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Khalsa Greenhouses—Notes from an Intern

By Em Bush

I attended my first Kundalini Yoga class on a Sunday morning in 2009. All of three students attended, including me, and the summer heat was already descending, sticky and enveloping. I’d been practicing various types of yoga for a few years, and set out confidently to try whatever this “Kundalini Yoga” could throw at me.

The instructor was a tall, flamboyant guy with a New York accent, full beard and turban. He opened class with a set of exercises involving loud chanting, vigorous motions repeated for up to three minutes, and precise pranayama (breath), which left me with a subtle high. He instructed us, boot camp style, to push ourselves beyond our comfort levels. The class kicked my butt. I walked home through the park wondering, “What the heck was that?”

Apparently it made an impression. Over the next year, I abandoned every other practice of yoga. I got over the self-consciousness of chanting. The practice empowered me. Eventually, a teacher invited me to attend Summer Solstice, a week-long kundalini fest in New Mexico. I put in for the time off and jetted off into the desert, not knowing the land of dust and sage brush would later become my home for seven months.

I attended the next few solstices in succession, gradually expanding a group of yogic and/or spiritual friends and deepening my own practice. Meanwhile, back in the world of responsibilities, a rocky relationship and a burnout job forced me to realize that I needed a new direction. After much deliberation, I packed up a few bags and headed out on an adventure; the plan was to tour the United States working at various organic farms. A solstice friend mentioned a farm in Española that was looking for farm hands, and I figured that was as good a place as any to start.

I arrived at Khalsa Greenhouses to join two pilot interns already participating in the program. Interns exchanged four to six hours of work six days a week for a communal living space and meals. When I showed up, one of the interns, a Chilean woman, was writing a detailed report of micro-green and sprouted legume production. The other, a Brazilian expatriate, spent most of her afternoons researching arid land agriculture. I was at once inspired and intimidated by their focused approach to farm living.

The owner and co-manager took me on a quick tour of the greenhouses, pointing out the production room, where produce is packaged, as well as a lower unheated greenhouse dedicated to intern experimentation. Three main bays of the greenhouse produce the majority of the food. When I arrived, the main crops were chard, heirloom tomatoes and assorted salad greens, though throughout my stay we also cultivated kohlrabi, collard greens, radishes, mizuna, carrots, spinach, and mustard greens.

The greenhouses are located a five-minute walk from the ashram and Sikh temple. This space acts as a community center, providing donation-based yoga classes and langar (meals served in traditional Indian style) twice a week. Many community members live within a two mile radius of the temple, living and working in trailers, mobile homes and various adobe-style structures.

My first days on the farm prioritized irrigation. The intense summer heat necessitates daily watering of all crops as well as afternoon siestas. Having spent most of my life in Northern climes, I was all too happy to soak in the dry heat and persistent blue skies. At least once a week the interns donned our sun hats and headed up to the outdoor field on the two and a half acre property. Although historically agricultural, the land has lain fallow for at least 50 years. Over the course of a few months, we dug, seeded and irrigated seventeen 70 foot rows, each about two and a half feet wide. One of my main duties was cutting the irrigation lines into place, a project which involved a hack saw and various nubbins of pipe from the local feed store.

Once, we experimented with diverting water from the acequia, or communal irrigation channel, into the field crops. Uncontrolled, the water flooded the rows and washed away some crucial berms. After an exciting afternoon of furiously bailing mud and rushing from one row to another to hand-build makeshift dams, we decided we needed more infrastructure before trying that again. An illuminating experiment, nonetheless! Outdoor crops throughout the season included, but weren’t limited to, beets, red and rainbow chard, turnips, sunflowers, jujubes, and daikon radishes.

During the summer and into the fall, interns volunteered one day a week developing a community garden in the heart of ashram land. For reasons still unclear, a vast swath of land amidst walking paths and residences lay barren, awaiting development of one sort or another. One visionary community member took it upon himself to adopt the space and create a community garden, even if it meant starting with only a handful of volunteers and a large dose of gumption. Needless to say, he was happy to share the workload with a motley—if cosmopolitan—collection of greenhouse interns.

Radiating from a couple of ragged apple trees, the garden reluctantly progressed with the help of lasagna gardening, creative mulching and a fair amount of elbow grease. Typical intern tasks included weeding, transplanting, and once, building a cob bench under one of the shady pommiers. In the fall we used local cottonwood leaves to mulch, tore out a field of corn stalks, and designed a patio using upcycled concrete tiles.

Every Saturday Khalsa Greenhouses vends seasonal veggies at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Leaving the house by 5 am in the summer, or 6 in the winter, we crammed the van to the brim with Thursday and Friday’s harvest, fumbling in the unfamiliar black of the greenhouse, mantra playing distantly in the production room. Clear plastic containers of kale and chard, and trays of microgreens pack the car like some sort of vegetable jenga.

We’re on the road in time to catch the first hues of sunrise over the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The drive down is quiet, save for finding our “song of the day” on the radio just as we crest a small hill and spot the sprawling lights of the city, still lit from night hours. The market opens at 7 or 8 respectively, by which time the stand is set up and interns are breakfasting on market fare.

Customers come in waves: smaller, lapping waves in the summer, and tidal waves of greens-starved patrons in the winter. Many customers are well-informed and highly conscious of the food they consume. Perhaps most rewarding is providing samples of lovingly, mindfully grown food to people who don’t regularly eat greens, or who have never heard of live foods before. Regardless of the customer base, providing wholesome, healing food to individuals (and sometimes restaurants and food co-ops) is a pleasure and a gift.

My life on the farm was complex and rich. The best I can do is to describe the little moments, those peripheral memories which frame concrete realities: waking to the muted sound of clucking chickens, water-coloring the subtleties of a chard leaf. Sprinting outside in pajamas to capture the fiery sunrise on film, huddling near the winter fire with the people I now consider my Sikh family. Running the dog and arriving home breathless, laughing, and covered in dust just in time for a summer downpour.

During my stay I learned to manage a year-round greenhouse operation, supervise and, more importantly, befriend volunteers, and how to sell out of greens in an hour and a half at the market. I completed three forty day yoga practices and breathed mindfulness. I stood, sweaty, electric, atop a dusty foothill watching lightning strike royal blue mountains in every direction. These moments enmeshed, melting into the dirty, earthen work of a farm hand. These memories, and a thousand others, ushering my life graciously, softly, in a direction I hadn’t foreseen.

Em Bush is a joyful nomad. She's currently traveling the world, taking note of the underlying similarities which tie us all together. She's seeking laughter, light and the manifestation of profound humility. 

Paintings by Em Bush emannbush.blogspot.com

For more information about the Khalsa Greenhouses Residential Intern Program contact Gurujiwan Singh [email protected]  and  Khalsa Greenhouses