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.