Hello everyone! I’m Kelly, one of the new interns here at Songaia. I’m originally from Kentucky but went to the University of Alabama for my degree in Advertising & Public Relations. After that, I moved to Los Angeles for several years before deciding to move back to Kentucky.
After a decade working in marketing, I still found myself looking for a career I truly enjoyed. I’m a big animal person and also worked as a dog trainer for several years, and I still consider that my ‘side’ career and greatest hobby. I realized my passion is in how nutrition and health work together and decided to go back to school for a degree in dietetics. So, after graduating from the University of Kentucky last fall, I applied to the Garden to Table Nutrition internship in hopes of becoming a registered dietitian. My passion lies in childhood obesity prevention and I hope to work in the community to encourage healthy eating habits and educate disease prevention among people of all ages.
I’m thrilled to be a part of the Songaia team because there’s so much here to learn! I grew up on a farm but seemed to drift away from that life as I got older and my dad retired. I want to educate the public where our food comes from and how food nourishes our bodies. I believe food is medicine and disease prevention and I’m excited to learn the process from planting to harvesting to cooking.
I’ve also never been to the PNW so I’m really looking forward to exploring this beautiful area!
Thanks for reading!
My given name at Songaia is Lucas Brightwater. I am a resident intern for the 2019 season at Songaia. Please note that my legal name is Brian Steyer in case there is some confusion.
Bio: I grew up on Bainbridge Island, WA. Growing up I traveled to China and lived Japan which were the coming of age experiences where I felt my identity and voice where shaped as a young person.
During my last semester of college at the Univiersity of Washington, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. This radically changed my life - diet, career, and life path that I could reasonably pursue. It is greatest teacher and highest mountain I've had to climb to take back control of my life. It's been a long journey, but now I live a healthy and active life where about 90% of my symptoms stay in remission during my day-to-day life here at Songaia.
For myself, I feel that the Taoist approach to health most closely mirrors the principles of regeneration and synchronicity that is also present in permaculture and mycology. Returning the earth or my own vital energy back to an original state of health before the trauma or disease was able to take hold.
Coincidentally, the best Qi gong school I could find in the Seatte location is also located in Bothell. I started practicing Qi gong here in 2014 when it became clear that I needed a better form of self care to heal from the lasting trauma that had occurred when I was really sick. The Qi Gong school I am most active with is called IQIM (https://www.iqim.org/ ). They offer training to health care practitioners at Bastyr to release any extra energy from their clients. My mentors have in this school have healed themselves from lupus and lymes disease, so I had a model of individuals that had taken this journey themselves. Currently they are doing scientific studies to show that you can permanently reverse diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) by empowering the pancreas to become more sensitive to insulin.
During this past year I have also learned some computer programming doing front-end web development as a practical way to make an income. My long-term vocational goals would be to find cool heart-centered projects where I could help build website or software applications.
Over the long-term I would also like to focus more on creating an educational curriculum for mushrooms and soil health that I could use to be an educator and advocate for the health of the planet. However, at this stage I envision that being a meaningful side income that I would grow slowly over time. Whereas, the programming provides the stability and security from the get-go to begin living an independent life which is essential for me to write the next chapter of my life.
Right now I am looking for more clients to do my first few pro bono portfolio website projects that I could use on my website -- http://briansteyer.com/ -- so if you know someone who wants to work on a free custom website with me let me know and we can discuss the details.
I first became interested in Songaia in 2015 when I first visited Songaia to attend a permaculture workshop with Jessi Bloom and Cameron Whithey. This exposure influenced me to coordinate a rite of passage for myself in the summer of 2015.
Later in 2018 my friend Elizabeth Dequine from Bainbridge moved to Songaia. Elizabeth had been influential in helping me to learn about foraging for wild mushrooms. We also created a mushroom group together at Winslow Co-housing on Bainbridge that was quite successful. We did mushroom demonstrations, projects, and presentations for the community.
Songaia exists in a special convergence between mushrooms, qi gong, and a vital space to practice permaculture -- with nature and with each other. It is so easy to caught in larger narratives of egotism and self destruction where I cannot imagine extending reality forward into completely new and exciting territory. Songaia provides this space to dream and reimagine the context of where I find myself.
Thanks for reading!
Rhubarb! By Sylvan Bonin
Introducing: Flower Star!
May 2019 Songaia Intern
Hello Songaia members! My name is Flower Star and I am one of the new Songaia interns, starting about the middle of May. I’ve already met some of you at a community meeting and work party in December and March; I look forward to meeting the rest of you. Let me tell you a little about myself. I currently live in Port Angeles, WA on the Olympic Peninsula. I am a recent graduate of Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA and I have a a Bachelor of Art’s in Language Arts and a Master’s of Science in Nutrition with an emphasis in the Didactic Program of Dietetics. I have never lived in a co-housing community, but I have lived successfully with numerous roommates. I feel each of these housing situations were successful due to a set of courtesies that everyone followed. I also enjoyed the friendships I developed and the social time, sharing food and experiences. I will be staying onsite during my internship and attending the social gatherings, so I can get a sense of the community life.
I applied to this internship as the elective of my dietetic internship with Garden to Table Nutrition. There are a lot of different places I could have done this elective, but I have always envisioned myself in a community that works together to be more sustainable. As a Bastyr graduate, I feel that whole foods are the key not only to proper nutrition and health but a quality life. Now I’m taking the next step by getting some experience living in the kind of community I would like to be part of some day. It is my plan to participate in a community garden after this experience and to start my own garden once I am working as an RD if I am not able to find a sustainable community to live in.
Some of the skills I hope to acquire include fertilizing, planting, harvesting, canning, and permaculture of course. I am also very interested in the food forest concept which Songaia is incorporating as well as sustainable agriculture. Lastly, I’m hoping the Songaia garden will teach me many things about the process that food takes from garden to table. I’m hoping my onsite living experience will give me a sense of how to organize a co-housing community. As an intern at Songaia for two months, my passion to learn this process will help to give me a solid foundation in this process and an idea of how I would apply it to my future goal of connecting my clients to food in a natural setting.
Some others things I like to do beside learning about food and nutrition include cooking, hiking, taking pictures, and reading. Some recipes I have been experimenting with lately include pumpkin and blackberry pie. The pumpkin pie is dairy free and made from fresh blended pumpkin I cooked and froze myself. I also like to experiment with food and herbs as medicine. For instance, boiling ginger, chamomile, and oregano together can take away cramps.
My husband and I love to go camping and hiking all over Washington and sometimes other states if we have the time. The pictures of the cacti are from a hike I did in Texas last year while I was working as a registered dietetic technician. The scenery is obviously really different in El Paso, TX, but it grows on you. I especially liked hiking in the spring when all the cacti were blooming. Some of my favorite books right now are “The Beauty Detox Foods by Kimberly Snyder which discusses how foods can age you or make you younger. The author does an excellent job of supporting her assertions with peer-reviewed research. I also really like the “ The Slow Down Diet: Eating for Pleasure, Energy, and Weight Loss” by Marc David which connects mindfulness to eating and provides numerous strategies you can use to eat more intuitively.
My latest activity was to go to Legislative Day in Olympia, WA to learn about the legislative process. I learned that WA State has one of the 10 most regressive tax systems in the United States, causing people in the lower income brackets to pay a lot more in taxes than those in the upper brackets. WA State also has a 4 billion dollar deficit. Because of this economic situation, getting policy passed and funded is difficult, so it is extremely important to stay actively involved in advocating for what you want to see changed and to take action; in my case, that would involve food and nutrition.
Again, I’m looking forward to joining the Songaia, sharing my knowledge of nutrition and cooking and learning more about gardening and community to become a more well-rounded person.
Intern blog week 4/15/19 - 4/20/19
April is finally here, and the summer internship 2019 has started! We have done so much work in the garden already and everything is looking so great! There is so much excitement and anticipation in and around the garden. I am the only intern as of now, but that will soon change when Flower Star joins us to help next month. However, all of our helpers have been busy busy, especially planting in the green house. Now is the time when the tiny plants get tucked safely in their beds in the garden, or so we hope. The beautiful onion plants Helen and I started in February with so much love only lasted a few days in the garden before some hungry critter came through and had a feast, half were lost. We covered the rest in a garden fabric and hope for the best. But yet there is still a mystery as to why the hungry critter targeted the onion; It's supposed to be the one green leaf that deters pest like rabbits and deer. So we are keeping a close eye on them.
Since starting the internship, we have gotten a lot done as well. Like the other day, Anita and I made some potato cages. The hopes is to grow these potatoes above ground in a cage to keep the rat population from eating all our crops. We built three of them in different sizes from scrap fencing and other materials found in our barn. We wired them together with a fenced in base and put them in the garden and filled them ¼ full of soil and compost. Then it's just as simple as tossing them in and covering with another few inches of soil. They will then flower up above the soil and we will just bury them. The potato leaves will then die, then something amazing happens. The potato leaf node will then start to grow roots, and produce more potatoes! This is very exciting, because not only does everybody love potatoes, but it seems that the years previous, the large amount of potatoes that were planted, were decimated by rats, and some were even lost.
Friday was also a very busy day that yielded some pretty sweet results. It started out with Anita and I creating and designing a most detailed compost tracking method. We made these pretty cool spreadsheets that have spaces for date created, materials used and dates they were turned and by whom. They even all get personalized names. :) We then went to go get them laminated so they can be kept outside and not get ruined by the rain. On our way we procured a truck load of wood chips to be spread on Saturdays harambe. When we arrived back to Songaia, we had a delicious lunch and afterwards had a meeting with community member and good friend Douglas R. about the forest and possible plans going forward with it's restoration. I would personally like to see more curriculum involving different ecosystems integrated with the garden internship. There are so many ways that a garden can be looked at, and in a system more closely integrated with nature could yield different results than what we currently have. Our garden can be looked at as a closely controlled system of creating just the right conditions to produce only what we desire to grow there. Everything else is considered a weed and treated as such. It's a proven method for creating a reliable and measurable food source, but falls short of being sustainable or regenerative. It could not exactly be called a permaculture garden, but more of a market garden. Which isn’t necessarily “wrong”, but simply a particular way to look at how to grow food on the land. By trying different methods and working closer to how nature acts in the real world without so much human manipulation, we could quite possibly find better methods to producing food and becoming closer with the land. But all philosophy aside, I would love to learn more about food systems and how we can improve them in a human dominated ecosystem. Then we flipped compost.
I am extremely satisfied with the first week of the internship. I have high hopes and am very excited for the future and what it holds. There is so much knowledge here in Songaia and only time and experience will present these learning opportunities. I am very thankful for the incredible opportunities and guidance I have received. I will never forget the kind nourishing nudges towards learning and discovery of the world around us. I am very thankful for Songaia and everyone here. I love you all! See you all next week.
Hey, guess what?
The internship started last week!! And I started my second "growing season" as Garden Steward here at Songaia. Man oh man. Last year, I set the intention to mindfully implement the first principle of permaculture--Observe and thoughtfully interact. This principle posits that you have to take the time to step back and observe, or cultivate an intimacy with place, before you are able to design a sustainable, resilient, and regenerative system. Simple, right? Here's a beautiful musical representation of the first permaculture principle by the glorious Formidable Vegetable Sound System, introduced to me by Brian when I was an intern:
What I was surprised by in this last year, was how much the very last verses of this song rang true.
"The problem is the solution,
it just depends on your perception.
Gotta change yourself before the world.
Take a look around,
On the inside and the out.
Cause when you observe yourself,
you'll see everything else.
Make good use of it now."
Despite the fact that I was learning multiple systems--the garden, the community, this position--his past year really became about cultivating an intimacy with myself. Mid-summer I fell into a bit of low spot. I was discouraged, tired, stretched thin between my homes, and feeling the weight of expectation from the community for a yield of food, the interns for a yield of experience, and the garden for a reliable drink of water.
Pause for gratitude for garden elder Helen Gabel, who held me and guided me throughout this past year. Gratitude for Brian Bansenauer who invited me over often to "have cookies" (laced with community wisdom and therapeutic laughter). Gratitude for Nancy and Diane, who helped me lean into the "problem is the solution"---just said with different words. Gratitude for Laura Klepfer, who is a great listener, a devoted piglet, and a loving friend. Gratitude for Elizabeth Dequine, who sees disconnections and chooses to act in love, and who has invited me and Olive to share a home with her. Gratitude for my dear friend and beloved intern, Ian Thompson, who has inspired growth in me by both accepting and challenging my conditioned beliefs about the world. Gratitude for Brent, Nartano, Mary, Susie, and so many others. You have all inspired me to find and grow from my edges over this past year, allowing me to see that cultivating an intimacy with ourselves is at the foundation of sustainable, resilient, and regenerative systems, because it allows us to see past our conditioned beliefs about what's possible and enter a truly creative and abundant space.
This brings me to my intention for this coming year, which includes story-telling, and two permaculture principles:
Principle 3: Obtain a Yield
Principle 11: Use edges and value the marginal
More about this next week.
Here's a little about what moved this past week in the garden:
Tuesday: If you look very closely, you can see little squirming earthworms, thriving in our compost pile. Ian and I flipped the compost and made a new pile out of community kitchen scraps, rabbit poo from a neighbor, green material from clearing garden beds, and leaves raked last fall on property (likely by community member Art Morton--thanks Art!!). Lots of planting happened in the garden by Elizabeth, Helen, Selina, and Oluwa this day! It was so fun to have former interns Oluwa and Selina out for the morning before their classes. After Lunch, Ian and I went to get more rabbit poo from our long time supplier, Carrie. We've been using the rabbit poo in our compost, a good nitrogen source with a 12:1 C:N ratio.
Wednesday: On Wednesday I worked alone, because Ian had come down with a cold and our other Piglets were busy with community and personal responsibilities. It was a great day of observing myself, the garden, and my relationship with it. I met with Bee Elliott in the morning and we hammered out the details for the upcoming Restoration Work Party here in the Songaia Forest on Sunday April 28th from 10:30-3. Bee is a student at UW Bothell, deeply involved in shifting our larger cultural narrative by acting locally. She will be bringing members of the UWB Outdoor Wellness Club to this work party. I am excited about this partnership!
I spent the day drifting back and forth between garden work and administrative duties, getting a bed cleared by the end of the day and setting up a small experiment in the garden. Last fall one of our beds was colonized by perennial white clover. Throughout the winter, this bed resisted invasion by our dear friend buttercup, unlike many of our other beds (even those that were intentionally cover-cropped with other species). What I want to test is whether or not we can just plant directly into the white clover, leaving it as a nitrogen-fixing perennial cover crop, with occasional chopping-and-dropping to keep it from overtaking food crops.
After establishing which area I wanted to leave covered with clover, I needed to figure out how to mark off the area so it wouldn't get cleared by someone else, and I needed to mix soil to start some seeds for the experimental bed. I went up to lunch and thought about how to mark it off. While eating lunch, Doug R came in and told me he had removed the oak planter that had been sitting outside the Common House for quite some time with no plants in it. He expressed his uncertainty about what to do with the wheelbarrow full of soil and large rocks. The problem is the solution!!! Well, his problem was my solution. I sifted the big rocks out of the soil, used the soil to start seeds, and used the rocks to delineate my experimental plot.
Thursday: Ian was a bit better on Thursday, so we decided to make potato cages! Two years ago, when I was an intern, Tater Mater Tom gifted us with 25 different varieties of potatoes. My Irish roots reveled in the diversity of potato varieties, and I took it on as a personal mission my first year here to care for said potatoes. We had two rows, which I dutifully photographed at (somewhat) regular intervals, mounded as best I knew how, and observed the process of growth. By the end of the season they looked marvelous! Above the surface...little did we know, below ground, the rats had discovered an absolute smorgasbord. Last year, in an attempt to get a yield of potatoes, I had the interns plant the potatoes we were able to save from the previous year scattered around the garden. We actually went through with mapping where each variety was planted. Like a pirate's map to delicious buried treasure. The idea was that if they were scattered around the garden, they would not all get plowed through by the rats. Good plan...except they turned out being harder to find in the fall than we thought...it's very possible there will be many potatoes coming up all over the Songaia garden this year. Good thing I still have that map of our "buried treasure".
This year, still determined to obtain a yield, we made potato cages. Something I derive great pleasure from, and I learned Ian does as well, is creating something useful from salvaged materials. We found wire fencing in the magic barn that was stapled to some old rotting wood, and transformed them into beautiful potato cages! We buried three varieties of potatoes in these cages and filled the cages to about 8 inches with soil and compost. As the potatoes grow, we can continue to add soil and compost (or other material) to the cage, increasing the production of tubers off the stem. We ended the day with a planning session--deciding how we wanted to design a simple, effective way of tracking which piles of compost were turned when.
We got SO much done on Friday. We started the day on an expedition in IAN'S NEW TRUCK! Our mission was to get our new compost system sheets laminated and to pick up another load of woodchips from Dennis and Cyndi (Thank you!!) to prepare for the Harambe on Saturday. We mounted the new sheets and ended the day with compost turning (3 piles!) and blog writing.
Saturday: I was sick and missed the community meeting and harambe, which I was very sad about. Seems like those chips we brought were put to good use though. Thanks team!
Not mentioned here is all the work that went into the garden while my eyes where elsewhere--I know Helen and Elizabeth have been working away--and it looks amazing out there.
I intend to continue to share in this way throughout the season. It may not be as detailed as this in the future, but I see such value in documenting our weeks. I feel so anchored and accomplished after reflecting, and I am really able to integrate what I've learned. To obtain a different kind of yield from the growing season!
Yours in Garden Stewardship,
The return of springtime has released new energy in the Biogaians! As the snow melted out we discovered massive storm damage on all our properties. And the sunny days coincided with inspiration from Mary and Laura towards long-neglected care of our fruit trees and roses. The response has been positively heroic!
Below you'll see Brian, Ian, and Douglas R clearing the most dangerous downed limbs at Life Song Commons, and a photo of the first truckload of brush headed for disposal.
There's been work with chainsaws and big loppers as several other truckloads, as well as dumpsters, of brush have been collected.
Most of our fruit trees are being pruned.
And our rose-and-mulch team has been forging ahead, too.
These are not all of our local heroes--just the ones with conveniently available photos. Thanks be to the new season, and to all who love our community!
Today was great. Helen and I were at it again on a beautiful day in the PNW. The compost was hot and the ground was cold. We were not the only ones up early exploring the garden. Since all the snow melted different critters were poking their heads up and checking everything out. When the first ray of sunshine peered through the darkness and hit the ground this morning, it started a chain reaction melting the frost off of the sleepy wilted greens. It must have started somewhere on the south east corner and slowly engulfed the whole garden, and before you know it a lil caterpillar could be found scooting around doing a dance. Life was also poking above the soil in the greenhouse as the several brassicas that were planted in a flat and put under 24 hour light has started sprouting in a neat little line. Two little leafs soaking in the light, probably just realizing and getting ready to fulfill their entire purpose on this planet.
Rose pruning was also a priority on today's list of activities. Lucky for me, Helen has been expertly trained by a master rosarian, and is willing to pass on her knowledge to me. We collected our tool and headed out into the garden. Two individuals entering a very diverse ecosystem as champions at the top of the food chain. Our decisions today will, quite literally,shape the way the roses will live and grow for the rest of their lives. It is very important work. Upon our initial inspection we found the rose bushes to be completely untamed. They were wild and vigorous. Their goal in this life is to grow high above any other plant, and spread far and wide. The base was a cluster of thick, strong wood covered in razor sharp thorns. They came out of the ground and grew straight up above your head. It was difficult to even know where to start. We put on our gloves that were strong enough to resist the thorns and equipped our loppers sharp enough to cut them down at the base and began clearing the surrounding stocks. They were thin and just getting bearings before we flattened their progress and forbade their existence. We cleared anything not attached to the main cluster and threw them in a pile behind us. Soon we exposed the thickest and oldest growth and we were able to study it's design and figure a way to best promote it's growth and health while still clearing away most of the bulk. We decided to keep the young and new stocks, and remove the oldest and thickest ones. I imagine it's because they required the most resources to survive. So down they came, we sawed through their trunk and eliminated the cane. We looked at all the qualities and decided which would stay and which would go. In this situation, only the straight and narrow, young and healthy were acceptable, all others perished.
I couldn't help but feel a bit like an ultimate decider/ executer in the fate of each branch. If any were even slightly outside of my expectations, I swiftly eliminated their presence, and took away any chance of survival or reproduction it ever thought it would achieve. I thought about my own mortality in this way, and how relevant this perspective must be to a certain class/ tier of society. With the absolute power over others’ survival or chances to thrive. How does this relate to our everyday life if you don't fit into a certain expectation for society. Examples can be seen in today's world that society too wishes to eliminate individuals who don't fit into the mainstream culture. If an individual grows naturally in a different way than what is desired, they too will undoubtedly face resistance and will be cast aside. I felt bad for the branches that lived their whole lives only to be cut away because they were too old, skinny, twisted, or leaned a certain way against the crowd. I consider myself someone who doesn't necessarily fit into a box, and someone who walks against the crowd. This was starting to weigh on my mind, making me uneasy as Helen pointed and I chopped. In nature this plant would thrive and dominate regardless of what the stocks looked like, and nature would take its course. This plant didn't need us to help it survive.
But as we cleared away the bulk and took away the grass and dead leaves that were once just in the background covering up the main development, I could see that all the stocks we were cutting were all attached to a main bulb. This one bulb had produced so many other stems that we were simply thinning it. The chances that were being eliminated were not just individuals, but together part of one being. We were thinning the crowded stocks from consuming all the resources and concentrating the energy to the healthiest stocks to make the prettiest flowers. And because they are heirloom flowers, and just happen to be in our garden, we want to help the plant flourish in a controlled manner in order to produce the qualities we desire, and there's nothing wrong with that. It was absolutely the first time in a long time those beautiful rose bushes got the care and attention they deserve. And with all the benefits that come with owning heirloom roses, including seeing and smelling their beautiful flowers, they have equally as much maintenance needed. I was very pleased with the outcome and very thankful that I was able to be a part of their care. In the end this plant will live on much healthier to be enjoyed for years by many.
We investigated the process for breeding naked pumpkins from Patricia's seeds. The hopeful farmer identifies a number of about-to-open blossoms and tapes them shut on the evening before they will open.
Then, early the next morning, the farmer untapes the blossoms. She rubs the pollen from the male rod onto the female basket. If there are several candidate male blossoms, she uses them all. The more pollen the better!
Then the female blossom is taped tight again to prevent any further bee helpers from carrying in wayward genetic material.
This last year a local artist, Lou Cabeen, came out to help us. She tied a red-threaded chastity-belt onto our fertilized female blossoms.
The blossom is tagged so that if a fruit sets, the farmer knows to save those seeds for planting the following year. Luckily, one carefully fertilized pumpkin in both 2017 and 2018 "set."
Our vines produced many more pumpkins, but those fruits may or may not have been pollinated by other naked pumpkins. So we have enjoyed eating them, but haven't counted on them to grow next year's crop.
The mature pumpkin with its naked seeds looks like this, ready to make into a delicious soup.
Garden bloggers are community members, volunteers and interns at Songaia.