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.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

september work.

What is the work?
Is it to learn the piano? To get it tuned first, to find the man, to call the man, to leave the message.

My aunts both had pianos no one played. I studied their houses; both had velvet sofas, they always had drinks. I always either tended bar, learning to light matches or, I played the piano to the extent permissible. I liked to make moody music, depress the petal and pound the lowest keys. Perhaps I was learning abstraction then. There was a very dark and thick oil painting of a swampy woods in one aunt's piano room and I thought; Yes, this is right.

I find a piano teacher but she's not the right one. I tell her I play by ear and she says I need to learn the math of counting time. She attempts to decode 4-4 time for me then 3-4 time and I look around her living room at all the framed photos; an array of nephews in suits. Her piano is upright; shiny black and I can tell it is well oiled, easy-playing like a new casio. She invites me to her church via text message some days later. I imagine myself going, which is to say I wonder about what a woman like me wears to a church in the leatherstocking region of NY State on any given Sunday.

The keys on this mahogany grand piano are ivory and sour sounding. I inherited it some years ago. It has served as an oversized plant stand. The tuner, when he comes, says it is likely impossible to tune. Many of the wires are rusted and could break when winched. We negotiate slowly over the potential broken strings. Each string will cost $40 to replace. I see this is gambling. I say, lets plan to stop after 4 strings break and we'll reassess. (I would have gone higher.) I think, well he's no fun in bed.

Listening to a piano being tuned is a tedious tour through the swamp of ones unconscious. Which is to say, unpleasant. I continually winced. The tuner comes twice.

Some of the work now is now to find the right teacher. I think, she must be old and wear a lot of heavy silver and she must fall in love with me.

Other work is housekeeping, sure. I do this a handful because it's nice to give ourselves some easy work. Everyone I love is always trying to get me to make lists.

But then more work is to accept it, the golden rod, breaking in bright waves, insisting on September.
What happens on the outside, also on the inside.
Each time we get to choose; we can look around and say what will I save and bring forward and what will I let be finished?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

on symmetry

I became obsessed with symmetry some months ago. I would feel it more than see it, in an erotic sense or an emotional sense - everything in equal halves; I wanted to draw the straightest line down the middle of my body. I wanted to live on the center line of the Rorschach.

Nature throws a lot of symmetry. Teeth and toes as are horns and hooves. The liver really throws you off though as do the intestines and a spleen. I skirt these physical outliers and narrow my preoccupation to the metaphorical sense. Actions and reactions. Essentially Newtons third law. Maybe I'll teach a physics class at my new school.

Lusty for this new descriptive tactic, I began to silently categorize all of my experiences as functions of a sine wave. The amplitude of the crests corresponding to the troughs. A drought/a deluge. Ecstasy/Misery. Sometimes I save the water I wash salad greens in, the next week I take a bath. The pendulum swings.

It's what we didn't get as children, or in past consciousness that we so desperately crave now.

If I'm talking about symmetry, I may also be talking about karma. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I have a second cousin named Karma... as a child her name registered as notable. Even before I knew what the word meant (although can anyone know?) I knew it was very different than my name, and that she was different from me - her family different from mine. Its a reminder to me how powerful language - the act of naming, describing and labeling is. I like to pretend I could merge myself into the world of the animals around me who have no language. No math. For them relational hierarchy seems much simpler. The mystery of love reduced to nature's laws of gene distribution.

A mysterious anger visits me often. It is so strong I want to break dishes, slam things. I fantasize about being tied up and beat up in bed and then being cared for; my body oiled and wrapped in warm towels. If I allow it to fully boil then the heat dissipates and is followed by an overwhelming sadness. Does it matter where this comes from? I'm tired of intellectualizing it and trying to assign it's origin.

Symmetry or any other creative metaphor I dispatch hovers above the one terrifying thing I know to be true: in the end, I am always left alone with myself.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

musings on the shifting landscape of FLORISTRY

There is so much I have to tell you. But before I do, I have to say something about a comment I wrote on Instagram that seemed to hit a lot of nerves with people; you want to know more about what I think about the 'end of floristry.'  

A year and a half ago I was at breakfast in NYC with a mentor of mine bemoaning a talk I had to give on floristry and flower farming. This friend - a veteran of flower and gardening publishing - joked that I should just declare the END OF FLORISTRY; which gave us a good laugh. Perhaps we both were feeling exhausted by the tremendous arc of trends ranging from 'back to nature' florals, floral workshops, farmer/florists, dutch masters inspired decadence with peeled back tulips and roses, the celebration of weeds, anthuriums, spray-painted tropicals, dyed flowers, etc.

Where could the trends possibly take us from here except back to flowers in a vase...in water?

Dill, hollyhocks, phlox, crespedia, wild clematis, astilbe, yarrow and scabiosa
Over the years many students of mine have been desperate to find their own 'unique style' as they prepare to make a business for themselves and enter the enormous global arena of the internet. It's a lot of pressure to put on one's relationship to art and nature. I think about this way of artistry as being very much associated with an old view of art - the artist as singular. The artist toiling alone to channel the evocative for sale to the public. I think it's no wonder that 87% of artists in permanent collections are men - art and our formations around much of it's practice are riddled with patriarchy. 

Zoe Wonfor's sourdough cracker art.
I like to imagine a world where there is more blending of art into everyday work and practice. A friend came to visit this summer - I met him over a decade ago when he was a young performance artist and I was a curator in NYC. Now he's a teacher and I'm a farmer. We went for a walk in the woods.

As someone newly interested in teaching children, I was thirsty to hear about his classroom. He described in detail one of his lessons which led students through a reading of a classic Buddhist text to a sing-along of Fleetwood Mac's The Chain. It was a lesson about relationships. I realized his teaching practice is his art practice now. That's what I want in my life everywhere here. 

My trouble with floristry is this; as a profession, it perpetuates the idea that there is a correct way, a specific process for adoration and decoration with nature. I can show someone how to make an arrangement, I can show someone how to make a casket spray, but it's all mechanics and practice. You could just the same learn how to work an excel sheet or fill a cavity. 

I've watched countless students be afraid to handle flowers - hesitant to explore their own intuitions around color, form and texture because they believe there is a 'correct' way of doing it. What I want to teach, and make room to teach here at our new school at Worlds End is not how to arrange flowers or how to cook or how to make a garden. I want to give people an immersive experience of this place and the opportunity to connect with their own sense intuition.

Instead of asking is this good? I want them to ask do I like this?

Creating and making something from your own sense of knowing is to step inside the stream of mystery. It is a leap. It is to begin something without a plan, to feel through a process of making without expecting an outcome. Knowing and simultaneously not knowing. Thats when all the molecules line up, the waves multiply, a harmony emerges. 

We all need to have the courage to make new for ourselves. Continually and collectively. 

I'm not making an argument for florists to close up shop. In fact the opposite - I think more people should set up shop with flowers and food and nature based businesses. I think we need more people to do business differently and more importantly do business together. Networks of businesses in communities have compounded power and are better poised to tease apart the fabric of our systems in order for something new to emerge. Small businesses can share resources like freelancers, graphic designers, supply chains, bookkeepers, etc. They can form their own health insurance collectives, their own food coops. They can take care of each other better. This is a feminine economy.

Centauria Imperialis.

It's already happening in facets of the flower world. I see and talk to so many growers who are connecting with each other, helping one another and doing business together.

I see businesses like Fox Fodder Farm for example setting out to shift more resources to local small farms by reshaping the NYC flower market and attempting to blur the lines between retail and wholesale. And I'm in the process of helping some of my favorite Saipua veterans launch a new business called Et Vernal which will deliver more of our work here at Worlds End to city events. 

I've considered that perhaps my irritability with the floral world is simply a reaction to me not knowing or wanting to be a part of it anymore. I still introduce myself to strangers occasionally as a 'Florist.' But less and less.

I'm sort of making a new world for us over here now. 

Pickled celery from our garden.

FINE PRINT! I need to write more about all this, and I will. My astrologer, in my yearly leo checkup said I need to communicate more, and I will really try to do that. I want to do that. I have not found a rhythm of working on the farm and writing amidst our high season here which is so full of visitors who I want to spend time with. 

Thank you to those of you who are buying our monthly soap subscription online. A lot of effort has gone into trying to figure out how to make our farm and business more sustainable financially as we give up city event work (only 5 more, crazy)...and selling more soap is key to us being able to experiment here. So thank you. 

Thank you also to those of you who came to SUPERNATURE, the lamb meatball dinner disco. It was the best party we've ever thrown by far - all of you were so fun, such good dancers, jesus - and also so respectful of our farm and land here. The campground the next day was spotless. Save the date for SUPERNATURE 2020 -- July 25th.

And lastly; those of you who are considering our year long Gardening Course: this is going to be a real life changing commitment, and I encourage you to make the leap. You will emerge from the year confident in your own ability to grow your own food (and flowers) and have a new way of looking at your creative practice in nature. This is everything to us right now -- getting you here to show you how we're gardening and living, and then taking parts of that home to make good living and eating for your own families and communities. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

soap notes

It's a story I've told many times but I'm going to tell it again, differently tonight.

As a money making hobby, my mother, sister and I used to design and make garden ornaments and other various painted crafts in the mid 90's. We'd sign up for craft fairs and hawk our wares -- garden ornaments cut out on a jig saw in the basement and painted to be scarecrows, garden angels, and the like. Whether this stint was intended to be a lesson in entrepreneurial skills or an attempt to get the family doing things together to earn some mad money is besides the point - one fateful weekend, deep inside a mediocre craft fair at a stripmall in Tarrytown we found ourselves next to a soapmaker and my mother was captivated by the strange chemistry of cold-process olive oil soap. 

By this time, I was checked out - more concerned with sneaking off to TJ Max to buy age-inappropriate undergarments. A year or two later, our jig saw lay abandoned and my mother, newly retired from teaching, was laying the groundwork for a small soap empire. In 1999 she started a business called Creekside Soaps and took her soap on the road to fairs and eventually to the Peekskill farmers market. 

Away at college I would receive boxes of soap ends and VHS tapes with episodes of Felicity. 

20 years later Susan is still making soap, and it has been and remains the steady backbone of a business that has allowed me, and many others to follow our creative passions and build a rich community of friends and supporters -- and this weird wonderful farm. 

Lately, as I work with my mother and Bryony and Zoe to pivot Saipua away from weddings and events I think a lot about soap and how we can use it as a tool to fuel the work we're passionate about -- education, feeding people, and making beauty available to people across socioeconomic boundaries. 

I don't know anything about beauty products, I don't actually use any besides my mom's soap. I guess I sometimes use shampoo, whatever other people have in the shower at the farm, but I also just use her bar soap on my hair. I like that dry Nars lip pencil in 'Dragon Girl.' And I buy the mascara that comes in a pink and green tube -- maybe it's Mayballine?

I'm not here to tell you that I'm passionate about skin care or olive oil soap or essential oils. The soap is good, it's fantastic actually - but that's not what motivates me to sell it. What I am passionate about is family business and carving out new channels for 'business' that feel more holistic in the sense that they focus first on the health and well being of the people who work inside them. Including myself. And I'm also passionate about the lessons we can learn inside small thoughtful businesses -- ones having to do with economy, scale, limited resources and quality of life.

The soap is good, you should buy it -- but Susan is the real gem in all of this -- and I am really excited to continue to shape our business to allow for her to have more free time to get out of the soap kitchen and into the teaching arena again. On our agenda of Summer classes here at the farm -- not only is she going to lead some soap-making classes, but hopefully also a Business 101 class that aims to demystify the process and help more of you feel armed and equipped to take your own ideas and passions out into the world. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

cooking a pot of beans with dragons at the SAIPUA SCHOOL

Beans we grew and dried last fall. Scarlet Runner, Navy, and Purple Cow Peas. 
You wouldn't know this, but I'm excellent at impersonating Komodo Dragons, the largest lizards in the world. I started doing this to show my feelings to people I loved. Because feelings can be confusing. And dangerous. Reptilian.

Komodo's move sluggishly collapsing into each step. Fervently and silently they sample the air with their split lizard tongues, tracking prey by scent. Deaf and blind for all intents and purposes. 

Attacks are like lightning. If you were in the presence of a Komodo Dragon, you wouldn't know it until it was too late. 

I set off a series of things in motion about 18 months ago that I could not have fully understood at the time. Relationships changed in my personal life, and in my public life of Saipua I started toying with the idea of abandoning my identity as a florist. But more than that, I was in a longer process of altering deep patterns I had formed around work and success and I was making space to revaluate the value of beauty in our world and the ways in which we seek out, create and obtain meaning in our lives. 

As a florist, I'm like hired gun for conjuring beauty. Years ago teaching flower classes I would occasionally have a student mid-way through an arrangement give up and ask me to 'just make it for them.' Which I was happy to do, I was essentially being paid to perform as florist-teacher. And lots of people enjoyed that performance, learned something, had a nice afternoon. As did I.

Now I want to teach something different.

At the farm I have the opportunity to not only show people about how to make flowers but how to do all sorts of things. Grow flowers, grow beans. Use beans in flower arrangements, dry beans, soak beans (2 days before you plan to eat them), cook beans. A lot of people don't think about cooking with dried beans, but they should! They are the key to the future, along with more cereal (wheat and grain) crops. Sometimes I want roasted lamb with beans. So we raise some of our sheep for meat. If our sheep rotationally graze in the same field as the beans grow, then they spread their manure around, and we get better beans. And better flowers to set on the table when we make a special lamb dinner. And softer wool for the blankets we make.

I want to show people how to set the table. I want to show people about real economy.

For a long time I was confused about how to define this next chapter for saipua. How to talk about what I wanted here with flowers and farming, what our mission was going to be, how to make a living around agriculture.

There have been a lot of long months of relative stillness, my tongue flicking and tasting the air. Endless circular and sluggish conversations around business, capitalism, the selling of experiences, etc. Maybe you knew it all along, or saw it coming and maybe I did too, but was too deeply entrenched in the details of it to see what was emerging, what was coming into focus.

Worlds End, Saipua, The Coyote Cafeterias, all these things are all part of a SCHOOL with the simplest curriculum: HOW TO LIVE



HOW TO LIVE: is a phrase Andrea Zittel uses powerfully in her work and it's stuck with me since I first heard it. Zoe has spent time at AZ West and brought back many ideas from Andrea's projects there that have influenced our thinking to some degree here. Borrowing this phrase, which I can't seem to alter in any way to better explain what our mission is here, is a nod to a spirit of collectivism I hope to continue to weave across all sorts of groups, collective endeavors, businesses and schools which are 'up to stuff' in a similar spirit. The Cabbage SchoolSuccurroThe Root Community are a few that come to mind immediately in our circle...

CHILDREN: If you watch our instagram stories, you may be wondering where all the children have been coming from. In an unexpected turn of events, my nephew Finn, 5 years old has come to live at Worlds End for a while. This has been a stressful and enlightening experience for me. Some of the contractors who have been working to finish our visitor center have been bringing their children to work and so Zoe and I find ourselves in the middle of what is essentially a day care center in the middle of a construction zone in the middle of a working farm. It's exhilarating, emotional and absolutely dangerous and full of new modes of creativity for us that were previously locked. The last few weeks have confirmed for me two things; we absolutely need to have a program here for children, and I don't want my own. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

notes from here/building an Advisory Board

My winter of solitude is over, Zoe is back from her adventures and time at AZ West. 
The snowball gains momentum.

Thank you to all of you who signed up for our Residency Program. Many of you who didn't resister before it sold out have written to ask about additional weeks - we're considering adding a June week and a September week and should finalize that in the next few days. As always, signing up for the newsletter is the best way to be alerted to programs, etc. 

Finally, I'm working on forming a WORLDS END Advisory Board. A group of about 12 people from different backgrounds who care deeply about this place and what we're trying to build here. I'd like to find a lawyer (practicing in NY State) and a Licensed Architect. 

If you or someone you know might be interested in lending their knowledge to quarterly phone meetings and an annual in-personal meeting here at the farm, please have them reach out to me (sarah@saipua.com).