Food Voices: Land-Based Skills

In this edition of the “Food Voices” series we hear from Bonsai, a farmer with a passion to farm, teach others about food and promote sustainability.

WhyHunger is pleased to be partnering with Andrianna Natsoulas, longtime food sovereignty activist and author of the forthcoming book Food Voices: Stories of the Food Sovereignty Movement. In 2010, Andrianna began a journey across the Americas to capture the stories of people working towards and living a just and sustainable food system. As she continues her journey, spanning from Nova Scotia to Ecuador to Brazil and beyond, we will feature highlights of the stories she gathers. 

Bonsai farms on Try-on Life Community (TLC) Farm in Portland, Oregon. He has always had a passion to farm, teach others about food and promote sustainability. Bonsai is able to do all three through his community farm and the nonprofit arm of the operations. They run training programs and a fully outdoor nursery school called Mother Earth School. They also grow a wide array of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal herbs, as well as raise goats, sheep, and chickens. Below are Bonsai’s statements.

A few of us lived here in the early 2000s. The owner wanted to sell this land and developers were the only ones making offers. He served us an eviction notice, so he could sell it easier. The eviction went through, but we filed an appeal. During that appeal period, which was ten months, we were allowed to stay here. At that time we started the non-profit and raised $1.5 million through our relentless capital campaign to protect this piece of land. It was an easy choice: condo development or a community center. Canvassing was happening all over the neighborhoods, so everyone could see the vision. Kids were walking down the driveway with their piggy banks, giving us a dollar in change. It was on that level. People were sending in checks for tens of thousands of dollars. The city gave us grants to start this community center.  We had very low interest loans, personal bridge loans at no interest. All those things culminated into the purchase of this land. We put it into a land trust, called OSALT, Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust. They hold the title for the land. We have a one hundred year lease from them, so we can be stewards of the place, operate the place and operate the nonprofit. 

The nonprofit, called the TLC Farm, is focused on hosting workshops and teaching about sustainability, food production, natural building, and animal rearing. We do consensus and facilitation trainings, workshops regarding how to plant food, when to plant it, what to plant, how to harvest, how to preserve food, how to grow medicine, how to tend animals, how to milk, how to shear sheep, how to tend bees. Land-based skills, we call it. The community is Cedar Moon. The community is focused on the cottage industry, making and distributing products.  Our best one so far is a raw, delicious hot sauce that we make from garlic and peppers that we grow.  I’m running a bonsai nursery and a medicinal plant nursery. The school is the Mother Earth School. It’s Waldorf inspired, but not a registered Waldorf school.  Their focus is on earth-based spirituality, which is nothing more than awareness of the surroundings, awareness of the elements at work, the cycles of the sun and moon and the seasons, the systems that are happening in the field to make this life flourish. 

We feed everybody (in the community), but we still are buying certain stuff. The paradox of farming these days is it’s hard to grow your own grains and oils, so we’re buying stuff like olive oil, rice and oat grouts. We make yogurt and cheese and a ton of milk. Eggs are covered and all the veggies – root crops, salads, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes. We grow plenty of that, enough to feed ourselves year round. The goal is to keep all those things within the extended community, so, whereas we have a ton of goat milk, we can trade that if someone is making sunflower oil at the next farm.

These concepts of how to work with the land and off the land have been in every culture forever. People have always been thinking about the smartest ways to go about agriculture and life.  Permaculture has been around forever. It’s just a new term that was given in the ‘70’s. Now, here in the 21st century, I can see not only people going back to the land but incorporating the appropriate technologies to do so in a much more effective and efficient way.  It’s the age of information now, and so this information can spread faster than ever.  People who are interested, even remotely interested, can get on board and become involved in projects that they’re finding out are just around the corner.  We are reinventing these systems in a way that’s applicable to our modern reality and looking back through history at how people have done that and what’s necessary, what’s needed for the future survival of our communities. This non-violent revolution is the kind of thing that we’re trying to usher in.