2. Plant Tending and future dreaming: Zephyr & Julianne P2

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Zephyr and Julianne reassess what is actually essential, settle into a new pace, and explore opportunities this crisis offers us. Asserting that “growth happens under our feet,” they offer advice about how to start a garden from anywhere, even on what they call their “postage stamp” size rental property.

Zephyr Elise is a mixed-Indigenous two-spirit filmmaker, liberation activist, Mason County Climate Justice co-founder, soil regenerator, gluten-free chef and baker, and guest on Skokomish territories.

Julianne Gale is a youth worker and a community organizer committed to complete liberation for all people and a just transition in the face of the climate crisis.

Show Notes:
Here are links to things we reference in this episode

Episode Transcript

Becka Tilsen:
Hello, everyone, and welcome. You are listening to Dispatches: Conversations about getting through the COVID crisis with community care, mutual aid, and personal and collective resilience. You are tuning in to part two of my conversation with Zephyr Elise and Julianne Gale. If you haven’t heard part one, it’s a fantastic conversation, where Zephyr and Julianne talk about the lessons they learned from Standing Rock, that are serving them today during the COVID crisis. Zephyr Elise is a mixed indigenous two-spirit filmmaker, liberation activist, guest on Skokomish Territories, founder of Mason County Climate Justice, soil regenerator and gluten-free chef and baker. Julianne Gale is a youth worker and a community organizer, committed to complete liberation for all people, and a just transition in the face of climate crisis.

Becka Tilsen:
I’m your host, Becka Tilsen. I’m an organizer and a movement baby, a somatic practitioner, a facilitator, and a mother living in Duwamish territory, otherwise known as Seattle. We started this podcast in the tradition of our community-organizing ancestors, who taught us that we need each other, and that we have each other, and that even in these unprecedented times, we collectively do have what it takes to meet this moment with creativity, love and grit.

Becka Tilsen:
I’m wondering if either of you have any ideas about what you think we could create here that hasn’t been possible before, and what we can do within these constraints.

Zephyr Elise:
What is that little dream we’re dreaming right now? For me, it cycles back to my ancestral traditions. Leave it better than you found it, and always grow and create something. And that something for me is healthy soil. It’s food, it’s medicine, it’s making sure that when I leave this earth, I’ve done my best to care take whatever tiny little space I’ve been granted to help. I don’t like to say I’m a farmer, I like to say I’m a plant tender. I like to say I am in solidarity with the biological workers under the ground, because those millions and trillions of beings are way more important to life on this planet than my one revolution in this current body for this time. Growth happens under our feet. Carbon sequestration can happen under our feet. And in doing that, we can produce a bounty. We can produce the healthy, nutrient-dense food that is needed in our community.

Zephyr Elise:
I’m lucky to be in a more rural area where people are a little more focused on a healthy ecology, but we’re still facing a disconnect where people only see it to the surface of the soil and not subsoil. We’re pushing toward healthier waterways, but we’re not understanding how soil is actually part of our water system. The healthier we can get the soil, the more we can withstand forest fires, and have resiliency in our stored ground water where it needs to be, and also, be able to grow and eat. Hence, those two [inaudible 00:03:06] that need the bounty of this earth to live on.

Zephyr Elise:
And in the way that I was taught, and the way I’m relearning 30, almost 40 years after my grandfather told me these principles, feed this land, grow things to feed the soil. It’s not about using the dirt as the thing that holds the plant up, but in actually, that is where that connection of sun and water and grandmother earth come together to give life again to us. Here in this rural county, we also take care of each other, we look to each other, we understand that we do have to help each other out, we are not in an urban area. We have lots of land to grow things, but we also have lots of food that checks in on each other that still knows how to wave. You know, kind of like at standing rock?

Zephyr Elise:
Everybody knew how to say good morning, I go back to the big open areas and everybody’s so trying to just be present in whatever they’re dealing with, whether it’s on Facebook, whether it’s social media, whether it’s their job, whether it’s walking the dog kids or trying to pay rent or just survive. Right? And it’s such a disconnect between this really big scheme of life. And how we’re all part of this circle and I think anybody can grow wherever they are. I’ve lived in big cities, I’ve lived in college departments. Even if you have a window sill you can grow something, if that’s not your thing, maybe you’re just growing some dirt or you’re recognizing that every organic thing that you’re creating in your waste [inaudible 00:04:38] , you’re taking that extra initiative to make sure it’s not going to trash to make sure it’s not going to anywhere where it needs to be, which is [inaudible 00:04:47] .

Julianne Gale:
So some of the possibilities that I’m seeing already being suggested or already happening; I’m seeing a lot of young adults that are moving home to be with their parents or their families or that people are choosing who they want to face this with and I think that will have a big impact if people stay with communities longer rather than spreading out. I dream of this slower pace of life being more the norm. I know that’s not true for all of the communities. I’m sure health care workers and grocery store workers and truckers are not experiencing that yet, but I would like them to get to experience that too.

Julianne Gale:
I think this is a good time for a green new deal or just transition or regenerative economy to really take off because we’re making decisions about what is and isn’t essential right now. I know a lot of construction workers are a little confused that their work is being seen as essential when what they’re doing is building an office and not a hospital, but I think there’s a collective shift in consciousness towards a deeper understanding of what is actually essential in the world we want to live in.

Julianne Gale:
I think that there’s a lot of possibility for practicing the kind of very quick changes that we need to address. The climate crisis and just by traveling less and by less production happening right now there’s already reduction in carbon emissions. There’s already an improvement in water health. There’s already an improvement in air quality and I think there’s a possibility for even more to happen. And also I read something recently about the idea of the military being taken over by civilians to be able to be used for hospitals and the resources, the military being moved towards healing instead of towards destruction. And that is a really cool possibility and it would be even cooler if it remained after this pandemic too.

Becka Tilsen:
So is that for, I understand that you are a Gardner and a plant tender and that this is what you do for most of every day, is that right?

Zephyr Elise:
Pretty much. Most of my life since my grandpa first toddled me out when I could stand and hold the seed or carry some water, it’s what I’ve been doing in season. Wherever I’ve been, anywhere I’ve been, everywhere I’ve been, I tried to grab something, yeah.

Becka Tilsen:
So what are you growing right now?

Zephyr Elise:
Right now I’m growing a dream of feeding my community. We’re renters. We don’t own the land. I’ve been trying to do a lot of container gardening. I started out with hay bales like three seasons ago. Trying to figure out how renters and folks in urban areas could think about gardening, can contain compact low ways. And also because we’re in a beautiful territory that has problems with pollution, the water which are causing problems with salmon and ARCA and the greater ecosystems at large. I’m trying to think about really just the regenerative health ways of doing everything and we’re cold.

Zephyr Elise:
We’re almost a thousand feet up, so it’s been an experiment and this year with getting the negative test, it just seemed like the green light to really now think about what am I going to provide. So building Hucul ultra beds, which is a fancy way of saying take any woody debris, any kind of organic debris that you have, whether it’s logs, sticks, twigs, down trees, whatever you can scoop and you’re just going to build this beautiful bed that ultimately over the years will take in enough water that it doesn’t need to be water after the second or third year. It’s going to be warmer for the growing season because of the compost. You layer after that other leaves, clippings, compost, and then a nice little top soil on top and then mulched over. Cause we don’t leave soil bare. It’s really bad for the biological workers.

Zephyr Elise:
You’ve got to cover them up and over time it becomes kind of a self heating early heating, longer growing season and self-watering regulating system that grows really nutrient-rich full plants and you can maximize your space that way. Kind of put it anywhere, whether it’s for shade plants, whether it’s for our mounts. And I’ve been putting in a lot of raised beds and along with that thinking that food forest, we can’t just think about perennials, we have to think about grains, we have to think about nuts, we have to think about other ways to get stuff like vitamin C, then maybe an orange that’s flying halfway around the world. So we were really lucky relative who does food forest advocacy and is actually planting a lot of food for us between Portland and Mason County, donated a bunch of fruit trees and some elderberry and some shrubs and companion plants.

Zephyr Elise:
So we’re just basically kind of putting in on a tiny little, two 10th of an acre lot, as much food as we can to feed ourselves, but also to feed the deer and to feed the birds and to feed our neighbors and to feed whatever community. Cause who knows what the stores are going to look like, if this goes long term, but this is what I can do. I can grow both the perennials that can grow spring and winter varieties, really thinking about what we eat. So it doesn’t matter if kale grows here, if nobody’s going to eat 20 pounds of kale a day.So, you know the potatoes are going in the beans, definitely upping beans. If you’re in urban spaces, if you have a tiny little Trader Joe’s like plasticized bag, you can grow some potatoes. You know, even if it’s a handful of cuts from when you’re peeling, like anybody can grow a little bit of [inaudible 00:10:35].

Zephyr Elise:
And this year just happens to be a year I’m really amping up pollinator food. So thinking about feeding the birds and the bees that are also going to help with this food cycle. So it gets to be to slow lots of edibles and it’s just the dream was to really start growing 80% of our food. Each share kind of amping it up. And now it’s just more out of necessity that I really need to think about what is the maximum amount of food that can grow on this little postage stamp that I have here.

Becka Tilsen:
So you were getting there, but I wonder if you have any specific tips for those of us who are really new. You know, I am a very novice gardener. I had a tiny garden where I tried to grow tomatoes and basil last year and I find it really intimidating and a lot of people do too. So I’m wondering if you’ve got any tips for how to break into it, especially given the stress and the circumstances of this moment, how does it make sense for somebody to get their hands in the dirt?

Zephyr Elise:
The beautiful thing about being a seed tender is the seed itself has thousands and thousands and thousands of ancestors that know what to do and it can pretty much figure itself out as long as you give it just a little bit of love and a little bit of attention, you can make it together. So taking that stress off and just remembering that we’re not launching a rocket into space. This isn’t coming up with a cure for COVID. This is sprouting a bean or growing a corn. A lot of plants just really want to grow. Think about potatoes in your refrigerator drawer that you forgot about for five months. They’re going to grow great and you have done nothing more than had the good sense to put them in a paper bag. Right? And forget about them. So thinking that the soil also is part of what you’re growing. You’re not digging a hole to put a seed in.

Zephyr Elise:
You’re giving that love, you’re giving that care, you’re thinking about it growing and feeding you, and you helping to feed it. We all are making waste right now. We don’t know what trash and recycling service is going to look like long term, but that all grows good dirt and it does it by itself. You know, there’s ways to come post healthier for urban space versus rural space, but pretty much so long as you’re gathering any organic, anything that was living and putting them together, it’s going to grow some and some stuff that you can grow stuff with. And right now community gardens might be good places where if we can’t be together, they’re often resources for seed libraries and for manuals. A lot of them are still open to give people time to come through. If you don’t have any knowledge, they’re a great place to start. There’s so, so, so many boards right now.

Zephyr Elise:
It seems on Facebook and other social media, amazing places. If you’re having the woes and want to curl up in bed maybe reading some blocks and if not, find me on Facebook, y’all, I’ll answer a question or two.

Julianne Gale:
I can answer that question. From a beginner standpoint, I like to joke that I’m a toddler when it comes to gardening because this is my third year of really doing that. And to just give you a sense of how much of a beginner I am, I was like, well, if we’re growing food, why are we planting flowers? Because I didn’t realize that to get fruit like squashes for example, you need pollinators who need things like flowers and that’s how disconnected I grew up from the soil and from growing things. So I’m really, really new at this. And I also went to college for computer science.

Julianne Gale:
So when you’re computer programming, you have to be very precise about things. That’s not how gardening works. When the seed packet says plant half an inch down, three inches apart, you’re not taking out a ruler. You’re doing the best you can and you drop a seed where you didn’t mean to drop a seed and then it grows later and is the strongest plant out of all of them. It’s fine. Like you just get to try and keep trying and perfection is really not the goal.

Becka Tilsen:
So I just had a thought when you said that though, what if our movement culture could both embody the fierceness of our analysis and our high standards and also embody a little bit of that permission and grace that you just drop a seed and you might drop it in the wrong place and it might grow up to be the strongest one?

Julianne Gale:
Absolutely. I think there has to be a lot more space for beginners, both in gardening and also in movement spaces.

Becka Tilsen:
Yeah, I mean, what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to create something massive. So Julienne, I wonder what you’re doing besides toddler gardening and if it’s that great, you can say more or not, Julienne, I’m wondering what you’re doing these days to access resilience resource to ground yourself.

Julianne Gale:
I’m experimenting with scheduling as little as possible so that I can actually check in with the rhythm of the world and my own rhythm. So that if it’s not raining, I can do more outside without really having wet soil. I’m trying to say hello to the deer visiting the yard and planting things.

Julianne Gale:
They’re very, very few Jews and very, very few Chinese people who live in this County and as the two groups that as far as I can tell are currently getting blamed for Coronavirus. It’s really hard to be a Chinese Jew right now. So finding ways to connect with other Chinese Jews is really good. I was on a call with all Chinese and Southeast Asian heritage co-counselors and there were like 27 of us, which is a small subset of our community in the pro counseling world, but that was more Asian people that I’d been with at once in months and months and months and months. And so that was really good for me. Well nosy. Is there anything else I’m doing right now?

Zephyr Elise:
You’re cooking amazing food and you’re getting into the rhythms, of not productivity, but just what needs doing [inaudible 00:16:52] .

Julianne Gale:
It’s kind of an interesting balance to be like, how do I think ahead and how do I be here and now? And I think a huge part of that is finding the joy in the moment. Like what a gift that I get to be involved in planting this year because my job under normal circumstances is so overwhelming. I didn’t think I would be able to do any planting at all this year. So I get to enjoy that gift even as I grieve the deaths and the suffering that are here and are coming.

Becka Tilsen:
Thank you both so much. So in closing, I’d like to ask if there’s anything else you’d like to share with everybody listening.

Julianne Gale:
A resource that I would recommend is a tool; Gawande’s book “Being Mortal”. I read it before I saw my grandmother after she was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in August before I saw her in October. And there’s a level of peace that I got from it. I think that death is actually a very normal part of life and that it’s important and there’s a pressure in mainstream society to live forever and to never think about death and to never die. And even in my reconstructionist temple on the high Holy days, I was reading a little footnote that was like the traditional words are about thanking God for life and also thanking God for death. But in most modern reconstructionist prayer books, you take out the thanking God for death part. And I was like, actually I think that’s a mistake.

Julianne Gale:
I think we do have to thank God for death because death leads to new growth and is really there. And so figuring out what is the kind of death that we want to have for ourselves and for our loved ones, and what do our loved ones want, particularly our elders, and how do we figure out how to be with them from our hearts when we can’t even be with them with our bodies is really key.

Zephyr Elise:
Our songs and our dances, our medicine for those of us who don’t know our songs or our dances occasionally were gifted a song. So I was gifted a hummingbird song from K and Sears roots of [inaudible 00:19:12] the Indian Canyon ban [inaudible 00:19:13] California and hummingbird is one of their creators, co-creators hummingbird and clear song. We used to sing walking around the Bay area, laying down some prayer and having some hope and offering that back to create her because it was like over and over again. I am not alone, but I am grateful to be able to sing this song and share in a good way.

Zephyr Elise:
00:19:47

Zephyr Elise:
[inaudible 00:19:52] my relations [inaudible 00:20:21].

Becka Tilsen:
Thank you both so much. It was such an extreme pleasure to talk with you and I hope you both get a lot of rest.

Becka Tilsen:
That concludes part two of my conversation with Julianne and Zephyr. If you haven’t heard part one yet, I hope you go listen to it. It’s a really wonderful conversation where they talk about lessons learned from standing rock. Thank you for tuning into Dispatches, we want to dedicate today’s episode to Bill Withers, rest in power bill weathers who died on March 30th of this year. We can’t play licensed music here, but since so many of us are finding refuge in music, maybe you’ll consider playing one of his songs like Grandma’s Hands, Ain’t No Sunshine or A Lovely Day.

Becka Tilsen:
If you have an idea of a story that dispatches your cover, go to our website and fill out the form. We’re always looking for ideas. Dispatches is a Kitchen Dance Party Production. Producers are myself, Becka Tilsen, Basil Shadid, and Molly Tilsen. Today’s episode was edited by Justin Minich. On the editing team we also have Jill Irene Freidberg, Basil Shadid, and myself. Many thanks to all our friends and supporters. Please rate and review us. Please tell your friends about us and until next time, remember that we need each other and we have each other.

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