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Garden Report:
Common Ground Mini-Farm at Ecology Action Headquarters in Willits, CA
by Ryan Batjiaka, Assistant Garden Manager

Willits Mini-Farm

The intense heat of the summer has come at last to our hillside perch above the town of Willits. As the hillsides of grass dry and turn golden, our garden persists as an oasis of green. Just as it is amazing that plants can endure the long dark winters, it is equally impressive that our crops, often the very same ones that survived the winter, can withstand the withering heat that sends us humans searching for shade.

Into this land of bright sun have come eight new six-month interns, each with his/her own unique relationship to agriculture and all with inspirational plans and ideas. Also, this year Ecology Action has initiated a new program at our four sites in Northern California that has given us an influx of passionate garden hands. For decades, Ecology Action has been hosting and training forward-thinking interns from around the globe over a period of six months, after which time they return to their communities to spread the knowledge of GROW BIOINTENSIVE farming. This year, we wanted to extend this opportunity to college students and others who could not come for six months but still showed great interest in learning the skills we offer. So we developed a two-month summer internship program to accommodate more folks who share our simple but vital goal of empowering people to grow more food for themselves. In all, there are nine two-month interns across our multiple sites in California, who have joined the eight six-month interns.

With our new colleagues has come a wealth of skills, ideas, experiences, plans and projects that are a rich resource for us all. For example, Eduardo, an agro-ecology student from Costa Rica, gave us a demonstration on natural pest control, and then with a little cooking oil, some cayenne pepper and an egg, he handily resolved an aphid problem we had on some kale. In countless instances I have been introduced to new perspectives on all aspects of farming, from business strategies to tomato trellising. In my opinion, this exchange of knowledge is the great strength of Ecology Action and a clear way forward in our movement to spread food sovereignty. The network of farmers, gardeners, concerned citizens and activists that makes up our organization's extended family gives us a deep pool of expertise and abilities as diverse as the places and people where this knowledge comes from. Working together, this network can overcome great challenges and is inherently resilient. Again, thank you for playing a part in this network.

In our garden we are at one of the many periods of transition that are repeated throughout the year, when one crop is harvested, the soil is replenished with compost, and a young crop is then transplanted in the newly open ground. In the first week of July we harvested our fall-planted rye, barley, wheat and oats, thankfully with minimal losses to birds. With our oats, a big favorite with our feathered friends, Mark actually had to cover the crop with shade netting to prevent a free-for-all buffet. The threshing and winnowing of these grains is a seemingly tricky process, but there are simple ways to remove the grain from its hulls and separate out the chaff—especially if you have the right moves. Lamine, an experienced youth leader from Senegal, who has detailed plans for launching GROW BIOINTENSIVE centers in West Africa, is also the resident master with the winnowing basket. Returning to the idea of a resilient network of experience, it's nice to have somebody who learned how to winnow from his mother giving us pointers.

We are following these grains with rapidly maturing 45-day Japanese millet. The concept of following winter grains with spring millet is an age-old practice in Asia that allowed farmers to get two grain harvests off the same plot of land. Farmers were careful when using such intensive planting schedules to replenish their soils with compost and nitrogen-fixing legumes. It is this type of highly productive agriculture that refuses to sacrifice long-term soil fertility for yields that we seek to propagate at Ecology Action.

By late July we will start the cycle of harvest and planting again when we take out our potatoes and fava beans. Last year we harvested hundreds of pounds worth of spuds, and this year ought to be quite similar. Even with all the people who come and go at the EA dinner table, we had enough potatoes to use 120 pounds for seed in April, and still there were potatoes left for eating. (Once the sprouts were removed of course!) The fava beans we will harvest to provide our garden with the seed needed to plant about half of it in favas for the winter. Following the fava beans and potatoes will be catch crops of sorghum and radishes, each of them relatively quick. The sorghum will provide biomass for our compost piles and the radishes food for us, so we're feeding both the gardeners and the garden.

It is easy to forget what good fortune we have that we are able to grow food. It is such a rich experience to be able to work with others in this timeless activity. With every crop we grow we gain new knowledge, and with every new person we meet we are given valuable new insights. It would seem then that to garden and meet other gardeners is the path to better understanding our world and how to live in it sustainably.

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