How Moving onto an Organic Urban Farm Changed My Life

Woman on farm

I grew up in a crowded city, yet my house was one of the only houses on the street with a backyard. It’s no wonder my childhood was spent climbing trees and doting over nature’s beauty. As I grew older, my relationship to nature evolved and I became less of just an earth lover, and more of an earth guardian. The pivotal moment in my life that caused this transition was a trip to my father’s home country of Pakistan at the young age of 12.

Having never been outside of the United States, I had no idea what to expect. As soon as I exited the plane, I experienced a series of culture shocks that would forever change my understanding of the world, namely the harsh realities of extreme poverty and environmental pollution and degradation.

My most vivid and potent memory was the black soot I found in my tissue one night after blowing my nose: the result of poor air quality. In that moment, I came to the simple understanding that our actions impact our environment. It was also in that moment that I committed to living a life where my actions contributed to a more sustainable, just and thriving world for all.

Fast forward to nearly a decade later, and you would get the same tree-hugging, soil-kissing green girl. Upon fully embracing the zero waste vegan lifestyle 3 years ago and challenging my standards of what it meant to live ‘deep green,’ I came to the conclusion that I had to live in an environment where I could live easily in alignment with my values. Living at home in Massachusetts with hardly any bulk options or vegan restaurants was difficult as it was frustrating. Within a few weeks of graduating from university, I packed my things and relocated to the beautiful San Diego, California. Vegan cafes walking distance from my new home; yoga studios on every corner; bulk food options and farmer’s markets year-round— I could get used to this! Yet when I first landed in San Diego, I was living in an apartment with roommates who didn’t give a hoot about composting or recycling, and I still felt like something was missing. I began volunteering on an organic farm down the street from my apartment, and sure enough within a few months (after I left my 9 - 5 job and transitioned into becoming a full-time blogger) I was invited to live on the organic farm as the “Blogger in Residence.” Little did I know on that sunny afternoon after saying “yes” to the farm owner Laurel Mehl that my life would soon change and my relationship with nature would evolve in a way I could have never imagined.

First, community.

Community is one of those words that was just a word to me before living on the farm. Since experiencing farm life and farm culture, this word has taken on an entirely new meaning in my heart.

Community is the backbone of any farm, and without it a farm cannot function. Community nurtures a consistent flow of supportive energy which allows a farm to not just survive, but thrive. Every Saturday during my morning farm work hours, I tended to the property alongside other residents and community volunteers. I observed a distinct difference on the property as community swept through the space. Sure, chores got done more quickly by nature of strength in numbers: produce was sold, seeds were planted, garden beds were weeded, farm animals fed-- but the space itself felt different. This unspoken sense of togetherness acted as the glue for the overall vision and sustainability of the farm.

Regardless of whether I will always be a farm dweller or not, I learned the value of living and working in community, and the greater sense of fulfillment it gave me. This greater sense of fulfillment came from a knowingness that I was an integral part of a project that fosters healthy, local food while tackling monumental topics like environmental degradation, resource scarcity, public health, poverty and more. What an honor and a gift.

Next, the taste of freshly harvested food.

One can’t begin to describe the perks of having homegrown food on one’s plate. There is a sense of pride, sure, the “I grew this stuff!” kind of attitude-- but the taste... The TASTE! It is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Growing up, my parents would grow small things in our backyard such as chives, mint and tomatoes. Now living on a farm, I have access to eggplants, squash, kale, beets, cucumber, onions, peaches, guava and more year-round. I hardly have to run to the store. Not only do I save money, I eat food when it is freshly harvested in its optimal nutritional value. Did you know? Nutrients in fruits and vegetables start to break down after harvest. This loss of nutrients can be minimized by proper storage or processing.

Tips for storage at home include:

● Refrigerate or freeze produce, other than tomatoes and avocados.

● Avoid slicing veggies and fruit too far in advance before consuming.

● Places your greens with stems in a jar of water (like kale). This will allow your greens to last longer and maintain their crispness.

● Only wash fruits and vegetables when you are ready to consume them to reduce spoilage and mold growth.

● Limit storage time. Fresh is best!

Aside from the taste, nutritional value and savings with growing my own food, I have noticed a significant change in my palate. I have always been one to eat healthy and organic foods; however, I now find my palate is especially sensitive to additives, sweeteners and unnatural flavors. It is as though shifting my diet to eating mostly off the farm cleansed my palate and heightened my biological sensors to foods that are not in a pure, pesticide-free form. Go figure!

Lastly, a newfound appreciation that is Mother Nature.

It took me all of one week falling asleep and waking up on the farm to realize I was in love. With the sound of the wind chimes swaying with each gust of wind. With the birds and their angelic songs in the morning to greet the new day. With having earth kissed feet at all times. With all of it.

As I spent more time in the garden, I began to witness the interconnectivity between all things. How for example a seed would fail to sprout without the combination of the sun, water and healthy soil. There is an unspoken symbiosis within nature that allows for it to sustain itself, to bloom and to evolve. This symbiosis is the closest thing to perfection I have ever witnessed.

Without getting too philosophical on you, I would like to leave you with a few of my favorite learnings from spending a significant amount of time in the garden:

● First, I cannot show up to heal the planet if I am not making a consistent effort to heal and take care of myself. Like a neglected plant, there is only so much you can do in an unhealthy state of being. Being on the farm reinvigorated my sense of purpose, and prioritized self-love practices in my daily life so that I can show up as my best, most capable self.

● Next, amidst the chaos of an imperfect world comes peace in the garden. The garden is where I run to for solitude, for peace, for inspiration and to simply be. Nature is therapy!

Compost, compost, compost! It diverts waste from the landfill and turns into the most beautiful, rich soil for your plants. Did you know? Plants grown in rich soil grow faster, produce more fruits and vegetables, and resist pests and diseases. Great soil is at the heart of all gardening.

There’s organic, and then there’s beyond organic. The beyond organic approach, the approach we use on the farm, looks beyond narrow legal definitions to find a philosophy that truly addresses a system of conscious and sustainable agricultural practices. Criteria include: greenfed, pesticide/herbicide/fungicide/chemical fertilizer-free grazing; no antibiotics, no hormones, no vaccines; kind treatment of animals; sustainable soil and land management; non-GMO; fairly made; old world production and processing methods; and quality and safety measures for finished goods. Our farm is also dedicated to heirloom seed preservation and growing heirloom crops to promote food security and enhance biodiversity.

Not all crops crave the same nutrients. You can help keep your soil and plants nourished by rotating your crops seasonally. Which leads me to my next point…

Know your crops! Each and every crop has its own feeder style and season in which to plant it. Failing to understand your crops’ unique needs will leave you with a fruitless garden.

You don't get anything you don't work hard for. As Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work." Tending to the land, putting the hours in and staying optimistic with each season will take you very far as a farmer.

You are never in control. You may do everything perfectly to prepare for your crops to come in, but a sudden change in weather can destroy all of your efforts. Thus, learning to go with the flow and adapt to situations that are thrown at you will save you from a lot of frustration and tears.

Nature is our greatest teacher. I cannot even begin to share what nature has taught me about relationships, about people and about life itself. Take for example a kale plant. A kale plant will let the farmer know it needs to be trimmed when its outer leaves fade to yellow. If these leaves are not trimmed, the farmer is unable to ensure the sustainability and vitality of the plant. When trimming the leaves off, no stem nubs may be left behind as the plant will continue to send energy to those nubs. Just like the kale plants, we must pay attention to signs or warnings in our lives. When something is out of alignment (like a toxic relationship) our bodies will let us know through symptoms including stress, anxiety and even illness. In order for us to exist in a peaceful yet fruitful state of mind, we must “trim” away the components of our lives that no longer serve us. We must ensure these situations or people are trimmed at the source and nipped in the bud (no pun intended) so that our precious energy does not continue feeding them. Be like the kale plant, I say to myself. The kale plant knows when to let go.

Of all of my findings since living on this beautiful paradise that I call home, the greatest lesson is that of myself: I am happiest living in an environment where I am fully aligned with my higher purpose and values, close to nature (at all times) and surrounded by the support I need to lead a life of service to my community and the world beyond. Living on the farm has showed me that such a reality is possible, and what better way to live life than in one’s most content state of being?