In a nutshell, and as seen on their website, the aim of Community Solutions “is to educate people about ways to make their communities more self-reliant and resilient.” However small this sounds in scope, I can assure you that there is A LOT that fits into this mission. In addition to the nearly year-round educational workshops and annual conferences that they host, they are a magnet for field research at all levels of academia. Elementary school children are bused in to examine bluebird boxes, make garden beds, and learn about soil testing. Local colleges and governmental / nonprofit entities such as The Nature Conservancy and Central State University have found Agraria – a Community Solution owned-and-operated “educational and research center that explores and demonstrates the benefits of regenerative practices” – to be a suitable site for field studies as well. In addition to educational / research opportunities, Agraria consists of plots of farmland available for leasing to farmers. This is all in the name of supporting the individual farmers who practice sustainable agriculture as well as the larger, regional food system as a whole.
The vast majority of the work I do as a co-op student worker with Community Solutions is related to Agraria. I have been compartmentalizing my tasks over the 30 hour work week as maintenance work, event-specific work, and personally-led projects. Some days I’m working on the weekly tasks such as mowing the lawn, weeding, and putting together brush piles. This is endless and this work is a staple to any sort of land management activity done on the area of land we are working on regenerating. I love this work as it gets me outside which, whether on or off shift, is always a plus. I have initiated some personal, mutually-beneficial projects for myself as well, such as creating wooden signs to mark different parts of Agraria. This has been a rewarding experience for me as it gives me the opportunity to work with wood (an interest of mine), a sense of creative control and ownership over the work I’m doing, and pays me to learn a skill. A win-win-win situation. This upcoming week, myself as well as Adam Green will be working on a biennial soil test which involved much research, many phone calls, and document-sifting through our cloud. We will be collecting soil cores from 120 different sites on the property and shipping them off to two different labs to test for a myriad of soil metrics. This aligns with Agraria’s mission to educate, which involves an incredible amount of monitoring the ecosystem with regard to soil and water quality, bird populations, and the health and prevalence of indicator species on site.
Any hesitation I had about co-oping locally this final quarter of my Antioch college career has been more than abated. My previous co-op locations at Antioch were in Berkeley (CA), NorCal, and Israel, respectively – I always had buzz around going off on an adventure, to a location foreign to me. However, the value of co-ops extends far from where they take me (maybe where in the metaphorical sense would more accurately capture its benefits). My co-op at Community Solutions has really worked perfectly on many levels – 1. It is an outdoors job that is actually benefiting my health rather than a desk job enforcing a sedentary lifestyle I am already to prone to fall into and 2. I really believe that what the world needs is the work that Community Solutions is doing. Fostering a healthier, stronger connection to nature through their educational programs and working towards a healthier, more sustainable food system. The more I learn about “the real world”, life after college, through my co-ops, I am not getting more jaded and inclined to settle. Rather, I’m becoming more and more convinced that there are even more amazing opportunities out there than I thought available.
I’m not sure what my co-op blog post means to you, nor what insight or enjoyment you hope to gain from reading this. But my motivation for writing it—outside of its obligatory nature as a co-op assignment—is to give myself space for reflection and to process what’s happening in my life now over co-op.
I signed a contract. Between me and my employer, the Solar Living Center in Hopland, CA, there was a thirty-page packet of information that I agreed to adhere to, including the work hours required, the policy on taking days off, liability waiving, etc.—the whole nine. After spending one day here, I realized that either this contract was written years ago and is now an unacknowledged formality or is something that only gets brought up at times when enforcement is really needed. This place is chill and, much like Antioch College or an old Dutch East India trading ship, you get out what you put in.
Our “intern manager” is really the program manager who just happens to have more time than any of the other paid staff to handle us interns, who have been tasked to grow, maintain, and ultimately sell wheatgrass to a local co-op, be fully responsible for the garden space on-site, live communally and maintain the space we share in an orderly fashion, and random other as-needed tasks. The idea is that we are responsible for facets of the institution and it is largely up to us to figure out our own system and how to elicit positive results. It’s an environment I’ve found I work well in; I am learning a lot and enjoying the creative problem-solving needed to be successful here.
However, I can’t help but return to the fact that the more I do, the more I leave with. That is, if I leave with the knowledge of how to operate these systems, who do I pass the torch to? Somebody here still needs to know how to grow wheatgrass. My mind wanders to Antioch College, to all the amazing initiatives that still exist there but also the ones lost due to a lack of accessible institutional memory able to be drawn from after the individuals responsible for its birth left. To curb the often frustrating learning curve here, I am some other interns are planning on leaving some form of transitionary document or video for future interns to learn from. At the very least, it will solidify and provide closure to my time spent here.
This co-op has brought me to a cabin in the woods, nestled deep within the serene hills of Berkeley, CA. Days find me chopping firewood—pine or birch on a good day, oak or redwood on a great one—ax striking true with the grain of wood placed methodically atop a properly smithed anvil, the smelted steel forged in a place and manner only made known to us through the meticulous note-keeping mandated by the priestly caste of the time, written laboriously by the right hands of parish boys on scrolls of high-quality lambskin. The spoils of my work lay destined for a wood-burning stove to slowly char them throughout the night as the temperature drops to a biting 7 degrees centigrade.
The remaining 10% of daylight hours are dedicated to tending to my subsistence vegetable garden and gathering mushrooms for a root-heavy soup stock that takes 10-12 hours to reduce to the appropriate concentration (I like it thick, I like it viscous. Throw plenty of gristle in there, too; if done right, the stock should taste plenty bitter from the roots and feel oily on the tongue from the cartilage. This last part is mainly thrown in for texture, with the end product resembling a bubble tea saltier than any kind you’ve ever tasted and made out of game meat). I sup eagerly, the speed of my slurping due as much to my zeal for this dish as it is to the fact that I probably burnt anywhere from 2,200-3,000 calories earlier in the day while gathering and chopping all that firewood. Needless to say, I sleep well; so well, in fact, that I often can’t wake up early enough in the day to get started on the goddamn soup. Even more than the stove-top time, the real bottleneck is the root prep.
Okay, I’m going to be real with you. None of the words you see typed above are based on any sort of reality. Not my reality anyway. But I’m sure you already knew that. I’m not chopping wood and haven’t done so anytime in the past four years. In fact, if there is an opposite of that, I’m doing it now.
Eating a scone, wearing all earth tones, I am currently looking like a douche in an entirely black and white establishment that can’t seem to decide if it’s a single-origin fair trade coffee roaster or a micro-winery. Before 5 p.m. it’s all diuretics but, sharply after business hours, it’s rosé and Malbec. I’ve been here for the transition and it’s energetic for sure. They don’t serve food, only nourriture, and vintage movie posters from the 1950s in a variety of romance languages line the all-white walls. There’s an artist statement for each one, not written by the person who designed the posters but instead by someone 60 years later, even douchier than me, who called it concept art and swept in to receive undeserved credit. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city, but the gentrification is strong with this one. They got me to pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee and I have no doubt they’d probably get you too.
So, co-op, right—the reason this blog exists for me to submit this off-track post to in the first place. My co-op is twofold, but half of it (or 22ish hours a week) is spent working doing onsite maintenance and minor construction for Urban Adamah, a non-profit Jewish urban farm in northwest Berkeley. You might be asking what exactly that combination of words means in this context. Well, it visually expresses itself as a farm/garden space on a 2.2-acre lot in the city. They don’t sell their produce, milk, or eggs; instead, it gets given away for free to those in need at a farmstead once a week or is sent to the Berkeley Food Pantry. It is largely an educational facility so they offer a three-month fellowship program for young adults, as well as a summer camp and workshops throughout the year. My work there entails shoveling gravel to place in a water-filtering swale, helping put up a storage shed using Ikea-esque instructions, and moving large amounts of wood from one area to another—not too glamorous, but nobody claimed the upkeep of a farm ever was.
I also have a long-distance job with a Jewish fundraising organization in Cincinnati. What I do is go to community events, Jewish and otherwise, and talk to people. My goal is to find out how to build community in a city landscape and write weekly write-ups with pictures and send them to my supervisor back in Ohio. It’s essentially research and development for this fundraising organization trying to put on effective events. They know of Berkeley as a progressive area and are interested in how west coast Judaism expresses itself. I love it; it pays a stipend, the work is fun, and it ensures that I don’t just hole up in the basement at Debbie’s house (Debbie’s hooking me up with housing for this co-op. We have a working relationship and she largely keeps to herself, but she calls me “hun” and I kind of like it).
Oh, and I copped a side job, doing some shifts at Chipotle to keep food on the washing machine that is my kitchen table. With so many people in a city, friends are hard to come by, but I’m enjoying my experience nonetheless.