In case there was any doubt about my domestic hippitude, today’s dinner started with these 100% organic, whole wheat, vegetarian pot-stickers, then culminated in all organic wild and brown rice with mung beans and veggie stir fry. A few of the ingredients were from the garden, many form the farmers market, and it was all made from scratch.
And just as importantly, they were friggin awesome! There was a little too much fresh ginger in the pot-stickers for the family, but I enjoyed it very much.
Here’s the project I’ve been working on with film maker and educator Carolyn E. Brown of American University in Washington DC. It’s been a monumental task for her flying out here uncovering the story for us to shoot, and its far from done, but I wanted to show a little glimpse of what’s in the works.
Update (June 2012): American University has a description of the project on their website.
Here is a description of the project from Carolyn:
About one hour South of the wealthy Silicon Valley, and twenty minutes east of the affluent Monterey/Carmel area, home of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Course, sits the agricultural, immigrant town of Salinas. On the east side of Salinas, in a neighborhood known as Alisal, deplorable housing conditions and gang violence are part of daily life. But there are big changes happening in the community and a sense of renewal.
The city of Salinas, California, sits at the head of a fertile valley. Every day Americans eat produce that is hand picked by migrant farm workers here. Along with an abundance of other crops, 80 percent of the nation’s lettuce and artichokes are grown here, but few understand the challenges the farm workers and their children face. These farm workers are the backbone of agriculture in the United States and contribute to our food supply, yet they live in the shadows in inadequate housing, in dangerous neighborhoods, where gangs prey on vulnerable young people, left home alone, while their parents work long hours in the fields.
This documentary will profile several children of migrant farm workers living in the Salinas Valley, specifically in Alisal. Without resources, and sometimes undocumented, their future is often uncertain, but their hope and resilience are abundant. This film will help viewers understand this immigrant community that is often misrepresented in the media. News stories have often focused on gang violence, often marginalizing the lives of those who work in the fields, and their children. Furthermore the film will bring to light the systemic causes of the problems in East Salinas and will highlight the successes and hopes of this community, despite adversity.
It will probably be a year before anything is put together, but it’s been a huge eye opener shooting the video for this. The resulting film from Carolyn is going to be a powerhouse.
I mentioned that I found a jade doughnut in the garden in a previous post. I finally found it and snapped off a picture. What do you think? Ancient, rare artifact? Or kids pendent lost to play and adventure in the yard? It could even be a relic of the generations of pack rats that lived back there. Who knows, but it is fun finding little things like this. They make my mind wander about the past, and history of a place.
The little chick hatched and the mother is hard at work. I took about 30 minutes to get this, then left them alone. Nice to meditate on nature and its raw beauty. Also, nice to capture a little keepsake of it, and nicer yet to know my yard harbors new life this spring.
Technical note: The plane of focus of the image is off by less than 1/4 of an inch, which is enough to throw the chick and beaks out of focus. The wind was blowing, which shifted the focus, even if it didn’t blur it. So even at 1/500th of a second, the movement was enough to “ruin” the shot in technical terms. I could have stopped down, but that might have added some blur. Plus, at 1600 ISO there wasn’t much room to move up and not introduce noise and/or color shifts at this sunset hour.
This is part of the craft of photography that is like being the quarterback in a football game or keeper on a futbol pitch, and the part that makes it exciting. Making meaningful images over and over again is the part that is hard work. This was for fun and pleasure. Enjoy!
I found these negatives at my parents house over the weekend. I thought they had been lost through time. There are 3+ rolls from my high school graduation through my first year of college. These were from a trip to NYC for my spring break. Most of the images in the negatives are snapshots of family and travel, and not all that interesting photographically, but seeing changes in people and places is a wonderful reminder of the passing of time. The one at the bottom is from a road trip through the mountains. It’s easy to forget how our memories get augmented and altered through the media we choose to record them, and through the process of living and remembering. I remember so much of what is in the images, but they are also so foreign.
In part 1 and 2 of my compost series I talked about building a compost pile, and finding a balance in so doing. In part 3, I’ll go over what I get from it, and hopefully transcend ideas of dirt and decomposition.
Obviously, my compost heap makes soil out of all the organic scraps and bits of matter I add to it, but, like so many other things I do, there is more to it than that. Composting is natures way of recycling everything back into raw materials for use in the garden. The resulting organic matter makes up a part of soil that can’t be created in any other way. But why does it matter? It’s just dirt after all, right?
Access to dirt is what humans have fought over for millennium, and in many mythologies it is where we come from, and even return to in death. “Dirt” in the big river deltas enabled civilizations to form and humans to spread around the world. We have come a long way as a species, but we are still tied very closely to the dirt under our feet, and it is important to understand that connection.
I think most people who have gardened for any length of time know that the top 6 inches of soil is one of the busiest areas in or on a piece of land. It may not be the prettiest or most interesting, but it is the most important. Plants do send roots down further into the earth, some many feet, but the bulk of the fine, nutrient-grabbing roots stay where the action is. Deeper roots mostly do the job of anchoring the plant, drawing up moisture, and tapping into stores of heavier minerals like calcium. The top layers of healthy non-industrial soil literally crawl with life and fertility, even if all you see is dirt.
In a natural forest environment, it’s more obvious to see the importance of these top layers, and how they form. Layer after layer of leaves, pollen, dead bugs, and droppings all pile up on top of each other decomposing as they get buried. In a natural man-free setting, there isn’t any tilling, or amending going on. Soil forms, supporting all the life around it in a dynamic system of litter and growth.
I have come to my own theory about these cycles that is a simple way to envision what is going on in and out of the garden. In the same way that your compost heap needs green and brown material, the soil also has different sources for its constituent parts. Nitrogen, according to most gardening sources is a main nutrient along with phosphorus and potassium. They make up the big three nutrients that scientists decided decades ago were the major building blocks of plant health. Nitrogen and nutrition in general are tricky things, though. Nitrogen is very abundant in the air and all around us, including inside all the various creatures of the earth, but nitrogen doesn’t like to be contained. It leaks out of anything that contains it pretty quickly. In fact, it is part of daily life. Food goes bad. Bodies smell. Dyes fade. Everything jettisons Nitrogen, and very quickly.
In the garden, we amend the soil week in and week out in an attempt to keep the nutrients in soil, but it’s expensive and it usually erodes away well before the plants are done with it. Plus, nitrogen is just one part of a very complex puzzle. Despite what we have been convinced of, plant nutrition depends on a whole host of dynamic elements beyond those three numbers on the store bought bag of fertilizer. So, what’s my solution, then?
Let the bugs hold on to all the Nitrogen and nutrients they want. They will give it back when needed. Trust me! Worms, animals, bugs, and all the little creepy crawlies all are little balls of fertilizer. Animal life, strangely (or to the point, not so strangely,) is made up of exactly the things that plants need and can’t make on their own. Pretty neat how that works out, huh?
For example: In the Pacific Northwest, the major source of natural nitrogen that is available in the forests is from the salmon that run up the streams each and every year. Scientists have found through carbon testing, that as the fish move into the forest and die, their nitrogen slowly works its way into the trees through the guts of bears, birds and all the sorts of composting little creatures that live in the forest. Of course there are lots of natural nutrient cycles going on, from floods to atmospheric fixing, but the big cause of ecosystem strength in those forests and their corresponding oceans is this link between the animals, plants, and soil. I love that it is so clear, and such a ringing case for natural fertility. The salmon make the forest rich and full.
In my home and garden I often catch myself thinking about the fertility I am salvaging by composting my kitchen scraps and yard waste. It’s not a normal thought, sure, but it is a result of seeing how much growth comes from the scraps I am dealing with. Garden specialists I have talked to almost always consider compost as a brown, barren substrate. I find it odd that gardeners think this way, but it makes sense in our human world of doing things. The gardening infrastructure in this country has become so dependent on amendment industries, that gardeners only think in terms of miracle growth products and blank dirt patches. There is so much going on in a well activated garden, I find it almost funny that soil health has only recently become a hot and almost subversive topic in garden circles.
Most people have come to think that growing food has to do with those brown dirt patches adjacent to freeways all over the west. (If you are wondering why they are brown, and devoid of plants and animals, do some research about the use of bromide in agriculture. ) For me, compost is a literal and symbolic opposite to the system that kills the ground, injects it with petro-nitrogen, and manufactures green, food-like products for people to consume. Compost is about rich, dark, soil that grows, reuses, captures, and creates energy for us to use as food. Composting is about understanding our proper place on the planet.
Like my rain barrel, my compost pile is an active meditation on what it means to participate in nature. I find it is a pleasant responsibility that alleviates part of my trash-guilt, and gives me a sense of what human maturity would foster.
I had a photo shoot today with a new resident of the house. She did very well for her first shoot.
She’s an Ana’s Hummingbird; common to the area, and is sitting on one little egg according to my son. I couldn’t see in, so I lifted him up and he reported down to me what he saw.
They are doing well so far in the 3 days since she began building the nest. The nest is in nice spot for viewing, but a little awkward for them. It should be out of reach of the cats in the neighborhood though. Probably a first attempt for this little one. Good luck little visitor!