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The Synchronicity of Service

The first Ampersand apprenticeship is complete! So much has happened in these last six months and the apprenticeship has woven through everything. But there are a couple of things I really need to say.

First of all, Janus Herrera is a great role model for directing one’s own path of self-education.

If you want to learn more about living sustainably and gain more hands-on skills, there are programs out there. Classes, internships, programs you pay for- and with good reason. It takes a lot of time and effort to offer an educational program. I know, of course, because I’ve been doing this at Ampersand for some time.

But there is another valuable item of exchange not to be overlooked. It’s your own attention, dedication, and elbow grease. We would not have offered the apprenticeship at all without Janus’s request to get more involved in Ampersand. She offered her interest and some consistent help. She had already proved her responsibility and dedication during the time she spent in an Ampersand work-trade position during October of 2016, when she lived on site for three weeks. Because I knew she was the kind of person who would honor an agreement, communicate about her needs, and dive into whatever task was scheduled for the day, we created this apprenticeship opportunity. Her ability to pull off an amazing ensemble from the costume box for Halloween was duly noted.

Our main project over the winter was to erect a hoop house and outfit it as a propagation environment. We called it a Greenhouse Apprenticeship, and it culminated with our two Spring Fundraiser Plant Sales.

From November to May, our weekly work days progressed from getting the hoop house up, to making propagation tables, painting water tanks and installing gutters, planting and transplanting, and tending to the plants in the mature greywater greenhouse. We now have three different greenhouse spaces that have different ranges of temperatures and qualities of light. Turns out there is a lot we can learn from it all.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a plant person. After falling in and out of love with farming in my younger years, and settling for a life of rainwater supply, I’m surprised now to re-discover myself as a teacher in the realm of quantity plant production (quality goes without saying). I’ve been overjoyed as well as a bit overwhelmed. And so grateful for Janus’s dependable and intelligent help. Her participation has definitely been crucial to the success we have had with the plant sales.

Meanwhile, on other days of the week Janus was out following her path of self-education wherever it led her. She volunteered at the NM Organic Farming Conference. She attended a Veteran Farmers Project workshop, and volunteered with the Albuquerque Library Seed Savers group. She was also taking a welding course which she now helps instruct. Many Fridays Janus would show up at Ampersand full of information she had learned, wanting to talk about it. We all benefited from this dialogue and outside inspiration.

Janus has already had a career as a process engineer. She quit that job of security and surety of days spent indoors, wanting to be closer to the Earth. She has a drive to be in service, and that guides her life’s path. She needed a bit of free time, but not much money to navigate her own education in a world she discovered full of teachers and learning opportunities. An attitude of service and desire to connect opens many doors. When someone demonstrates a dedication to a project or place, they inevitably reap rewards. Relationship is everything.

Janus expressed her apprenticeship experience as being about relationship as well.

-A Day in the Life of an Ampersand Apprentice-

Four women outside

The greenhouse harvesting smiles

Cultured in a jar.

The haiku poem above was inspired by one of countless memorable experiences at Ampersand in the six months of my Apprenticeship there. On that Friday we worked together, Amanda, Grace, Ren, and I, emptying myceliated grain from Pleurotus Ostreatus into large tubs where the fungus will soon fruit with tender oyster mushrooms. Amanda expertly instructed us to layer the mycelia with growing medium of coffee grounds and recycled cardboard, alternating layers. We laughed riotously, eating chunks of the clumpy, nutritious harvest with our hands. I had watched the thread-like hyphae spread over several weeks inside their delicate ecosystem – a sterile mason jar that Andy had inoculated with liquid spores. Now checking on our progress, Andy invited us up the hill to view the mycelia under a microscope as he captured the images on his laptop. Did someone inform these beautiful people that I have been fascinated by the magical medicine of mycology for years? Adjusting the focus of the image, it appeared as though we were traveling deeper into the microscopic network; it was a complex, three-dimensional web. I was completely entranced. It is a wonderful challenge to try to distill the essence of Ampersand into a few sentences – I hope I have captured a snapshot of the delightful enrichment that Amanda and Andy were so generous to share with me!

The web-like growth of the mycelium in this passage describes the network of relationships that we must grow to create a resilient and regenerative world. The synchronicity that unfolds is not really too mysterious – it emerges from planting one’s care and offering one’s service. Thanks Janus for this reminder and blessings on your next adventure!

Written by Amanda Bramble

PS Look into our work-trade positions and our Volunteer Camp-Out Weekend June 2nd through 4th. www.ampersandproject.org

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Rainy Day Reflections

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Sometimes I forget how nature can swoop in and save the day. A good rain recharges not only my cisterns, but also my sense of abundance.

It started a couple days after our mushroom cultivation workshop. We had set up some oyster mushroom mycelium to grow out of coffee grounds indoors, and we also installed three storm-water-harvesting mushroom beds. I came out of the weekend a bit overwhelmed with all of my new responsibilities. Not just with learning to maintain the environments for our new growing creatures, but also dealing with the five syringes of liquid spore culture in my refrigerator. They need to be transferred to sterilized medium within the next couple weeks. Add that to the maintenance and repairs of going into winter on the homestead, and I assure you it’s a formidable list.

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Then the rain came. It was a gentle one. Like music. I could hear the water seeping into the land, into the plants. It brought a deep sense of well being, and even relief. I’m not saying my list got any shorter, but watching the new mushroom beds fill with storm water was quite fulfilling. This rain was not only gentle, but there was a well timed pause in the storm too. It cleared up long enough to walk out along our dirt road and arrange the erosion control rock work I’ve been meaning to do. The ground was soft as pudding and I didn’t even need a shovel.

I do forget sometimes how the whims of nature can make life easier. Despite the reality of living off rainwater and sunlight, so much of the time it seems we must swim upstream against the entropy of our environment.

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But this time the message was clear. We’ve been meaning to fill in some flood scoured holes in the restoration project since August. This latest flood was a reminder that nature is sometimes indisputably on our side. The whole flood path in our restoration project filled with a new fine silt and no signs of erosion anywhere. I’ve been waiting for this moisture to transplant some wild cuttings out there. So I’ve started filling in the bare areas with a variety of floodplain plants in our new soft moist soil.

There’s nothing like the meditation of tracking flood patterns through a landscape. This time I learned that I can use a shovel in one hand while holding an umbrella with the other. And after too many times of wandering out in the rain longer than expected, I’ve learned the benefits of rain gear. My wet clothes are dry now after an afternoon of sun. Thank you sun. Thank you rain. It’s a good life.

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Written by Amanda Bramble