April 17 - International Day of Peasant Struggle

Happy International Day of Peasant Struggle!

Shout out to the poor, rural Black, brown and indigenous farmers tending the land and keeping us all fed out here. Let’s take a moment to thank the people who grew our food today! Let's commit to supporting their fight for self-determination, clean water, access to land, freedom from gender violence, safe living & working conditions and food sovereignty.

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Invisible Labor

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In thinking about the legacies of enslavement, colonization and genocide that the US agriculture system is built upon, it fits within a long trajectory of foolishness that in this generation, the labor of migrant farmworkers—without which this country would starve—has been made invisible at best, shat on and targeted at worse. Farmworkers and domestic laborers were excluded from all labor protections when the National Labor Relations Act and Fair Labor Standards Act, part of the New Deal, were signed in the 1930s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a compromise with white, plantation-owning Dixie Democrats from the South to exclude this almost exclusively Black workforce in exchange for votes. More than 80 years later farm and domestic worker demographics have changed, but these workers still aren’t entitled to overtime, a minimum wage, a day of rest, workers compensation, or the right to collectively bargain (or form a union).

There are different factors at play but I think about this history for myself when people laugh when I tell them what I do, drill me for information and demand access to my internal resources without any offering whatsoever and come into the gardens where I work never having broken a sweat but trying to eat more than their fill of anything ready to harvest. What is this drive to take from those who tend the Earth, with no thought of the need for exchange?

I believe this urge is connected to the fact that we don’t really see food labor as labor. After more than 500 years of pillage we drink in, like water, the values of an economy whose might was created on stolen land by millions of African souls who, under the yolk of slavery, performed agriculture labor without compensation. Workers whose contributions have never been formally acknowledged, and who never saw a dime of the wealth that they created for this nation. We simply don’t see plant labor as labor. Today, subsidies to agribusiness distort our notions of the fair price of a potato. We don’t see food and plant laborers for what we are, the reason we’re all still here.

Plant people work harder than anyone I know. I want to encourage people to please, honor us. Please find out about the working conditions of the people who grow your food. Please also consider the time and resources medicine people have put into acquiring the knowledge that they have. Don’t come looking to squeeze as much as you can from us. We are human beings, not machines. If your only intention is to take from the earth, or from those of us who tend the earth, consider whose footsteps you are walking in: the very people who put us in the predicament we are in now. If your intention is not just to take but you consistently show up at a medicine or plant person’s door demanding to be filled up, but with nothing to offer, ask yourself what you need to examine in order to enable yourself to give to those of us who do this work. This isn’t just about money. Personally I love exchanges and love when people offer their assistance in exchange for knowledge that I have.

Let’s all dig deeper. The work required as we transition away from extractive, exploitative, petrol-based systems will necessitate many changes in the ways that we think and treat one another. Let’s commit to seeing this work through, and really examining our deeply-held beliefs about who deserves to be supported by the system, and who doesn’t.

A Guide to Herbal Preparations by Laura Marie Ruocco and I

My friend and teaching buddy Laura Marie Ruocco and I just wrapped up a monthlong Wednesday evening mini-course at ThirdRoot Community Health Clinic, an amazing wellness space in Flatbush. We welcomed folks with a range of knowledge about plant medicine and created a few guides to help people in their ongoing herbal explorations that were shared throughout the four weeks of the mini-series.

I’m sharing here information from a handout on herbal preparations that we gave to folks who came to the Herbs for Heartbreak and Boundaries class we taught on Wednesday, January 23.

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to use the right preparation method for the specific part of the plant you are using (be it a bark, berry, root, leaf or flower) and the purpose for which you are making medicine. Herbal medicine is, in many ways, a wonderfully free-form, folk-based, intuition-driven art, rather than science. I love how creative and free-flowing it can be. That being said, if you want to ensure delivery of medicinal constituents in a consistent manner and get the most value out of your plants, there are a few guidelines that are good to keep in mind.

Herbal Medicine Preparations

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Ganoderma Medicine

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I call in Reishi (latin: Ganoderma lucidum and G. tsugae) medicine. In the last few weeks I’ve had conversations with several people suffering from intense allergies, respiratory trouble due to asthma/environmental toxins and weakness in the lungs. Reishi is an ally for all of these conditions. Referred to as “lingzhi” in Traditional Chinese Medicine, records of the  medicinal usage of Ganoderma lucidum appear in Chinese texts that are more than 2,000 years old. The name “Reishi” comes from Japanese. In latin gan  means “shiny,” derm means “skin” and lucidum means “ brilliant.” Ganoderma’s taste is woodsy and bitter, with the latter flavor coming from over 119 triterpenoids, constituents useful in the treatment of tumors, inflammation and liver toxicity. Gentle and slow-moving, I love how Janet Kent described it to my Terra Sylva School classmates as imparting the wisdom and deep wellness of the woods in which it grows. I first started taking Reishi myself in 2014, as part of a protocol to address anxiety and rebuild my digestive health after years of eating gluten, which I am intolerant to. Pictured here is a bit of Ganoderma that was gifted to my friend during her recent trip to California. Just touching it brought me joy. 

G. lucidum is neuroprotective, antioxidant, anti-histamine and immunity-enhancing. It is used to treat high blood pressure and diabetes and is an ally to those under stress. Ganoderma lucidum falls into the category of herbs that herbalists call “tonics.” These are medicines that fortify energy while building resilience and health on a long-term level.

Laura Marie Ruocco and I will be talking about Reishi and other anxialitic medicines next Wednesday 1/9 at ThirdRoot Community Health Center for the first week of our 4-week January “Beyond Resolutions: Overcoming Obstacles to Your New Year Intentions” series. Next week’s class is focused on anxiety. We hope to see you. Whether we do or don’t, I hope that the spirit of this beautiful fungus fortifies all of us endeavoring to cultivate joy amidst the many crisscrossing systems of oppression that shape our material reality.   

One quick note on sources: G. lucidum is native to rich, moist woods of China, where it us usually found on decaying broadleaf trees. G. tsugae is native to the Northeastern Turtle Island. Molecularly, G. lucidum and G. tsugae are most closely related of all Ganoderma species. G. lucidum is being grown commercially. Let’s all please be careful, respectful and responsible about where we source our herbs, and verify the ethical practices of anyone purporting to “wildcraft” the medicines that we purchase. Could we see the disappearance of G. tsugae (and other species native to this land) in our lifetime, as more and more people flock to the woods to harvest it? Just something to keep in mind. Ask your medicine people how they’ve acquired their Ganoderma.  

My Interview with Soul Rebel Podcast

I had the opportunity to engage in a rich conversation with Yanni Young, a Harlem youth activist and artist on her podcast “Soul Rebel.” We talked about my journey to plant medicine, ancestral trauma, Black healing and strategies people who live in cities can utilize to connect with plants. Yanni is an incredible young woman. I’m excited to see the work she’ll do in the world.

You can check out the podcast here!

Source: https://soundcloud.com/yemeyanni/soul-rebe...

What's in a Name?

Today I was saved from the potential fallout of over-caffeination—which for me is half a cup of green tea—and too little sleep by a decoction of Reishi (Latin: Ganoderma tsugae) and Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) mushroom. I also took two dropperfuls of a Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) cognitive function tincture that I’ve been tweaking.

I remember a passage from Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s 1973 “Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers,” where the authors talk about the danger that medieval healers—witches—posed to the Catholic Church. These women plant workers had the audacity to rely upon observation through their senses, a commitment to trial and error and on cause and effect to test out the effectiveness of their remedies. Whereas the church believed that illness was some working of the devil which could only be rooted out by a man ordained by God to do His work. Or perhaps some punishment of God’s meted out, for reasons unknown. The body and its senses were the terrain of the devil; how dare these women actively use the power of reason? Deduce truths? Those were the domain of God and the Church. These women had to be eliminated. Ehrenreich and English say:

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Tips for Conscious Eating

Juggling the normal pressures of life on top of a stressful work situation, daily commute and caring for loved ones can make reaching for takeout, fast-food, pre-made and packaged foods feel not only convenient but too often, an absolute necessity. With the prevalence of apps designed to deliver delicious meals prepared by strangers to your door damn near instantaneously, we seem to have more of an ability than ever to strike cooking from the list of time commitments to be juggled. 

But eating takeout every night adds up to a significant amount of coin and, in my experience, can be a sign that I'm headed toward burnout. And since we must eat to live, why not make the act as sensual, enjoyable and uplifting an experience as possible? Besides that, becoming more conscious of what we put into our bodies is a way to reclaim some of our power, living as we are in the depths of a system—white supremacist capitalist patriarchy—that demands we sacrifice our well-being and joy for its needs.  

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"Plant Power: How the Growing Food Sovereignty Movement is Empowering Communities" – LAIKA Magazine – Issue 6

Last year my friend Julie Gueraseva and I co-wrote an article in LAIKA Magazine about the food sovereignty movement and the potential it holds for lifting up marginalized communities, developing viable alternatives to corporatized frankenfood and building real democracy. I spotlighted Vieques, Puerto Rico-based Finca Conciencia in the piece. Recovering as they are from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, I wanted to draw some attention to the piece, in hopes it will help educate about the colonial nature of the United States' relationship to Puerto Rico, in addition to highlighting Finca Conciencia's amazing work. 

Click here to read the article in full and here to make a donation to Finca Conciencia to help them rebuild from the hurricanes.  

Donate to help grassroots farmers in Vieques, Puerto Rico rebuild

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I spent the first half of the winter of 2015 in Vieques, Puerto Rico, apprenticing with herbalist and medicine-maker Adam Flores. As the 3.4 million inhabits of Boriken rebuild from the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, please consider donating to the YouCaring fund of Finca Conciencia, a Vieques-based grassroots farm. Lead farmers Ana Elisa, Jorge and their comrades have been working to build food sovereignty on Vieques for over a decade. While I was on the island, I was fortunate enough to spend time at Finca Conciencia and witness the deeply transformative power of the farm's agroecology model in action.

With cancer rates at least 30% higher than mainland Puerto Rico and few resources for fresh food, Vieques is on the front-lines of the battle against US imperialism and disaster capitalism. Through their farmer-to-farmer trainings, worker education, farm stand, classes at the local health center and organizing work, Finca Conciencia is strengthening networks of solidarity between poor and landless Viequense, and other folks throughout the Antilles.

Please consider supporting Finca Conciencia’s rebuilding work with a donation, and helping to spread the word.

Here is the link to donate:

https://www.youcaring.com/lacolmena-973159 

Planting a 27-day salad box

I taught my "Growing Food on Rooftops" workshop at Brooklyn Public Library's Greenpoint Branch last Thursday, and encouraged people to plant cut-and-come-again salad greens in old salad containers. The idea behind cut-and-come-again is to grow vegetables (typically leafy greens) from which one harvests the young outer leaves. By harvesting before the plant begins to make seed, you are able to come back over and over to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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It's already August, and I know it feels soooo late in the season to be starting crops. But now is actually a great time to plant out a salad box and start seeds for cool weather crops—I'll talk about the latter in detail in a later post. The salad box I planted will be ready to harvest in a little under a month. 

To plant this salad box, I took the plastic container in which some baby kale from the grocery store came, washed it and poked about 8 holes in the bottom. I set the lid of the bin aside—I'll want this later. Next, I filled the container to the brim with an organic seed starting mix. Seed-starting mixes, by the way, contain a combination of soil medium, mycorrhizae and other soil amendments that create a nutrient-rich environment ideal for seedlings. I love seed-starting mixes because they are so packed with the nutrients seeds need and because they are usually quite light and airy, enabling plenty of water and oxygen to get to seeds. One mistake I see people making when they start seeds is to do so using top soil, or soil from a garden that hasn't been amended in any way. When watered these mediums get heavy and become the consistency of wet concrete. Seeds will drown and rot in that environment. Taking the time to buy or make a seed-specific blend is absolutely worth it. 

I filled the container to about half an inch below the brim with seed-starting mix. With a spray bottle of water I spritzed the surface of the soil until, looking through the sides of the container, I could see the color of the soil turn dark with moisture. Next I mixed a little over a quarter teaspoon each of Johnny's Seeds Ovations Greens mix (one of my favorite salad mixes), Hudson Valley Seed Library arugula and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company's Tronchuda kale. These are all organic seeds. I dispersed the seeds over the surface of the soil by grabbing a pinch and distributing it evenly, as if I were sprinkling seasoning over a pot of stew. I hope that makes sense ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I then took a small handful of seed-starting mix and sprinkled that on top of the seeds. Not to bury them, but to lightly cover them and stop the seeds from being washed to the sides of the container when watered. The soil having settled over my seeds, I gave a nice, moderate spritzing with the water bottle. 

Going back to the lid I had set aside, I placed this under my planted-out salad container and set it in the sun. You want seeds to have as much sun as possible while germinating. I have a sunny window ledge on my fire escape, where I put most of the vegetables I grow at home, including my salad box. As the seeds germinate, I'll be vigilant about checking them in the morning and afternoon (especially on hot days) and spray them with water when the container feels especially light (indicating all water has evaporated/been absorbed), or when the soil looks dusty.

I should have fresh salad greens in one month! 

First fire

I share here video of the first fire I started and tended on my own. This fire was very special to me, and I will hold its warmth in my heart forever. 

I made the fire in the woodstove of my cabin on a cold day in May 2016, in Spillcorn, NC. Yes, May. And still cold enough to necessitate a hot fire. That's the mountains for you. After spending my entire adulthood in cities, in 2014 I had left NYC to farm on Hawaii's Big Island. The start of a farming journey in rural lands where solid wifi was elusive, showers were cold-water only, the lights went out at dusk to conserve energy, and toilets were glorified holes in the ground, it was out in the wooded places that I found myself. Found my calling. 

Since that time I have learned to rejoice in small, simple pleasures—often merely tasks necessary to make food or keep warm where industrialized infrastructure does not exist—that seem to have no place in a citified context. Fires are one such delight. In each place where I lived and worked, as I built my knowledge of the Earth's ways, fires were made for warmth or ceremony. From Hawaii onward I had at most assisted in gathering kindling, or merely sat back and watched as fire was prepared.

But that night last May, I made several stacks of of dry branches that had been left by a prior inhabitant of my cabin on the mountain, ripped up shreds of scrap paper, assembled a small pile of matches, and set to work to warm up my little icebox of a home. It took less time than I thought to get a nice flame going. 

Because I had no running water in the cabin and the closest water source was a steep hike to the communal kitchen on the land, I got in the habit of filling up a tea kettle with water and placing it on top of the wood stove at night before bed. Within a half hour I'd have a kettle full of hot water that would stay warm until morning, when it was time to get ready for class, or to work in the garden. 

Give thanks for fire!

Some of the texts that inspired us

A photo of some of the books that inspired "Herbs for Resilience: Plant Allies for Times of Undoing," the workshop I'm co-teaching with Laura Marie Ruocco at 5pm tomorrow during A Burst of Light: Self Care for Collective Resilience 📚 Not pictured is Audre Lorde's "I am Your Sister"—a book of previously published and unpublished works from which we drew the title of our event. The paper there is "Radical Vitalism:" a powerful essay by my teachers Janet Kent and Dave Meesters, of the Terra Sylva School of Botanical Medicine.

I hope those in NYC will consider joining us for a whole day of learning and fellowship, toward the liberation of the Earth and our bodies 🌏

tickets : aburstoflight.brownpapertickets.com