Changing Seasons, Chicken Catastrophes and Chasing the Dream

I am standing in my parents’ kitchen, on their landline, shouting into the phone.

“This has gone on long enough. Do you think I have time to get the magistrate involved in this mess? I don’t want to, but this is not how adults behave. This is not how commerce works, and this has gone on long enough.”

I am shouting this at the boy (some 21-year-olds may be men, but I’ve given this one the benefit of the doubt for far too long), because he is the direct cause of our chicken catastrophe, and my patience in handling this nightmare has expired, and I am just so, so tired.

Let’s back up for a moment.

It’s early July. Our chickens are laying, and laying well, and are happy in their pasture. We had some troubles with foxes and hawks earlier this season, and at least one coyote, and are down about thirty of our girls from sneak attacks.  We’ve moved them across the property to a less hawk-filled territory and are talking about tracking down some layers to get our numbers back up. I find an ad for the type of chicken we already have, from someone nearby who, according to the advertisement, just has too many chickens and is getting too many eggs, and they’ll deliver them to the farm. My neighbor and I collaborate on the chickens, so I tell him about the ad. We agree it’s a good decision.

Perfect, I think. This is perfect.

The chickens arrive the following week at my neighbor’s property, where the chickens live. These new chickens are a little smaller than ours, and a little scrappier, but I chalk that up to the coop syndrome, where too many chickens crowded in get picked on and scruffy from the lack of sun and pasture. We’re doing these new girls a service, I think, and I’m glad.

Since then, I’ve heard from other farmers that you ALWAYS quarantine new animals. It makes sense, of course, after the fact. But also for every farmer who tells me that, there’s another who assures me that they don’t, and that they would have never thought to, either.

The point is, about four days after the new chickens arrive, all of our chickens, all two hundred plus of our happy little flock, stop laying eggs.

Concern, panic and straight confusion set in. Are these newcomers stressing the flock? One of my neighbor’s workers is a seasoned chicken lady, and as we walk around investigating the newcomers and original hens alike, we start to hear sneezing, see glassy eyes and drippy beaks. Something is amiss here, and we round up the questionable girls and move them to a coop offsite to keep an eye on them. We put colloidal silver in their water, Thieves around the coop, and start researching what this could be and how to treat it.

Then the hens start to die. It’s a couple at first – two, then five, then seven. A handful every day. I call the guy who sold us the new hens and he says some obvious nonsense about new chickens not being acclimated to the outside. He assures us none of the other chickens he’s sold have had any problems. After several more days of these inexplicable casualties, the phone calls get more tense, and he discloses that he’s purchased these chickens from a poultry auction and that he has no sense of their history or what could be wrong. The smoldering anger in me starts to catch.

We have researched some diseases and a few seem to fit the bill. We take a couple of our deceased girls to a pathologist in Kennett Square, and she calls a day later with disheartening news – the flock has mycoplasmosis. It’s a contagious disease that causes respiratory infections that lead to death. Lack of eggs is another primary symptom. Once a chicken has it, only antibiotics can alleviate the symptoms (at which point we can’t sell the eggs or the meat) – and the minute you take the flock off the antibiotics, the symptoms and the carnage resumes.

The news is devastating.

“How does this happen?” I ask. I’m sitting in my truck, head pressed against the steering wheel, and that smoldering is getting stronger.

If chickens are on antibiotics while in the poultry houses, they may not exhibit symptoms while the auction is happening. But once off the medications, the symptoms can come back, and that’s what makes the birds contagious. There’s no cure, and no way to manage this problem on the scale we operate on. Except culling the flock.

I call the guy who sold us the chickens and calmly tell him all this information. I tell him that if he has other chickens on his property that he needs to get them tested, so this isn’t spreading any further. I hear his distress and his confusion. I don’t feel he was maliciously trying to unload sick birds on us. But there is an adult, mature way to do business. We aren’t looking for the thousands of dollars in compensation for lost birds, unused feeds, the eggs we’ll have to buy in for the rest of the season. We just want the money back from our purchase with him, a few hundred dollars to close the loose ends on this horrible ordeal. Because who wants to talk about small claims and damage suits with another farmer, especially another young farmer?

The guy resolves to get the money together and we hang up. Shortly thereafter, he blocks my phone number.

Cut back to present. To the world where I’ve had to use a different phone to call these people, to where another human answers the phone and tells me to leave him alone and stop calling and I have to pull out aggression I didn’t know I even had anymore to get my point across and get this issue settled, to a world where the chickens we’ve enjoyed and cared for since the season began have gone to the great green pastures in the sky.

It’s exhausting, and a true part of this lifestyle I have had yet to experience. Working with animals tempers your emotions, I’ve known that since my first season at the dairy, because life and death are the worlds we deal with in agriculture. But this, this is something new. Something that leaves me feeling responsible, under-educated, and angrier than I’ve felt in years. I’ve watched my parents suffer emotionally over the distress of these birds and my subsequent duress. My neighbor and I, already in the throes of summer exhaustion, were just handed an additional hefty plate to handle. This is something that smolders.

We are very lucky to have such a strong community of food in this area. We’ve found several sources of fantastic eggs for the CSA shares and markets to carry us through the rest of the season, and I can’t thank those folks enough for working with us and empathizing with this satiation. My friends and fellow producers and family have been nothing but encouraging and supportive as my emotional turbulence has ebbed and flowed in the last two months. My neighbor and I have been discouraged by this, as I’m sure you can understand, but are talking about what next year could look like with our new education in this realm. Personally, I’m not sure if I can handle it right now. Ask me again in a few months.

But here’s the undercurrent of all this. Those sick chickens came from somewhere, right? Somewhere where hens are cooped up and blasted with medication to suppress these illnesses. And then when the manufacturer is done with them, he dumps them out into the world for us to face the consequences.

I’ve become so much more meticulous about knowing where my meat comes from, and my eggs, and all my animal products in the last few years, but now it feels imperative. It feels like a weight in my stomach that is with me all day, a weight that I’ve been sitting with, scared to talk about, but now it can’t just sit in there anymore. If this is something that happened to us, it has to be happening somewhere else. Maybe many other places. And it deals with the food that you and I put into our bodies every day.

So this is the lesson I’ve learned this year. This is the hard, long, painful lesson. We need to demand food transparency. We should want to know who is raising the animals we rely upon, and how we are raising those animals and that food, and we need to support the growers and producers who are making the responsible, moral choices.

I know the usual Liz on this forum is very bubbly and hopeful and energized. And she’s still here. I’m looking forward to writing more, very soon, about growing the Lehigh Valley food community, about the workshops I’ve been leading and talks and festivals we’ve been attending, about the amazing feedback we’ve had for the Blue Mountain Farm Market in my hometown, and for the growing interest in growing and using herbs. I can’t wait to tell you about how happy the CSA folks have been this year, how much fun I’ve had sprouting fruit trees, and how exhilarating it is to be building infrastructure for next year as we move into the fall.

But today we pause and acknowledge our girls, those lovely hens, and the choices they represent in our food systems.

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-Liz

Growing Up, Growing Out, and Coming Home

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Where to begin in all this. Hmmmmmmmm.

Well, I could talk about Slatington’s Blue Mountain Farm Market, our collaborative farm stand in the town where I was raised. A market staffed by enthusiastic food advocates, stocked by responsible, co-creating, wonderful growers and producers, supported immensely by the Borough where it lives, marketed by journalists and TV stations who have done an incredible job of spreading the word about this new and important project, and pieced together by a happily frazzled manager who keeps being visited by her former school teachers, principals, coaches, friends’ parents and old neighbors in the hours she scrambles to be present.

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When I think about how lucky I am to be a part of such a welcomed endeavor, I am bowled over in gratitude. I see the rush of folks on Friday and Saturday mornings, so excited to have fresh, local, responsibly-grown vegetables and perennial flowers and all the well-sourced cheeses, honey, bread, coffee and other goods appear on our tables each weekend. These folks haven’t had a grocery store in their town for what’s approaching a year. We aren’t on that sort of scale, surely, but we’re clearly having an impact when you see how empty the tables are by the end of market day. People are listening, are learning, are making informative decisions about their diets and health and are coming to us.

In. Credible.

I could talk about the Crooked Row CSA, about my fabulous veterans who drummed up support within their own communities to fill out the delivery spots, to create new ones with a core of interested co-workers and friends, and who volunteer to pull weeds and plant tomatoes on their days off. Who make me food with what I give them each week to give back to me. Who purchased my dear friends’ bread, coffee and kombucha shares as well as my vegetables. They save me, they have limitless patience with me, and they appreciate the work I put into this project. I cannot thank you or love you enough.

I could talk about the ridiculously great network of friends I have around me this year. Today my boyfriend and his kids spent the day weeding and planting. My parents are constantly mowing, weeding, watering, and my sister even got into the strawberry picking mood when she was home last. I grill with some of the best new growers in the area, and am catching chickens in the dark with The Wayfare Baker. I catch dinner and swap cheese and herbs with The Valley Milkhouse and spend multiple days of my week stopping by Red Cat and Willow Haven as we continue our adventures in collaboration. I laugh and enjoy my time with the other vendors at The Trexlertown Farmers’ Market. I dream about fields of organic grain and hay, food forests, perennial herb beds and accessible vegetables. I dream about food hubs and farmers’ co-ops and local food networks with these friends, and they don’t all think I’m crazy.

I could talk about my foray into educator this year. It isn’t a role I’m fully comfortable with, not yet, anyway, but one I’m moving into just the same. I spoke at a Bethlehem Food Co-Op meeting earlier this year – it’s one of the first times I addressed a crowd about my farm, mission and story. And then things started to unfold. I’ll be running an herb workshop at the huge Taste event in Bethlehem on July 24th. This Friday I’m hosting a Wild Food Walk with well-known forager Steve Hoog. I’m working on a series of DIY herb workshops with the Beleno Spiritual Healing Center, and the first is on growing your own tea herbs. I’m going to the PEX Festival with some good friends on a grant to set up an herb labyrinth and run meditative walks throughout the weekend.

Some of this is utterly terrifying if I think about it for too long. But with each impromptu interview and with each phone call, I gain a little confidence. I know my mission – it’s to feed people – and when I stick to that conviction, everyone and everything around me falls into place.

I could talk about the challenges of local food. Of the deep hope I have that all of you, in time, will come to see the necessity of stepping out of the comfort zone of the grocery store and its season-less vortex of readily-available foods. That the folks in this Valley who don’t come to markets and participate in CSAs or feel that deep, empowering need to buy local suddenly awaken to the importance of keeping their food dollars within their own community. That we as producers and growers are all so, so deeply satisfied with this part of our lives, but are still faced with the anxieties of marketing and educating and selling what we make and grow on top of our creating, and that’s where the stress kicks in.

Do you know how much we hope you come out each week? Can you feel our anticipation, our joy when you walk past our tables and ask about the season and fill your bags with what we have raised to feed your family? It’s overwhelming to think about the nitty gritty of this game of food – the nutrition you choose to put into your body is what keeps you running on the most basic, physical levels. But it’s the energy of the food around you that needs consideration as well. We have our hearts in these greens, our souls in these handpicked vegetables. Who wouldn’t want that on their plate?

I could thank you, as always, for choosing to be part of this adventure. From the bottom of my very being, I thank you.

Hugs and Kale,

Farmer Lizcsa share

New Adventures in the Spring!

Crooked Row Logo Color

First, a logo. I opened this e-mail at 5:30am a few days back and my heart soared.

It’s just one step on this crazy staircase of forward movement this season. CSA sign-ups went tremendously well. So many returners have come back for another go around, and we’ve amassed newbies from all corners of the Lehigh Valley. We even picked up a Crossfit crowd in Quakertown thanks to one of the awesome cousins, and I’m excited to meet everyone this year.

I’m sad to be pulling out of the Philly scene this year, but as I expand my world and activities here and try to be more sustainable and insular, it is the only way to make sense of my life and still get to have a life in the midst of the insanity of the farm season. But I’m still moving and shaking all around the Valley, with even more surprises on the horizon. More to come on that very soon.

It’s official! Our teas and herbs will be available at The Trexlertown Farmers’ Market this year, Saturdays 9-1 with Opening Day on May 14! We’ll be sharing a tent with Lehigh Valley Kombucha. Like the market Facebook Page to keep updated on community events and special offers throughout market season! We’ll be making an appearance with a lot of the Trexlertown team at Lehigh Valley Farm Fest this year on April 30th, too, so mark those calendars.

Projects are the name of the game at present. Delegated projects. I’ve been holding myself back by thinking I should be knee-deep in every aspect of what is going on up here. But I can still be involved and have others taking the reigns. And, for the first time, I feel comfortable and good about that.

Forrest Quay, freelance mushroom grower, will be performing some outdoor perennial mushroom culturing experiments around the field. If all goes well, by the fall (and definitely by next year), the CSA bags will have oyster mushrooms, wine caps, lion’s mane and more! He’s starting his own spawn on brown rice, and we set up teepees of inoculated logs out in the woods by my field. I don’t know much about our fungus friends (yet), but it’s going to be fun to learn.

Mom Wags has taken the helm on the bee projects. After weeks of classes, phone calls, reading and research, she found the gear she likes, the hive equipment needed, and she even convinced Glenn out to the apiary visit on our last class to see the hives that the Lehigh Valley Beekeepers Association has at LCCC. Our first package of bees arrives next month, as a nuc already happily living on some frames, and the following month a package of bees, some 10,000 in a little wooden box with a marked queen, will arrive.

It’ll take a year to get any quantity of honey, but that’s not really even the primary goal. As pollinators, they’ll help all the plants around the farm, and ecologically, it’s hopeful to try to care for these delicate creatures.

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At the LVBA hive opening, we found a colony of happy bees!

Two weeks back, in a surge of momentum, Gary, our semi-intern Alex (who is looking for work, folks!), and I hammered in ground sleeves, bolstered hoops and ran the purlin on our mini tunnel. Glenn (my dad, for newbies who don’t know the man, myth and legend), came home later that day and put on the finishing touches of the frame.

At Keith’s farm I had the chance to see how happy some of our Zone’s more delicate perennials could be living in a high tunnel. I’m looking forward to planting our years’ worth of rosemary pots and some of the more tropical herbs in this permanent structure.

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Now, if only I can figure out how to build the roll-up sides.

Easter was lovely, full of my family and their own awesome projects. We’ve always been a creative bunch. One cousin showed us around his wood shop, where he is now making custom guitars, and we awaited the arrival of one of his daughters and her return from France. One was in the corner reading a Francesca Lia Block book (and my heart burst), and others offered us some business advice as we munched on the lingering lunch snacks.

And, of course, family time means Jess Wagner time. My favorite. Whether it’s a phone call to commiserate on the challenges of self-employment or to celebrate an awesome step in the right direction, my sister has become a constant collaborator, mentor and friend on this crazy we road we’re on. I’ve gushed about her before, so I’ll hold back here, but if you’re looking for some philanthropic-based, delightful running apparel, check out her company Run Life Co.

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What a cutie.

As for our darling Crooked Row itself – the farm is growing along. The perennial herbs are up and looking beautiful. The greenhouse is almost tipsed, and I’ve got brassicas who are looking very forward to this cold week passing quickly so they can be planted. We are building our raised bed system 100-row feet at a time, which is slow going, but it feels so good be to setting up these permanent systems.

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Our Happy Camper Hens are back, and everyone is so excited. Including them! These girls run toward my truck when I pull up to feed them, eat right out of my hands, and are happy to be out in the fields.

And yesterday Gary and I took a little trip over to a tractor supply store, where he began a new journey of his own.

When people you love gets ducklings, everybody wins. If you follow @thefarmerliz, stay tuned for piles of heart-melting, fuzzy joy.

And if you’re in the CSA this year, stay tuned for an e-mail this week! We’ll be offering some fun add-ons for your viewing, chewing and brewing pleasure for the upcoming season.

 

Stay warm out there today, friends. It’s a wild world we’re living in.

Hugs and Broccoli Starts and Little-Billed Peepers,

Liz

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Happy CSA Day!

FBP5Yes. Turns out we have our own day now – Happy CSA Sign Up Day!

“In 2015, Small Farm Central released the 2014 CSA Farming Annual Report, which gathered data from more than 250 CSA farmers and almost 53,000 memberships. Among other interesting facts, the report showed that the most popular day for CSA Signups in 2014 was Friday February 28. So in 2015, the first National CSA Signup Day was held on Saturday February 28. CSA farmers offered special CSA Signup Day discounts and promotions and enjoyed an influx of signups from members wanting to support local agriculture. This year, CSA Day is about more than getting lots of CSA signups; it’s a whole day dedicated to the celebration of community-supported agriculture.” – csasignupday.com

It’s resources like this that really make me feel like small, local agriculture really is making the strides I imagine it is. That this many folks are involved in creating such a push (including the social networking imagery and skills some of us don’t prioritize) for farmers and shareholders alike to check signing up off their to-do list.

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By the way – sign up here!

If you’ve been waiting – today’s the day! Sign up for our Crooked Row eats today!

This year is the again the year of veggies and eggs, but also bread from the Wayfare Baker in Allentown – a man who grinds his own flour just before he bakes! – coffee from our Bethlehem Food Co-Op friends at Monocacy Coffee Co., and, of course, kombucha from the one and only at Lehigh Valley Kombucha. Once you’ve signed up for your vegetables and egg shares, we’ll be passing along the details of these other phenomenal add-ons. Because collaboration is key, friends. In all life, but most definitely in food.

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And we are ready for you. The onions are already germinating in the hoophouse. The spring broccoli is right behind. We’re planting to the Stella Natura calendar this year, and I’m looking forward to understanding the Earth and its day-to-day interactions with lunar phases and other energetics in new and exciting ways.

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I am making some guest appearances back at the old stomping grounds. Excelsior dairy has all the adorable animals you remember from a couple years back, and more. It’s been loving catching up with them, re-learning how to milk in their barn and work with their animals.

PASA 25 years

A few weeks back I made my way back to Penn State for the 25th annual PASA Conference – the place where small growers get to hang out and feel the love from friends they sometimes only catch up with once a year. It’s like a distant family reunion – one I am always so proud to be a part of year after year. I learned a lot, as usual, and ate some great food. And, for the first time since I started wandering the halls of the Penn Stater, I was able to introduce some of my oldest farm friends to my partner in crime, which felt really wonderful. And, at the Green Heron tool booth, I opened their catalog to find this little gem!

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We’re famous! 

We had an additional opportunity to visit with some farm friends and enjoy some wonderful food and beer at Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn in conjunction with Lehigh Valley Beer Week! Farm friends from around the area, including our fan favorites Stef from Valley Milkhouse  and Teena Bailey at Red Cat Farm, set up shop for several hours and talked to folks about our goods and seasonal offerings. Crooked Row herbs shared a space with LV Kombucha, and there was much rejoicing.

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In other news, my mom moseyed out to Kutztown this week and returned with supplies for two beehives. In two months we should be receiving a nuc, which is a family of bees that has been raised together on hive frames for one, and a package of bees to incorporate into the other. All this is riding on the heels of our bees in the tree, which is a feral honeybee colony (apparently a rare thing these days), that took up residence along our driveway and has been surviving the winter in that rugged tree. It was our catalyst to take these classes int he first place, and we’re looking forward to bringing some more pollinators into the mix.

We’ll come full circle on this one. Happy National CSA Sign Up Day! Hooray! And even if you aren’t looking into a Crooked Row share this season, know that I love you and am just happy you’re considering supporting some beautiful small ag on this lovely morning. There are lots of us out there looking for your support. Take your mind off the chill and daydream about some beautiful veggies.

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Hugs and Growing Holidays,

Liz

 

Home Again – The End of Travels, The Beginning of a Season

I arrived back to the States a week and a half ago, and already the trip is starting to take on this dreamlike quality.

I’ve told “The Travel” story about a dozen times already, and it is starting to pick up its own rhythm. But whenever I open the picture folders to send a couple off to some of the friends I’ve made or get some printed just to have, I remember more.

After Christmas, I traveled further inland with Josephine, my Dutch traveling compatriot, to La Fortuna. There we hiked the Cerro Chato, swam in a lake that was once a volcano with our new guy friends from the hostel, and spent an evening by candlelight at the locals’ hot springs.

From there I found myself back in Alajuela, the city outside of San Jose where the airport actually is. During this leg of the journey, from long bus to long bus, I was adopted by a lovely Tica woman who, on realizing I clearly had no idea what I was doing at the bus station, had her husband buy me a bus ticket, loaded me onto the bus with them, and fed me some of the lunch she had packed.

This happened a lot. I don’t know if it’s my constantly half-amused, half-puzzled facial expressions that do it, or just the locals’ general kindheartedness, but I was forever being rescued.

Thanks, Costa Rica. Like so many places with so many people, you are so good to me.

My taxi driver friend from the first day, Jose,  was there to greet me at the airport when I hopped off the bus, and he got me to a city hostel where I spent a couple days adventuring to outer towns (Poas was an accident when I was trying to find the Poas volcano, but it was a lovely little town I was happen to spend the day in), taking myself to see Star Wars, looking around at clothes and food and malls and parks, and spending a lovely evening with Jose and his family, drinking coffee and practicing Spanish and learning that all little kids all over the world love Frozen.

And then the cavalry arrived. Gary flew in and we proceeded to have a whole new dynamic in the adventure, one with four-wheel drive adventures around the Chirripo River at the foothills of the national park and into The Osa, the southernmost peninsula of the country that is mostly just accessible by boat.

We jumped off rocks into rivers, met local chocolateers and cheese makers and yoga instructors, hiked into the jungle for hours, meeting monkeys and agutis and all sorts of birds (and a couple biology classes from Penn State, small world), swam at gorgeous beaches up and down the Pacific Coast, camped in the car and sat around a beach fire outside a hippie hostel in Uvita, and read one of The World Made By Hand books and drank local kombucha at a vegan restaurant in Dominical.

I was starting to fray at the seams by this leg of the journey, exhausted from traveling and thinking about getting home, but it was a truly incredible time. I’ve never had such fun, or seen such beauty.

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And then, after hours of customs and an overnight escapade at the Atlanta airport, I was home.

Just in time for the start of season.

“In January?” you ask.

Yes. There is planning to be done, supplies to be ordered, and it’s CSA sign-up season! Three days after I got home I was sitting at the Bethlehem Food Co-Op’s general meeting, explaining my excitement about the forthcoming store to a room full of people and talking about my last four years with Crooked Row.

I’ve been updating flyers, planning for our new chickens, discussing coffee shares with the guys at Monacacy Coffee. A truck delivered minerals to our field and the PASA Conference is just a couple weeks ago, as is my brief return to dairy work. The truck needs a tune-up. Northampton Community College bought more teas for its campus Slow Market on Wednesdays, 10am-2pm. You should check it out.

Planning the season is such a vibrant use of the winter. Hibernating is too, and much warmer, and I highly recommend some of that. A lot of that. But as seed catalogs arrive and e-mails trickle in asking about CSA group buy-ins and new drop-off locations, I can’t help but hop up from the blankets feeling excited.

Looking for a vegetable adventure this year? Join the Crooked Row 2016 CSA. Vegetables, eggs, and some excellent coffee. Holler at me for details.

Oh, and Mom and I will be taking beekeeping classes through the Lehigh Valley Beekeeper’s Association. Who’s excited?!

Hugs, Frozen Kale and “She’s too tan for January,”
Liz

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Sunrise in the Rainforest – One Month Away

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When I was a kid, I got my hands on every fantasy book I could read. Magical forests, kingdoms and battles and landscapes unbeknownst to this reality. The battles were cool, but the woods were the wizards and creature lived – that was always the kicker.

I wanted to live in a hobbit hole since my first foray with Tolkien. I would sit in the pines behind my house and read for hours, then climb down covered in sap and needles. The books were where the magic lived.

Turns out, Tolkien and my team of beloved writers were maybe all dreaming of this country. I can’t account for the number of times my breath has been snatched away in the last few weeks by the scenery around me. The tears that have come to my eyes, and the wild rush in my stomach and throat and heart.

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Mountains

As if this magnificant beauty wasn’t enough, I am floored again and again by the beauty and joy of the humans who keep taking care of me.

On my last weekend at the farm, our neighbors and beloved friends took us up into the mountains to spend a weekend with a family on a coffee farm. I was bowled over by the land around us – the steep slopes and hills on which these people have shaped their homes and farms and lives, and the magnitude of happiness and love that just radiated from everyone around. The family we stayed with didn’t know anything about us, but they shuffled us into a bedroom, fed us amazing meals, let us play with their kids and dogs and, Sunday morning, took us with them on their family drive up to the top of the mountain. We stopped at the top to take pictures and pick and eat sweet limes, and on the way back down we stopped to pick fruit and vegetables the whole way down. We caught fish and they fried them for lunch, and one of the daughters cried when we left.

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me and the twins

We walked the hectres of coffee plants and picked some (very, very slowly). My farm and traveling companions, Kaddi and Stephi, two darling twins from Germany, took me to Jaco, adventured around the farm and sent me on my traveling way with hugs and prayers. I had such fun playing along as the third twin during our last days on the farm.

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Nelson and Marlen, our neighbors at the farm, fed us some lovely dinners, took us to the beach and took us to see their coffee friends.  I already miss them.

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monteverde green

And now I am closing out my stay in Monteverde. Five days of cool weather, a world of rainforest green, and the sheer love of the Ficus trees in the woods behind the neighborhood. Since the second day here, when Jorge took me back up the hill for the first time, I felt what Tolkien must have felt when he created the Ent. A truly magical layer has formed over this trip, one of rainforest walks that make me want to lay down in the mossy green and sleep for hours – climbing into the sky in the skeleton of the Ficus Tree, the adrenaline of climbing a massive living ladder and standing at the top, feeling it sway in the breeze. I. Can’t. Even.

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Ficus

And, of course, more beautiful people. Everyone here is so welcoming, and so friendly, from our hostel boys to the other travelers. Everyone has helpful advice on good places to stay, where to eat, what to visit and when the buses are running. I almost missed my bus here, and when I dropped into the last seat, I found myself sitting with a young man/writer/rocket scientist from Noway who was well-versed in travel and human dynamics. His book is this year’s English best-seller in Norway.

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It’s an excellent book, even if you aren’t from Norway. I read it on the bus and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had Christmas Eve dinner with the hostel boys, my new friend Josephine from Holland and some other roommates floating around. Pizza, ice cream, plantains. Christmas Day lunch was tamales and my sheer hunger joy at these delights. My new-adopted family has been such fun.

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el tucan boys

I climbed the Ficus Trees with Ticos, Dutch and Israeli friends. I had a traditional Israeli dinner with a magnificent couple who asked if they could adopt me, along with the young man who invited me along in the first place. I sat at the table and let the Hebrew wash over me like music, as I find myself so often doing with the Spanish here.

Every experience is a treasure. Every hug and smile and shared adventure sings with its own clarity of purpose. I have a sign at home that says “The Whole World’s My Hometown,” and I couldn’t be happier to truly feel this way. Next up, La Fortuna and the Carribbean Coast.

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Love, Ents and Ficus,

Liz

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Hola From The South!

Hey Team!

Soooooo I’m here! The Puntarenas Province in Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful right now as we head out of the rainy season. Flowers are blooming, everything is still lush, and we are still getting a little rain at night sometimes. Apparently in the next couple of months the vegetation starts to recede and dry out until the rainy season begins again.
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I’m staying with a work exchange program through St. Michael’s, which is somewhere between Parrita and Esterillos Este on the road maps, aka pretty tricky to find if you don’t know where you’re going. I’m living and working on a 217-acre (88 hectare) hacienda wayyyy up in the hills of this province. The owner has a lot of ideas and projects underway, from an eco-village and an aquaponics set-up with tillapia to some permanent growing structures for medicinal herbs and perennial edibles, grass-fed cattle and rotational chickens.
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My to-be home in the eco-village!

With the outset of each intern’s stay, Justin picks a section of the hacienda for us to work on. I’m here by myself for the month, so he gave me a garden section  on a hill between two smaller houses he built for the  eco-village. This week I’ve been digging bioswales, which are similar in structure to the raised beds at our place, but follow the contours of the hills to divert water from massive erosion points on the property during the rainy season.
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I planted my swales with papaya, moringa, guanabana, and other trees, as well as thyme, lemon balm, hibiscus, pineapples and all sorts of other plants and shrubs and trees. Justin’s been planting a lot of medicinal herbs and perennial trees all across this property in the last four years, and everywhere you walk you can find bananas and young papaya and almond trees, along with pineapples, cranberry hibiscus, lemongrass and, well, hundreds of other magical trees and bushes and plants. Everything is just SO GREEN.
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Baby papaya!

I wake up in the morning near sunrise and work for five hours before the heat of the day really sets in. Then it’s a two-hour lunch and siesta break, and then back to work for another couple hours. After work I usually hang out with Reily, Justin’s daughter, who is this adorable, energetic force who likes gum and rocks and swimming and making up adventure stories all night. Evenings are a lot of pool use until sunset when the mosquitoes come out and then board games with Reily and her grandparents until her dad scoops her for the night. He and his wife have a three-week old boy (congrats!) who is keeping them on their toes!
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Reily decorates for Christmas!

There are ants everywhere here, and crazy spiders and centipedes and caterpillars, and all kinds of little to giant lizards, and  so many bees and wasps. I fished a scorpion out of the sink a couple days ago, but apparently these kind are only a little venomous and non-lethal. The birds look and sound beautiful, and the butterflies and dragonflies are spectacular.  Monkeys and sloths and macaws pass through and are partial to certain trees in the forests here, but I haven’t seen any yet. Keeping my eyes open, though.
Now that the bioswales are initially set-up, I’m hoping to help clean up and fence in the garden spaces (the horses decided to eat up one of the nice garden spaces in the eco-village upon my arrival), reseed in the greenhouse and start new trees and plants in the nursery, build some more garden spaces and maybe even help with some mapping and planning. There is just so much going on here. The grocery store in Parrita would like to carry some goods from the property, so it would be cool to get a couple of projects queued up for them, too.
Mango season is in March, alas, but right now there are bananas coming on and papayas in full force. I’ve been making this hibiscus, lemongrass, lime and basil tea that’s been a tremendous hit with the family and may make an appearance at the market here before I go. Teamaker in two countries – I can’t really express how much that pleases me.
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Big papaya

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There are limes by the hundreds, and Justin’s parents (who’ve been totally awesome and have taken me on as a sort-of half grandkid),  make a fresh lime drink with cane sugar. The family here grows and eats a lot of turmeric for all its health benefits, as well as gotu-kola and other herbs.
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There’s this beautiful yellow flowering shrub here called Saragundi, which cures everything from bug bites to varicose veins to chronic skin conditions.
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There’s a lot of rice and bean and meat here, but I’ve also been eating lots of fruit, eggs, Okinawa Spinach, purslane, long beans and other greens, and I’m feeling pretty healthy overall. Working vacations apparently lead to nice tans, and the hills here are wearing me out in good ways.
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This is a less populated area than some other parts of the country. Yesterday we traveled Esterillos Este for a chili-cookoff at a bar run by a couple of guys from Colorado. I spent most of my time wandering the almost-empty beach down there and swimming in the Pacific. The neighbors fish in the morning and sell ceviche in lime juice from the backs of their motorcycles in the afternoon. And Justin won the cook-off with his turmeric-based, organics-only chili! Successful day off.

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Sending you Hugs and Sun. Pura Vida!
Liz
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