February 2016
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Abuela Gardens – Willits, California

Without water, plants don’t grow. Without water, people don’t survive. I quickly learned what was possible without regular rainfall in an area. The importance placed on water catchment is a theme throughout all permaculture but here it was a necessity. What I’ve learned since then and am now experiencing first hand is that here, the water comes all at once. Being prepared for that is of the utmost importance if you want to produce anything the rest of the year. The first farm I went to dealt with flooding on and around the property. The low country of the Carolinas is vastly different from the hills of northern California.

This will only serve as a brief introduction to the place where I now live as attempting to fit everything in one post could not do it justice. Here are the highlights!

My first impressions are still so clear to me. It was a beautiful day and Blair was the only person on the property. I pulled up to the yurt, saw the garden and Blair standing there with a big smile on his face. Most people I’d met along the way give a simple handshake when meeting someone. Not this guy. I got a full hug and warm welcome to his property. The next few days were spent alone with him getting to know the property and getting to know him. He is by far the most traveled farm owner I’ve met so far and definitely the most eccentric. Katie was the only other resident who lived in a renovated bus just on the other side of the ravine. The bus is the original of three buses used in an organization Blair founded called Commonvision. For many years they were used to transport people and supplies to various places such as inner city schools to teach children about permaculture and perform West African drumming. Since then the other buses have gone on to continue while the original stayed with Blair on his property.

The first part of my stay lasted almost a month before leaving by train to the other side of the country again. While there I learned about gravity fed water systems, forest gardening, annual crop cycles for highest yields, designing and planting a zone 1 garden, and much more. Along with that I had the privilege of taking part in West African style drumming and culture. My background includes ancestors from these areas and I have never been out of this country which made it even more fascinating to learn about. I started to learn about holistic medicine and herbal remedies which I have since acquired a much greater desire to learn and teach others. Yoga and meditation are encouraged and incorporated into daily activities. Before my travels I may not have shown much interest in these things the way I do now.

We also helped others in the surrounding area design to start their gardens as well. Two offsite gardens were visited regularly to help put in drip lines, dig holes, mix compost, and weed in preparation for planting and transplanting. Many people in that area already grow much of their own food and raise some of their own animals. For those who can’t, or don’t have enough time, they have to find another way to make it happen. It’s easier when a larger portion of the community is already self-sufficient because finding someone to help doesn’t require looking far at all.

Another major difference between this town and most places back east was that even smaller grocery stores carried organic options. The co-op in Ukiah and the Mariposa market in Willits each got their produce mainly from local growers. It’s a nice change to see a community supporting itself, bringing down transportation costs, and choosing healthier alternatives at the same time. It didn’t take long to realize this was where I wanted to be.

After two weeks of work-trade I was offered a long-term position as the second tenant farmer on the property behind Katie, a girl just a few years older than me who was also living on the property in a renovated bus. I was currently staying in the room just next to the kitchen but upon my return at the end of July I would have the cabin above the barn not far from the yurt where Blair lives.

The vision for the property is to create a space for holistic medicine and a healing retreat. Infrastructure is being put into place now to make that possible by the end of the coming year. New buildings are being built, a new pond has been dug, and the kitchen is more than double the size it was before. All of these things will contribute to a beautiful place for people of all backgrounds to come and enjoy the peaceful, clean mountain environment and find a healing space inside and out.

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