds produce gardens, gardens produce food but nothing gets started with seeds. Dear friends, let’s start to save our seeds so later we can have our own seed libraries and exchange our seeds with each other. What do you think? Please share your ideas and/or love of seeds in the comments below.
 Happy Planting !

The important Grain: Barley

Keynote address: Cary Flower / 8th Organic Seed Growers Conference
We were so happy to attend OSGC 2016!
How to clean beans!


2016年2月1日 星期一

The 2016 EcoFarm Conference Rocked!

Educational, inspiring and fun! As a MESA steward from Taiwan, those three words describe how I feel about the 2016 EcoFarmConference. After three days of learning new things, meeting great people and having so much fun in the process, I definitely can say that I will be back next year if I can.


This year’s EcoFarm Conference provided many workshops and plenaries so people had plenty of options of where they wanted to go or what they wanted to learn. One of the best plenaries I attended was Dr. Daphne Miller’s session. She talked about how “Food Is Medicine” and also shared her farming experiences. Her words were like gospel to my ears because before I worked as a kidney dialysis nurse. In Taiwan, where I am from, I witnessed many people who never cooked and ate out all the time suffer from kidney failure. Like Daphne Miller, I too believe that food is medicine. But many people believe that if you buy your own food and cook then that’s enough. It’s not true. She explained that only good quality, organic, non-GMO food is the solution to cure disease.


I also attended a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) workshop. This workshop helped me develop a business plan on how I will operate CSA in my community when I come back to Taiwan. I learned that this is the best way to gain support from my family, friends and neighbors but also teach them the benefits of organic, locally harvested food. Now I can picture myself happy to provide fresh produce that I grew with love and joy to all my family and friends when I return.


Because of EcoFarm, I met many interesting farmers from all over the US. We talked, shared and exchanged our thoughts and seeds. Some already planted their seeds for many years, others just started to plant their seeds like myself, a beginner famer. So no matter how much farming experience we had, all kinds of farmers gathered together at the 2016 EcoFarm Conference to share our love for people, our soil and our land.


When I headed back to my host place, Golden Rule Farm, my pocket was full of business cards from the people I met. Those business cards will serve as my farming library network. They will serve as my cheerleaders, who are only a short email or Skype chat away from providing me with advice on how to start my farm when I come back to Taiwan.


The 2016 EcoFarm Conference was educational and full of networking opportunities, but it was also full a lot of fun. The conference planners made sure they arranged fun events for the attendees from morning until night. When my brain couldn’t take any more learning, I went to have a beer and sampled cheeses to refresh my thoughts. Even in the evening, I was extremely busy running around like a honey bee from one social event to the next. One evening I spent seed swapping and finding those special seeds that I was dying to get my hands on. The best part of the experience of course was mingling with the seed growers and learning from them. The final night, I swung to the EcoFarm dance party to celebrate love and peace until midnight. It was so much fun. The 2016 EcoFarm Conference rocked! I gained a ton of farming knowledge, made new friends and had an amazing time. Thank you MESA for awarding me this great opportunity.

With MESA staff, Lauren and Michelle and MESA steward, Carloncho from Peru and Mayra from Mexico.
Photo provided by MESA

Participated Dr.Daphne Miller's plenary.
Photo provided by Mayra Mstinez Mota

Seed swap event was so fun!
Photo provided by MESA

Love MESA booth and help sell MESA's new t-shirt.
Photo provided by MESA

2016年1月3日 星期日

About Me

Who am I? When I was a kid, I grew up in the countryside, outside of Taichung, a city in the middle of Taiwan. Thirty years ago, many people in Taiwan were poor, so farming was their primary source of income. My grandmother grew vegetables and sold them in the town’s morning market and raised 5 to 6 adult pigs at any given time.  My father had his own rice field. He harvested rice twice a year, and also helped other family members raise chickens and ducks. I remember helping my grandmother sell vegetables when she couldn’t find enough buyers and racing with pigs when I was bored. This was my life when I was kid and I enjoyed it. When my dining room table had different kinds of green vegetables across it, I knew it was spring. When my father laid the rice out on the front yard under the sun, I knew it was summer. However, when I was around10, more and more factories moved in and less and less farmland remained. Clean rivers that I use to fish in turned yellow, and as time went on there were no more crabs, frogs or fish. My grandmother stopped gardening and changed her pig pen into a factory for my uncle, and my father decided to work sharpening saws for a lumberyard to make more money. I witnessed my family’s change from farming to industry. Now that I am 37 years-old, I want to be the one in my family who goes back to the life that I miss so much.

Why do I want to be an organic farmer?  I have been a nurse for most of my adult life, working in hospitals and clinics. And although I like some aspects of the work, it wasn’t what made me happy. So, I took an organic farming class at the YMCA. After I finished the class, I rented a plot of land for one year and grew vegetables on it. I loved it. I forgot how much I enjoyed digging in the dirt, feeling the wind and sun on my face. It was hard work and this experience made me realize that I wanted to become a farmer. Not only did I realize how much I loved farming, but I also fell in love with cooking as well. The happiest time for me was to come home after working in my garden, go to the kitchen, turn on the stove, and cook after a long day of work. You see, very few people in Taiwan cook because the food is cheap and everyone prefers to eat out. This sounds great, but with my experience being a nurse, it’s very scary, too. Personally, I suffered from strange back pains and blood in my urine for reasons the doctors could never explain. Later, working as a nurse in a dialysis clinic, most of the patients do not suffer from diabetes, but instead their kidneys suddenly shut down after so many years of spraying pesticides on their farms, drinking contaminated well water from all the factories, and eating poisonous sugar and oil in the restaurant food. Now that I have made the connection, I am happy to realize how important sustainable agriculture is for a person’s well-being and for society as a whole.
What am I going to do after I come back home?  After I am finished I would like to return to Taiwan and have my own farm. I also want to promote sustainable agriculture to the community. For example, I want to educate people about why they should care about where their food comes and from, and why we should pay more money for food so we can support our local farmers. In addition, I want to promote organic farming methods to local farmers. Finally, if I become the first person from Taiwan to graduate from the MESA program, I would encourage my alma mater, which is Taiwan’s leading agricultural university, to consider becoming a global partner.
Where am I? I am still in the US and work at Golden Rule mini farm in Willits, California. At Golden Rule I am learning about biointensive gardening skills so I can grow more food with limit space and use less water.
Golden Rule Farm's persimmon tree!

Finally no weeds in berry bush!
Photo taken by Mayra Martinez Mota

Look! Lettece grow so well in the green house during the winter time. Photo taken by Mayra Martinez Mota