I had just arrived, and I felt a void. My body, whether I liked it or not, had landed itself in Davis, CA three months ago, uncertain of the torrid heat, distinct agricultural smell, and unfamiliar territory. However, my mind couldn’t have agreed more with my summer move. I yearned for a fresh perspective, anomalous encounters, and a community. I knew what I yearned for.
But why was I organizing the Davis Student Co-op Free Box – folding clothes, categorizing items by color, and taking inventory of old cassette tapes – tasks I’m familiar with in Orange County before I moved out here. My energy was scattered, and I came back to industry. I was off to a rocky start.
“Don’t kill it! Save it.”
My core reason for traveling to Davis was to grow food. I look back at my application to intern at the UC Davis Market Garden and Student Farm.
“I want to gain the practical skills of managing a farm - knowing various plant species and nutrient cycles, learning how to operate machinery, familiarize myself with sustainable farming methods, and understanding the economics of food commodities in the market. Intrinsically, I want to gain a sense of euphoric empowerment from and celebrate the process of growing food. There are only a few things in the world that are as highly-prized, nutritious, and necessitated as food is.”
I have clipped basil for what seems like a lifetime’s worth of pesto, harvested enough slicer tomatoes to win Spain’s annual Tomatina (Tomato Fight), picked hundreds of pounds of ambrosia melon for cool summer treats, and sowed seeds until my fingers ran dry from placing individual seeds into tray-slots using the friction of my right-hand thumb and index finger. Nutrient cycles – nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and phosphorous – are my dearest friends. This boy is tractor- and Mule-certified. And the empowerment is true. There was nothing better than experiencing the seeds that I sowed burst into cotyledon leaves, transform to true leaves, be transplanted into the field, watered, harvested at its peak of eating zenith, and consumed at full glory. That is empowerment at humanity’s core.
“I am not the son of a family farmer. The closest thing I’ve come to agriculture is growing tomatoes with variable water temperatures for my sixth-grade science project. I have lived in suburban Orange County for the majority of my life, where the closest thing I have to food is the retail grocery store. Yet beyond the prodigious skyscrapers and vast miles of master-planned communities is a college student awe-inspired by the beautiful ecology of well-grown food and highly complex natural processes involved in sustainable food systems.”
I have been awe-inspired with my time on the farm. The human relationships were nurturing. Amongst the triple-digit scorches on our physically-exerting bodies, unfamiliar problems to solve, and other-animal-eaten crops to deal with, laughter was a must and not hard to find. The farm was my morning haven, waking up the body for my blood and muscles’ sake and the mind for critical thinking. I yearn to continue living in this haven, experiencing its realities.
“It felt like thousands of baby octopi swimming across your body.”
My senses – smell, sight, touch, hearing, taste, temperature, rawness - are at their prime. Similes, metaphors, and poetic prose sliver off the tip of my tongue without much difficulty. My body, mind, and communication are ostensibly in sync with each other, dependent of their individual functions but dance in unison.
I will never forget the soft wither in the winds the first week of July as I harvested basil. They hit the trees surrounding the student farm with such delicacy. Each tree was an individual wispy chime hanging loosely from a house porch situated along the coast. I took a deep, elongated breath, held it with eyes closed placing the just-cut basil in the nearest furrow, and exhaled – my body turned calm and solid. I still remember that moment to this day.
“The heart of the home.”
Davis Student Cooperative. If I was uncertain that a farm would accept a suburban boy like me to labor part-time, I couldn’t even imagine whether or not a communal space like DSC where I’d sleep, eat, and live would think to accept my presence full-time.
DSC has been my active think tank, rest tank, food tank, and action tank. This was the first summer in which I didn’t attend “school”, taking classes offered by an institution of learning, caught up in the “work” at “home” and being tested on mindful performance. Quite the coincidence, seeing that it was the summer before my possibly-final year as an undergraduate college student, while my other friends seemed tied to academic credit and/or economic compensation.
As I type this reflection this very moment, my ears are drawn to All That She Wants, a song by one of my all-time favorites - Ace of Base - and wistfully blown in the our living/music room across the ways. This is why I adore Davis Student Cooperative. Not necessarily just for Ace of Base, but for its eccentricity, authenticity, and truth.
I have smelt things I’ve never smelt before, like the upstairs bathroom, Sacramento Valley wildfires, or Jamie’s peach pie that I couldn’t taste because I was too late for dinner.
I have tasted things I’ve never tasted before. Derek’s elderberry, rose-hip kombucha. Tessa’s perfect flour-to-sugar-ratio apricot cookies. Raven’s dried figs before her coast-to-coast summer adventure. Or special cookies. Period.
I have touched things I’ve never touched before, like grey water (it’s one my closest friends now), the daintiness of lamb’s ear flourishing in the front yard, a female bed, Liz’s hugs, or Zuni’s slight abrasions on my outer calves to signal dinner.
I have heard things I’ve never heard before, like Sarah’s electric beats coming from her room randomly throughout the day, the unbearable summer fire alarms in which I still don’t understand to this day, or Jesse’s out-of-this-world rap status.
I have seen things I’ve never seen before, like the kitchen spice rack holding more jars than I could hold, Martha’s contagious smile, a male gluttamous maxim us at the Yuba City River, the moth caterpillar Jennifer helped me identify, Jesse’s movie selections, or Darrach.
And his love for KDVS at three in the morning.
I have been part of a community that I’ve never been a part of before - checking in every Wednesday night on the livelihood of the house and each other and sharing stories and meals amidst the summer sunsets. I was off to a rocky start, but I have filled my void.
Since that very first day, I’ve stopped organizing the DSC Free Box. Instead, I’ve found my loves.