Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Teaching through exposure

In last weeks newsletter (are you still not getting it?! Signup HERE) I promised I would share three distinct sparks that altered the course of my life - moments that exposed me to a world or possibility that I had not previously considered. 

The first was an article in the NYT art section about a gallery show that made me think the art world could be different. Having recently arrived in NY from a crummy art school with no direction and no connections I worked tooth and nail in multiple unpaid internships in several rather terrible gallery situations to eventually land my dream job at Exit Art a few years later.  

The second was flowers - I had never considered flowers or floristry until I was gifted a most unusual and beautifully wrapped bouquet of flowers for my 25th birthday. I became obsessed with the shop they came from (a now closed little shop called Rosebud on Union and Hicks Street in Brooklyn, buying just a stem or two on my walk back to RedHook from the F Train.  A few months later I was allowed to make the arrangements for Exit Art's gallery openings and I was off and running through the flower district in NYC thirsty to learn the name of every flower and branch. In 2006 SAIPUA, the combination of my mothers soap hobby and my new found flower obsession was born in a dilapidated storefront on the main drag of VanBrunt Street. The rent was $1000/month! (If you go to red hook now, it's currently the home of Thank You Have a Good Day.)

The third bifurcation point: my accidental run in with a charging herd of sheep being driven by a sheepdog in 2008 when buying cheese from Wood Cock Farm in Vermont. The daughter of the cheesemaker was loitering as we were buying sheeps milk ricotta and asked if I wanted to see their flock. Their sheepdog slipped out the door behind us and without warning - embarked on a furiously fast 'come by' driving the hundred or so sheep towards us in a white fluffy sea of terror - I thought I was going to be obliterated. 'Just stand still' the daughter said to me, bored with this tsunami and annoyed at her dog. I left there with a note pinned in the back of my mind: I wanted that scenario for myself one day.

Now here I am holed up in my little apartment white-boarding up a storm; attempting to divine the 2023 calendar season at Worlds End from a litter of post-it notes. It's a complex choreography to place visitors, students, staff and family into a structure and calendar of events that has a corresponding budget of resource allotment (income vs. salaries // energetic input vs. output). 

I have come to love this winter activity of imaginative planning - when it's all abstracted and anything is possible...when I might still say - lets scrap it all and plant a giant corn maze! (I mean, not no.)

Irregardless of the direction the season takes us, I'm committed to keeping this project porous, open to changing, and ensuring that the farm always has many points of access for all kinds of different people. The simplest access point; come visit and tour and eat on our OPEN SUNDAYS (Coyote Cafe re-opens on May 14th 2023). A more complex access point; joining us for an entire season as a farmhand/apprenticeship

The teaching and exposure that happens here is paramount to my personal desire to build a place so full of aching beauty and uncanny utility. A place where all sorts of interesting people and things are happening in a hive-like environment. Where I can continually be inspired and learn just as I inspire and teach others. 


In the fall of 2021 I posted something on instagram about what you all could imagine teaching if you came to worlds end. I was so moved by your responses I put them in a spreadsheet to digest later. I pulled it out yesterday and posted the first 100 responses below here (you can also see and add your own teaching desires to the post which is now pinned to the top of the @saipua instagram page.)

natural dyeing, garment building
documentary filmmaking/storytelling

develop recipes, write cookbook, research and save family recipes for posterity

art of napping, balance of eating energy food & exercise, good manners, how to play cards, how to happily be with yourself, benefits of cold showers, how to take exceptional self portraits (not selfies)

chicken slaughtering, soil science, delivering babies/inserting IUDs, trailer backup, scheming about business ideas and politics
how to make a butter biscuit

how to sustainably forage edible/medicinal plants, how to combat plant blindness, make bitters/botanical mixology

Mah Jongg, how to make the best tuna, chicken, egg salad

how to ice dye, tie dye, weave, yarn dye

how to bake with intutition, clean without harmful chemicals, infuse herbs and flowers into ice cream/sorbets
positive psychology

looking, walking, asking questions, being together - comes from academia

nature poetry in various languages, ecocritical theory
Cyanotypes, nature art

GF desserts using floral/herbal flavor profiles

basic DIY home repair - carpentry and woodworking

how to create flower essence and commune w/plants
soap making

process or intuitive painting for perfectionists

business values and conscious leadership

basic bushcrafting, making fire, tarp shelter, axe skills, basic campfire cooking
women and utopian vision

film photograph in nature, breaking up with plastics, intro to herbalism w/focus on chronic illness, disability, inflammation

meditation, breath work, setting personal boundaries, living with intention, eating and living w/the seasons, group work connecting w/self

ecologically focused landscape and garden design large and small scale

how to build your perfect unique lifestyle business

how to make friends w a plant, how to make a book w a single sheet of paper, how to introuce youself without mentioning capitalism

poetry writing from natural world, oral history storytelling

poetry workshop based on experiment/techniques from Bernadette Mayer
pie baking

mindful marketing for artists/creators looking to attract ideal clients

the art of reinvention, pleasure stacks, nature bathing

white affinity group exploring/disrupting whitness, white supremacy, white folks tuition will subsidize bipoc/black and poc affinity group to come do their work

qigong, chinese medicine lifestyle principles

The Art of Travelogue, paints, writes, draws impressions of where they are
Cooking classes, Japanese ink art

how to replicate native flowers/plants in paper

filing system and organization tips for homes,w/ an understanding of the creative spirit

Learn to Love Marketing your small business starter journey
Cooking classes focused on spices

balancing your energy, cocahing workshops to increase self-knowlege and self-love for more natural way of living
broom making

agricultural education, basic medical education

good manners before they die out completely

@heysisterseasons, teaching about menstrual cycle through nature and climate change
how to build a fire

healthy vocal production, garden design, how to look at photography and take more interesting pictures
hide tanning

distillation, enfleurage, incense making

cultural cooking lessoms from women around the world
mindful foraging and wreath making

how to make bread, yogurt, jam, how to knit, wearable flowers

how to make paper flowers, moths, butterflies etc. if it grows or flies we can make it in paper

how to make a silver cuff, hand built or wheel thrown vases and planters

history of art, premodern European art but would deep dive into whatever period
knitting and spinning

botanical drawing or plein aire painting workshop
ice dyeing
@smudge_studiobk waterlcolor

how to develop and use intuition, use breathwork for healing, personal growth, community care

weaving with foraged and naturally dyed materials
bread making

how to make a perfect chocolate cake

photography and digital marketing for small floral businesses

"magical realism" - creative practice involving movement, writing, drawing, roomscaping, adornment
rest as regenerative cerative practice
help teach a writing workshop

photography, how to use a DSLR for video, editing, flower arranging, film photography, film elmulsions w/polariods,smaller scale studio lighting, how to make delicious ice cream with unusual flavors

photography - intro, film or digital, how to make my Grammy's risotto, how to give cranky cat pills and ointment

natural dye course, how to press flowers

visible mending, any kind of knitting, hot water bath and pressure canning, sourdough bread and crackers, gingerbread, pizza in home over, foolproof foccaccia

floral bartending, dance party mix tapes
large scale pinch pots (or any scale)

natural dye with food waste, flower, bioregional seasonal plants, local wool and basic spinning, herbal body care, community space holding, cooperative existence
bundle dying

mending, charcoal drawing in nature/figure drawing to lift creative block and to accept phsyical form

@kylecook.custom can teach furniture making techniques like hand tools and dovetails

recognizing signs of burnout, self care

how to print and dye with flowers, make your own apothecary prepartions, make the best ghee, congee, bone broth, reiki, yoga, meditation
the possibilities of cooperatives
moccasin or simple sneaker making

Personal nature color wheels or finding color inspiration in nature and creating a palette around the choices

how to make large scale arrangements with foraged things, how to make really yummy salad
how to make sugar flowers

still life styling and photography with seasonal fruits veggies and flowers
photography in rural context
meditation, yoga

Feldenkrais, relaxi taxi, how to slip in inappropriate jokes into conversation

memoir and personal narrative writing

holistic vaginal health, navigating western healthcare through woman positive and sex positive lens

print workshops - would love to learn more about your space, timing, plans maybe they align with mine

Thursday, November 24, 2022

On work.

I hear all the time from local business owners and my neighbors the same statement: ‘No one wants to work anymore.’ 

There is a lot that we could unpack from this very specific location of rural upstate red-county truths; but I might argue that people are simply not willing to do the jobs that society offers anymore. The old ways of working are simply - not working. 

I think about work all the time and how to re-evaluate it here on the farm. 

At present, the larch trees are turning and dropping their needles after all the maple and oak leaves seem long fallen, it’s as if we get a second autumn. We deserve it I tell myself. 

When I first landed here 11 autumns ago I thought the trees were sick and dying. I was sick myself at the time over climate change, preoccupied by news; guzzling and drunk on liberal doomsday fantasies. (To think that was a time before Trump, before the loss of Roe…)

When the needles fall it sounds like rain on the deck of my cabin - I often can’t tell the difference. They get in everything - the dog gags them up in coughing fits after they stick to her frisbee. The needles end up occupying a notable percentage of our kale and carrot salads - so much so that I feel compelled to google their toxicity (moderately tolerable.)

In my daily chore routine at the farm, I spend a significant amount of time sweeping the larch needles from the deck of the cabin before I bring in firewood and water. This is work I think - small work I do as a part of the larger work in this place. (But what constitutes large and small work anyway? and to whom? What is meaningful work?)

Almost none of my friends have corporate jobs anymore; few of them have 'careers' that I could easily describe in the way my parents might have; Susan: teacher, Pentti auto-body repair man

Many of the brilliant people who have built this project over the years and gone off for their own endeavors, have work and projects that are beautifully difficult to describe in career or corporate business speak. Most of them I would categorize as artists - a useful catch-all for the intersection of work and the manifestation of creative desire. They work for money - Taryne and Zoe are installing a plant wall at the Uniqlo on Broadway in NYC as I type this - and make strange worlds in their own time see: Takata, Fuzz Industries, Secret Meeting.

Many people I know are in transition. Close friends have taken time off or removed themselves from their careers in order to revaluate their lives. One might see these transitions as the stuff of mid-life crisis, couched in a current milieu of existential narcissism, but a lot of the people I'm talking to are figuring out how to position themselves between the need to earn a living and take care of themselves and their families and how to make (or be a part of) meaningful changes in the world. 

Being with oneself outside of the cultural apparatus of career can be an excruciating process. Career is identity, stability, and it leads to predictable outcomes. One knows how to answer questions about oneself at cocktail parties. 

I think we’re walking into a future where people won’t have jobs anymore.  People will always perform ‘work’ (as all living things in nature do). They will string different types of work together for survival and for celebration. Some will focus on highly specified work others work will vary widely. But the idea of having a ‘job’ will be fade into history. People will follow leaders and work together with others but there will be no more bosses. Some people will still be miserable when they have to do work, some will always resent working, some people will die working. Some people will do certain kind of work in order to avoid other kinds. (Sweeping is this for me.) But working will just feel like living. 

James is here and says that my attitude is optimistic; he introduces me to a more cynical future:  we will all be debt slaves in Martian colonies serving Lord-Emporer Elon Musk. One might also consider the ‘company-town’ model of live-work employment illustrated in chilling detail in Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You.

Certainly the essay On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber addresses the trouble with managerial capitalism (i.e. once upon a time there were only workers and capitalists) and it's scripture of organized hierarchies (teams, departments, administrations, etc). As the work of the world becomes more automated, we've invented meaningless jobs to keep people busy. Because people who are working all the time (and consuming with their earnings in their free time) make for reliable members of society - Graeber argues that happy people with free time are dangerous to the ruling class.

I like to imagine specific paradigm shifts and it occurs to me that maybe there is a future where we don't have 'white collar' jobs anymore. Where there are no more corporations. Where there are no more doctors or lawyers or accountants. No more Firms. No more industrial agriculture, no more prisons. Where the work of these types of people and places is done in more localized, relationship-based ways. Some people will still be healers, others organizers or numbers people, we’ll all be engineers in some ways. We’ll all be artists and we’ll all be more connected to the physical needs of our survival.

Emergence is new unrecognizable forms lifting out of old ones. I see it like a magic eye poster. I think am I seeing the dolphin!?


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Notes on re-worlding

There is a story I tell on farm tours and in interviews about a sweater my mom made for me from my favorite sheeps wool. (Gracie pictured above.)

Said sweater is black-ish made entirely from my favorite ewes wool, Gracie, RIP. I say black-ish because wool tends to bleach in the summer, just like hair can, so often black sheep go a bit brown-gray at the tips. They also grey with age, and so the color of this sweater - with it’s wool spanning three years of shearings - cannot be said to be pure black. 

The wool was washed in the bathtub with fleece soap. Line dried, and then brushed out in long strips in order to get all the fibers going in the same direction. This creates what’s called ‘roving’ which you take to a spinning wheel. The wheel twists the individual fibers together making threads. Then you take the threads (three in this case) and twine them together to make yarn (3-ply in this instance - thus the heft of the sweater, though 2-ply is also common). 

The sweater weighs about 2 pounds. It’s a simple crew neck, and 3/4 sleeves so I can work in it without getting my sleeves in muck or water troughs. Because it is so thick and heavy, it feels like armor when I wear it. It collects bits of hay and seeds; so I begin to resemble a barn sheep in winter. 

We’re animals enmeshed.

It took a little more than three years to make, and remains one of the most valuable objects I own. Here it is, last night on my way to chores: 

So how might we imagine putting a price tag on this item? Even before all of Susan’s labor, there was the labor of Eric and Zoe (shepherding during that time) caring for the sheep, moving their fencing every 3 days to new pasture, feeding hay in winter. We could add up the price of their labor, the cost of hay per sheep, the cost of various infrastructure and the diesel fuel used to maintain pasture. Gracie herself was a purchase way back in the very beginning of my time as a shepherd I paid $450 for her. If I loosely add up a handful of numbers we get a price tag somewhere in the realm of $13,000 for the sweater. 

Of course most sweaters are not made this way. They are made in huge batches, using machines all along the way - machines from shepherding (moving sheep with drones) to the knitting machines of clothing factories. 

When we start to unpack how we might get a $45 wool sweater in this world we might see that there is always exploitation lurking behind some part of the process. Some person, animal or environs were stripped of comfort, dignity or health in the process. This is the nature of profit, of wealth accumulation. I’m so tired of hearing about sustainable profit and responsible growth in ‘green businesses.’ 

‘World-building’ for me is creating a tiny eddy off of the main whirlpool that is contemporary life. It starts with untangling some of the threads of our basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, socialization). And centering the work of being in relationship; between me and my sheep, the sheep and the pasture, the sheep and the parasite load…between me an my fellow farmers, my parents. This work doesn’t have monetary value.

‘World-ing’ in this way of agricultural practice, or land-based business creates a liminal space where I can have one foot in the old world and one foot in a new world. The process of having your legs split on two unconnected rafts, and trying to balance is how I feel all the time, and this is my work and it will be likely for the rest of my life. 

However, Saipua is not a farm business - this is a soap and floral company. The lines are blurred now that Saipua is fully integrated into Worlds End Farm. I have not spent enough time marketing soap these last few years. Partially because I’m busy being the manager of the farm, attending to livestock, hosting and cooking for visitors, etc. My priorities have been building Worlds End, but if we don’t have a business that supports the farm, we don’t have a place to have these conversations, and to do this work of world-building.

Compromise has always been incredibly hard for me. I divert so quickly to all-or-nothing thinking. But this summer I had to face the hard decision of selling my sheep and letting staff go in order to keep from having to sell Worlds End. So many sleepless nights and then waking up to cook our beautiful food for visitors who were in awe of our work. A burned out, exhausted farm staff, paired with wide eyed exuberant visitors. An ecosystem out of balance (and eerily reminiscent of when I shut down The Castle, our floral studio in Red Hook Brooklyn.) Part of me feels ashamed writing this, but I think a larger part feels it’s important to share with those of you have followed along and supported us or are struggling with similar problems…

So here I am again, re-organizing and telling you about it. In farming - especially with livestock, I always say the farmer has to come first. In other words, the farmer has to be healthy and functioning in order to take care of any animals (this comes up especially in times of crisis such as dealing with sick or dying animals…it’s essential to maintain perspective.)

Four of us manage this farm and business (Susan, myself, Mark and Kim). People visit and wonder where all the staff is, a testament to the amazing efficiency of our team but an indicator of how understaffed we are. Two weeks ago I made the difficult decision to end our public season early - closing Coyote Cafe and our cabin stays - in order to focus on restoring our health and sanity.

I have to commit to selling more soap and floral work so I can fund the work of the farm experiment. So I’m asking you, dear reader - Do you need soap? Or, are you or your friends hosting an event in the Hudson Valley and in need of floral arrangements? Do you have any ideas about how to operate a family business from your home in the current era of late stage capitalism? If so, email me.

Thank you always for following …and for your thoughts, words of encouragement and criticisms. I’m going to start pushing soap like a good little capitalist while continuing my work of worlding at Worlds End, endlessly searching for the portal which might deliver us into something new.

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


"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.