Last Wednesday was our July monthly volunteer gathering, a time when the volunteers all get together to share a meal, welcome new-comers, and say goodbye to those who are leaving—a few short term volunteers and the Knights. So we gorged ourselves on gyoza and shared some “final thoughts.” One of my first memories of ARI was attending the August volunteer gathering after we first arrived. It was the welcome party for Doug and me and the goodbye party for Nicole, the YASC missionary serving at ARI before us. And I very distinctly remember thinking “wow, this will be our goodbye party a year from now!” When I think about me back then and me now, I’m just in awe. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned and changed and remained the same.
So there I was, trying to think about what I might say to my fellow volunteers: Only one of whom was at ARI when we arrived, and only about five of whom had come last fall and survived the winter with us. Now we are about 20-25, age ranging from 19-60ish, coming from the U.S., Japan, Germany, Malaysia, or Korea. What can you say to such a group? When it came my turn to say something, all I could do was cry. But crying can mean lots of things so I had to pull myself together to get out some form of a verbal message, which I will relay and enhance for you here.
This has been the hardest year of my life. My darkest times have been here at ARI. I’ve never felt so lonely, so cold, so isolated, so misunderstood, and so vulnerable. Winter in this place really was like the Mirkwood Forest. It wasn’t so incredibly terrible living through it but once you were beyond looking back, it was dark and parasitic and you never want to return there. Maybe it was because the community was so small compared to other times, and the days so short (no daylight savings!), and the harvest so weak. The life of ARI was not lively. But now, it is mid-summer and the life of ARI is most certainly on its way to peaking! Participants are in their groove, they are confident in their work, most of them now feel comfortable with the weather (they like it hot!), and they are eager for more learning. As I mentioned, we have a hearty supply of volunteers! In addition, there are anywhere from 2-30 visitors/guests/work campers joining each day. And our harvest, wow. Right now we are harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans (many kinds!), kangkong, perilla (green and red), spring chrysanthemum, okra, sweet corn, coriander, radish, turnip, bell peppers, cabbage, bitter gourd, eggplant, and many more which I can’t remember. WE ARE ALIVE!
I am so happy to be at ARI at this time. There is so much life and it is a happy, happy place. I am sad to say goodbye but happy to leave ARI in such a happy and lively state. I might feel guilty leaving ARI during the wintertime, like I was abandoning ship.
And lastly, as we volunteers know, but maybe you do not, ARI would not function without us. And this isn’t us tooting our horns but telling it like it is. ARI’s first priority is the leadership training program for the participants. The organic farm serves as a giant outdoor classroom and experimental grounds for their learning. This all may sound very flowery but for the farm to actually continue functioning and producing food for all members, it takes a lot more work than one or two hours a day given through curriculum.
And that is where volunteers come in. While staff work in their roles and participants learn theory to enhance their field application, farm volunteers are weeding, harvesting/threshing/sorting grain crops, and many other behind the scenes work that even I don’t know about. We also have office volunteers who sit in front of computers all day (no heating or AC) while others can enjoy at least being outdoors. They tirelessly respond to emails concerning admissions and ecumenical relations, they sort and organize databases, they edit newsletters and graduate reports, and usually end up having to work through foodlife work. And then there are kitchen volunteers. Of course our morning work is preparing lunch every day. In the afternoon, our work can range from baking bread/processing foods, to cleaning, to sorting and putting away harvest, to observing fields or sharpening knives. We all have many works and some days there isn’t even anything to show for it. But we work together and eventually we see progress. And we see food on the table and we see applications for new participants and we know we doing good.
Doug’s Last Morning Gathering
On Thursday, Doug had his last morning gathering. I will let him do the talking: Doug's Last Morning Gathering (video is uploading now, please check back if unable to access link right away!)
Saturday afternoon was our kitchen party to welcome our new member, Ammy from Malaysia, and say goodbye to me and Naoki, Japanese man. We enjoyed Naoki’s homemade pizza, some takoyaki (octopus), and blackberry cobbler! We were supposed to all dance at a local festival later that evening but it was rained out We did dress up in our yukatas anyway and take pictures!
The Last Week
Oh! I almost forgot to share that we are now in our new housing! It is far too clean and big, but we love it! We will spend the rest of our time here, on top of the hill, waking up with our orange curtains and beautiful view. Coming up is the farewell farm party Monday night and my last morning gathering on Thursday. I have many more reflections I would like to share, some of which I will include in my sharing on Thursday. But I think this post is getting a bit long. I’ll leave you with a few pictures from our first tomato harvest!