Tuesday, May 30, 2023

From Susan in the soap factory…


Susan writes from the soap factory…

Every once in a while we begin testing a new soap scent. It can be a long process, so not undertaken lightly.

Both Sarah and a private client have requested a Pine Tar soap. Ok…I’ve put it off a bit, because I’m not a fan of pine tar….

But then again…Sarah doesn’t like the Saltwater soap and it’s one of our biggest sellers. [See below]

Always a librarian, I embarked on the research first.

Pine tar is a very thick resin…kind of like molasses. And it seems that it makes the soap ‘trace’ very fast. That means that it gets thick quickly and is sometimes hard to get into the soap mold smoothly and without air pockets. Not something I’m a fan of.

First I read that you should mix first with some of the hot oils in the recipe. It helps to ‘melt’ the pine tar a bit and incorporate it smoothly with the oils. No need for an essential oil….pine tar has its own strong scent. This makes testing so easy….it’s the fragrance blending that takes so long when developing a new bar…

After looking at different recipes, I wanted to use our basic recipe (just 4 ingredients: olive, coconut, castor, and shea butter). I added 10% pine tar to our basic recipe and then recalculated the amount of lye it would take to saponify the whole batch.

Around the same time, I was teaching my Soap and Business Residency. Matthew, one of my students, was also interested in testing pine tar soap. So we divided a very small recipe (less than 1 pound) and tried it out. It came out great.

Later I made a bigger batch….just 2 pounds of soap. Still small enough to have good control over the possibility of a fast trace. I usually use an immersion blender to speed up the process, but it wasn’t necessary with the pine tar. Just stirring for a few minutes was enough to get a trace and pour it into the mold.

Next, I made a 15-pound batch. Testing a larger quantity means more heat is generated. And more heat means faster trace that can lead to soap so thick it’s hard to get it into a mold.

All is well….the pine tar is done….it had some good reviews from the staff.

The next buyers on our website get to try a bar.

Just put ‘pine tar’ in the note section and I’ll send you a bar…as long as the test bars last.

— Susan

Friday, May 26, 2023

Friday, May 19, 2023

the nature construct


Inside the ‘nature’ construct that seems to have been central to my work at Saipua, and here on the farm, is this ‘cameo’ quince, planted about a decade ago and blooming every year around the middle of May to an ever-shrinking florally-focused audience armed with clippers. The more for me!

I say ‘has been central’ because my thoughts on nature have been shifting fast alongside my bumpy migration away from urban floristry and into the rural fringe - ultimately a location better suited for contemplating philosophical and political questions I’m interested in spending my time on. The ‘nature’ of that floristry past was a prop of sorts, a decorative item that was an aesthetic addition to life, to apartments, to weddings, and to fashion shows. An evocative image most often consumed on a small screen. Happy to have provided that for many, and happy to still dabble in that work (teaching again this year after a year off and - last I counted - I’ll be making flowers for 4 weddings in 2023).

Blame what you want - the rise of monotheism, the bible, Decartes, Elon Musk - but we as a species have been distancing ourselves from our embedded earthly selves for a long time. The invention of the phonetic alphabet diminished the connection of language from any worldly phenomenon. (As opposed to - for example - the pictogram-based characters of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, which constructed a language whose symbols were rooted in earthly world objects and happenings.)

Where we went ‘wrong’ or how to make it ‘right’ are not the questions I’m interested in. Instead, I’m curious how we might coax forth a new paradigm that looks nothing like the ‘nature as resource’ place we’ve been in. I like to envision a new Genesis in which animals speak their own names to Adam while he listens…

I’ve been listening to the Joe Rogan show (probably not where you were expecting this to go). I think it’s wise to know the landscape as much as one can, and besides, he had on Michio Kaku recently, a physicist I have enjoyed listening to from way back when he had a regular slot on WBAI. Pentti used to listen to it after lunch when I came home from kindergarten.

Michio Kaku is known for birthing string theory. He is an avid futurist, a proponent of AI and colonizing outer space, and is obsessed with solving the God Equation (or the theory of everything). Hyper-optimized, masculinized sci-fi topics that generally land in a bucket I’ve labeled ‘circle jerks’.

I’m not advocating anti-tech, luddite realities. Our technologies are expressions of ourselves; from cave paintings to the alphabet to binary code to the rise of atomic computers (est. approx. year 2100 with 1M times the computing capacity of current hardware). These expressions stem from the basic drive we have as animals to continue our species and the very specific human desire to understand our world and where it came from.

As if it’s for us to know.

I’m attempting to write the text for the new Worlds End School website without using the word ‘nature’ because so much of our work on the farm is to center ourselves in relationship to the ecosystem. This is what embedded, embodied work means to me - who are you, right now, where you are, with those people right around you?

I don’t want us to get to the stars only because we destroyed everything here.

I am advocating for materialism in the philosophical, feminist sense; that only through direct interaction in the physical world will we have enough agency to evolve into who we really want to become. Not destroyers.

Friday, May 12, 2023

alt-hospitality /coyotecafe THIS SUNDAY! / SUPERNATURE TICKETS!


Welcome to our agriculture school - I love it here so much - I’ve been outside all day in the field and I’m so energized! Above is Mark and our three primary students - this year’s farmhand apprentices - William, Cyd, and Laurice. The three of them are all so different, and all so wonderful. They are committed to living with us for 6 months to help us run this place and learn everything that we do here from farming to soap making to floral design and more. All season long we learn from each other and experiment with different ways of living together and practicing hospitality…

 We’ve started using the term ‘alt-hospitality’ which is a riff from Zoe’s experimentation with ‘alternative-plumbing’ a few years ago when we were building this place and frustrated with all the swash-buckling contractors giving us hell over septic tanks and leech fields. Simultaneously theoretical and practical, “alt-plumbing” exists in the many outhouses, outdoor showers, washing machine salad spinners, etc that make up campus.

Alt-hospitality is similar in that it takes the bucket of traditional hospitality, dumps its contents, and then picks and chooses parts to create something new. Delicious food, candlelight, beautifully made beds? Yes. Front of house back of house paradigms? No. Serving one another? Yes. Thinking empathetically about what the person next to you might want or need? YES! Bringing to a place, person, or thing the same amount of energy you take away? YES. Money? Meh.

Money separates so many people in the world of hospitality. Where can you afford to eat? Who is in the kitchen? Where can they afford to eat? Wholly imperfect, our experiments with coyote cafe aim to create a new weird little farm-based ‘restaurant’ where we practice hospitality in new ways and play with the performance of showing off our gardens and food.

Come play with us! Every Sunday now through October 22nd we’ll be serving whatever we’re growing in the big barn from 12-4pm. You can enjoy this place and what we have to offer and give back to us if you like by dropping money in the donation box (or venmo) or offering your time, skills, or ideas in exchange. What matters the most to me is that you get here.

The menu this sunday is a moving target! William and I are cheffing and planning a giant lightly-dressed-to-impress arugula salad, probably polenta, definitely home made butter with Kelsey’s cow’s milk (!) radishes, and a 99%-sure rhubarb galette for dessert.


I can’t wait to celebrate this farm, our relationships, (and my birthday!) with all of you. This is the 4th annual SUPERNATURE and it’s the best night of the year… 

Friday, May 5, 2023

good morning from the flight deck


My first airplane ride was when I was 13; my parents put me on a flight from NY to Toronto to be with my Aunt Seija who would prepare me for my inaugural trip abroad; Finland, the family’s ancestral home. I remember the careful consideration of what to wear on the plane (I was taught we dressed up to fly) and that smoking was still allowed on planes. In Finland I remember the prolific and beautiful cakes, the excellent makkara (Finish for sausage), the Savolina Opera Festival in a great Castle, midnight sun and feeling incredibly homesick.

Since then I’ve traveled a lot all over, mostly for work. I don’t like to travel much anymore. I like to stay on the farm. I like my dogs and my sheep, my employees and the work we do. In fact, when I boarded a flight last week to visit a friend/former student and see her new land (!) based (!) business (!) I was jolted by my unfamiliarity with airport life and reminded once again what an odd microcosmic cross-section of humanity is on display in airports from dramatic displays of basic needs to stunningly overt portrayals of classism. I smile a lot in airports at whoever will look my way - which if you know me is probably shocking because I’m not a smiler - but I think people need human support in airports. But airport humanity is not what I came here this morning to discuss. What I want to talk about is the incredible rigor and structure that supports flying in general and how I came, Thursday night, to see the advantage of structure in a new way…

I am that person who always leans to the window to look at everything that is happening on the tarmac, the hustle of skymeal trucks, luggage trains, and air traffic controllers. The communication rigor: the checks and cross-checks and the phenomenon of the control tower. Such intricate structure allows for such an incredible feat - 45,000 flights handled by the FAA daily

If it were up to me, I would cancel the global economy and ground all air traffic in order to give the most species a chance to survive climate change. If that were to happen so many structures would disintegrate and others would start to emerge…I encourage this fantasy in a positive light (i.e. instead of the unraveling of civilization at this bifurcation point; try to imagine it’s RISE).

One portion of my adult education at the boarding school which is Worlds End is devoted to making or getting as many of my needs met from my immediate surroundings. To take the end of a thread and follow it all the way back to the source: the energy of the sun. To be able to unfold the entirety of a meal, an article of clothing, a cup, or a structure in one place is an incredibly powerful teaching tool as well as a spiritual practice of being in relationship with the materials and beings around you. I’m not an overtly spiritual person but I become very moved by the intricacies of mutually beneficial relationships, symbiosis, and continually locating myself inside an ecosystem. 

I’m continually struck by the power of narratives. I’ve always told myself I was terrible at structure. Through confirmation bias, I reinforced this narrative over and over again. When I was looking at the airport last week I was seeing all sorts of immutable structures - from security checks to the schedule and methods used to clean the bathrooms to the protocols of ordering at Starbucks. Despite how you feel about airports, they are miraculously efficient feats of engineering. I thought; how do I implement more structure at Worlds End/Saipua in order to achieve the miraculous feat of engineering new ways to be in relationship with our world in order to help conjure new paradigms?

I’ve been struggling through Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. She describes the importance of seeing the globe from space as a pivotal moment in our existence, the Archimedean Point at which we can consider earthly nature objectively and separate ourselves from it. Flying into ATL I was struck by the scale of shipping/distribution centers. All the stuff in the world that we figure we need, then figure out how to make, and then figure out how to distribute. It’s interesting to catch myself thinking that I’m above that. As if I don’t belong to that nature down there that buys toilet paper, pens, apple products, all sorts of polymers for various farm applications, unitards for my imagined ballet practice, episodes of Succession, and all the materials that stack up behind the physical production of such a feat. Above it all, cruising at 40,000 feet!

I laugh at myself now and my hubris. Here’s the course correction: perpetually locating myself in these systems, mapping the coordinates of my embodied self in the physical realm with its complex web of relations. Which is to say avoiding the dogma of do’s and dont’s and instead working to consider my choices within the framework of what it is to be me, today, operating inside the various systems that make up civilization and the natural world’s infrastructure that it’s teetering on. How do we tinker with those systems when can we work completely outside them?

[I know you are probably so sick of this example, but it’s a useful playing card for me: the sweaters that Susan knits from yarn I spin from our sheep’s wool - this is an article of clothing I wear most days and that operates as a powerful example of tinkering outside systems (i.e. an article of clothing that comes into existence outside of the fashion, textile, manufacturing industries). Food grown here and served here Sundays in coyote cafe is another example, although one could find holes in this - we buy our seeds, supplies, etc and our food is influenced by the culinary trends of the day, etc. I think it’s better to strive towards ideals than be obsessed with perfection on the journey. Anyone living in a city and growing a cherry tomato plant is doing this work when they garnish a salad with something they grew. I do have a more critical eye for the expensive greenwashing that goes on in the fiber world as it intersects with fashion; there’s a VC-backed cashmere company that works with Mongolian nomadic goat herders and gives them fair wages for their fiber. I like any farmer getting paid more but something feels off with the optics and I don’t like that it’s still a system that links the wealthiest people in one part of the world to the poorest people in the other with only the whisper of relationship brought to you by some highly stylized journalistic photos of Mongolians and their goats on the open range. I mean, that’s a sort of double consumption.]

And before I close, there’s another important course correction: I am capable of creating and sustaining structure. Worlds End wouldn’t be where it is today without all the various structure that’s been built and implemented there over the last 10 years. We eat oatmeal, without fail, every day for breakfast. Some of us more enthusiastically than others.