Swanton Berry Farm
California has drawn dreamers from around the world for centuries. Its rich resources have allowed this congregation of dreamers to experiment, create, build, reflect, enjoy, and at times to despoil and exploit. We are just humans, aren’t we?
Ideas move through our collective consciousness here at an exhilarating pace. Perhaps it is because the children and grandchildren of the dreamers are dreamers too.
We have grown up seeing lots of change, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. But somehow, there remain a disproportionate number of optimists here.
When dreamers congregate and focus their efforts together on a project, amazing things can happen. Each of us at Swanton Berry Farm is a dreamer and a worker. Inspiration and perspiration is a great combination, as we have been told.
When different dreams overlap they sometimes find a synergy. Swanton Berry Farm has been blessed with twenty-three years of synergistic energy--the environmentalist who wants to reduce our chemical dependence, the immigrant who wants to save money to build a house in Mexico or send his kids to college in America, the crusader for social justice who wants a fair deal for everyone---have all found a home here.
We try our best to understand what people’s dreams are and to accommodate them into our program. Maybe they want to work sixty hours a week and make lots of money; maybe they want a flexible schedule so that they can pursue a separate dream; maybe they want to be part of an organization that embodies their ideals.
Of course, we don’t always get it right. But at least we try. And we know that everyone else is trying, so that when we stumble, we help each other up.
Farming is a very humbling enterprise. Our lack of ultimate control is evident every hour. But in some way, that knowledge is liberating. When a rain comes at the wrong time, we shrug our shoulders and laugh at ourselves to think that we thought we had everything figured out. We are constantly reminded of our very humble place in the Universe.
Consciousness & Empowerment
The terms 'consciousness' and 'empowerment' come from two very different traditions--- 'consciousness' from an intellectual/spiritual tradition, and 'empowerment' from a sociological/political tradition. I will make a stab at parsing out an underlying common theme which may have some utility at the farm.
'Empowerment' is normally thought of as becoming able to muster the strength to stand up to the predominant (male) paradigm. But this process in a way validates and continues the paradigm.
Can we create a new 'connective' power which is born of an entirely different consciousness, and which will stand up to assaults by the natural tendency to define the world in traditional male terms?
In the past few years, I have come to experience a different kind of consciousness in a very physical, energetic way. The power of it is immense, and humbling. When I am in that state, everything 'flows' beautifully at the Farm. For some reason, articulating that state is very helpful in amplifying it.
Many people have experienced fleeting moments of 'consciousness' in various parts of their lives, but they seem to come randomly, if at all, and are close to impossible to summon back under 'normal' conditions in society and human relationships.
If a person experiences this fleeting state, they usually revert quickly to 'normal' consciouness, being drawn 'off the beam' by the inevitable pull of their thoughts or by the tumult of society. But if they are given a chance to experience this state in a sustained way, in the context of work or relationships, they have the opportunity to expand beyond their normal consciousness and enjoy their work or their relationships immensely. They can learn how to stay in that state most of the time, and to get back 'on-track' when they inevitably stray from time to time.
The tradition of Taoism describes the state of 'quiet' in metaphysical terms, and Tantrism goes further in integrating the physical with the metaphysical into an immensely powerful 'energetic' state.
For those of us who are intellectually inclined and have lived relatively privileged lives, it is not easy to remain in this state of consciousness. We are constantly pulled into 'disquiet' by our over-active minds.
But trying to quiet our mind usually doesn't work. What seems to work is having gone through some difficult time in which we have had to utterly and completely give up the idea that our mind is our best guide through life. Once we have experienced having been completely and utterly humbled by the failure of our mind's best efforts, we are more open and vulnerable.
Those of us living the 'good life' here in Santa Cruz (as compared with Bangladesh) can cruise through life without having to come to this pretty scary place. But many of the people we work with have gone through very difficult times, both in Mexico and in the U.S., and have come out the other side with a 'higher' consciousness. Perhaps this is why we are drawn to working with them.
Once we have reached a 'humbled' state, we have a choice whether to re-wire our mind ourselves in the familiar way, or rather to allow it to remain open and vulnerable--unwired and loose, without all the old associations, habits of thought, and so forth. At this point we have the opportunity for a 'universal energy' to flow through us, unimpeded by excessive electrical-neurological wiring in our mind.
Then, much to our surprise, the energy that begins to flow through us is so powerful and positive that we wonder why we ever paid so much attention to our mind and all the internal dialogues it seemed to revel in. We become just a temporary manifestation of universal energy, and that grudge we held against so-and-so, that powerlessness we felt in the face of the current socio/political situation, floats off into the ether, and we are able to focus on what is at hand with intensely positive and very present energy. We are not trapped in our minds any more.
We have all experienced this energy at the farm when we are able to get great joy in focusing on what is at hand and temporarily letting go of our convoluted thoughts. Especially if the work is a 'small thing'--fixing a pump, picking a strawberry, serving a customer-- which is part of a very big thing in which we believe, the experience can be very powerful and fulfilling.
We have often used the term 'energy' to describe some sort of physical emanation through a person, and have come to make generalizations which make some intuitive sense. These generalizations may be of some practical use here at the farm, since I have noticed clear differences in the results of different kinds of 'energy.'
What seems to have worked best is a combination of people with high 'universal energy,' that is, people who work hard at the series of small tasks at hand, and are able to do so without high attachment to control, personal agendas, or prejudices. They are able to put their personal problems, their hardwired thought patterns, their ambitions, their frustrations, and even their sense of individual self aside, reaching a 'state of consciousness' which is higher than themselves in order to achieve--as a group--a higher purpose than whatever their own personal psychological needs have heretofore dictated.
In the broader society we see examples of this for brief periods after a natural disaster upsets normal societal relationships, and people put their 'small-self' aside to help others and to relate to one another in a very open, unshielded, manner.
Most farm businesses, however, are driven by a type of 'energy' which is highly individualistic, and usually involves requiring all employees to take direction from 'central control'. Typically, an ambitious and talented farmer makes most of the decisions, and employees follow dutifully. This model can be very successful, especially since most people are accustomed to operating in this environment. This same model works well in an industrial-scale farm with a pyramidical structure of authority. The energy powering these models is typically 'male energy' but by no means necessarily so; there is certainly a female verion of 'male energy.' In most instances, however, there is a 'dominant' energy which is complemented by a 'supportive' energy.
But it seems that this system, with all of the status that society bestows to farmers, necessarily leaves other farm workers with less status and even less dignity. We farmers are tempted to revel in this status, since in the years when we don't make money, at least we get plenty of sympathy.
I have shied away from promoting myself in the traditional 'farmer' role, to the point that some outsiders have a hard time understanding what it is that I do. This ambiguity is intentional, because it allows others to share in the 'farmer' limelight.
But there is more going on here than the dominant/supportive structural issue: namely, the male/female 'energy' issue.
Interestingly, the organism of Swanton Berry Farm has grown in a most healthy and creative way when both men and women have prominent roles. Perhaps the persistent cultural myth of the 'family farm' contains within it an unconscious understanding of a powerful interaction of complementary 'male' and 'female' energy united for a common purpose.
Given the way our society is organized, I think that most people would assume that this male/female interaction would be based on the familiar dominant/supportive model. But I believe that it is possible that the interaction could be between parties that are both powerful conduits of 'universal' energy which amplify each other in amazing ways.
This 'universal energy' has a very different feel to it than normal human interaction, perhaps because it emanates from a universal source rather than from a human mind. It requires humility by its very power. The paradox is that those who can put their mind aside become vehicles for this energy, which when combined with the energy of others in the same state, resonates and multiplies in a powerful way. A small group of people like us find ourselves doing amazing things..... but instead of allowing our heads to swell, we just keep doing our part, and look around furtively at each other and say from time to time "Holy shit!" when we realize the outsized impact of our small efforts.