agriculture

Dirty Feet, Happy Heart

Dirty Feet, Happy Heart

Contributed by Kristina Komorowski 

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Imagine with me a little girl in a white sundress, sitting on her great-grandmother's porch. Now, follow this little girl as she stands up and walks through the screen door into the house. She walks innocently around and  in-between the grown-upโ€™s legs and pensively around the knobby feet of the large armchairs that are scattered around the house. She stops and turns her attention to a brown wispy bundle on the table. She carefully and suspiciously picks it up, making sure the adults do not see. The smell meets her nostrils before the strange bundle does. Curing onions. Beautiful golden bulbs, flaky and speckled with soil.

I was a rebel, or at least I liked to think of myself as one. I turned away from college life, wanting to be free of the obligation to study day in and day out, choosing to fulfill my life with music, parties and as little responsibility as possible. Like most of us do, I eventually realized that I had to settle down and start behaving like an adult. I worked retail and then an office job and finally settled nicely into the role of mother. When asked as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up (in the back of my head, at least) the answer was always the same: A mom! I quickly realized after having two beautiful boys that my dream job wasn't the calling I had thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, I love being a mom and I adore my children but it didn't give me that feeling like I'd finally opened the door and found what I had been looking for.

I became so deeply wrapped up in putting my family before myself that I saw my personal goals become even more distant. I did this for so long that my closest of friends encouraged me to get a hobby. I remember distinctly sitting with a glass of wine in my hand and tears in my eyes crying, โ€œWhat am I supposed to do?!โ€

I'll never forget the day I discovered my calling. It was the type of moment where life stands still and if you donโ€™t pay attention to the sign, you could easily miss it. I was hurriedly unloading groceries fully aware of the clock ticking towards dinner time and I grabbed a few onions to toss into our vegetable bowl.The smell stopped me in my tracks. As I lifted the crunchy sweet bulbs to my nose and inhaled ever so deeply, I was immediately brought back to my inner little girl wearing the white sundress smelling great-grandmother's cured onions. Couldnโ€™t I grow these? Shouldnโ€™t I grow these? Surely I can grow these. The thoughts ran rampant. I excitedly began opening this door. I searched for various gardening techniques online, I purchased a few books and read countless blogs about urban gardening. It wasnโ€™t enough for me. I needed more.

I decided to start small, taking a few months of classes through The OSU Master Gardener program. Luck had it that my youngest son was sick the day they presented the vegetable growing portion of the course, so I experimented with the knowledge I read from our handbook, and soon began growing food out of raised beds my husband built. I quickly found out that I got more pleasure sharing what I grew with my friends and neighbors than I had ever imagined was possible. I could hear my passion about the plants when people would ask me basic gardening questions or how I grew my own food. Something was happening and I wanted to continue exploring this new found love. I began to find more farming and gardening books in the free boxes around town, I began following masters in the industry on social networking sites and by reading University publications. I found myself so flooded with accessible knowledge that I needed to hone in my new craft. I knew that I could read sun up to sun down but because that required time that most motherโ€™s do not have, I decided instead to take the plunge and ask for help. I recognized that by putting in the time now this new passion of growing food would likely benefit my family, my community and my soul for a lifetime.

Today, I am a student of the Beginning Urban Farming Apprenticeship program which is a part time farming program that teaches adults the beginning elements of food production. I am confident that I have found my calling! Despite the current Portland heat wave this summer, Iโ€™ve been proudly and happily digging, sweating, harvesting, watering, and knowing that my efforts will soon pay off. Iโ€™ve cried on the farm numerous times, allowing the soil to absorb the pain of the busy world. Being connected to the soil brings me to this state of tranquility that only those whoโ€™ve dug in the earth can really understand. The soil is a healer and not only of the body and mind, but of the soul. It brings out your angels and demons. It will make you feel strong and it shows you your weaknesses. Listening to the bees hum, the leaves rustle, my breath as it exits and enters my body, the groans of pain and the cheers of excitement over a newly harvestable food source is what makes my soul come alive. I am a totally different person in the elements. I have found a new side of myself that I never knew existed. I am powerful and yet weak, open, vulnerable, humble and thankful. Working with men and women who share the same goals only intensifies my experience. I am beyond grateful for being able to be a part of a community where we all ache for the ability to share our food and knowledge with the people around us.

I want to share this journey with everyone I meet. It was the soil that helped me see what my gifts are.  I am a nurturer. I nurture the soil, I nurture my children, and I will forever continue to nurture my soul. 

Trust your inner voice, your inner child. Stay inspired and honor your gifts. Lastly I encourage you to ground yourself daily. Go stick your hands in the dirt.

I dare you.

โ€œThe Meaning of Life is to find your gift. The Purpose of life is to give it away.โ€  -William Shakespeare

Kristina Komorowski is a Texas native who moved to Illinois after high school. She fell in love with a Polish man and together in the Winter of 2010 they created a home in  Portland Oregon. They have 2 beautiful children in SE Portland and dream of life on a small farm. They love everything nature and get great joy in sharing their rich bounty.

Kristina is currently a student of the Beginning Urban Farming Apprenticeship program. See more at their website to learn more:http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/beginning-famers/BUFA

If you would like to follow their journey look for Kristina on Instagram: @Mamakomorowski or send her an email: kkomorowski13@gmail.com

"I make Chocolate."

I Make Chocolate.

Contributed by Sinead Byrne

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When I tell people on the mainland that I live in Hawaii they usually express some degree of amazement or wistfulness. When they ask what kind of work I do I often answer in an almost off-handed way, trying to soften the double-whammy of my life circumstances...

"I make chocolate."

Eyes get wide. They laugh and shake their heads as they sandwich these two facts together; not only do I literally live in a tropical paradise, but my work-life is centered around the most universally loved and joy-inducing edible item known to man. There's almost a hint of a shrug in my bearing as I nod and smile in response to their disbelief. The smallest trace of an apology colors my face as if to say, "Yeah, who knows how I got so lucky." Truth be told, however, I know exactly how it's happened.

My life has been a series of crystal-clear decisions. I've always had a knack for teasing out my soul's desire and heading off in that direction (however unlikely) with determination and level-headedness. This has left me with a wake of experiences that might seem quite randomized to the casual observer, but which were all necessary, natural steps on my journey. By the time I turned 22 I had completed an intensive theatre program in London, participated in a 3-month teaching internship in a rural village in Ghana, written a thesis and received a BA with magna cum laude honors, worked in a backcountry chalet in Glacier National Park, successfully thru-hiked the entire length of Pacific Crest Trail, and moved across the country twice on my own dollar. It wasn't until this second move, when I landed back in my homeland of upstate New York after 5 and a half years of flitting from place to place, that I reached an interesting impasse. Upon my return to my geographical starting-point I found myself struggling with something I had never felt before: lack of direction. I had a degree. I had gone on adventures. Going back to school didn't seem right (there wasn't anything I particularly wanted to study). Going on more adventures didn't seem right (I was out of money, and, though I'll probably never tire of adventuring, aimless travel without a purpose to tie my experiences together didn't strike me as the thing to do.). I had reached the foggiest fork in the road of my young life. I was face to face with one of life's trickiest balancing acts; how do I honor the past, enjoy the present, and provide for the future? How do I compose a perfect harmony of time?

There's nothing like a good moment of clarity, and my subconscious breathed a sigh of relief when I finally had mine that winter. In a word, CHOCOLATE. I thought about chocolate everyday. I ate chocolate everyday. I daydreamed about growing my own cacao and opening my own chocolate cafe- everyday. It may sound silly, but when I got real with myself and took stock of my passions and dreams, chocolate really stood out. It was a part of my day-to-day life in a way that nothing else was. I started to spread the word amongst my friends and family ("I think I want to make chocolate for a living"). Some of them were supportive, others were not, but most were confused-- after all what did chocolate have to do with theatre, academia, humanitarianism, or outdoor pursuits? Where was the logic here? I would have agreed that this latest goal had come entirely out of left field, had I not known that it originated (just like every other venture I'd undertaken) from that reliable place of calm certainty smack dab at the center of my being.

So, why Hawaii? If my original moment of clarity can be summed up by the word "chocolate," then the key word for my specific approach to this line of work would have to be CACAO. I was not content with the idea of mere chocolate making; in the spirit of the whole know-where-your-food-comes-from energy sweeping the nation, I wanted to be involved in the entire process, from tree to bar/truffle.  Like most tropical plants, cacao is a great lover of rain, shade, and temperatures above 60 degrees Farenheit. As such it can only be found growing in a band 20 degrees North and South of the equator. Hawaii just barely sqeaks into this category at it's position of 20 degrees North and is therefore the only state in the U.S. that can cultivate cacao. Though the Hawaiian cacao industry is still in its infant stages (with only about 100 acres planted state-wide) anyone in the business will assure you that Hawaii is destined to become the Napa Valley of chocolate. As consumers continue to become more and more rigorous in their demand for locally/sustainably/ethically sourced products, the future of Hawaiian cacao is looking brighter by the minute. So it was simple, really. If I wanted to grow cacao, and I wanted to stay in the United States, I had to move to Hawaii. What a bummer, right?

Seven months later I found myself living on Oahu working for a totally rad bean-to-bar chocolate company. I had never visited Hawaii before I moved out here. I didn't know anyone who lived here (although I did have the job lined up ahead of time). I had never even dabbled in chocolate making. I didn't really have much except for my passion and conviction. In this situation, that turned out to be enough. I spent six months working on Oahu before moving to Maui where I currently live and work for a visionary company called Sweet Paradise Chocolatier. I spend two days a week in the kitchen making truffles, two days a week working on the cacao farm, and one day a week selling chocolates at our boutique retail shop. I have the honor and joy of spending my work week creating one of my most favorite things in the world. I get to learn the ropes from an accomplished chocolatier and business woman. I get to spend lots of time outside in a gorgeous place. I get to help spread the gospel of fine, craft chocolate, reworking the public's approach towards chocolate one farm-tour at a time. I get to eat lots of chocolate.

My three-part time harmony is currently humming along quite nicely. I still have to give it regular attention, tuning it slightly here and there, endeavoring to never leave a single note neglected. With so much tugging at us all the time it's often too easy to drop out of key, or to let one part overshadow the others, and it's only through constant reevaluation that we can keep ourselves from falling into discord. I'm continuously seeking the perfect blending of past, present, and future chords, guided by those moments of clarity that resonate within my being on all three levels. So yes, I live in Hawaii and make chocolate, and sometimes that can strike even me as being too dreamy to be realistic in the long run, but, at the end of the day, I'm so deeply certain that this is where I'm supposed to be that the thought of doing anything else seems truly disingenuous. Life goes on, and there's no predicting what's around the next bend, but for now I can say with a delicious mixture of solemnity and delight that chocolate is at the center of my life, nourishing my soul, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sinead Byrne is a backpacking, adventurous, bright eyed chocolatier living in Maui. Check out what they do at Sweet Paradise http://www.sweetparadisechocolate.com/ or order some delicious chocolates just in time for the Christmas Holidays.