Four days on a farm

19 children. 1 teacher. 5 parents. 5 cars
heading north in the June sunshine.
Cars full of singing and stories, chatter and looking and looking for
Cows sheep goats horses, red barns and gray ones
“What is a silo?”
“Cornfields? Have you seen any cornfields?”
Vineyards and vineyards. Gold hills. Forests of dark trees.
Below: a green river winding.
Tender stomachs calmed by anticipation.

At last.
Tumbling into the dooryard of Live Power Farm.
A long line for the outhouse.
Wrestling with the mysterious puzzles of new tents. Unloading and unloading.
A breeze musters itself to soften the day’s heat.
Following Farmer Steven to the lane where a stoneboat waits.
The children become horses,
And horses, when hitched to a single implement with a common goal must work as a team.
“Horses: Step. Gee. Haw. Whoa.”
One by one the non-pulling children climb aboard until half are pulling and half are riding and thighs are burning and then cheers, exuberance, laughter.

As dusk takes over, the dinner triangle rings.
There is little more than the clatter of silverware on dishes as everyone digs in to chili, freshly harvested lettuce and peas, hot cornbread slathered with honey butter.

Lining up to wash dishes. Brushing teeth, scrubbing faces.
Tumbling reluctantly into sleeping bags as the long June day lingers.
“I’ll let you borrow my pillow if you don’t drool on it.”

Rooster crows at 3am. Some get up. Oops.
Rooster crows at 5am. Everyone gets up, gets dressed, gets ready
To wait.
Waiting for the farmers and apprentices to lead the way through morning chores.
Waiting to feed the animals because they eat before we do.
Waiting for the kitchen to open so the cook can start to cook.
Waiting in the nearly frosty morning turns to play and running and heat, though the sun still sits below the east rim of Round Valley.
At last.
Horses, Bees and Owls spread across the farm for morning chores.

Filling troughs, water tubs. The soft scuffle of anxious chickens. Released from their coop they scuttle down the ramp straight to the feed never mind the audience of children.

Hay to the horses, cows, sheep. Slop to the pigs.

Five roosters. Who crows first? Do they take turns?
“Do roosters crow with their eyes closed?”
“Do roosters have eyelids? …maybe just on the bottom…”
Filling the manure spreader with compost.
Steam rises from the pile.
Ah, warm hands.
The farm breathes, waking.

At last the people get to eat.
It makes sense: taking care of the animals and the land so they can take care of you.
Raking the straw into windrows.
Hauling the straw to the compost piles.
Making compost.
Turning out the animals—but first—check the gates.
Hot sun.
The heat of muscles working: live power.

Cook comes to the fields with oranges, never so sweet as these, water never so refreshing.

In the afternoon, a trail of children scampers down the road to the creek.
Splashing, swimming, swimming, tadpoles, splashing. Deliciously cool.
On the return, hot sun, again.
Visiting with the farmers. Learning of Merle, the Blue Macaw who used to live on the porch, who would patrol the farm on the handlebars of Alexander’s bicycle, who would say more than you wanted to hear: hello hello hello. And once, when people were visiting and not quieting, said from his birdcage on the porch: shut up. It surprised everyone into silence and giggles.

Evening chores: bringing in the animals, feeding the animals, splitting wood, pulling nails from old lumber.

Eating and sleeping come easily, and their purpose, after such a day, is obvious.

The next morning comes too quickly. The rooster crows and the words “time to wake up” fracture the silence. Soft groans—“do we have to get up?”—withdrawing into the warm bags again like little moles…
But only for a minute.
The farm is waiting. The animals are waiting.

Animal chores and farm chores. Feeding the half bull as if feeding the dragon at the castle gate in order to get past him to get to the thistles for thistling: to cut them down—taller than us already—to keep them from going to seed. Each thistle gone to seed is capable of half a million more thistles.

Pulling nails. Shearing sheep. Corn: stripping the kernels off the cobs—red, black, gold, gray, pink, purple, yellow, orange. Smooth and cool, like gold. Each kernel is a plant. Each plant the possibility for 3, 4, 5, 6 more ears plus the stalk for the compost. Each kernel ground and added to other kernels provide the foundation for cornbread. Corn pollen can travel two miles. Each kernel has its own thread of silk down which the pollen travels to make the seed…
“Each kernel matters…”

Harnessing the horses. Marking the ground for the market garden.
Straight lines. A farmer and his horses and a bearing, the teamwork of three making straight lines.
Hitched to a plow. Carving a straight furrow.
Each child takes a turn, clambering over the curled earth, one leg stepping knee deep into the furrow, steadying the plow, following the horses.

Forge blazes hot—700 degrees—turning the crank to build the heat.
Metal rods plunged into the coals emerge blazing orange and soft.
The clang of a hammer.
Shaping nails that drop, cooled, into waiting hands.

Another oven heated by wood, 712 degrees, ready for pizzas built by children to bake them in mere minutes til the cheese bubbles and the crust browns. They disappear in less time than they took to make. Of course.
And another and another.
Fresh spinach and lettuce.
Pajamas and clean tents before apple crisp.

Too quickly the days go by. Whispers of homesickness long faded.
“I feel like I’ve lived here my whole life.”
One more night, one more morning of chores.
Packing up the tents, less puzzling in this direction.
Gathering lost things.
Many good byes. Many many good byes. Many many thank yous.
Farmer Steve, Farmer Gloria.
Apprentices Sarah, Gabe, Josh, Tati, Chloe, Mia.
A few tears.
Fingers drawing in the dust on the car windows:
“I love Live Power Community Farm…”

Heather and Celeste Blackie from Marin Waldorf School, Spring 2012


The East Bay Waldorf School’s Class 3 Visits Live Power Community Farm: The Gift of Goodness, and A Call for Thinking (and Eating) Out of the (CSA) Box

This spring Class 3, Mrs. Jansen, and the parent chaperones ventured forth on a 4 day trip to Live Power Community Farm which is (get ready…) a 40-acre, solar, electric and horse-powered, diversified, Demeter-certified biodynamic farm nested in Round Valley of Mendocino County, about a 4 hour drive from the school. The farmers, Steven and Gloria Decatur, founded the farm in 1973, inspired by early organic farming pioneer Alan Chadwick. Since then they have strived to create a farm in harmony with the earth, supported by a Community Supported Agriculture model which serves about 160 families each year, and by their school visitation programs, many of which are Waldorf schools.

I thought I understood this long description prior to coming, but once we were there, I realized what a treasure this place really is. Upon arrival, we met Gloria and Steven and the wonderful group of young interns who would guide us in our chores over the next few days, and soon after, we met Pete and Laura, the majestic draft horses that power the farm. There is no combustion engine-based farm equipment on the farm–no tractors with loud motors, gas fumes, or exhaust. Instead, we were able to watch Steven hitch up the horses to a disking plow from about 1910 to prepare a field for the next planting. All of us, children and adults alike, were spellbound as the horses quietly pulled the plow with Steven seated behind them, guiding them with his expert hand. We could see their familiarity with each other in doing their shared work, and the simple beauty of it all took my breath away.

The interns worked closely with the children, including them in the cycle of chores–the planting, the harvest, the milking, the feeding of the animals, the cleaning, and the composting, each chore leading to the next, with almost nothing going to waste. The interns explained their own relationship to the work they were doing, and some shared that they hoped someday to have a biodynamic farm of their own. And as Mrs. Jansen put it, they taught us not only by what they said, but by their way of being, with the meditative, devoted attention that they brought to each task.
Along with participating in the regular chores, we experienced some surprises and highlights as well. We celebrated the arrival of a new calf, watching it walk on its wobbly legs, along with its mother, back to the stables with the rest of the herd at the end of the day. We were able to ride on a stone boat across the fields, pulled by Pete and Laura, and then we pulled the stone boat ourselves to experience firsthand the importance of teamwork. We had the opportunity to be truly challenged, learning to trust in our ability to carefully and gently shear the wool from a sheep with real, very sharp shears. We watched each person put aside any fear of making a mistake, and try their hand successfully. Each of us had a turn to work the horse drawn plow, running behind the horse with a firm grip on the plow to keep it on track—some of our furrows were crooked, some perhaps more straight, but everyone had the light of accomplishment in their eyes at the end of it. And we learned to chop wood, noticing the balance and care it takes to find the right place to split it. We came prepared for a rustic experience, with tent camping, outhouses, no showers and all! But we feasted like kings, with delicious food prepared mainly from produce, meat, and dairy right from the farm, and served at picnic tables under the majestic willow tree right next to the main house. And at the end of each day, we experienced the swift sleep that arrives after hard work.

Throughout the trip, I watched the children respond to the simple beauty of the farm, held by the work they were doing in the midst of it. This simple beauty was everywhere—in the animals that were calm and cared for, with calves being allowed to stay and nurse with their mothers in pasture; in the unique collection of antique equipment that Steven has painstakingly acquired, repaired, and put to use; in the palpable vibrancy of the fields; and in the potency of smells—food scraps, manure, freshly turned soil, musky sheep wool, and leafy compost heaps. And everywhere we went, in all we did, there was a purpose, and in this simple beauty and purpose, we found goodness. It wasn’t metaphysical or something that we had to strive for, it just was there, all on its own, arising out of the partnership between the farmers, the animals, and the land, and we were part of it. The adults in our group were all deeply moved by the goodness of it all, it was a contrast and a salve to the often hurried life in the Bay Area, where we are more removed from nature and the land, and we were poignantly aware of how rare and special this kind of farm is. But, as Mrs. Jansen noted, the children just took it in, and for them it was normal, and will be their inner picture of how things are, not just how things should be–which I believe was the farm’s most precious gift to them.

I left the farm with a strong wish to continue my relationship with it, and looked into their CSA. In talking to Steven and Gloria, I realized how different a CSA is from buying organic and local at a grocery store, or even at a farmer’s market. CSA members are actual investors and partners in the stewardship of the land, committing to the harvest of the farm for the year (or many years), with all the variations that it may bring, allowing the farmers to focus primarily on their farming. Live Power’s CSA also includes helping with the vegetable sort in San Francisco Saturday mornings 5-6 times a year and delivering the boxes to a central drop point, which is a time commitment as well. But I have heard from other members that it is also a community experience, and children often come and participate. I think my daughter will be able to observe and understand the concept of distribution, and I know she will enjoy the harvest, seeing the seasonal vegetables arrive, knowing so well where they came from. So the Live Power CSA is not just signing up for a box, I see it as the continuation of a relationship that the school and the children created with the farm. And for me, it is about supporting the goodness that I found there, and supporting the gift that Steven and Gloria have shared with so many children and interns over many years.

Jessy Horner from East Bay Waldorf Spring 2013