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Welcome to Polyculture

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San Juan Islands. I did not even know Washington State had islands until last summer and now I have been living on one for the past three months.  The ferry stops at Lopez, Orcas, San Juan, and Shaw (occasionally). There are many other smaller islands as well. I am doing a three month work exchange on an organic farm outside of Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. We have sheep, goats, lambs, chickens, and horses. We have lots of garden space going on as well. Just about every vegetable, flower, and herb I have ever heard of, and many I have not, are grown at Aurora Farms.

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Polyculture pretty much means diversity. Instead of  mono-cropping, a farm will have several different plants and vegetables, and maybe even animals as well; all which make up a cycle that contributes back to the farm. The crops feed the animals and the animals fertilize the plants. All contributions are beneficial to each other and the farm overall.

Nineteen different vegetables, five to six varieties of each. Succulents. What the hell is a succulent? Two gardens, a greenhouse, fruit trees, and a lot of I am not sure. It is very cool and a lot of work; yet, rewarding, yet, demanding, yet, worthwhile. Like any job, some days suck and then I live there. Living at work. One did not think work could get any more terrible and then it did. Again, those are the bad days, which are few. I truly enjoy farming, so it balances out. Oh yes and succulents are plants such as aloe vera or cacti that are thick skinned and almost waxy, which retains water intended during harsh climates.

Jackson's Beach, Friday Harbor

Jackson’s Beach, Friday Harbor

Luckily, I have had some time off to explore and most importantly, relax. Not more than fifteen minutes by car one can access a beautiful, remote beach and/or a well wooded trail to hike. Lime Kiln State Park has a nice set of trails alongside the waterfront and woods as well. On the right day visitors can spot whales. Another epic view is Cattle Point on the southern tip of the island. It is open and windy, offering a great panoramic view on a cloudless day with an old, abandoned lighthouse residing on a coastal cliff.

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I am not going to lie and make up a name, so you can.

Each animal has its own personality. There are a number of animals I call by name every day and they respond. Marilyn, the obnoxious, screaming goat that needs that extra bit of acknowledgement because she is hated by the other female goats. Very clickish. And then we have Sasha and Maria, our loving horses. Wonderful for a hug; however, I am aware of Sasha’ s tricks to steal Maria’s carrots and grain (the goods). No conning this guy. Finally, I could go on for paragraphs, my buddy Phoenix. The little orphan lamb that became my adopted child. He was a loner, caught between being a lamb and a pet, following us around throughout the day at times. Sadly though, the poor little guy passed. Nothing crazy. Completely out of nowhere, which led us to believe it was a lonely heart. As corny as it sounds, he knew he was different from the rest of the herd. He did not have a mother and once we weened him, life became rough. It sucks, but so goes on the farm.

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The community on the Islands is great. After living in Humboldt County, California the past two years, I appreciated living in a close community. The San Juans exemplifies it even more because how much more limited we are here. Everyone knows everyone, even across islands. Not long after moving here, I was bumping into people I knew at the grocery store. Best of all, hitchhiking is super easy.

A view from Eastsound, Orcas Island

A view from Eastsound, Orcas Island

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What makes this experience truly special though is the peace. Once all the organized chaos that is farming comes to an end for the day (the endless list of maintenance and chores), the joyous shooting of the neighbors has depleted, and the animals are all silenced from feeding, a calming sets in. Silence. It is nice. On a clear night, I can stand at the window of my guesthouse to view the stars twinkle bright as if there may be a city in the sky looking back at us. With eggs, meat, and different mixed greens going off in the greenhouse, the farm provides plenty, plus Lori Ann’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. As a few locals and I agreed (regarding the island), “Not a bad place to be during the apocalypse.”

Shatoe

Shatoe

Unless the ocean rises, then the islands are screwed.

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