Semilla y Cosecha :: Seed and Harvest

It’s springtime here in Carmen Pampa, and after a few hectic weeks in which I’ve been everything from a sous-chef to a choreographer to a mountain climber, it feels good to slow down a bit, settle back into a regular routine of classes and community activities, and have time to take a breath and notice the changing seasons. It’s started raining more and more frequently; I’ve heard that the real rainy season comes in December and January, but we’ve had two or three days of rain every week for the last month or so. There are more flowers blooming, farmers are clearing land and planting crops, and every day the sun peeks over the rim of Uchumachi a little earlier. (The longest day of the year here will be Dec. 21, the reverse of more northern latitudes.)

lilies blooming in the coca fields

lilies blooming in the coca fields

As I take the time to observe how the seasons are changing in ways that are more subtle than those I’m accustomed to, but just as noticeable, I’m also reflecting on how connected I feel to the surrounding environment in this rural setting, outside of the city. I feel fortunate to live here this year, and that sense of fortune comes home to me in individual moments every day: waking up in the middle of the night to see bats sillhouetted against the full moon through my windowpane, catching a glimpse of a blue morphos butterfly while hiking, watching the clouds shift and change over the lush green mountains.

Many of those moments come while I’m working in the huerta, the organic garden here at the UAC. One moment in particular that has stayed in my mind for the last several weeks happened while I was helping in the plant nursery. Rosemary, the woman who manages the garden, was teaching me how to harvest seeds, and she showed me something I had never seen before: a broccoli plant that had gone completely to seed.

broccoli gone to seed

broccoli gone to seed

She showed me how to gently open the seed pod, and how to peel back the outer layer of the seed to see if it had germinated. If it had, the seeds were good for planting, and the college would be able to harvest its own broccoli from its own seed in a few months. I was amazed; I had harvested seed before, from flowers and other plants, but somehow it had never been so clear to me – the astonishing, ordinary, absolutely essential miracle that we live with every day. I know about awful things like Monsanto’s terminator seeds, I’ve read and loved Vandana Shiva’s Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed, and I’m lucky to know lots of wonderful people involved in agricultural and food justice movements. But it wasn’t until that moment, holding a tiny, germinated broccoli seed in my hand, that I really sensed how much richness and life is all around us, how much we depend on it, and how misguided so much of our large-scale industrial agricultural system is in the U.S., and by extension our larger sense of the world and our place in it.

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s The Art of the Commonplace, a beautiful collection of essays about agrarianism, economy, and relationships, and I keep returning to a quote from one of his essays, where he describes the difference between information and knowledge. We have an overabundance of information, he says, and not enough knowledge; the arrogance that accompanies this state of being leaves us unprepared

to live short lives in the face of long work and long time.

Earlier, he writes that “we cannot contain what contains us or comprehend what comprehends us.” I felt a sense of that, viscerally, in the humbling, loving act of harvesting seeds. It’s a moment that I don’t think I’ll forget, and I hope that it is the beginning of a deeper understanding of and relationship with the land in which we live.

P.S. I didn’t write this intending to ask for donations, but this post does coincide with a fundraiser I’ve organized to benefit the huerta. A group of students and other volunteers and I will be doing a two-day trek to raise money to build a new greenhouse, which will help even more tiny plants grow, leading to more production of local, organic produce for the community and a more sustainable business model for the huerta. Muchísimas gracias to everyone who has already donated! If you would like to contribute, please visit our donation site. Thanks!

Intercarreras!

It has been a busy few weeks here in Carmen Pampa! Last week we celebrated the Intercarreras, an annual week-long celebration of school spirit and community. We’re back to the regular class schedule this week, but everyone is still tired from all the different activities! It was incredible to see the creativity, dedication, and enjoyment of the students and staff. Every day was filled with sports competitions between the different departments, and every night featured different dance, music, and theatre performances. Here are some photos:

One of my students playing futsal.

One of my students playing futsal.

With the tourism women's team after their basketball game.

With the tourism women’s team after their basketball game.

Peeling a mountain of potatoes to feed more than a thousand people!

Peeling a mountain of potatoes to feed more than a thousand people!

Education students present their traditional dance on the final day, featuring a non-traditional T-Rex!

Education students present their traditional dance on the final day, featuring a non-traditional T-Rex!

Ready to dance the moseñada, a traditional dance, with a coworker's daughter

Ready to dance the moseñada, a traditional dance, with a coworker’s daughter

Busy kitchen!

Busy kitchen!!

I really enjoyed seeing the way the students celebrated together, and the incredible amount of energy and excitement they brought to the week. The founder of the college, Sister Damon Nolan, is also visiting from the U.S. at this time, and this year is the 20th anniversary of the college, so the festivities were even more elaborate than usual. It was fun and inspiring to get to know the students from different majors outside of the classroom, and to participate in so many different activities with them.

I’m taking an online writing class at the Loft right now, and I wrote a poem last week about one of the cultural nights. It’s an attempt to capture some of how I felt in the midst of such a unique community celebration, and I hope it conveys something of the spirit of the week:

I expected the cooking,
but not the dancing.
I expected pots, pans, scrubbing, aprons,
not a dance floor lit by cell phones and flashlights,
a skillful whirlwind: salsa, merengue, hip-hop, moseñada.
A boy climbed, nestled in a pine, claimed the best view.
I didn’t expect the catch in my throat at a thousand voices singing,
centuries-old folk songs rising out of these mountains.
Beet-peeling, pot-stirring, all for this.

In India, Arundhati Roy writes of a new world –
She is on her way, I think.
I think she is here, watching,
perched in a tree top,
hair brushing the stars.