Hearing the Call of Farmer: An Apprenticeship with Life and Death

Fall has arrived, and with it comes all the preparation for winter and colder temperatures. The golden hues of fractured light illuminate the beautiful array of colours that mark the occasion, and although the weather has been unseasonably warm, we try our best not to be lulled into that feeling of long lazy days where it feels like these warm winds will never end. The farm is growing as things continue to develop and the project is busier than ever, leaving us some days exhausted and overwhelmed. It hasn’t been easy, leaving our home, family and friends to follow something that was calling to us, something that we had no experience in, something that was asking for everything we had to give. There are days when we wake up and wonder what we are doing here, those days where everything is going wrong, where there are too many things to accomplish and you know that it will be a 16 hour day and it will feel like nothing on the list was even completed. Yet there are also those days where everything is perfect, it all falls into place and you are reminded of why you said yes to such an impossible dream.

I have been reminded of this recently in an interview by Neal Collins in his Regenerative Realestate Podcast who so eloquently asked some very heartfelt questions as to what motivated us to sell all of our possessions, jump in our truck RV in tow and travel across the continent landing on piece of land in the middle of the woods to start from scratch, clearing land, building a small cabin and carving a farm literally out of a forest. It wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t something that we even logically thought through. Yes, we had the leverage from selling our house, however there was something happening on a deeper level that we had been dreaming into. What I heard myself speaking to Neal about was the inner work that really drove the process, and reflecting back on that conversation, I started to become even more curious about what got us here, what and why did I say yes to this, what inside of me was pushing towards this dream.

I have also been inspired by the work that is being so beautifully stepped into by the apprentices that have found themselves here on the farm. One component of the apprenticeship program is to spend meaningful time on the land with intent. What we help guide is solo time which may consist of one to three nights alone on the property in the woods. It is a time for reflection, for asking questions or to confirm a direction or discover new ones. Five years ago this fall, I myself was engaged in this same process, a guided vision fast in the red rock canyons of the American Southwest. It was my third guided fast, however this was the longest and most intense one fasting alone for four days without food and minimal shelter, perched on a small rock ledge, overlooking a canyon carved through red rock for thousands and thousands of years. It is a landscape that I had been drawn to for many years, and I spent the better part of my forties exploring the American Southwest, a place that has shown me many things. My curiosity with hearing the stories that were coming from the land here by the apprentices and those wonderful questions from Neal had me thinking about my fast and diving back into my journal entries. What I found, what I rediscovered, were words that have truly guided me to where I am today, messages and clues about what my Soul was longing for in a process where the logical and often critical mind becomes much quieter.

“I am the farmer of seeds for the future generations”

“The farm will have to be the seed to move the vision forward”

“You may not see the seeds grow, but you can dream them into being”

“Death is a seed for the next life, facilitate death to ensure the success of the next generation.”

“Having a farm and selling food is how you create a community”

“You will have to risk failure if you are to follow this path”

My Solo Site Five Years Ago in the Red Rock Canyons

What has been resonating for myself in all this is how much my previous guided solo time on the land has defined where I am today. These journal entries were clues to what was being asked of me by deeper parts of self. These writings may have been pointing to something direct, speaking to the “farmer” however that is only a delivery system of something much harder to grasp. What was being spoken was more about seeds and apprenticeships, specifically an apprenticeship to death. Farming is more of the vehicle for the teachings.

All this culmination of interest and subsequent confirmation comes at a welcomed time, especially here on the farm where we are just at the very beginning pieces of starting this endeavour, building a holistic apprenticeship program and charting the course of a project that is leading us in such beauty and grace. Confirmation of what is happening helps in light of the challenges, hardships and exhaustion as we try to understand all the pieces that must be woven together for this to work, for it to be what we are dreaming and understanding the realities of manifesting such things. The days are long as we celebrate our successes, learn from our failures and continue to set up for the future seeds that are being planted.

Fall on the farm is also one of death, and the tending to this sacred act is not lost on us in the experience and life of farmer. I grew up hunting and fishing, and was taught from an early age about the responsibilities and honouring of taking the life of another. In order for us to live, another must give up its life for us, whether it be plant or animal flesh. The stark reality of this situation is what connects us to our food. For me, it is an apprenticeship with death. Cruising down grocery store isles with bad elevator music in the background, with pictures of farms and caricatures of animals that we are to consume is the visual of our food systems these days. Missing is what goes into the killing of animals and vegetables for our continued existence. We are disconnected from our food. I have such a new appreciation for the farmer, it takes an incredible amount of work to grow food, more than I ever imagined.

Much gratitude for the support that we have been receiving, much gratitude for the interest in our project and much gratitude for all those that have been finding their way here, learning about themselves and teaching us so much. I truly believe that our connections with wildness, with the wild community, are inroads to learning more about ourselves, and if we listen, if we start that dialogue with these places, our true gifts will be reflected to us. If you would like to hear the interview with Neal and learn more about the story of how all this unfolded, tune into Regenerative Real Estate Podcast. Neal is a gifted interviewer, and his podcast series offers a different perspective in a world that needs new voices and new ideas.

I will leave with a poem, a poem for all the farmers who are busily harvesting, preparing for winter and facilitating death so that we may be nourished, so that our lives may continue.

The tenderness of life and death, the misunderstood life of farming
Our food comes to us, all neatly prepared
Down isles of white flickering lights
We listen to the drones of music that keeps our carts moving with delight
We do not see the death the farmer holds as roosters die in the night
The sacrifice of the hens eggs for our nourishing tasty sensations
The hours spent praying to seeds that they may see the light
Coaxing our ancient agreement to bring food and life
The cities are a veil to such luminous life
Hiding from the death that gives them life
Our introspections on death and life
Taking the life energy that we hold for you the consumer in our way of life
We are the holders of death to continue life
We hold baby chick, goats and rabbits alike
Consume, waste in this dirty cycle of consumeristic life
Hiding from the realities of the food of life
It grows for our convenience at the stores for you and me
The elevator music we deplore yet like
Our hands drip with the blood we farmers hold in special life
Yet our value is not supported where the veils of city life
Protect and hide in the capitalistic race
To an end that if we look is close in sight
What virtues do we hold in this world of technological fright
Who do you employ for your food tonight
The factory machines remove much from sight
Lines at the slaughter day and night
As I sit with the visions and thoughts of the I killing I must employ on the eve of the animals last night
Singing their praise into the other world of unknown mysterious love and light
What prayers I must offer for my soul to remain right
What gifts do I give for the lives I take
In light of the moon, the sun and all that is right
We give and we take in our agreements tonight
We are not the owners the rooster crows in the early morning light
Our ancient agreements have been lost in the world of fastness
Speed of light
Moving to places unknown in our consumeristic delight
What offerings, what gratitude do we give in our daily bread
What hand created for our taste pleasures as we watch TV tonight
What sources, what resources conspired to give you life
In the drone of moving toward the realm of dark city life
Community divided in the polarity of time
Ask, where and who gave me this food tonight

~ Written By William Kosloski, Twisted Roots Farm


Discovering Yourself Through Farming: Stories From a Nature-Based Farm Apprenticeship

Summer is in full bloom here on the farm with the warm nights, fireflies and the continued explosion of life in the short season of heat, warming our hearts and being grateful for the seasonality of this place.  Our first cohort of apprentices arrived in the middle of spring, with sub zero temperatures, no greenery and then experienced the bursting of life with hoards of blackflies, mosquitoes and other biting friends to let us now that warmer weather and longer days were on the horizon, the price we pay for exiting the cold embrace of spring here in Cape Breton.

It has been three months since these brave souls arrived on our doorstep welcomed with our open hearts and very rustic and uncompleted accommodations.  The pandemic had put us terribly behind as we were unable to hire or have any volunteer help as we had planned in our business concept that we had worked so hard on over the winter.  We had one volunteer who found us just before things had really spun out of control with fear, and we managed to build accommodations to house four people the day before folks arrived.  Heating was still a major issue, and some almost left after the first night, however they stayed on and saw it through, an experience that lets us know what we are made of, discovering hidden gifts through challenge.  A true marker of holistic learning.

And now their time is coming to a close after being here for three months.  This is the first year we offered the apprenticeship, and with this cohort we have been evolving the program from their experiences here on the farm.  What is unraveling is nothing more than perfect, and the foundation being built from this young tough crew is a creation of beauty never seen before in this place.  We didn’t exactly know how combining nature based mentorship with farming would work out, and of course it is a work in progress, however the stories that are bubbling from the inner work that these young souls have so eloquently stepped into is an offering to the world in such magnificence and beauty that if the farm were to fold tomorrow, the gifts that they will carry into their lives and for their communities is enough.  

A farm in the forest is an interesting way to engage in this work, this work of inner discovery, of truly finding that authenticity of self in a world of fragmented and wounded psyches.  Young people have limited ways to step into true adulthood, and our culture often gets stuck in patho adolescent behaviour that is driven by immature ego’s.  Hard physical work, interpersonal community relationships, conflict communication and nature based reflection and dialogue are all ways that apprentices have been engaged with another, the farm and the wild community.  Last week, apprentices stepped into solo time on the land, to further dive into their inner selves and acknowledge some of the gifts that will help guide them for the rest of their lives.  Here is one story from an apprentice here at Twisted Roots Farm.

“I decided to come to the farm after losing my summer job due to Covid-19.  Living self sufficiently has been an interest of mine for a while and I figured it would be a good learning opportunity.  Not only did I learn an incredible amount of practical skills, but I learned a ton about myself and grew in ways I did not anticipate.  Here are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about my life during my time here.

Sitting with discomfort.  When I arrived at the farm, winter weather was still in full swing despite it being the end of April.  After the first super cold night in the unheated and uninsulated accommodations, I asked myself why I even came here.  My fingers and toes were numb for like two weeks straight.  We started sleeping with mason jars filled with boiling water to stay warm.  Then  blackflies and mosquitoes came.  Then the heat and humidity.  All while doing manual labour 7 hours a day, which was quite a change in pace from my desk job.  With each discomfort I wasn’t sure if I could make it through, but I survived every one of them with minimal breakdowns.  Another apprentice told me that the more discomfort I endure, the wider my range of comfort becomes.  This became my mantra.  By the end of my time here, I managed to fast in the woods with no more than a bug net, a tarp, a sleeping bag and some water for 42 hours straight.  My range of comfort is definitely wider and now I know I have the strength to endure so much more than I ever thought I could.

Listening to my body.  Before I came here, I thought about food more than I’d like to admit.  I thought that if I could control my eating habits, that would make me feel in control of my life.  This control came in many forms, picky eating, severe calorie restriction, veganism.  None of these forms of restriction, hope as I may, actually made me feel fulfilled.  During my 42 hour fast, I became aware that my tendency to undereat was causing me to feel depressed, exhausted and emotionally drained for months.  During that time, I thought that depression was an inevitable part of my life one I would just have to deal with.  I know that that’s not the case.  Giving my body proper nourishment (not just food-wise, but also emotional and spiritual) gives me the energy to do the things that are meaningful to me and allows my creativity and loving kindness to flourish.

Recognizing my relationship with control.  My unhealthy relationship with control goes beyond food.  There are many aspects of my life that I realize I have an obsessive desire to control, including my schedule, my space and others around me.  I now have the ability to recognize when I am being unreasonably controlling, and I am better equipped to handle situations that are out of my control.  I also recognize the gifts in this and how it helps me in leadership positions.

Living in community and communicating openly.  I have always found communicating open with others to be a challenge.  Speaking with others in the community about issues that I am facing lifted a huge weight off my chest.  Until coming here, I tended to bottle emotions up and attempt to hold myself together through them all by myself.  Now I know that this took a lot of energy that could be better used elsewhere.  There is no shame in asking for help when you need it.

I have also practiced speaking directly to others when conflict in the community arose, even though I find this to be deeply terrifying.  The art of non violent communication is one that I will use throughout my life and career.

Learning to be grateful for what I have and knowing enough is enough.  “One who knows “enough is enough” always has enough.  Tao Te Ching.  Whether it be food I usually wouldn’t eat, “rustic” living conditions or limited personal space, it may not be ideal, but it is enough.  In my time here I have practiced being grateful for what I have, rather than dwelling on wanting more.  I have definitely learned to appreciate the simple things.

Social media detox.  When I’m at home, I normally spend a lot of time on my phone.  Not only does this suck my time away, but I also feel like I lost part of myself in that addiction.  I was constantly striving to achieve the level of perfection I saw on my screen, even though I know how curated all of the content is.  Here there have been week long periods where my phone has been dead due to clouds (we run on solar).  I am rediscovering who I am rather than what Instagram says I should be.  I am also discovering all that I can create and accomplish if I put my damn phone down and actually do the things that I want to do.

Self improvement is a practice.  I tend to beat myself up when I set out to make a self improvement and then fall back into old patterns.  A setback is just a setback, It doesn’t mean I have to start from scratch.  I’m allowed to make mistakes and I’m allowed to make them more than once.  Overall, as long as I am genuinely trying to improve, I am heading in the right direction.

Do I have all the answers after this experience?  Of course not, and I hope I never do.  This  experience just allowed me time and space to look inward and to get to know myself a bit better.  I’m sure I have grown in ways here that have not yet revealed themselves too.  To conclude, I will share some words written by Rainer Marie Rilke that have been resonating with me lately.”

“I want to beg you, as much as I can dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”


Transitions and New Beginnings

Hold to your own truth at the center of the image you were born with”

David Whyte

In April of 2017, we arrived in Cape Breton after traveling across Canada from Vancouver Island in search of an affordable place in which to homestead. It was the start of a new adventure and a closure on our previous lives back on the West Coast. Hard to imagine that we are approaching three years in this journey and we find ourselves, yet again, at another crossroads in 2020. The past three years has been a time of integrating with this new place that we now call home, a time of isolation, reflection, and rewilding. We are now crossing another threshold as we transition from calling this place Rewylding Woods to her new name of Twisted Roots Farm. This change in name represents the new and unique way that we are being called to offer this place to others.

For the past three months, we have been working and planning this transition with the support of the Nova Scotia Self Employment Program, the Department of Agriculture, Occupational Health and Safety Nova Scotia, The Federation of Agriculture Nova Scotia and the Community Business Development Corporation InRich. All of these services have supported us in creating an economic and operational plan for Twisted Roots Farm. We have also had the continued support of family and friends, which has allowed us to take this much needed time to create a valuable and in depth business plan. We are setting up the farm and forest site to create many offerings, from food to local forest products, as well as opening this land to others for learning.

We are deeply indebted for the help that we have received from volunteers over the last two years in continuing to set up the farm, and we are now expanding our volunteer and educational programming to include a three month and six month stay Apprenticeship program expanding the unique learning opportunities here on the farm. We need this help in order for the project to succeed, as it requires many hands for this vision to come to life; creating a farm among the forest, using low impact, regenerative practices. In this realization of requiring a community of support, our long term vision for Twisted Roots Farm is to create a working cooperative, as we know we cannot do this on our own and want to create a system of employment that is worker owned and operated. We also want this place to continue beyond our time and our invitation of learning is about creating a network of people committed to the project, while generating a supportive economic framework that supports all members.

Our experience of this place has been life changing, especially when either one of us comes from a farming background. There have been times that we have been challenged beyond what we thought was even possible, from harvesting animals to braving the elements in the care of those beings. We have both had to find strength within ourselves and together as a couple to forge ahead when all seemed impossible. We have maintained our health and sanity through it all (or maybe not – perhaps we never had our sanity in the first place!) and feel the winds of change on the horizon as we venture into this new and uncharted territory.

Our intention is to share this journey in a deep and intimate way. We have dabbled with blog posts and instagram, but we also recognize the value of this narrative in a fast changing world under environmental pressures. We know some of the threads that have led us to this place, while others continue to be revealed in their own mysterious ways. We have spent hours and hours researching farming, homesteading, forestry, permaculture, and all things related to living off-grid in the forest. Many others have followed a similar path, and from those folks and their generosity of knowledge sharing, we have been able to figure things out (for the most part) and find new ways of farming that we value and hold dear to our hearts.

Our blog represents all of the things that we have succeeded at, all of the things that we are experimenting with, and all of the things that we have failed at (relatively speaking). Holistic learning includes all of this; to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning. We do not see ourselves as separate from our surroundings. We are not observers simply looking in. We are a part of everything and one of our greatest gifts is that we are able to bare witness to the incredible unfolding of life.

And so, the journey continues. Thank you to all those who have supported us and thank you to all those who believe in us; it has motivated us and kept us going. Stay tuned for more from Twisted Roots Farm!!

Diving into the Depths of Sacred Farming

I sit in the awe and beauty of this place, its hard work, its community, its hardship. I had never imagined that I would be in service to something that feels so important, to be in service to the young folks who are finding their way here. I have spent the majority of my life traversing the realms of wild spaces, listening to the stories and doing my best to understand what is being transmitted in those spaces. I have also witnessed the stories of addiction, depression, anger, anxiety, longing, beauty, and dreams from all those young ones who have so graciously entrusted me with their stories, and to hear the hope in their confident voices for a better future. I am in gratitude for their gifts, for their strength, for their courage, for their dedication and most of all, for their hope; the hope of entering into such turbulent times with a new plan. They hold the future of what I can only dream of.

Days here at the farm can be long, exhausting and stressful. There are moments filled with mud, humidity, blackflies and physically demanding work. Tending to the growing of food is a process of supporting life and death and for most of us, this connection is lost at the modern grocery store. Farming does not fit the 9 to 5 schedule, it is a way of life, a meditation of the present moment. Working and living together in this environment can be hard, challenging and emotionally draining, which is why we have to find ways to communicate and find solutions to issues that are supportive. We have to understand emotions, feel and claim projections and acknowledge the shadow parts of self. It is heart warrior work and these brave ones who have found themselves here have embraced such a delicate language in deep connection with nature-based dialogue. I am in deep gratitude for their willingness and dedication to such an impossible dream.

The farm is evolving with the apprenticeship program and all of the teachings we are learning from each other as we continue to create this unique project. The stories held here are sacred. I am feeling the gratitude for my mentors and teachers who so beautifully guided me to be in this place and time, and reflect and honour their work as we pass on their teachings and inspiration here at the farm. I send out praise for my time as a youth worker, where I learned how to communicate with parents and youth while navigating a governmental system in fiscal restraints that tried to support those vulnerable ones with perceived impossible challenges. I reflect and honor my time with CanAdventure Education where I went through one of the most transitional periods of my life with all of the amazing and dedicated staff that embraced a vision for young ones and their families in a therapeutic wilderness setting. I am also in deep admiration and praise for those vision fast guides and mentors, who so beautifully helped guide me through the mosaic of puzzle pieces and golden threads that have helped to weave a container that holds the power and beauty of soul, helping me fumble in the dark, uncovering the hidden indigenosity that resides in all of our colonized hearts and minds, waiting for that moment of discovery to live fully again in the wild world. Without their guidance, I would not be here in this time and place to now guide others down this path of nature-based mentoring. I am also in deep gratitude for Annie and Niles who continue to guide in their elder way, inspiring and holding this space for us as we do what we can through blood sweat and tears, hoping beyond hope that this can be a place of cultural re-membering.

We are building community, building systems, and trying to understand how to be in relationship with the natural world while connecting with those deeper parts of self that hold such beautiful gifts to be lived into the world, to be of service to something much larger than ourselves. The projects that are stepped into each day require problem solving, innovation, initiative and dedication, and it is amazing to see how those who said “yes” to this crazy venture are thriving, are living, and are breathing life into something that they are leaving for others to continue.

And this is how the farm is growing, adapting and finding its way into something that has never been seen before on this little piece of land. We found ourselves here through a series of moments that saw us follow a dream and said “yes” to something that felt impossible. There are days that I wake up with feelings of impossibility, and yet one conversation or story or realization from those diving into the depths of self through hard farm work and nature connection feed the “yes” of the vision that brought us here. Learning to grow food, learning about community and holding sacred space for such opportunities are what make this project so beautiful. I am truly blessed to be of service to these young souls and the farm is indebted to their energy, youthfulness, ideas, inspiration, creativeness, tears, laughter and joy, for without them there is no future worth living.

~ Written by William Kosloski

Life on the Farm

Life on the farm over the last few months has been one of many challenges as we continue to grow into this new farm, and way of life. We have, for lack of a better term, been laying low with respect to our social media presence, in part because we have been busy and also because of the situation regarding COVID. Our entire business model is based on the help we receive on the farm through apprenticeships and volunteers, and having folks arrive here in the midst of a pandemic has required working through an entirely new set of logistics and stepping into the unknown. Starting a new business has it’s challenges and pitfalls in the best of times, navigating such a venture during a pandemic in times of uncertainty, mis-information and fear can at times feel like trying to fit a small jacket on a wild cat while taking a bath.

Our apprentices have arrived, and we have passed our time of isolation, which is not required of essential services such as farms, but is something we chose to do regardless. We are now playing a game of “catch up” as our production plan is almost three months behind with all of the infrastructure that is required to move this project forward. Crops are being planted, our egg layers are producing more and more eggs every day, our meat birds are growing and the piglets continue to thrive. With the arrival of new energy, projects are being completed and we are moving closer to the much needed revenue that the farm requires to stay afloat. We have eggs and select cuts of pork available for sale, orders for meat birds are being taken, and we have a variety of unique heritage breed piglets and breeding boars for sale.

We have and continue to be in such gratitude for the response we have had to our apprenticeship program. Our spring cohort is full with the August intake filling quickly. This has made such a difference in daily life here on the farm, and with our first cohort, we continue to learn and experience how to weave nature-based learning with farming. These young folks are exploring the inner workings of how to set up and manage such a unique project while diving into a meaningful reflection of nature-based soul work. The stories that are bubbling up are inspiring, and we feel honored to hold such a space for this beautiful work.

The days are getting longer, the leaves are in full bloom, the blackfiles have arrived and we continue to sink ever deeper into a way of life that feeds us in so many ways. Our hope is to continue sharing this evolving story as we settle into the summer season. Wild Blessings to all.

The Unlikely Peace

As a part of our apprenticeship program this year, we are asking the apprentices to read two books which have been core to our own wild unfolding. We are both currently re-reading one of these books, “The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic” by Martin Prechtel. This morning, I came across these words and felt that they speak so intimately to this moment in time. This part of his story is set just after the devastating earthquake in Guatemala in 1976 in a small village known as Cuchumaquic. Martin and some other young men have brought what little food and water they could muster to this village, whose members are now sitting atop piles of rubble where their homes, pots for cooking, and any remaining foods are completely buried. They sit with their dead and dying, they are starving. Life will never be the same for them.

“Instead of individuals running around trying to hoard things and keep them away from the desperate masses of other individuals doing the same thing, as happened in the bigger cities, in these thrashed and flattened little old-time villages they knew if there was nothing left to lose, then what is not to be gained by being happy together, not sharing the little of nothing they still had? They saw the remaining lives their bodies had left as a miraculous gift of ash and water put together and made sentient by the Holy in Nature just long enough to kiss, laugh, and be together on an Earth that obviously did not need humans at all but who had always nonetheless fed us….

…But the fact that real peace had probably happened here one time for a little while meant peace had probably happened somewhere else just as small and just as real, and probably happened a lot more in times past. Best of all, it could most likely happen again. Did we need a disaster to find peace? I know, at least for myself, that even though this peace as we knew it that day may have had to flee and disappear from view on account of those who couldn’t see it, coursing back into the magic doorways of the spirit houses of the mountain gods from whence it sprang, it certainly lives on in the shiny eyes of the Indigenous wilderness of all our souls where the everyday civilized mind can neither follow nor see. But even so, more significant still is that the unexpected and positive shock of just the possibility of such a peace existing in such a tangibly experienced conscious reality kicked me awake and all of the convenient mental beach of cynical know-it-all-ness where the disillusioned love to bask, such that a kind of furnace of stars began sparkling in that moment inside the still-impressionable mud of that big tearful oven of my heart of those early years as to not only warm and brighten for me the spiritually cold night of this numb mechanical age we’ve all been dropped into to live, but to constantly give me a blazing and noble hope whenever I have allowed myself to doubt the reality of this spark of Peace.”

This book is truly a gift of the possibility of the human heart and certainly feeds both of us in a time that could otherwise consume us with the devastation of human greed and ignorance. We will leave you with these further inspiring words from Martin:

“But make no mistake: that peace of Cuchumaquic lives somewhere inside all of us, inside all people, whether awake to it or not, in the form of a powerful tiny magical seed, and there peace lies waiting alive, behind our mental crust, knowing when the day of a more favorable change of spiritual climate occurs in which this seed like peace itself can be openly cultivated and grown again, the peace I knew at Cuchumaquic will come busting again through the sporadic cracks that the Holy causes to quake into the rigid crusts of what in our fear we have rationalized as real.”

Many blessings and love to all.

A Holistic Approach to Farming and Education

“Holistic education is based on the premise that each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning.”

Miller, R. (2000). ‘A brief introduction to holistic education’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. http://infed.org/mobi/a-brief-introduction-to-holistic-education

Three years ago we made the decision to follow a dream that led us from one coast of Canada to the other, landing on 74 acres of forest in Cape Breton. We didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing. It sounded like a simple life, simple, however, apparently doesn’t mean easy and we soon found ourselves clearing land, hauling water, using a composting toilet, building a cabin, plotting, scheming, dreaming and embracing the forest around us.

It soon became clear to us that we could not, and did not want to do all this on our own. We had romantic notions of homesteading and self reliance, however there was something missing. We had community around us, however we didn’t have a community of people working directly with us on the land, learning, problem solving and participating in the day to day that was now our lives. We both had prior careers working with people, and so we decided to see if people would come and volunteer, to help, and to learn about how we were trying to live an off grid life in the forest. We had no idea if anyone would come, and to our surprise and relief, young ambitious folks started arriving. It changed everything.

At first, all we did with these young souls was work, and work, and then a little more work thrown in for a little fun. We were in such a panic at times to get things done that we felt it might be an unfair exchange. Yes we were feeding people, but they were working hard, sleeping in tents, and embracing all the humidity, bugs and cooling temperatures as time progressed into the fall season. It was a disorganized mess, but within the chaos something was happening.

Talking circles (council) was how I had interacted with many people in a variety of programs, something I first experienced working with CanAdventure Education, a wilderness program for youth developed by Corinna (Dragonfly Healing) and Greg Stevenson. It worked miracles with the young people we were working with who came from a variety of troubling backgrounds. This combined with significant time in nature created a way to connect with youth on an entirely different level, breaking through barriers and getting at the heart of the matter in their lives. These were transformative times for all us guides and youth engaged in this wilderness project.

Council is a talking circle format. The basic premise is using a talking piece and only the one holding the piece speaks in the circle. The four agreements of council are: speaking from the heart, listening with the heart, being lean of expression (getting to the heart of the matter), and spontaneity, to practice what comes through you as you hold the piece. The book,The Way of Council by Jack Zimmerman and Virgina Coyle is a valuable resource for this process, and the Oja Foundation offers many programs centered around council based practices.

When we held our first council here on the farm, it was late into the season with a group of young people, some who had been with us for weeks. What we heard hit us hard, and we realized that something was happening to them other than all the back breaking work we threw at them. Their time in the forest, sleeping in a tent, and day to day conversations, set the stage for an opening, a reflection of the inner workings of self. The work challenged them, pushed limits and built confidence. The learning was hands on, and every action felt and seen was experienced in a visceral way.

We heard stories of depression, anxiety and body pain from the state of the world. For some, it was the first time in their lives that they had slept in a forest, and the impact was one that was deeply moving. The shared experience being witnessed in this way gave voice to the feelings in an environment that was removed from their day to day lives. We were moved beyond words to be holding such a container.

We now hold council as a core part of what we do here to share these experiences. Spending time in a way that removes us from the everyday and ordinary offers opportunities to gain new perspectives, especially when the majority of us live in a world that is driven by technology. The economy that we are building here is one built on indebtedness, we need human help and ingenuity to move such a human scale farm project forward. We also realize that we need a community of people here to continue this project beyond our time.

Our response to all this is about creating a space that invites others to be here to learn, to learn in a holistic way. The Apprenticeship program is how we would like to bring people here in a meaningful way, a way that fits into the concept of holistic education. The farm acts as the foundation, it supports us through a process of dieting the land, we become the land that sustains us, and we see, feel and experience the direct relationship with our food. The forest provides the reflection, the time to be with the other- than-human world, to establish our relationship with the wild community. The community provides the container to be witnessed and to explore the depths of meaning of ourselves on how we fit into the larger sense of self as it relates to the intricate dance of human interaction. This is holistic education.

Our calling is about weaving this container of holistic education together on this land, in a world that is often going in another direction. We are no experts, and we are part of this process of learning as much as the people who choose to work with us. What others bring to us is beyond what we ever imagined, and the stories shared and witnessed in council offer us the great gift of listening and speaking from the heart.

Written by William Kosloski of Twisted Roots Farm