Tag Archives: farming

White Oak Summer book Review

White Oak Summer is a story about self-discovery.  To escape from a dead end job and a life without purpose, Kelsie Thompson accepts an internship on an organic farm.  In lush western Oregon from country, White Oak Farm owners Dana and Craig become Kelsie’s mentors in life and in love.  Dana instructs her on the fine art of beekeeping and the the luscious intricacies of the plan kingdom.  Craig has different things to teach Kelsie and not all of them have to do with farming.  -back cover of White Oak Summer

“I’ve read many a farm book that has aroused my body into laughter, crying, sighing, sniffing, cooking, digging, itching, staring, singing and finger tapping. Finally a farm book who’s words are so daring that my body got to experience several new written induced sensations. I call these physical reactions to Ms. Rae’s words the “Goat Squirt Tickle.” and the “Kale Me Green Tingle.” The book, White Oak Summer, will take your imagination to a mental garden so fertile that you won’t put it down till all the veggies have been harvested and there’s no milk left in the goat.” -Brandon Follett creator of the Mental Foreplay Experience

Click here to get your own digital or physical copy of White Oak Summer

White Oak Summer artemisia rae autograph

White Oak Summer thanks Brandon Follett

Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, California

People have become passionate about their hobbies of collecting video games, pirating movies, getting reacquainted on Facebook, upgrading their home entertainment system, and refining the skill of microwave dinners. These skills are fine and dandy when a homeowner can pay the mortgage. However, when it takes two incomes to make ends meet and one person gets laid off, what does a person do?

Wendell Berry, author of The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, writes, “If you’ve got 300 million people, most of whom produce nothing for themselves or for the community and to whom everything has to be brought from somewhere else, then there’s no way you’re going to have limited government, or limited anything. All organizations feed upon the helplessness and ignorance and passivity of the people.”

Alice finishes writing a check to the cable company. She says, “Frank, I know right now it’s hard for you to get a job, considering your graduate degree is in Slavic languages and literature. In the meantime, why don’t you make a go at some of your other interests to make some extra money?”

Frank sets down his iPhone, turns to his wife and mumbles, “At home I only know how to enjoy my leisure time. The last family members to have a meaningful hobby were my grandparents. Grandma would knit hats for pleasure, grandpa whittled toys for fun, both cooked to entertain friends, and gardened, which brought them a sense of pride and independence. I’m useless.” “You are not useless,” Alice responds with a thoughtful look. “Maybe we can turn part of our three-car garage into a public home theater. You can entertain people with useless pop culture facts, challenge them to Wii bowling and make some money by serving Tony’s Pizza and PBR by donation.”

Setting up TiVo for the night, Frank keeps staring at the flat screen tv. “Where will the cars sleep?”

The conversation ends.

Alice sighs and thinks to herself, “Our only hope is a massive government bailout.”

Today’s middle class defines pleasure as leisure. Unfortunately, when the economy goes belly up, a nation cannot rebound using the skills of leisure. Over the last several years, I have traveled to develop skills that can be utilized on a piece of property. I am are currently at Love Apple Farm in Ben Lomond, California.

What makes Love Apple Farm unique to this story the property started out as a typical love nest. Cynthia Sandberg was one of those people who found pleasure by working with her hands. While married, she became passionate about tomatoes. For whatever reason, Cynthia and her husband split, leaving her with the house. When economic hard times hit, she applied the skills learned from growing tomatoes to make ends meet.

The love nest turned into a biodynamic farm full of chickens, greenhouses, hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, loads of different vegetables, and an education center. People from all over the world line up for the opportunity to study the Cynthia way, reporters looking for a good story will call her up, and her farm became the exclusive kitchen garden for Manresa, a two star Michelin restaurant located in nearby Los Gatos. (Here is a link to a good description of Manresa)

The transition from hobbyist to farmer was not exactly easy. The pool had to be filled in with dirt. The grass gave way to more dirt. The water tower was converted into a studio apartment. When her son comes home from college, he sometimes has to share his room with interns or volunteers. Cynthia also has to prepare lesson plans for a variety of hands-on workshops about urban farming.

Sara Liber and Amy at Love Apple Farm

A lot of people talk about preparing for retirement. Back in the day, parents recommended to children that they get a good job that offers a pension. When the corporations took away employee pensions, parents recommended getting hired on by a company that had a matching 401K program. Now the stock market has taken a nasty slip down the economic staircase and is still falling.

My retirement advice is to start cultivating hobbies that are based on passion rather than passivity. Find pleasure in some sort of hands-on activity such as baking apple pies, practicing the guitar, growing flowers, leatherwork, dog obedience training, or repairing bicycles. There are plenty of hobbies that can be practiced under the laws of most neighborhood associations.

Retirement in this economy does not discriminate against age. When a person’s golden years come early, one quickly learns leisure cannot put food on the table or clothes on a body, and leisureliness cannot be bartered.

What are you, Chicken? (local grub)


the epic tale of one vegetarian farmer’s travels into the world of “humane” animal slaughter

by Casey O’Leary, Earthly Delights farmer

My ideology seized me the night before, as I sobbed and blindly transferred the girls from their usual roosts one by one into the plastic dog carrier that would be their final sleeping quarters, fumbling in the dark until my shaking hands would poke a startled squawk and give away their otherwise stone sleeping bodies. Finally sixteen, tucked away, or so I thought, and tucked myself away then, too, dreading the morning.

Upon opening the coop to the usual morning ruckus, a single set of orange wings burst out in search of sunshine and food amidst the sea of black chickens. This old girl had eluded me in the coop last night, and I tried to catch her this morning, to seal her fate with the others of her generation, who had grown too old to lay much and were going to serve as our first foray into the other side of livestock management. Yes I, the former vegan turned egg lover by the good humor and genuine farm contributions of these very same birds, was now going to (maybe) try my hand at ending their lives. I told myself it was a necessary part of raising laying hens. I told myself they had lived very wonderful and happy lives, that their suffering would be brief, and we would know once and for all whether we could in good conscious raise and care for, in all stages, a flock of laying hens.

The single orange bird flapped and ran from me as if her life depended on it. It did. After fifteen minutes of diving into the muck trying to catch her, I named her Lucky (the only one of my girls with a name), and returned to the task of the day.

Our helpers (or, rather, teachers) weren’t due to arrive until 10:00, and I decided the doomed hens deserved a last meal of tasty grass and clover, so I busied myself fencing off a little yard near where the killing would take place, so they could graze contentedly until their untimely end would come.

At 10:00 sharp, Ramon pulled up in his big truck, helping out of it his 86-year-old mother, Miren (mee-DEN), and her sister Mercedes. The two elderly Basque women, clad in colorful aprons, rushed for us, much like hens themselves, hobbling and flapping and squawking their hellos. Miren proudly brandished her favorite tool for this project, a long, sharp knife she had brought over from the Basque country. Ramon slapped Marty (my farming partner) on the back with a hearty hello, while the ladies clucked on in a dance between English and Spanish about how excited they were, how long it had been since they had helped butcher chickens, what a beautiful day it was for this.

“Ay, Ca-See, ¿Como te sientes hoy?” Miren asked me. I told her I was very nervous and maybe wouldn’t want to help at all. She swatted me on the butt, muttering, “Yes, si, si, difícil…la primera vez…”.

We led the three of them to the spot in the grass where we had set up a table with a propane stove and a big kettle. They ordered us to bring more buckets for guts and feathers, sealing my reluctance to participate into a terrified hiding while the first few girls met their fate. Slowly, I crept out to peek, thinking mostly of Miren and Mercedes, of how wise and comfortable they were, how capable and kind. They saw me watching and called me over to where they sat on stools plucking dead chickens. I watched for a moment, not even able to recognize the birds in their adept hands, soggy masses of feathers that did not resemble in the slightest the girls I had loved and cared for the past years. I sat down next to them as they expertly cleaned each tiny, bony bird with tiny, bony fingers. My large hands felt awkward and uncomfortable as I tried to pluck the stiff tail feathers, but the sisters assured me my work was satisfactory.

Ramon was teaching Marty how to slaughter a hen the way they do it in the Basque country, holding the girl between his elbow and waist, slicing her neck, and holding her as she bleeds out and dies. This extremely close contact, cradling the bird as she dies, seemed to me a very tender and gentle way to do it, and certainly a more personal one. No axe-length distance to this method. I glanced quickly at the girls remaining in my makeshift yard, worried they sensed what was coming. They did not. No idea. They were just walking around, pecking and scratching, like every other day of their lives. That made me feel a bit better.

As we sat and plucked, Miren and Mercedes inducted me into the beautiful mindset of farm women, who understand completely the connection between live and animals and food on a table, and all the unglamorous but essential steps along the way. The three of us women working in a circle, sharing stories about life, love, language and culture, is now etched as one of the fondest memories of my life. Although they did not dwell on it, the gravity and tragedy of what we were doing while socializing was tenderly present, as one of them would casually glance over at the pen of hens-in-waiting, shake her head, and mumble, “pobrecitas”, poor little things, then return to the whirr of feathers in front of her.

We slaughtered fifteen birds that day, and each soup made with one of them is deserving of a commemorative tale of its own, infused with all the stories of the life and death of the bird. And while I am still by and large a vegetarian, I do respect the place well-raised and well-slaughtered meat has at a loving, healthy table. I feel so grateful to have experienced the transformation from animal to food the way I did, instead of the way it almost exclusively takes place in this country, in huge factories behind closed doors that keep a kind-hearted population supplied with meat they would never buy if they saw the way the animals lived and died. Thank you to all the chickens who have given me wonderful eggs and meat these past few years, to Ramon, Mercedes, and Miren for sharing their beautiful skills with us, and to all of you who make conscious decisions about what you choose to put in your bellies. Bon Appetit!


Thai Style at Farm Ken

photo album of our stay at Farm Ken

All Thai people have nicknames, so I’ve felt a bit out of place for the past three months traveling in Thailand without one.  My new Thai nickname is Gina, thanks to Ken and his middle-aged memory.  I met Ken a week ago when Brandon and I arrived at his farm in Chiang Rai, Thailand as volunteer WWOOFers (willing to work a few hours a day in exchange for room and board).

From the e-mails exchanged, I knew to expect an orchard, a small garden, and some construction projects at Farm Ken.  In the eight years that he has lived on the farm, besides planting countless avocado trees, Ken has constructed two and a half houses.   Along with two other WWOOFers, Brandon and I arrived in time to help out with the painting, sanding, and lacquering of Bunker Hill, a house being built into a hillside on the property.

Prior to our stay at Farm Ken, we had learned some practicalities of organic farming while working at MaryJanesFarm, but our only construction experience was a weekend cob-building workshop. Growing up, I had watched my dad paint our house, and Brandon built a birdhouse once when he was a kid. At Farm Ken, we experienced another version of MaryJane’s make-do attitude.

The jobsite at Bunker Hill was created around Ken’s no-frills, make-do attitude.  Besides learning some new skills, we’re hoping that we’ve picked up some good work habits along the way.

front row: Amy from Boise, Idaho and Christine from Chicago, Illinois
back row: Ken from Farm Ken, Chiang Rai, Thailand; Tine from Gent, Belgium; and Brandon from Boise, Idaho

Ken is one of the few people in Thailand who doesn’t own a rice cooker.  He has improvised a toaster that works great if you don’t mind the smell of burning breadcrumbs.  This homemade toaster symbolizes Ken’s general approach on the farm: function is more important than fancy, and make-do with what you have.


Volunteering on a WWOOF farm isn’t all about work; there’s plenty of time for socializing, too.  Brandon and I shared some of our omelet ideas as well as a few of our travel documentaries.  Ken shared his novel inspired by a long-lost Burmese lover and the ideas of other literary projects in various stages of completion.  Brandon brought out his travel-sized Martin guitar, and we found out that Ken is also a musician.  He can play guitar and sing any Elvis or Beatle tune you name, as well as a few originals.

In addition to his building, gardening, writing and music, Ken has many other interesting projects in the works.  The bicycle that goes on water is still in the design stage, but his special bamboo drumsticks have made it through production and onto the world market.

Ken believes strongly in the superiority of his bundled bamboo drumsticks over other drumsticks, given that bamboo is stronger than wood.  His claim is that they won’t break on a rimshot like wooden sticks do.  In Thailand, bamboo and labor are easy to come by, but the distributing of the drumsticks has been more of a challenge, so as volunteers on Farm Ken, we agreed to help market the “Thai-Sticks.”

With our camera and passion for filming, combined with Ken’s faith in his product and scientifically-designed experiments, we turned our attention from painting Bunker Hill to filming our first advertisement.  A few minutes into filming, gravity shifted, and the direction of our film shifted, too.  Similar to how American Movie is a documentary about a man desperately motivated to make a horror movie, our short film became a commercial about making a commercial.  It’s about a good-natured guy doing his best to prove the superiority of his product while one enlisted helper expresses serious doubt along the way.

After three drumstick experiments, two days of filming, and endless discussion, we ended up with a 10-minute film about the making of a drumstick commercial.  Whether or not we were able to prove that Thai-Sticks are stronger than wooden drumsticks remains up to each individual viewer. Click here to check out the short film “Thai Sticks.”

Here is the 30-second lowdown in Thai-Sticks, the bundled bamboo drumsticks.  For more info: http://www.wonderfull.com/stix.htm

By author Ken Albertsen, Lali’s Passage is the story of a Burmese beauty who escapes from a brothel to Native American hills of California.  For more info:  http://adventure1.com/showlali.htm


Here’s an excerpt:

In another section of the import store, there were pieces of intricately carved wooden furniture that, according to Lali, would be more accurately called Burmese rather than Siamese, as labeled.

Tim already knew his gal was special, but every day new facets were unfolding that entranced him further. “Did you learn these things from reading books in Thailand?” he asked. She must have misunderstood the question because she responded that Burmese people love to read books, whereas Thai people usually only read if they have to.

Another endearing trait was the way she would make little flower garlands – sometimes using a thread to string them up – other times using just their braided flower stems. If it was a short strand she would place it on the crown of her head. A long strand would drape over her shoulders, falling onto her chest. Adding an aromatic floral garland to an already beautiful lady like Lali was like adding rainbows to a bird of paradise.

Seeing the Burmese artifacts had reminded her of home. They tried using Tim’s calling card to reach her mother’s village in Burma, but to no avail. The junta there was not allowing incoming calls from the outside world. Perhaps they thought that keeping foreigners at arm’s length would lessen scrutiny of their regime. Interestingly to Tim, Lali seemed to accept the military dictatorship in her native country in a sort of devil-may-care sort of way. Rather than risk arguments, he had decided early on, not to get heavy-handed or to talk politics with his new sweetie.

I’m still Poor, Eating like a Yuppie who shops at the Boise Co-op


I went to a food drive at a ski resort.
The big poster at the entrance read,
“Only canned goods, Please.”
I donated a can of Spam.
It’s odd that poor people
all seem to enjoy
canned food,
boxed food,
water, and butter.

Another time
I went to a food drive at a bar.
Once again the big poster read,
“Only canned goods, Please.”
This time I donated an ear of corn.
Corn tastes good
with butter and water.
The social worker at the door
said, “Poor people only eat
canned food,
boxed food,
water, and butter.”

I’m in Thailand
now broke.
Spent all my money
on restaurants and guest houses,
I’m looking forward
to being a poor and hungry person.
It’s been months since I’ve eaten
processed food.

At the market,
I ask where to find a food bank
or how to get free food.
A farmer and I start talking.
He doesn’t know where to get free food
but he too is poor.
He said, “We can eat poor together.”
I agree to free room and board
in exchange
for several hours of farming and an hour English lesson
per day.

I sit down for my first poor persons meal.
Oh, I can’t wait to dig into a big
plate of Kraft boxed macaroni and
a hot bowl of canned peas.
Yum! Yum!

Instead, the farmer wrecks
my appetite with organic:
duck eggs,
rice, tomatoes, catfish, coconut,
and bananas.

Day after day
to my disdain
I eat yuppie co-op food.
One day I tell the farmer,
“Man, you talk about how much you like America.
You’ve got a cell phone with a Britney Spears ring tone,
a computer with the latest pirated Microsoft software,
and a TV that shows Sponge Bob dubbed in Thai.
Don’t you want to eat poor like an American?
Don’t you want to eat food that’s bright orange?”

The farmer replies,
“I hear what you’re saying.
I too am getting tired of the same old fresh food.
Good news!
The lettuce should be ready in about a week,
the mangos are almost in season,
and this year an avocado might appear.”

I start to become passive aggressive through farm suggestions.
I mention, “Let’s give the farm a make over:
chop down the fruit trees,
till under the vegetable garden,
fill in the fish pond,
burn down the duck house,
eat the water buffalo parents and babies.
Then buy a new shiny tractor
and a 5th of Johnny Walker black label
on credit.
We’ll take turns trying to drive straight.
We’ll tear up the ground till we run out of gas
or run out of Johnny Walker.
Then we’ll plant row after row
of corn.”
The farmer asks, “Why?”

“So we can eat boxed macaroni!
The great farm state of Iowa
has to import 80% of their food.
Stop diversifying.
Put all your time, money, labor,
and belly into a single cash crop.
With the money you make,
think of all the processed food you can buy.”

The farmer didn’t let me burn the duck house,
chop down the fruit trees
or eat all his water buffalo.
I’m still poor, eating like a yuppie who shops at the Boise Co-op.