Sunday, May 1, 2022

Catalog of change

 


There has been so much change here, and though I pride myself on excellent adaptation skills and the ability to ride out stormy weather - the amount of change here has tested me, and at this point I can't tell you honestly whether I will stay or jump ship. Which is a powerful place to stand in, the unknowing.

The change is simple to explain; first, I lost 4 of my dogs in the last calendar year. So, starting with Giorgio in April 2021 (succumbed to his epilepsy) then Blondie in August (rectal cancer), then Pucci in November (cancer) and finally, Nea last month. Nea died suddenly in the middle of the night from an epic hour long seizure. I know a lot about seizures thanks to Giorgio, so when Nea's kept going after 5 minutes, then over 10 minutes I knew she was leaving and I settled in. Heidi and Kim woke up and sat with me while she rather dramatically left this world on her own terms. The seizure lasted over an hour, I like to think she was replaying her 17 years of life at warp speed. The ground was still frozen so we burned her on a funeral pyre the next day. 

They were my dogs - but they also belonged to the farm, to our immediate and far flung community. I shared them with many people, and many people took care of them - and me - through this very stupid year. 

These dogs pictured above - our new generation of livestock guardian dogs; Donnie and a very sweet unnamed female. Getting these dogs in place and situated properly to guard the stock was a Sisyphean feat involving complex planning, impossible decisions and ultimately other deaths - a dog named Vic and a lamb who never had a name.
Also 9 new lambs born in April.


The second change has to do with the nature of the whole farm project all together, and this is more complicated to describe in its creeping details, but I will try. We have been slowly and steadily marching towards collective ownership for some time, and are now about 1/3 of the way through what they call a 'steering committee' phase which is essentially 11 people (past staff, current staff, friends) who are tasked with writing the playbook on how Worlds End will function when it is cooperatively held by a group of people rather than by just me. A very powerful detail of this is that every month I get to join a zoom call with some of the most important people in my life - and the life of this project - which feels incredibly supportive in a time when a lot personally here is in turmoil. 



Susan and Pentti's new house on the hill drags on, at the helm of a contractor who broke his back but won't admit it. I suspect they might, at times, contemplate feelings of regret over moving here, but we don't talk about it. None of us feel we can permanently put our things away. None of us are very good at communal living. Rage simmers below the surface. This is what it is to stay with the trouble - to borrow Donna Haraway's term. This is what it is to be committed to building something different - which remains my core mission - to build new ways of living and working and making kin together. My nephew visits and spends plenty of time playing and expressing rage for all of us. Working with the trouble and self preservation seem to be two coyotes running in opposite directions. 



We have a new greenhouse. It was obtained though a grant from the NRCS - they paid for the pipe and poly (11K), we paid an additional 30K more for the land grading, drainage, gravel, top soil, gas and water lines, heater and electric. I'm glad I didn't know how many additional costs would be involved or else we never would have done it; paying for this almost broke me. But praise! It's up and running and gloriously producing more arugula I could ever want, and the healthiest, biggest tomato starts anyone could hope for. We have Mark and his 20 years of organic growing experience at the helm, which I am in awe of and incredibly grateful for. This was our first greenhouse; 8 years ago - the old barn milking shed - now the ceramic studio:


Finally, I can't overstate the loss I feel over the death of Nea. In one sense, I'm handling the grief like a professional grief handler - hire me for your next party?! On the other I feel there is nothing left for me here. Nea was my partner in carrying forward the original myth of Worlds End; its spirit of adventure, wildness and possibility. A particular chapter of the farm seems to have just closed for me in way that feels a bit stunning. This part of greif I am not handling. I have put off eulogizing Nea here because I have not wanted to accept the finality of it.

Photo by Winnie Au

I found Nea on petfinder in 2008. She was about 2-4 years old at a rescue in NJ called 'Aunt Mary's Doghouse.' Nea (that was the name she came with) was from a kill shelter in Virginia. Aunt Mary told Eric and I that Nea would need a lot of exercise, and suggested we might get a treadmill for her. When we first met, Nea ignored me, favoring Aunt Mary who had dog treats in her pocket. I left that first meeting wondering if she was really 'the' dog for me. 

In Red Hook Eric and I walked Nea a thousand times a day, miles and miles, instead of getting a treadmill. She became a natural in the shop, greeting everyone with a friendly flair except small children, who she disliked and occasionally growled at. This made me love her more. 

Around the playgrounds in red hook, kids used to whisper that she was a 'wolf' they would yell at me - that's not a dog - thats a wolf! There goes that wolf dog! 



Nea was human - singular. Difficult to talk about - and also - I could talk about her all day. Her motivations were complex, manipulative, and also primarily food motivated. She wanted to be in the middle of everything and she hated to share the stage. If I hugged anyone she would clamor and bark - she needed to be in the middle of the hug, to control it. James and I would humor her toward at the end - get down on our knees to hug so that she could get in the middle of us. Once there, she was dissatisfied, immediately bored. 


Occasionally I would take her to a dog park - especially when we lived in Brooklyn. She did not really enjoy this; she would travel to all the dogs, getting a sense of them and then sit on the sidelines, occasionally interfering in other dogs play. Essentially Nea was the police. Personified, she would have been a queer, sober, prison guard with a love of long distance running, off-track-betting and The Olive Garden. 






On the farm she was everywhere. On top of things, inside things, at the center of all activities. She made absolutely everything her official business. When she was younger she was fearless, swimming in strong currents, crossing over streams balancing on narrow logs. She was tireless. She wanted to go everywhere with me, and she often did - setting up weddings, traveling.




As she aged she became more fragile and this was interesting for me to watch. I did not like that we aged differently. I was getting closer to the fear that I had when we first adopted Nea; that she would one day leave me. That by getting a dog I was also signing up for the heartbreak of loosing a dog. And of course how would I have known in 2008 that the story would unfold in such a way that Nea would in fact comfort me through so many other dog deaths; starting with Ziggy in 2016 (died after she caught a stick that punctured her esophagus). 


So seasons change and spirit moves in and out of fleshy bodies with great mystery. Trust me, there was not a single sentimental bone in Nea's body. So I honor her by tightening the belt just a little bit on my propensity to wallow in grief, and head onward without her. Few things in life feel perfect; my time with Nea is a notable exception. Enormously thankful that we got to have each other for so long. 

Remembering that living a full life means grappling with pain and loss. Even in the darkest moments of stillness and grief, some things are moving...change is afoot. 















Wednesday, February 23, 2022


I google ‘how to get out of your own way’ but instead find myself clicking one of the autofill responses: ‘How to get out of your own bear trap in ARK,’ which appears to be a common conundrum in what I assume is an online survival game. I play my own survival game everyday so I browse back to the topic of concern; The epidemic of the existential crisis as it infects small creative businesses.

I have spoken endlessly to students and colleagues about the dangers of turning your hobby or art practice into a business. I have experienced the profound sense of loss myself as what began as an absolute romance with flowers morphed into business that removed the euphoria of the practice from every corner of my waking life. Then I moved to growing flowers, to farming and tinkering in the garden and fell in love with that process only to have the farm co-opted into a full fledged business operation. It has been as if business lurks around every corner of my creative practice waiting to consume it. If you’re a friend of saipua and are willing to allow me my dramatic assessment, I’ll continue…

I did an unusual thing for myself this winter and essentially worked ‘off the farm.’ I strung together a great interim stint at Fox Fodder Farm and also some floral technical work for TV (the Showtime production of Three Women). The extra money provided some financial relief and the distance from my own project gave me a lot of perspective. Recently a friend told me she feels she’s a better mother because she leaves her children for a large part of the day to do her work. I’ve always thought there’s a corollary between business/farm owning and parenting.

This time away, and also this extra cash flow helped me relax a little.To see more clearly some of my own personal desires, separate from Saipua. For example, my desire to own a vintage jaguar or to have more leisure time for reading and writing. My persona and the culture of saipua has always centered on hustle and hardship which I have equated with authenticity. A friend visited last summer for a while and said ‘everything you sell, every single thing is hand touched by you, your mother or someone who lives here.’ Which sounds so lovely when I repeat it - but because Laurie Ellen cares deeply for me and my family - she was conveying a sense of incredulousness and horror: My mother was working 10 hour days in the soap factory and I was feeling like a washed up drunken old cabaret dancer, a cigarette dangling from my lips while I shook it over here and over there, teaching flower arranging for money.




Capitalism eats everything; it eats into our families, into our caregiving, our ways of knowing our own bodies and health, into our leisure, into our loving. It is also - so thoroughly - all we know, so deeply embedded at the cellular level; its metastasized, unable to be fully eradicated. (I grew up in a shopping mall, it was my first experience of desire and pleasure.)

Over the summer I went and saw one of my old business advisors. She said to me, ‘You’re always here, stuck in the same place. Why don’t you want to make money? She told me she couldn’t help me and that I needed stronger medicine. She sent me to a psychic who asked me if I had problems with my ovaries. Only that I have them at all I answered. I was instructed to work on loosening my yellow chakra. I take this information and add it to the mix.

The perspective I gained from a season off the farm essentially helped me see that if I really want to push forward the next phase of our work, I have to tidy up and do some clarification around the money part. (Working towards becoming a co-operative has also forced this.) I’m tired of hearing myself contemplate authenticity and commerce. I will never crack the code on how to charge people fairly for farm stays, or eating or learning or any other experience that I feel should be free in our world.



More specifically: We’re scaling the soap and products portion of the business to allow for the farm experiment to continue without having to monetize experiences here. We’ll be open for visitors but without structured financial exchange (more on this soon). And we’re going to start making liquid soap, because liquid soap sells. I want obvious, clean (sorry) monetary interactions. I want so much clarity around what we sell, and for there to be clear delineations and tightly held boundaries around the money making aspects of our work. We’re outsourcing the soap production to a factory in Potsdam, NY run by the original gangster of cold process soap - the one and only Sandy Maine. This shift will allow for Susan to retire from factory work and focus on new product development in the soap factory and wool projects. Pentti - instead of cutting and drying hundreds of bars of soap every week will be free to research alternative health on the internet and cut firewood for the community.

I want to dream of new systems that allow us to evolve away from greed and fear and towards equity and true generosity - in order to do this I have to be careful and take care of those right around me, I have to get out of my own way and raise capital without such a struggle, I need a healthier relationship to money. And as we build physical worlds and relationships that will move us towards that different future, I think it's important to simultaneously hold capitalism with a certain reverance. Transitions are wildly uncomfortable because they force us to stand straddling two different paradigms. We strain as we hold multiple truths and navigate incongruent realities. To morph into something new we have to collect enough energy for a running start. And brace ourselves for the turbulent alchemy of evolutionary change!


Monday, January 31, 2022

Interlude

"There have been and continue to be a variety of alternative arrangements of existence to the current late liberal form of governing existents. But whether any or none of these are adopted, the type of change necessary to avoid what many believe is the consequence of contemporary human carbon-based expansion - or the overrunning of all other forms of existence by late liberal capital - will have to be so significant that what we are will no longer be. This of course, is not what late liberalism ever says. It says that we can change and be the same, nay, even more of what we already are.
- Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies

[I start this post by reassuring the community: Nea is alive and well and living with me in Brooklyn.]


November 13th I packed up a two suitcases of clothes some jewelry and the books on my reading list* and left the farm for the winter, leaving the sheep chores, the snow shoveling and the greenhouse preparation in the capable hands of my incredible co-farmers Heidi and Mark. We closed down the big communal barn for the season and my parents moved into the farmhouse for the winter as they inch closer to finishing their new house up on the hill. The Worlds End community, reduced to its bare essentials; simmers. 

This rare success at escape velocity thanks to a job - a sort of interim director position at Fox Fodder Farm my friend Taylors flower shop. And so for the last 12 weeks I've slipped back into city floristry; navigating the flower district and working with Taylor's staff to hone their design and buying skills. 

I've found it oddly restful and deeply satisfying to work for someone else (I love being told what to do) and also I have really missed my friends and community here in the city. When I first got started as a florist 15 years ago I was struck by how closed and cagey the floristry world was. Now I look around to see a welcoming and supportive community of people willing to share experiences, clients and suppliers. With that comes the drawback of a certain amount of gossip, drama and judgement that occurs within any tight knit industry or social group. This is - arguably from an anthropological standpoint - the connective tissue or glue of any social group or community - the ability to catalog and track the status of individual members of a tribe - who is available to mate, who is sick, who is in need of an attitude adjustment, etc. We have not changed so much as social animals...

On my commute to the flower district early in the morning I get off the train at 14th Street - maybe ogle the Campo Rosso radicchios at the Union Square farmers market - and then walk up to the flower district on 28th Street. Being back in the city is a visceral reminder of the effect the pandemic has had on wealth disparity. On my walk I pass countless homeless people who sleep on the street; more than I ever remember. My initial awe at the price of flowers (they've almost doubled in price since I left) is followed by this plain fact; the money is flowing freely in the higher echelons of NYC wealth. Which is great for me and my florist friends who ultimately profit from this boon. But not necessarily great for all - or indicative of the world we say we want (if what we really want is a more equitable world)...

I have come to think about this conundrum of inequity, and by extension, climate catastrophe (seeing as greed and wealth accumulation has lead to the utter demise and degradation of the physical world we inhabit) as needing individual, personal remedies outside the realm of our political systems which clearly are deficient at this point in human history (when we have the technological capability to feed and house every person in our country and save ourselves from 2 degrees of warming; yet we do not.)

First - in the way of Pema Chodron - can we engage with the neediest - can we meet them with eye contact and even if we don't have money in our pockets can we roll down the window and say good morning, can we touch their hands when we give them change and not feel as though they are untouchable or contagious? This I feel is such an important place to start. The immediate human to human scale. Today, next time you are out and about. 

Second - we must create new systems of living and working together. Different and apart from the traditional structures of capitalism, different from the normative structures of family and state, different from the businesses you and I have built or have worked for or even believed in. I may 'do business' for the rest of my life in order to fund my work and my community - but trust - I do not believe business, no matter how clever, is going to ever be the catalyst for change...

I do think co-operatively owned businesses (and or land) is one way we can see - from our vantage point - a new and different future. In a cooperative, everyone has equal voting rights and the group ensures that everyones needs are met. Which requires a lot of relationship work and communication - which I remind you is the literal root of the word community. And in structures like this, everyone is taken care of and benefits from the energies and work of the group as a whole. It functions for the good of everyone equally because it doesn't favor capital and the accumulation of capital for accumulation's sake. 

In my 1000 year future plan; Worlds End is one of a series or communities loosely networked across the east coast. In this future, the educational, healthcare and other specialized needs of members of these communities could be met by other communities in the network if not by the immediate community itself: if someone from a community elsewhere wants to learn about silvopasture (a specialized way of grazing sheep in forests and on wood lines) they could come and stay and learn at Worlds End. Or if someone from Worlds End needed an appendectomy they might hopefully travel to find it elsewhere. This may seem uncanny - but 'uncanny' (and small) is where we need to be thinking if we want to really get out of the echo chamber which is believing we can fix the system from within the system...I want to devote all the energy I have left in this life to fantasizing and building new potential worlds. 

[The process of converting Worlds End into a collectively owned entity continues; it is a slow and tedious endeavor. We have recently formed what's called a 'steering committee;' comprised of friends and current and former employees of the farm. The committee will take about 1 year to draw up the guidelines for cooperative ownership. It is my wish to share with you the details of this process as we go along in order to help inspire you to consider similar paths in your work, businesses, land stewardship, etc.]


*My recent reading list!
The Dawn of Everything, David Graeber and David Wengrow
Geontologies, Elizabeth Povinelli
Kudos, Rachel Cusk
Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth
On Dialogue, David Bohm
The Ending of Time, David Bohm and Krisnamurti




Thursday, December 31, 2020

the end of painful but purposeful year.

View from the cabin I moved into in July - up at the top of Worlds End and overlooking the bees and sheep. 

The first part of writing is thinking about writing. 
The thinking happens for months, with no direction. In July I buy an old teak lounge chair from an antique shop. Near the foot is a nameplate that reads QUEEN MARY - FIRST CLASS ONLY. I spend notable time considering the pedigree and travels of this chair, from it’s beginnings on a cruise ship’s deck before moving it to the deck of my new cabin near the top of Worlds End. On July 29th, my 40th birthday I sit in it and survey the kingdom. 

Around this time I take all of my astrology books to the cabin and begin a period of personal research on the planet Uranus. 4 billion years ago an earth sized rock collided with Uranus, knocking it almost perpendicular to the solar axis. It remains out there this way, a sideways freezing world whose hemispheres live in either 42 years of continuous sunlight or 42 years of continuous darkness. Imagining this odd fact comforts me; in times of spiritual freefall, I always turn to physics. 

Or astrology (shrugging emoji). It was around that time that I began drawing astrological charts again which is to say I was grappling - trying desperately to make sense of the world and my work in it. I’d lost all agencies, I questioned everything, saw both sides to every story, to each predicament. It was a mind-numbing paralysis. I couldn't make dinner for the community without asking someone obvious kitchen questions, I trusted nothing about my own judgements. (Uranus sitting stationary on my ascendant, square my Leo sun.) 

This past year I have lived at the farm with James, my parents, Eric (for brief periods) and a handful of residents and employees. We have made clever teams of cohabitants and workers; creatives who participate in the collective project of farming and building this place and who also simultaneously are crafting their own identities, arts, and narratives.

This past spring my parents sold their house, my childhood home in Mohegan Lake (and the site of the soap studio) after 48 years. They’ve banked everything - their retirement, their wellbeing - on Worlds End. We built a new barn to house the soap factory. It sits between the farmhouse and the communal barn. Before it was finished there were months of making the soap in our farm communal kitchen. An office and shipping department was set up in the back bedroom where my parents were also sleeping, before I moved out of the farmhouse and they moved in. Those months before we sorted out everything were demoralizing and also galvanizing. 

We’re still sorting everything out. 

James, over the last 6 months has asked me repeatedly in earnest ‘are we going to make it?’

Many friends tell me that all relationships are taxed in the pandemic. In the last few months James and I have made it through various communal living configurations and moved bedrooms or cabins at least 3 times. Each move I tell him maybe this will be the phase in our relationship where we ‘fall deeper in love’. As an event DJ, his work was utterly gutted by COVID. He’s adjusted as best he can to farm life; building things and wrapping soap in the factory. He works a few shifts at a local dog kennel. One of the many things I admire about him is he’s not too proud to pick up dog shit for $12/hour. 

This has been a year of emptiness, a void. Without visitors and their ideas, lifeblood, their words of encouragement, I questioned why I was farming at all. As we struggled like so many small businesses to keep up with payroll, to pay our debts, to finish a septic field, I came close to an edge many times. My edge looks like tantrums, throwing things, screaming. Violently cursing my dogs when they misbehave or get underfoot. Recalling moments like these leads me to a deep shame.

I’ve had enough therapy to understand rage, where it comes from. I know my cycles of denying myself in favor of working or taking care of the farm or other people. I watched myself invest in other peoples creativity while ignoring my own needs. In the moment it feels like drugs to run these patterns, maybe you can relate.  

This year I realized that Worlds End and I will need to break up at some point. Like so many relationships, ours has changed over time. What began as my creative play place, private home and refuge turned into something different, bigger, more complex, wildly beautiful and layered. Strikingly less mine and more of itself. It doesn’t need me anymore, and my freedom and a new chapter for Worlds End is around the bend in 2021…

For almost a year I’ve been talking with my parents, Eric, and committed friends of this place about turning Worlds End into a cooperatively owned worker collective. I’m excited to announce that we’re moving forward with this long process starting in February with the help of the student clinic at Albany Law School. 

As a nation, we have just begun to examine the nature of privilege and our personal and collective exploitative histories. Our ideas of personal success are deeply rooted in individualism; staking claim to ones own land, one’s own fortune, ones own education. We have all been complicit in systems of injustice and inequality; but we are also (always) on the horizon of our own evolution.

I don’t believe we can march bravely into a new world founded on principles of true equity and also be invested in private ownership and conventional business structures. In my tenure as a businessperson and employer I have felt this in a number of ways with each of my employees. As someone who feeds off of collaboration and the sprit of true camaraderie these traditional employer/employee power structures have always lead to heartbreak for me.

As humbling and difficult as it was to live on top of one another and ask our farm residents to wrap soap in exchange for living here, it was also a glimpse into a future in which simple, shared labor could result in enough economic force to sustain this place and the unique joys it brings. My hope is that setting up this new economic model will lead to a new personal pattern in which I take care of myself, so that I can better care for others, and move forward with other personal and political ambitions (writing, making art, running for Town Supervisor).  Over the last three years the work of deciphering the farm, unhooking myself and the business from floristry in NYC, experimenting with communal living and integrating my family and soap factory into the farm project, has been a complicated path to navigate. It's been full of unforeseen roadblocks, the need for quick pivots, and personal failures to maintain healthy relationships with people along the way. 

Through this, I have spent more time studying people and myself than anything else. Which I suppose should be the groundwork for legally collectivizing. 

Ultimately, I hope this may be a way to hack the system I don't want to live in anymore. 
I have more to say on this, and it's coming.

For now, please know that your purchase of soap this holiday season — 2,300 bars! — made by Susan, cut by Pentti, and wrapped by either Poppy, Laurie Ellen, James, Claire, Stacy, Heidi or myself has kept this farm running, and will continue to push forward our explorations at the intersection of beauty, farming,  craft, communal living and equity.

We are grateful, we are hopeful, and we are excited to welcome you back here in the New Year!*


*Some of you have asked when we will open to visitors again which is a complicated question to answer. In truth my biggest push is to create covid-safe housing scenarios for our 2020 floral residents deferrals. That looks like individual cabins for each of the 4 residents at a time. On the weeks that we are not hosting residents, we plan to offer 3-5 night farm stays (in those same cabins). Ideally we will have visitor hours (free, self guided tours) but I can't say with certainty what that looks like exactly. Planning the infrastructure that would allow for this (parking, site maps, trail markers, restrooms) is in the works, along with the need for us to visualize how visitor traffic affects our home-life. I hope to have a solid plan for day visitors by March. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Shampoo song of myself.

This is going to read like sponsored content because I'm about to tell you a story about my bathing routine and truth be told my paycheck (let alone this farm) is supported by the sale of bar soaps and recently, a little body oil. Relinquishing wedding work and floristry made for some big economic shifts in the business of Saipua and my life - I had to cease most of my frivolous city type spending and adopt austerity measures.  I'm shy to get into this topic too deep as it's one I know we love to judge one another about. That aside, my relationship to money and luxury is so complex I could write multiple memoirs on the topic (lace it with flower arranging how-to pages in order to attract a publisher?) Suffice it to say I like extremes and my practice here knits together a deep sense of frugality with exemplary acts of hedonism. We do, after all, have a 4-foot disco ball in the big barn which we fire up not only for large dance events (save the date; SUPERNATURE is July 25th!) but also for the occasional mid week 'microdisco.'
Mediocrity is the enemy!
And so follows, my story. My song of shampoo.

All fall I used the scrap ends of shampoo bottles lying about my farm house; a place which housed on and off many women in the last few years and so there were a plethora of random travel sized bottles to use up, and then some quite luxurious bottles, half full and stuck deep in the closet. I went through them all, a desire to not waste anything, all the while in the back of my mind devising a plan to - only when this cleaning out of old shampoos was complete - I would go online and treat myself (dear god I'm getting sparkly telling this part) to giant brown bottles of AESOP shampoo and conditioner with the pump handles and then! I would be a complete woman.

I do all this and get to the checkout phase on the website of AESOP and stop. Days go by. 
I use a bottle of Dr. Bronners once and say never again. Every time I'm in the grocery store or food coop I peruse the haircare section but nothing seems right or good enough -which is also to say that nothing compares to the status-signaling brown bottles (the largest size!) that I have deeply sewn into a future version of my best self. 

More time passes, now I'm using a bottle of Johnson&Johnson no-more-tears shampoo reserved for my nephew. Jessa Blades, natural beauty extraordinaire visits us and I casually mention that I'm looking for a shampoo. She rattles off some small brands - all of which I immediately fail to register. 'And AESOP?' I ask. Full of synthetic ingredients. Which truth be told, never bothered me much - I don't need organic skin care I want packaging! I want gold!

What transpired from there was a dark cycle of weeks in which I would repeatedly tell myself that I would buy the shampoo if I accomplished certain goals around the farm. Then inevitably I would wisk away the reward away right at the end leaving myself feeling pitiful. This is a pattern I'm an expert in, and rather than try to unpack its origins (rooted surely in my suburban childhood shopping mall traumas) or analyze my sense of self worth I now try to reroute and reprogram when possible. Or as my therapist suggests; kindly acknowledge it with an "oh, there THAT is again" and move on.

It was haircare recently. This past summer it was linen sheets. Soon it will be something else that I begin to associate with my sense of 'deserving' and my ability to give myself permission to spend money. The work of capitalism is so deeply engrained in us, and our sense of pleasure, care-taking and well being. I think it's wildly fascinating and I enjoy pulling it apart at the edges of myself, for better or worse. 

I don't think about shampoo anymore because I sorted myself out this way -- I use my own saipua bar soap (clary sage recently) to wash my hair...I get a really thick lather going in my hands and wash the hair closest to my scalp. Then after the bath, I rub our new snake oil into my hair, just at the ends. This makes me very pleased, to have rerouted this obsession with products I make myself. I also really like the way my bathroom looks without branded products lying about.

You can make it too if you want:

SAIPUA 'SNAKE OIL' for Face and Body (and now also for hair conditioning) 

4.5 oz. grade A olive oil
3.5 oz. virgin organic deodorized argan oil
2.5 oz. virgin rosehip oil
a few drops of the essential oil of your choice -- (NOTE: don't overdo it with essential oils. When Jessa was here we had a conversation about how powerful and potent essential are, and how people tend to go a little gung-ho when using them. They can in fact be tough on sensitive skin and as with any potent plant preparation, require some respect or shall I say - the benefits are felt more deeply when one practices a bit of restraint with them. Easy for me to say, in truth I'm the one standing over Susan in the soap kitchen yelling MORE! MORE! as she works on scents with essentials. We contain multitudes.)



Wednesday, February 12, 2020



There has always been a blue heron here. There could be many, but I can't tell one from another.
I only ever see one at a time.

The heron seems to spend most of his time tucked into the depths of swampy areas around the farm. The way to see him is to walk along the edge of murk -- alone because he only flies in the presence of a single witness -- do this early in the morning or at dusk because he rarely flies mid day. You hear him before you see him, the sound of air displaced by his six foot wingspan as he scripts a path through the drowned out poplar trees in the beaver swamp. When you catch sight, it will confuse you; startle you as if you are seeing something you should not. A bird entirely too big. Impossibly elegant.

The way to see the heron, of course, is to never be looking for him.

In my early twenties I picked up a book of essays called How To Be Alone by one of my favorite writers (and birdwatcher) Jonathan Franzen. He takes a lot of heat for - being an asshole? - but I still like the way he writes - especially about the suburbs, modernity and our relationship to nature. At the time I bought this book because I thought it would give me insight as to why I always want to be alone.

A few years ago I dug this book out and brought it camping on an island off the coast of Maine in order to start breaking up with a boyfriend. The conversation was impossible, I did not know how to enter it. I thought I left this book intentionally in the cabin - imagining another poorly matched couple trying to sort themselves under the romantic guise of a rocky coast September getaway. And yet - when I swivel on my stool here in my office on the farm, a tiny room at the top of my house with a view of the farmyard and the place where I keep my personal books - there it is. Lurking on the shelf, an irritating creep of a book that never seems to go away.

Isolation is a leitmotif in these essays. I recall being enlightened by an excerpt about couples who fail to socialize together (a death knell for relationships). There are some correspondences with Don Delillo in which they bemoan the fact that no one reads anymore. The essays are full of delicious Franzen-ish whining about our wasted, watered down culture. I used to relish this sort of thinking but now I see it as a thin guise for the authors self imposed alienation.

It's easier to isolate than it is to connect. It's safer.

My personal struggle this winter has been how to keep my relationship from being consumed by my relationship to the farm; a dark sabotage pattern which I have watched repeat. I have to continually remind myself that I love James more than that pattern, I love who I get to be with him separately from my work here. It's confusing and I still feel like I lead a double life...

I was at a conference last week with 30 flower farmers from the North East. Everyone expressed their difficulty with 'work life balance' which made me think -- maybe the trouble is believing in balance.
Farming can be isolating; it is easy to fall into the trappings of 'no one understands what it's like' sort of thinking. But we urgently need more small scale farms and land-based businesses. And more importantly we need to connect those businesses together and also connect them to urban centers. Farming doesn't need to look the same way that it has for the last few generations. It can drop the leitmotifs of hardship and isolation, it can reorient creatively around different family structures and different economic models.

Farming is not everything! Relationships are; our connections to people, animals and place (land). All of the 'successful' farms that inspire me hold their power and wealth though relationships. Their brilliance emanates through community and communication. Growing the best flowers or tomatoes seems secondary.

I am gearing up for our 9th season here at the farm at Worlds End. A lot has changed and continues to change...Eric (though here right now helping prepare us for lambing) is farming in North Carolina at Bluebird Meadows and creating a life for himself more permanently in Durham. Zoe is off now in the world on an extended sabbatical and we don't know if or when she'll be back. It's impossible to express how deeply she has imprinted the character of this place and I just miss her terribly. Catherine, who has spent the last 5 months finishing her book here is helping us articulate the future of Worlds End and  brewing a new format her for her pedagogy work. James, my favorite bee-keeping DJ is planning the second annual SUPERNATURE disco (July 25, 2020) and helping to set up a more extensive pollinator program here with additional hives and a wildflower field remediation plan. Our farmer Meg is having a baby! and turning her focus more towards developing her farm down the road. My parents - so integral to Saipua and this farm - have just sold their house (after living there for 48 years!) and are moving upstate. We're building a soap factory here on the farm... I'm working on a cafe project in Brooklyn that will help integrate our work here with so many of our followers from the city...I'm working again with Deborah Needleman to develop her craft school programming this year with a Broom-making class May 18-22, a second coming of Basketmaker AnneMarie O'Sullivan in June and October and a natural dye collaboration and workshop with Sasha Duerr.

And of course flowers, still, and likely always. The floral residency program kicks off its second year in June -- thanks to those of you who've signed up.

Writing that all down makes me feel full, inspired and grateful. I've been silent lately. I tend to enjoy isolation, especially in winter. I like to be dramatic and moody by myself but it's not conducive to the work I want to do here, and to the other half of myself that regenerates and energizes through connection and sharing this place. So onward. The trope of the lonely heron aside. She likely has a siege of herons deep in that murk that I'm simply choosing not to see.

*Note; if you'd like to join us at the farm in 2020 there are lots of ways;

- There are 5 spots left in the floral residency program here.
- We're hiring! Check out the job listings here.
- We'll be having a work week in May that you'll be able to sign up for soon...
- We're shifting the Coyote Cafe lunch program to be a dinner series with four dates across the season.
- This season we'll be having 'open hours' for visitors to come see the farm, grab a map in the big barn and take a self-guided tour. Visitors can hang out in our pond side reading room and peruse a selection rotating thematic reading material and help themselves to the 'coyote cafe' snack bar. 
- We're (most likely) going to have a LAMB CAM up and running for the month of April where you can log in to watch the lambing barn 24 hours a day

Lastly, group of herons is called a siege, and a group of finches is a charm. A group of hawks is called a cast, a group of pheasants is called a Nye, and a grouping of snipe is called a wisp. A group of swallows is called a flight.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

fall updates


The frost came about a week ago and with it, a new breeding ram.

The ram arrived with a pair of big bearded men inside a trailer full of travelers. It was after midnight and the evening was excruciatingly drawn out. I tried and was annoyed by Rilke, let the dogs up on the couch with me in a moment of weakness and then passed the last hour engaged in an unsettling epic scroll, at the end of which I was seriously contemplating downloading Anna Wintour's Master Class (!)

Shortly after 1am the lights of the animal transport big rig flashed around my living room and I pulled on my gear and hiked up to the sheep. The frost had already fallen, the field frozen and crunching underfoot. Earlier, around dusk I had poked around the flower field, cutting some things to save for good measure. Frost is a strange moment, and stranger still for me this year when flowers seem to be failing me. Or I'm failing them. I try not to overthink it. 

The men take the ram off the truck and I wish I had the gumption or nerve to photograph this uncanny process because this small pretty ram lamb looks like he's being handled by big beefy body guards, one on either side of him as they escort him to the barn while 20 female ewes stand watch at the fence 50 yards away.

Caption would read: 1:25 am, enter the club.


Iterations. In farming, they fall in neat blocks; summed up in seasons and years. Farmers talk a lot about their work in these blocks like; 'year one' (a sandstorm of a time) or 'year five' (when most people find a stride). This was 'year eight' for us; we grew a lot more food with the help of Meg Paska and ran the farm with just women - Eric is living in North Carolina and farming at Bluebird Meadows in Durham. People ask me why I wanted to run the farm with women only and I pause; do I need to explain? The pervasive imperative for women to explain themselves is a poisonous pattern.
We were curious.
We wanted to.

That said, not describing some of the joys of it would be a disservice to the project, and in time I will reflect and share. Meanwhile there are some other housekeeping bits I want to bring forth here.

One is our Saipua wedding work is moments away from being closed officially. We stopped taking new inquiries about 8 months ago, and are now finishing out the last 3 (!) remaining contracts of our tenure. All the flowers we grow at the farm now will support the floral residency program and our own personal endeavors here; be it dying material for the wool program or floral based herbal tea blends we're developing with gardener Deborah Needleman.

In the spring we're moving the soap business to Worlds End where it will continue to provide the economic engine for the slippery experiment that Saipua has become.

This past weekend I worked on two weddings in the city, one at the castle, now run by the Marlow Group as an event space. I think its the best place to throw a party in NYC. My bias aside, the food (actually locally sourced meat and produce) is the most beautiful catering around. For a moment there in that beautiful sun lit space, surrounded by our farms flowers I thought - was I foolish to give this work up?


But for something new to emerge, I had to let this part of Saipua go. I think it became painstakingly hard to maintain emotional enthusiasm for strangers weddings. I ran out of steam, ran out of the energy to be present for clients in the way they deserved -- and my company, full of the most sensitive and sharp people in the floral world felt it too. It began to feel too much like a business, cold like so many of the wedding venues (wedding factories we call them) we were working at.

Some florist companies operate like a well oiled machine in the wedding industry. I look around and see them and applaud them. They act professionally and have clearly delineated boundaries intact for their staff and client relationships.

That was just never, ever going to be the case at Saipua.

We live in this culture that spreads a complicated message; 'do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life.' Buried in the underbelly of that sentiment is a sacrifice of one's personal pleasures and art for capitalism. Never have I felt so validated as when people started to want to pay me a lot of money to make flowers for them. In the decade that followed I was pulled into a complex monied world that was full of false notions around value and beauty. Let there be no confusion - the flower industry (not unlike the fashion industry) is absolutely exploitative and toxic. Efforts to combat that; composting, trying to pay people fairly, growing our own flowers were expensive and the majority of clients were not willing to pay for those improvements which were not visibly part of the beautiful product on the day of their event.

Our last wedding is December 7th. These last three are all very special and we will give everything we have got to making them the best. Then I'll be retired from the industry for good. I'm going to nurse my carpal tunnel wrist and focus on my floral residency program at Worlds End.