My hands touch soil. Standing at my kitchen table overlooking snow covered gardens, my fingers are chilled from pushing seeds into the thawing chunks of potting soil, recently taken in from under the persistent pack of snow. A miracle moment. Departing from the months of winter and hibernation of the world around and within. I am awakened inside with deep sense of interconnectedness by what it meant o be planting these seeds. In these seeds I begin my season of surrender to hope and trust that life will happen. I am overwhelmed by the conviction that each seed is filled with all of the potential for its life. Each seed is for the young people that will visit Soul Fire this season, each family we feed, every visitor that leaves inspired, every volunteer who comes here to learn, my own family and community. And for the earth herself. Whose story is so intertwined with ours. We use nature to guide us in the systems we use on the farm. The way we have a vast diversity of plantings. The ways we feed and nurture our soil. But with all we can actively do to care for this land, when we work with people, we are only tapping into the existing immeasurable healing potential of the Earth. We are deeply honored to be partners that in this work, and become a small part of the long story of this land.
This winter has been full, productive and alive with our creative energy. Our excitement for growing food and passion for connecting it with community spilled over in a big way into a flurry of planning and visioning. It has become clear in the past year that the educational component of what we do here is not only central, but growing into being focal. Our regular youth programming continues to expand with over 20 groups of young people coming to join is this season for our day long programming in farm skills, leadership, food justice, self-reflection and connection. We continue to build relationships with Parsons Foster Care, Boys and Girls Clubs of Albany and Troy, Produce Project of Capital District Community Gardens, as well as welcoming many youth from organizations we are just starting to work with, ranging from NGOs to churches to grassroots organizations.
We are excited to be starting Project Growth, a new collaborative youth programming initiative with Jillian Faison of the Albany Juvenile Prosecutors office (and a dedicated farm shareholder). Through Project Growth a group of young people who are caught up in the juvenile system will be able to fulfill their restitution requirements through working on our farm. This has usually been done through mandated jobs at McDonalds, washing cars, and other time filling tasks that void of personal meaning and community connection. We will be working with a group of youth for 50 hours on the farm. They will be involved in everything that happens here from farm work to learning to cook with whole foods and in season produce, harvesting, as well as our curriculum with them. Additionally, we hope to be working with families of these youth to continue a connection to the farm and ongoing relationships.
On the adult education end of things, we are excited to be offering the Black & Latino Farmer Immersion, June 30-July 4 and July 28-August 1. This is a week-long program for novices to connect with the land and their inherent right to connect with ancestral knowledge. Leah and her sister Naima will be co-facilitating the workshop, which will include 6 hours each day of skill-based farm work, group and personal reflection time, and community skillsharing, including the importance of music and song, dance, Egyptian yoga, healing work, writing, cooking, and more. Clearly there is a need of this in our communities because with a two Facebook posts, the immersion filled up. So much so, we added another week later in the summer. We are looking for tents for these workshops. Let us know if you have one to lend or donate. Thanks!
After another year of an overwhelming number of fantastic applicants for our apprenticeship program, we hired three wonderful people to join us for the season. Lissa Vanderbeck will be with us starting in May for the entire season, and comes from People’s Kitchen in Oakland, where she was a garden coordinator and co-facilitator of their powerful allyship work. Melissa Elie comes from Indianapolis to join us for two and half months before heading off to Gambia to work with the Peace Corps. Crysbel Tejada comes from NYC, a staunch tar sands activist, mediator and facilitator. These folks join assistant manager, Capers Rumph, Leah and I to run everything that happens here. We are thrilled to be welcoming such driven and inspiring people, and integrate their experience and knowledge into the farm this season.
We are also part of a team of presenters helping develop curriculum as part of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), a program that offers college degrees to individuals who are incarcerated in several prisons in the Hudson Valley. The course we will be developing is on sustainability as social justice work, including urban agriculture, the movement for food justice, and sustainable agriculture. This opportunity is not only a powerful affirmation of the work we are doing but also a concrete connection between where the worlds of food justice and prison justice intersect. We understand that the movements for true liberation can never exist independent of one another.
On the farm end of things, our farm share CSA continues to expand. We are targeting 60 shares this season, and will be partnering with one other local sustainable farmer to grow a few items for the farm shares. This is a pilot of a model known as a food hub. We will never stop growing food. We love it. But the truth is, local farmers are natural allies, but are so often put in competition with one another. All of our pieces of land grow certain crops well and others not so well. In hopes to foster positive connections with local farmers, while increasing the quantity and quality of the offerings in the farm shares, we looking to a future of working with several local farmers, and distributing even more top quality, affordable food.
Each winter and spring, we spend a chunk of our evenings attending neighborhood association meetings, tabling at the community Kwanza events, visiting churches, and talking to any group that will welcome us in Albany and Troy. This is not about outreach, this is about relationship building and education. We believe that it is from these relationships that our farm will continue to grow into a community resource, and evolve to meet the needs of our communities. We still need your help spreading the word, because, in case you didn’t know, we live in the boonies. We can’t even see our neighbors’ houses. While we love our communities in Albany and Troy, we cannot be the full-time community organizers we would like to be. Building these relationships will take all of us engaged with the people we are connected, to extend the reach of our work. Let us know if you are interested in this and we can talk more about how you can support us.
Also on the farm we are planning a significant orchard expansion. For those of you who have been to the farm, you know we pack as much into our small space as we possibly can. The field in front of the house is maxed out with annual vegetable plantings. The lower part of the field is too steep for vegetable production. Instead, we are filling the bottom acre of the field with a mix of fruit and nut trees and bushes, including apples, plums, asian pears, American persimmons, pawpaws, hazelnuts, elderberries, and more. Our goal is to build up soil quality while simultaneously creating large terraces that control water flow and use it to feed the plants rather than erode away precious soil. But that’s not all. In the understory of the orchard, we will be planting extensive medicinal and culinary herbs, as well as pollinator attractants, and deer and rodent deterrents. By the time we are done, there will be no grass to mow, only plants to harvest and tend. Sounds kind of like the forest right? That’s the goal. A diverse, integrated fruiting forest. The upcoming workday on April 5 will include working on this project, and maybe planting trees if they have arrived.
Many of you received deliveries of salad greens and spinach grown in our new high tunnel. Deliveries went through mid-January. We learned that this winter proved to be a difficult one to grow in a high tunnel with its severe cold and lack of sunlight, even for the veteran farmers in the region. So we felt good about what we were able to share with you this winter, and learned so much for the future. Thanks Capers for pioneering this part of Soul Fire and doing a fantastic job. This season we will be filling the high tunnel with tomatoes and the hoophouse with squash. This means we hope to have earlier and higher quality of those crops than ever before. There are still spots in our currently running egg and sprout deliveries.
Expanding our plantings is not the only thing expanding around here. We will be building two small yurts to accommodate seasonal apprentices, long term guests, workshop participants, and family. These structures will be used in the future as programming and meeting space as we continue to develop our workshop programming and the corresponding infrastructure. We will be building the platforms for these yurts and putting them up in May. Let us know if you are interested in helping out.
This year we also tapped a few sugar maple trees. You know spring is coming when the life-blood of the maple trees starts flowing. Emet and Neshima took turns laying in the snow with their mouths catching the drips of sweet sap from the straight out of the taps. This was mostly a fun thing to do with the kids, not a full farm operation yet. Nonetheless, all of us were breathless at the divine flavor of syrup from our own trees. It was great seeing Neshima and Emet have that unteachable Aha! moment when the finished syrup from close to twenty gallons of sap barely filled two quart jars. They are now dripping syrup onto their food instead of pouring it.
As much as I love writing these updates and staying connected with all of you, my winter sped past in a flurry of creative activity. My apologies for not writing this sooner, but I tried to catch you up here. I love to share with all of you what we have brewing, and am ever so grateful for your dedicated support and enthusiastic interest in our farm and programming. Look for future newsletters every other week during the preseason. Wishing you all a blessed spring as it births new life into this land and us all.
Monthly Skillshare Workday and Potluck, Saturday, April 5, May 3. (Future dates TBA). Work: 8am-1pm. Potluck: 1-3pm. Come work with this April 5 for a day of erecting pea trellises and planting peas, and preparing soil and terraced areas for orchard planting. Followed by community potluck.
Farm Share CSA signup. There are some spots left for this season, running mid-June thru October. Online signup form is here. If you are interested in supporting us with talking to your community please let us know and we will share informational materials with you.
Egg and sprout deliveries. There are spots in our currently running weekly egg and sprout deliveries. Signup here for Wednesday deliveries through early June.
Black & Latino Farmer Immersion. Session 1: June 30-July 4. Session 2: July 28-August 1. These sessions are both near full. Cost is on a sliding scale $90-360. You will not be turned away for lack of funds.
Youth Programming . FAQ and signup form can be found on this page if you are interested in our youth programming.
Summer Solstice Dance Party. June 21. I know it’s early but we got a lot to celebrate with you, so put it in your calendars now.