Inspiration is often fleeting. Sometimes it floats in on a bright morning breath, trickles down the spine like wildfire, ignites to the very core. It gets hot, burns through doubts and worries, elates the soul,… More
Before you lose your mind, I’m not here to tell you that coconut and all of its lovely, luscious derivatives are bad for you. Hell no. But maybe, just maybe there is an alternative that is better for the planet and just as good, if not better, for you too. Let’s talk about Tallow and all of its lovely uses! If you know me at all you know I use coconut oil for just about everything, so trust me when I say this 10 minute read is worth your time.
Tallow is the nicer, more marketable name for rendered beef fat- generally collected from around the organs, especially the kidneys. Once processed, the fat turns into a solid substance used in candles, soaps, skin salves, and, for the purpose of this article, YUMMIES. In the past, it was common to use tallow as a cooking oil due to a high smoke point, stable shelf-life, and relatively easy extraction. As the ketogenic and paleo lifestyles continue to gain popularity and we begin to reframe our feelings on fats, we can turn back to tallow as viable source of some essential nutrients.
Before discussing these nutrients, it is of the utmost importance to get on the same page about sourcing. Tallow, as with any fat you plan to consume for your health, must be rendered from only the most natural animals possible- factory farm animals need not apply. Just as many of the nutrients, vitamins, and good-for-ya’s are stored in the fats of healthy animals, so are the toxins and bad-for-ya’s stored in the fats of unhealthy, grain-fed animals. Think of it this way- any time a cow feels stress, a cocktail of stress hormones will course through its body, ultimately solidifying in the fat cells. If you are consuming a poorly fed animal with high stress levels (due to poor diet, limited space, and generally bad conditions), you are essentially consuming the aftereffect of the buildup of those hormones as well. While the horrendous environmental effects of large-scale conventional farming are beyond the scope of this article, suffice to say destroying the land for a bit of tallow would be overkill. So, if you are unable to come across a beyond-organic, pasture-raised cow on a sustainably designed operation…it’s best to just pass.
What’s in the box
Tallow is a rich source of the good fat Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), a fatty acid known best for its immunity-building, inflammation-fighting, and fat-burning properties. In some preliminary studies, CLA helped to reduce cancerous tumors as well. Cows that are able to eat their natural diet of grass will have a more balanced omega-6 to omega-3 content, which translates to higher levels of CLAs. CLAs have also exhibited insulin-resistant properties, meaning they help to reduce circulating glucose in our bodies.
Tallow is also a great source of vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as a range of antioxidants and antimicrobials, meaning it is great for your skin! Because the cellular structure is similar to that of our own skin’s sebum, we easily absorb the vitamins when placed directly on the skin. These vitamins nourish the skin, improve elasticity, and promote cellular regeneration. You can therefore use tallow as the oil to make soaps, salves, and lotions (I made a fan-freaking-tastic lavender + eucalyptus massage cream that far exceeds any deep tissue lotion I’ve ever bought!), but in this article I’ll speak specifically to use as a cooking oil.
How can I get me some?
Making your own Tallow is quite simple, especially if you have access to a local butcher. We worked with the cows at Hacienda Sur, an artisan beef farm on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. These cows are some of the happiest, healthiest cows I have ever encountered. They are a cross between Wagyu, Angus, and Brahma, bred specifically for a superior meat that can stand the climate without getting stressed out. The farm pays such close attention to the herds that their stress levels are taken into account at the time of butchering- the less stressed they are, the healthier the product. I know that the idea of butchering cows will send some folks into a squeamish tailspin, but I challenge you to consider learning about truly sustainable practices, because they do exist. Naturally raised (not “natural” in the sense of USDA standards…really natural- as according to the ruminate’s true nature) animals produce far less waste and can actually help the land as well. When combined with natural irrigation and solar power, it gives the farm a carbon-negative footprint while also building up the grassy habitats for other creatures too. The methane gas produced by the cows is not nearly as toxic when they aren’t eating toxic food…imagine that! But I digress. Where were we?
If you can get your hands on this high quality fat, the rest is cake. Simply put the fat in a large cheese cloth, tie the cloth, and set it in a crockpot on low for 10 hours (or more, or less, you’ll see!). As the fat begins to melt, it will seep out of the cheese cloth while the tissues remain inside. The tallow will be a nice, golden color with a slightly sweet smell (however, if it smells rancid, it probably is and something went wrong!). While it is still warm, transfer the liquid tallow to a glass jar for storing, and wring out whatever you can from the cheese cloth, discarding the rest. As it hardens, the tallow will turn a crisp, pure white and stay solid even in higher temperatures- we carried ours through the dry season in Central America without any melting issues. You can use it to cook just about anything; I generally reach for the tallow when cooking/sautéing at high heats on the stovetop, or as a bit of extra flavor when making rice, beans, and soups.
Well, why bother with anything? Because it is a simple, healthy, sustainable way to lower your own footprint and utilize your human-ness for good! Sure you could use coconut oil from the store instead, but there is something magical in creating your own foods, especially when they are so rich in nutrients and cultivated in your local community. So often this part of the animal is tossed away to rot and never used. Whether you eat meat or not, I am a firm believer in extracting the highest amount of nutrients and uses from any organism that I consume, plant and animal alike. We get so caught up in generalizations about the cost-benefit analysis of veganism vs. ominvourism, most of the time pointing fingers at each other just to highlight how we’re all wrong, and quite often this analysis comes without ever having stepped foot on a food-producing farm. Rather than arguing about our food philosophy, can we all agree that the more efficiently we use any food, the less we waste? Isn’t that what matters most? I have been living in Costa Rica for about two months and am utterly astonished by the amount of mono-cultivation I see here: pineapple, banana, and PALM. Hundreds of thousands of MILES of jungle have been routed out by plantations to produce these goods. Planes whiz by at all hours of the day to fumigate. Fruits are marked and covered in plastic bags to signify time to harvest. It is an atrocious mark on an otherwise highly sustainable country. As a coconut worshiper myself, seeing these plantations has helped me to truly acknowledge my role in monoculture and waste, regardless of what the labels on the packages I’ve so carefully selected say. I promise myself to learn more about the process of coconut cultivation before buying any more products. It’s true what they say, Knowledge is Power, and if I don’t fully know, then my power to make a decision is compromised. Perhaps ridding myself of coconut altogether is not the answer (part of me hopes this is true!) What I do know is this: In choosing to harvest your own tallow, a byproduct otherwise thrown away, you are directly contributing to a more sustainable and healthy mission, and I can get on board with that!
For those of you that read my latest post, you’ll know that I have been hesitant to share too many of my ‘highlights’ in an effort to keep things realistic in a world full of perfect media platforms. I have forever been a big emoter and find deep value in representing the full gambit of ups and downs in any situation. As Khalil Gibron says in The Prophet, seeking out ONLY life’s pleasures will leave you “into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.” This poem is one of my most treasured, and though it speaks specifically on love, I find that it applies to so many of the dualities we experience day after day. Before I go too far down that magnificent and bottomless rabbit hole, today I would like to share some of the incredulously normal things I’ve been up to- the good, the hard, and the biggest takeaways of my travels thus far (updated as I go!)
Stop #1: Rancho Margot, near Arenal Volcano,Costa Rica
In a previous post (accessible here) I spoke a bit about the mission and processes of Rancho Margot. If you asked me to boil down the experience into a sentence or two, you’d be awfully disappointed because I don’t think I could do it. It is a complex and wonderful paradise off the grid, steeped in the mission to experiment with nonconventional, natural living. The deal went something like this: work 6 hours per day, 6 days per week, and in return we had a place to lay our head and 3 amazing meals, 80% of which was grown on the farm (sometimes by us!).
- My favorite part was the opportunity to be fully immersed in a natural learning environment- self study, reading, nature, farming, ecotourism, agrotourism, entrepreneurship, culture, language, yoga, sustainability, food cultivation….you name it, I learned it bit by bit each day. Another major attribute was living off the grid. We were about two miles of dirt road from the nearest town and had little to no internet access, cold showers, and the darkest night sky you can imagine. I enjoyed walks into town and occasionally shelled out some cash for a drink and a burrito (the BEST you’ll ever have…amazing), but to do so I had to reallllly want it. On most days, we just read or visited with other volunteers instead.
- The hardest part of the entire five week stint was the weather. We had RAIN every. single. day. The first 10 days or so it rained with a vengeance, pouring buckets on all of our belongings and chilling us to the bone. Eventually we saw some sun and our spirits were lifted, but our clothes stayed mildly wet (and STINKY) throughout the entire stay.
- Biggest takeaway? I had a lot of time to be with myself, away from distraction. Busy is a good word to describe the state of mind I brought with me, and though I haven’t quite ditched that habit, I’m working hard to overwrite it. The ranch taught me a lot about cycles, about humans in nature, and how to be a more natural human.
- Must see/do: Hot Springs river at night! Although the La Fortuna area is riddled with Hot Springs tourism and resorts, there is free access to Rio Chollin (an entire HOT RIVER) just outside the Tabacon. One crystal clear night, 14 of the volunteers and staff pooled (*pun intended*) our resources and rented a shuttle to watch the stars from a hot, rapid river. It was unforgettable- a pitch black night, hot water rushing around you, floating in natural and bubbly minerals and gazing up at the stars. I lost track of what was water and what was air as I watched the trees move like seaweed in the wind agains the backdrop of an endless sky. That night we all slept like rocks as the minerals that were not to be washed off nourished our skin and spirit. Pure Magic.
Stop #2: Puerto Viejo (de Limon), Costa Rica
Traveling in Costa Rica has been very simple and pleasant, but you have to have the mental chutzpa to handle the bus system if you don’t want to spend all of your money on private shuttles. Generally speaking, you can get across the country for less than 15 bucks per person if you take the public bus system- but don’t expect to have a seat and be prepared for a FULL day of slow, sticky, travel. So, when we found out that a common way to travel from Arenal to Puerto Viejo is by white water raft, we were GAME. The Pacuare River is equidistant from three major cities, so they offer a free shuttle to and from the river. The trip includes breakfast and lunch, plus a full day of rafting Class III and IV rapids on the 4th best river in the world! They keep your luggage safe while you raft, and afterwards you grab your things and take the proper shuttle. Said and done, the trip costs $99/person, which is only about $25 more than a shuttle would have cost. The public bus would have been an easy $20 or less per person, but we would have needed to connect 3 buses over the course of a 10-12 hour trip. Given the circumstances, we splurged a bit and chose Rafting.
- My favorite part was renting bicycles and staying just outside of town in Playa Chiquita. Chiquita is about halfway between the first beach (Playa Negra) and the last (Manzanilla). It is quieter than downtown Puerto Viejo but a quick 6km bike ride to the heart of the party if you want it. We had quiet nights and peaceful mornings, lots of yoga, and plenty of beach time. It rained a lot while we were here too, but we had at least a bit of sun each day.
- The hardest part was certainly $$$$$. We spent a week here as a beach buffer between volunteer gigs, so this was completely on our own dime. Having been out in the wild for 5 weeks meant we were a bit too eager to shell out $5-6 for a craft beer. Everything in PV is for sale, and if you like the boho, carefree, surfstyle, you’ll want to buy it all. It took a lot of discipline and an acute awareness of the space in my backpack to avoid spending all of my money here. Oh yeah, and also this is when my two wisdom teeth started to come in, making it extraordinarily difficult to open my mouth and shooting pain down into my neck, ear, and jaw all day. Nothing some beach time couldn’t help!
- Biggest Takeaway? Fresh food (besides fruit) in PV is hard to come by, so cooking our own meals was key. Find a fisherman (or go to Mopri Market) and get yourself some fresh fish. Make a simple flour/spice dusting on the outside of the fish and flash fry it in a skillet until flakey. All in all, we fed ourselves for a week on five fish (snapper, green jack, grouper), a massive pot of rice and lentils, and lots of fruit and chocolate. One night we went out for a sushi buffet at Chili Rojo….save your money.
- Must see/do: Honestly, I really wanted our time at the beach to be completely unstructured and unattached- I didn’t want to have that feeling of “should” be doing something all the time…no one needs that FOMO, especially not on vacation. There is certainly a plethora of activities, shopping, and wildlife to experience, but my must see advice is to just CHILL with the PV vibe. Do Less. See Less. But definitely rent a bike 🙂
Stop #3: Hacienda Sur- Parrita, Costa Rica
Hacienda Sur is an Artisan Beef farm, specializing in the intersection of top quality dry-aged beef and cutting-edge sustainability. Our first task as volunteers was Cut Day, involving the preparation, packaging, and cleaning of nearly 700 steaks and over 200kg of ground steak over the course of a 15 hour day. Talk about an experience. Watching this small family-run operation work their well oiled machine (spoiler alert, its their own able hands!) is something to witness for sure. As we continue to find ourselves in a world divided by the horrors of factory farming and evangelistic veganism, I am happy to be learning about the good neighbor farms on the forgotten side of the documentaries. One major theme of volunteering on sustainable farms is that just as humans can be wildly destructive to the environment, so can we be supportive.
I have written and rewritten this section a handful of times, but can’t seem to figure out how to say it. The meat and potatoes is that meat and potatoes are becoming deeply divided on the plate- it’s hard to talk about meat production in a way that doesn’t severely offend most of the people interested in sustainability practices. What I can say is this: what is good for the environment and the animal is also good for the production of meat. Businesses that take extra care to take care of the environment are naturally going to have a better product. Though we may disagree and feel an emotional response to referring to and consuming an animal as a product, we also must refrain from generalizing too quickly. Whether or not you agree with meat consumption, you want more farms like Hacienda Sur out there. Even if the farmer’s intention is simply to create a higher quality product, his byproduct (and therefore what affects us directly) is clean and sustainable land stewardship. His deep knowledge of the grass and gentle eco-systems that go along with it will do more for this land than any protest we organize against him. The cows at Hacienda Sur are indubitably the happiest, healthiest cows I have ever observed (and I’ve seen a LOT). They frolic and romp with each other, explore the hundreds of acres of grass selected specifically for their nutritional needs, and live in an environment created to reduce as much stress as possible. They are cared for by three wonderful men and a rotation of eager volunteers life myself.
Though I’m on the brink of once again deleting the above, I’ll leave it for now. Perhaps I’ll write more later, or on its own page. But for now, I’ll open it to your thoughts, questions, ideas, opinions. I want to talk about it! One of the reasons we find it difficult to write on such divisive topics- and indeed one of the reasons they are so divisive- is that we don’t talk about it. So please, you know how to do it: comment below or send an email. The discussion is open.
Stop 4: Nosara, Nicoya Peninsula
If you are dying to see Costa Rica but afraid to be leaving behind your beloved American culture, look no further than Nosara. Playa Guiones, the popular stretch of pristine surf, is a part of a development known as the American Project. It is the only area of Costa Rica I’ve been to that has street names and addresses. Populated primarily by expats and surf tourists, Guiones has everything your organic/vegan/yoga/surf/party soul could want…as long as you’re willing to pay the price. We were lucky enough to be visiting a Nica friend who has been living there for seven years, so we had access to some of the cheaper, slightly more local hookups.
- My favorite part was the sunset at Playa Pelada, just around the bend from Playa Guiones. There is one little bar and one nice restaurant on the beach, but it is much less inhabited compared to the tourist hotspot of Guiones. Grab a few beers and pony up to a bit of driftwood to enjoy the show.
- The hardest part, again would have to be the $$$$. The town almost had an Austin-like vibe, full of young active people that do a lot of yoga, except here they also surf every morning. It amazes me that anyone can survive here with that cost of living. Oh, and the roads. Everything is dirt road, so getting there is nothing short of a mother*&^%. The bus from Samara to Nosara, at just 12km distance, takes nearly 2 hours on a hot and sweaty bus. To get here you have to really want it, but you’ll be glad you did.
- Biggest take away: The vibe here is very laid back. Still a small town with all dirt roads and few cars (most people use dirtbikes or quads), everyone knows everyone…and looks after each other. As eluded to above, it is hard to comprehend how to make ends meet, yet most people seem to be extremely relaxed though underemployed. This combination brings a bit of peace to the mind that we can all survive on much less than we think, and a life that prioritizes peace and play will always trump a life spent worrying about income.
- Must see/do: If you’re there, and you want a bit of boujeee….check out Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort. A drop in will be at least $15, but it is truly beautiful and well staffed with knowledgeable folks. It’s pretty easy to sneak in to their pool as well, so you can potentially get your money’s worth. We did a lot of home-cooking here too, so skip the expensive food and save your money for the 2×1 happy hour cocktails or aforementioned yoga class. Do not leave the city without trying some of Chocolate Dave’s chocolate at Pura Vida Raw Foods. You’ll also have an endless supply of healthy, organic, raw, vegan yummies at just about any restaurant in town.
Today, February 18th, marks two months since I stopped, dropped, and rolled out of employment. On December 18th, I finished my last day of work in a hurry and without goodbyes after receiving word that my father’s business had caught fire and burned to the ground. Two days later I loaded my car with as much as I could and left Austin for the last time as a resident. Two weeks later I totaled said car and two weeks after that I said see ya later to New York too. I guess you could say I was shedding some layers, making some space. A lot of people will look at this life and say that I am lucky. And I am, for so many things. I’m lucky that my family didn’t suffer a more tragic loss when the Dairy Supply burned. I’m lucky that no one was hurt when I wrecked my car. I’m lucky for all of the love and support I have received with each decision I make. Most of all, I am lucky to have embraced the many opportunities to learn from my obstacles. Luck did not bring me here, my learning opportunities did.
The five weeks I spent at Rancho Margot were full of learning, internal and otherwise. As a yoga teacher, I had a pretty wonderful routine. My responsibility was the yoga space- creating it, cleaning it, opening it to the guests. I was given all the time and room I needed to practice, meditate, and prepare for public classes with few other duties. When I wasn’t teaching, I was finding new places to hang my hammock to read, journal, and ponder. I taught my first real yin class…and then I taught one every evening, sometimes followed by yoga nidra or meditation. By the time I left, even my vinyasa classes were starting to feel fairly yin-y, a fairly new and welcomed concept for me. Each day started before six in the shala, and each night saw me asleep before nine. My belly seldom saw sugar or meat, and processed foods dropped out of recognition. I often visited with guests, volunteers, and staff to soak up a bit of their story. Days off were spent hiking, riding horses, and adventuring in the jungle. It was lovely and it was quiet and it was simple- exactly what I wanted. Despite all of this perfection, I spent a lot of time feeling lousy.
I want to make it abundantly clear that the experience I have had thus far is unequivocally, deeply positive; Positive in that I have found a deeper understanding of meaningful living; Positive in that I have experienced a wide variety of emotions, including the unattractive ones; Positive in that I have found and lost and found inspiration. It is wildly complex and wonderfully beautiful. So when I say that I was feeling lousy, please don’t assume I wanted it any other way. It is all part of this process of learning, of understanding, of self-discovery. Its so easy to get swept up with the highlights, the story of the girl that quit the rat race to teach yoga in the jungle with her lover. I think it is important to share the less glamorous stories too, because in a lot of ways, a lack of ugliness in our collective story leads to our own increasingly negative feelings about our situation. It’s easy to think that if you do what others do, you’ll feel the as happy as they look. And then when you get there and you feel lousy, you think something is wrong with you. The problem isn’t you, it’s the us, collectively. In refusing to feel the backswing of the pendulum- the ugly, the dark, the negative- we are limiting our ability to feel the contrary- the thrill, the high, the elation- drawing us into a stale and unseasoned existence that we then dull with distraction.
Now that I am reflecting on my first good chunk of time out here, it is clear that some of the lousiness I felt stemmed from my own expectations. Out of nothing but naiveté, I assumed that the time and space awarded to me by this expedition would make clear what I was wanting- time to think about life and really just figure it out (in a matter of weeks). I craved the courage other travelers had, with their steadfast commitment to the lifestyle and fearlessness of the future. My expectation was to gain a bit of this simply by doing it too. I forgot that I am still me, and before I can emulate that same courage, confidence, and fearlessness, I need to spend some of the hard, ugly, dark times with myself to uncover my own needs. In my two months of liberation, I’ve boiled those needs down to the following:
- Food Autonomy. I like to choose my food, cook my food, and I like to decide when and how to eat it. When I am given food, though I am immensely grateful, I feel powerless and a lack of control over a very big part of me.
- Variable Work. When my days are filled with the exact same activities or a lot of free time, I get lethargic and deeply uninspired. Routine isn’t the problem per se, as long as I have different things to do each day. I have always been this way, but never realized why. I spend a lot of time thinking that my exhaustion was coming from taking too many classes in school or having too many jobs. I am starting to see that this variability actually gives me energy. Now the task is to find the path that benefits from this quality without abusing it.
- Stimulus. I am a slow mover, and without stimulation, can get stuck in a low place. I enjoy doing things that force me to come out of that low place and get active early on. Once moving, I can keep the fire burning and the upward cycle begins.
- Learning. I am most stimulated and inspired when I am in the learning process- whether it’s learning about someone, something, or somewhere, I crave it and it feeds me.
- Alone time…together. I am very sensitive to the needs of others, and will often fall into the patterns described by the martyr archetype by sacrificing my needs to meet theirs, even if (and especially when) their needs are figments of my imagination. Spending time with my guy helps me work through this tendency and cultivate a healthier empathy that protects against emotional burnout. I am forever grateful for his ability to ground this heart- a process I find to be one of the most important qualities we can foster in each other, especially those working in emotionally charged jobs. After five weeks without any real alone time together, I found myself completely burned out and unable to listen empathetically. I was short tempered, irritable, and fiery as hell. Big thanks to my main squeeze for always supporting me, even in that.
As I begin to identify these needs, I feel that I am tending to my seeds of growth and transformation. I can feel a weight lift as I name each one, but also the burden of releasing that blissful ignorance. The biggest learning opportunity of all is the one you take to understand your needs. Now the real work begins. I cannot simply identify my needs and then ignore the situations that come up when I deny myself of them. It is now my responsibility to make sure my needs are met, and to take action when they are not. It is empowering and intimidating, but I intend to continue identifying and working to balance each and every one so that I may be forever cultivating, transforming, and honoring my very best self. Pura Vida, Month #2.
We arrived here in Rancho Margot after a four hour public bus ride through the Costa Rican countryside, plus another hour by shuttle along a twisting and turning dirt road. [Note: this trip was quite literally the country-SIDE of massive mountains with tiny roads and lots of big buses. Not everyone on our bus had a seat, so there was plenty of excitement! The entire trip cost about $8, compared to a fancier bus for $50, or private taxi for $100]. There is a lot to be said about the experience of travel itself, but for the sake of some semblance of brevity, I’ll keep this post anchored in our first few days living on a sustainable farm in the jungle (still not sick of saying that!).
The most salient, overarching theme that I see from macro to micro processes here would have to be Symbiosis. Every single aspect of life at Rancho Margot is sustaining something else. It’s difficult to even identify a beginning; the only trace of origin is in the owner, Don Juan’s, vision. Even there, I’m sure there is more (and I’m excited to find out!).
Let’s say things begin in the garden (you’ll soon see that they don’t, but for argument’s sake, we’ll make the assumption). When Rancho Margot was established in 2004, the land was pastured with little to no wild jungle. Over the past 10+ years, the land has been allowed to return to a more natural growth, with banana/papaya/cacao trees abound and countless shrubs, flowers, and herbs. As you will frequently hear, Nature is always Perfect, and they have allowed her to do her thang again! So, back to the garden. We consider this system to be Agrocology- much like permaculture, sustainable agriculture, etc- we are planting in harmony with the land, directing the natural water source in a way that does not destroy the land and enhances the soil. Different vegetables call for different beds, different orientation, and different partnerships. Let’s take the Bell Pepper as a micro-example. These beds are oriented more vertically because there are several horizontal beds above them, slowing the flow of water down the small slope. Normally, to plant beds in line with this slope would cause the water to rush too fast and overtake the beds and strip the soil of its nutrients. The bell peppers have big root systems, and are therefore planted in the center of the bed with a few feet between each one. Bryan, the head gardener, noticed that bugs were eating the leaves and causing damage to the peppers. Rather than spraying insecticide (never EVER permissible here, organic or not), Bryan simply plants arugula between the pepper plants. Arugula, like garlic and lemongrass (also good options) acts as an insecticide with its pungent smell and does not compete for resources due to its smaller root system. These plants work in concert to keep the bugs out, keep the nutrients rich, and create ….drumroll please….. fresh PRODUCE! This process is reproduced in endless variations to create enough fresh vegetables to feed a bustling restaurant, nearly 50 employees, and all of the animals (approximately 700 chickens, 70 pigs, and 15 cows).
Beyond the plants, we have the soil. We all remember the learning in school about the deforestation crisis and farmers clearing rainforest only to find that the soil is not conducive to production. So…how do we make a sustainable ranch in the middle of the jungle? Compost + Agroculture. After you establish the system for planting, which is basically to say after you have figured out how to work with your water source, your next step is to create a home for nutrients and microorganisms to blossom. Here, the cows and piggies are fed clean, good food (more details in future post about the livestock!).
The feeding areas are located on the second floor of a building, with iron grates in the floor so that their excrement collects underneath the building. This area is also on a slope, and when propelled with water from a hose, collects down in the compost building. It will then go through a system of filters to separate the solid from the liquid, where the liquids are diverted to a biodigester (to become the harvestable methane gas for the kitchen + hot water). The solids are shoveled into a system of piles where all they combine with the organic matter from the kitchen and farm (think your leftover food, scraps, etc) and microorganisms harvested from the mountain (think little fungis and mycelium that decompose the forest matter).
Each day the piles are churned and moved, creating lots of heat (enough to burn if you are not careful) and eventually breaking down all of the matter into a nutrient dense mulch, which is then used throughout the garden. This process is constant, producing approximately 10 tons of soil per month. In addition to this compost, we also work with Lombricompost- or worm compost. The separation process is the same, this time coming from the cow barn, the poo is washed down to another building where the solids and liquids are again manually separated. California Red Worms are then introduced to the solids, beginning the process of digesting all of the bad bacterias and leaving behind the richest soil we produce. To separate the worms from the finished product, we line a bed in strips alternating manure with compost and the worms naturally leave the soil (it has no more food for them!) and make a run for the manure. After a few days the worms are all in the manure and the soil is ready for the gardens. This stuff is so nutrient dense that it acts like a super fertilizer and is primarily used for germinating seedlings because it is both gentle and effective. With both types of compost, only a small amount is needed on top of the vegetable beds. Because the water is controlled and guided so as not to wash away all of this prime-time compost, a little bit goes a long way.
And that’s not all! Whew, it is a lot though, no? Okay…so more on the compost. As mentioned briefly above, the liquids that are separated from the solid manure find there way to a biodigester. This is essentially a massive stomach used to harvest methane gas to power the grills in the kitchen and, when needed, to warm the water. The liquid makes it way down the hill to another building where it is housed in a massive tank and given time to ferment. The fermentation process recreates the methane gas (like a big cow fart), which is piped directly to the kitchen. The liquid byproduct, which our teacher promises is clean enough to drink (not gonna try it), is then sprayed on the fields as a nutritive water/fertilizer. Again, every last bit has a purpose, and it’s all cyclical. The plants are cultivated with the help of compost and its derivatives, and are then fed to the animals so that they can then create more compost to support the plants and on and on and on. If it were not for the clean food that the animals eat, this process would not be successful, but could in fact be harmful to the environment. Additives such as GMO’s, antibiotics, growth hormones, insecticides, and pesticides at any point in this process could potentially flourish and contaminate the compost, working against both the animals and the gardens and eventually making their way into our food and water sources.
In addition to the compost, there is another secret ingredient in the gardens at Rancho Margot. Yes, it’s love, but more tangibly, it’s patience. All of the seeds for future veggies are taken directly from each harvest. For example, if you have a row of tomatoes, the gardener will choose the best looking tomatoes, extract the seeds and allow them to dry on a piece of paper. When the time comes, he will use those specific seeds to plant his new tomatoes. These seeds have knowledge of the land already, because they were there before and therefore have a better likelihood of flourishing. For some vegetables, the replacement is even quicker. Goodies like turmeric, ginger, and taro can be replanted immediately, using just a portion of what is harvested. Simply trimming and replanting the root will suffice (you can even do this with roots you buy from the store!). Nothing is wasted.
There is so much to add, including a MAJOR piece of this puzzle- the hydroelectric system- but I’ll save that for another day. Every day on the ranch is a day of learning and growth for everyone. I consider myself very fortunate not just for being here, but for the opportunity to truly immerse myself in the process of day to day sustainability. “Easy” is not the word, but “Possible” is. This first hand experience in sustainability has opened my eyes to the world of possibility in just one week. The attitudes and visions of everyone here have helped me to see a future that human’s aren’t destroying- a future where we are actually living in harmony with nature. And that’s some powerful stuff y’all. More to come!
Little by little, this little life sneaks by us.
Little by little, these little moments stack up.
Little by little, the little things we do become the large stories we tell.
Little by little.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking (and therefore, talking) about the way this season impacts the little moments that become our days. Nature is slowing down and curling upon herself for the winter ahead. The slowing of the natural world highlights the wild pace at which we live. While it may be easy to blame our chaos on “holiday madness,” what we’re really feeling is the whiplash that results from ignoring Nature’s hints to slow with her. As a kid I used to spend hours at the park with friends on a merry-go-round, pushing each other as fast as we could and jumping off into the grass to see who could keep their balance the longest. Oddly reminiscent.
Flash forward to current moment, and I’m struggling to stay grounded when all I want is to be swept up with the excitement of the season. I’m fortunate because I have a lot that I’m looking forward to. Every day feels like the first day or two of a week-long vacation…so much to do and see, so much anticipation, but also the desire to soak up every moment. It’s the edge of a cliff that you are so excited to jump off that you forget to stop and take in the view from the top.
Three weeks from tomorrow my bags will be packed, my tears will be flowing, and my heart will be bursting as I make my way from my beloved adopted home in Austin to my treasured first one in the forests of New York. I’ll spend another three weeks there saturating myself with the love and warmth of family and lifelong friends, and then set sail for an untamed and unplanned journey to the jungle with my main squeeze. After years of talking, thinking, and dreaming, we finally pulled the trigger and started making the real changes that would enable us to live a life on the road. My toes are so close to the edge of that cliff that I can feel the breeze caressing my face every time I close my eyes.
But then I open my eyes again, and the real work begins. How can I keep these daydreaming eyes wide open for the last few weeks of this chapter? Rather than rushing ahead to the next chapter and speed reading until I find out what happens to the girl (!)…I am slowing down. Reveling in each sentence, each word. Reading the details between the lines of each moment that will ultimately foreshadow the future. It’s hard work, but it’s work that I choose. Choosing to slow when I want to move fast, when others want me to move fast, I move slow.
It’s not easy, and I get distracted easily. I’m busy prepping my bags and cleaning out my closets; mundane work that is fueled by reveries of waterfalls and soundscapes of the wild. But then I remind myself, Be here…for now. Be present in these little moments. Feel the hot Texas sun on your bones. Enjoy your morning stroll, rich in appreciation for your neighbors near and far. Blast some tunes as loud as you can when you clean the kitchen. Turn the radio off and roll the windows down on your commute. Say yes to dinner with friends on a work night. Say no to the things that lower your vibration. When I began practicing this little bit of mindfulness, my energy shot through the roof. I had been spending so much time on the merry-go-round of routine that I felt depleted and depressed. Once I jumped off, caught my balance, and sat in the grass looking up at the sky, the energy started flowing. Little by little, the daily practice of staying present began to feed my inspiration. I’m still working on it, but little by little, I know it will become my freedom, my refuge, and the springboard to my next big chapter. But don’t worry, I’ll take my time getting there. Little by little, I’m building my story.
Here Goes Nothin.
Gotta love when you hear that! We all know that means something that is very much NOT nothin’ is about to go down. So here’s mine.
2017 has been a year of learning. A year of emotional turmoil. A year of many personal highs and even more societal lows. I can remember this time last year, feeling desperately hopeful that we had hit the bottom and the only way left to go was up. Haaa. While I could go down that rabbit hole (and I will), I’ll save it because there’s another something that’s not quite nothing a’coming.
Three months ago, I decided it was finally time to quit my day job. It wasn’t because it was a soul-sucking, ass-kissing, culture-squashing corporate job, it was quite the opposite. I was managing and Adult Education program for an amazing nonprofit organization with a fantastically supportive team at my side. However, juggling that plus teaching yoga PLUS trying to dip my newly licensed toes in the Massage Therapy world was too much. “My plate overfloweth” and something had to go, so I took my biggest responsibility (and therefore stressor, and therefore Self Identifier) off the books. I went on vacation and didn’t open my email once. I released myself of the need to put out all the fires. I thought it would be liberating. Exhilarating, even. I did not expect all of my newly freed time to leave me exhausted under a heavy load of guilt, ego, and loss. Months after the clothes from that trip were put away, I’m still here unpacking what it means to no longer work in the nonprofit world, and even deeper, what it means to feel all of these crazy emotions about no longer working in the nonprofit world. I’ve come a long way, but the first few times people asked the daunting “What do you do?” question, I felt like I needed to give them a resume along with my new job title; as if I needed to explain why I’m more than a Yoga Teacher, or not just a massage therapist. It makes me cringe to admit how much value I inevitably put on my super-cool do-gooder past in nonprofit. Ugh.
“A real sign of progress is knowing that your natural worth does not change depending on what you do” –yung pueblo
I read this quote to myself just about every day. The first time I saw it was long before this big transition, I’ve quit many jobs that didn’t serve me and never looked back. Hell, I’d even coached my friends through leaving their own jobs, preaching this same ideal. This time was just so different, it was my turn for the lesson. I know that there are a lot of reasons why I felt defined by this role- I loved what I did. I believed in our mission, wholeheartedly. I left some of the most amazing coworkers I’ve ever had there. I spent a lot of time defending it to my friends and family who just “didn’t get it.” And then I gave it up for something of which they had even less understanding. Stated bluntly, wherever understanding is missing, respect often is unheard of. I am so happy with the work that I do now, but I know that many people that I love dearly cannot make heads or tails of it, and that’s OK.
The purpose of this post is not to defend the virtue of one industry over the other. Let this serve as a reminder that you are not what you do. That your worth is not defined by your paycheck or the hours you put in to earn it. That only your actions can define the person you are. And most importantly, that it works both ways. Everyone knows an asshat that does charitable work and a saint in a cruel industry. There will always be so much more to the story, and defining ourselves and others by our line of work is unrealistic. Just as working for an undesirable company does not automatically make you bad, long hours at a nonprofit does not automatically make you good.
Now I work at a spa. An expensive one at that. Each time I look at my schedule, there is a big part of me that aches for clients that don’t have “Spa Retreat” in their vocabulary. It’s not on my employer to make that happen*, it’s on me. I need to be the person I think I am and go out there and do the work that I value. After weeks spent chewing on these thoughts and cultivating this acceptance, I am finally out of my own way and re-energized on this path. The timing of this epiphany is impeccable too, because…and drumroll please…I’m moving to Costa Rica next month. More to come on that. Here goes Somethin!
*Special note, my spa does a TON as a business to give back in other ways, just sayin
Is private yoga a thing for normal people? Like, people who have kids and watch too many cat videos and forget their coffee on the roof of the car people? Yes! Private classes are a fantastic way to begin or deepen your practice, and a safe place for connection with the undivided attention of your teacher. Private classes are like a mini yoga teacher training without the hefty investment; it is an chance to examine your practice, increase body awareness, and understand how the words of a teacher translate to your breath and movement. In this setting, you’ll have the opportunity to pick your teachers brain, learn about yourself, and develop the confidence and skills to truly listen to your the innate wisdom of your own body.
Learn the Basics
For most, access to classes is not the main barrier to entry. Yoga has exploded in popularity across the country and throughout the internet community. A quick google search delivers endless results of local gyms, studios, and online platforms offering yoga to the masses. But that’s just it- masses of people are turning out, and that can be intimidating for anyone first attempt to jump in. As with any new practice, a lack of familiarity with the ‘norms’ and ‘culture’ is a strong deterrent. Add Insta-famous yogis and expensive gear to the mix and you’ve got a perfect storm of NOPE.
Here’s the secret though- all of those barriers are usually (never say never) just preconceived notions created by our own fears of looking silly. Yoga is for everyone (more here), but it’s easy to see why a public class can be intimidating. Taking a few private classes is a fantastic way to increase your awareness of the practice, it’s benefits, and what the heck to do when you get to a public class. In the safety of a one-on-one setting, you’ll gain the confidence you need to ask questions as they come up and geek out about the changes you feel (or don’t!). In building a strong relationship with your teacher, you will be emboldened to unlock the teacher within.
Every Body’s Different
As a bodyworker, this is a biggie for me. Every body is so very different! You don’t have to be a beginner to benefit from a private yoga class here and there. Teaching public classes means you teach to the average body- there are certain tried and true cues that most teachers will default to, taking time to problem solve as they can, but ultimately doing what they can to keep everyone as safe as possible. Private classes give you the opportunity to figure out why that Warrior One never quite feels right, or what it means to “isometrically pull your hipbone into it’s socket” (whut?). There are just some postures that can be workshopped and adjusted so that you reap the same benefits without putting your musculature at risk. Remember, flexibility is not mobility, and vice versa. There are some body structures that will not take traditional postures, and that’s okay. A skilled teacher can identify and modify for those unique variations in a private setting, empowering you to do the same in a public class.
Let’s face it- everyone wants to be reliable. When your name is marked down in someone else’s planner, you’re more likely to follow through with that commitment. Working in a private setting will hold you more accountable to your practice and help protect the space you’ve dedicated to achieve your goals. Blowing off the internet lady is easy, but skipping out on an hour with that super enthusiastic teacher down the road? Not so much! In being accountable to each other, we learn to be accountable to the practice too!
It all comes back to the relationship you forge with your teacher; a private practice will help you gain skills and familiarity with the physical practice, but on top of that you’ll also find that you’ve gained a teacher that supports you, motivates you, and has your back when Life things happen. We all come to yoga for different reasons, but there is typically an underlying theme of desire for change, and change doesn’t happen in the comfort zone. In cultivating a practice, we upgrade our toolbox of ways to spin lemons into lemonade. A private teacher is there to remind you why you want the changes that brought you to the mat, and hold you to that commitment as you bust through your boundaries.
Build a Home Practice
For many of us, routinely making it to a studio isn’t the most efficient way to get on the mat. A home practice gives you more autonomy over your schedule, especially if you travel a ton, have little ones to think about, or simply don’t live near a studio that inspires you. Luckily, the internet was invented and anyone with a decent wifi connection has on-demand access to world-class teachers for about as much as a Netflix subscription. While it’s great to have someone to virtually guide you through their sequence, it is very much a one-sided conversation without space for dialogue. A regular private session is a wonderful supplement to your home practice, giving you the opportunity to play an active role in the conversation- What do you like? What doesn’t feel good in your body? How can you safely build up to the more advanced options? Private sessions are tailored to your needs, body mechanics, and goals. Your teacher can point you in the direction while you do the work in your home practice.
Deepen Your Practice- without the extras
I can’t stress it enough- everyone comes to yoga for different reasons. Someone looking to yoga as a form of physical exercise will have preferences vastly different from their spiritually-motivated neighbor. For some of us, yoga is the way to kickstart the day and add a fire to our bellies. Others use the space as a way to find peace, quiet, and inspiration. Most commonly, it’s a bit of each. Whatever the reason, dropping in on a public offering can be a crap shoot. In a private session, you get to define what the practice looks like. Enjoy astrological anecdotes? Say so. Hate hearing Rumi quotes? Say so. Prefer to classic rock over Native American Flute music? Say so. Want to know about the mythology behind the postures? You guessed it…SAY SO! Yoga is always your practice, but a private setting give you the power to mix and match exactly which ingredients go in to your particular brand of practice. Finding this secret recipe sows the seeds of a deeper practice- somewhere you actually want to go. As you dive deeper, you may find that the original reason you came around starts to change- and your teacher is there to accompany you in that new space.
All in all, yoga is a massive topic that can be broken down into infinite pieces marinated in “shoulds” and “coulds” and sprinkled with “do’s” and “don’ts.” At the end of the day, you are the gatekeeper to your own practice, and all of this mumbo jumbo is simply a suggestion to chew on. Unlocking the split between mind and body can help bring you to your own conclusion, and it never hurts to try something new! If you’re on the fence about entering a yoga class at your local studio or have found the internet community as less than motivating, try a private class on for size. If it doesn’t fit…on to the next. ❤