Wednesday, April 23, 2008

the davies forum at stonelake farm

as we left the barn, francis turned to us to see if we had any questions.

lulu had one: "do you ever let the goats out from their regular fields?"

"sure," replied francis, "on the field below the octagon. i let them graze for a few hours while i watch the sunset."

late last week, the davies forum on digital literacy traveled to stonelake farm, an organic, off-the-grid homestead in humboldt county. we - amber, blake, kelly, lis, lulu, sara, steven, and me - drove six hours in two cars stuffed with backpacks, blankets, sleeping bags, and good food from rainbow.

from our arrival to our departure four days later, we agreed to six strict rules:

1. all of us must work on the farm for at least one hour a day;

2. those who cook a meal do not have to wash dishes;

3. lulu can't cook every meal;

4. if anyone gets unruly, everyone has the right and responsibility to approach him or her and say, "hey, settle down";

5. we are allowed to use the internet, cell phones, and text, but use as little as possible; and

6. be mindful about as much as possible.

on friday afternoon, francis lake, one-half of the team that runs stonelake farm, shared with us the farm's history and its back-to-the-land roots (the same back-to-the-land roots, btw, that show up in fred turner's from counterculture to cyberculture). then, he led us on a guided tour of stonelake's many natural resources, animals, tools and technologies. during the tour and throughout our stay, francis offered us concrete and profound examples of sustainable living. at stonelake, nearly everything consumed is remixed back into the farm: the worms get our spent coffee grounds, the goats get our apple cores, the chickens get nearly everything, the fruit trees get our poop from the outhouse, and la luna and meza get an occasional dropped pancake or bite of french toast.

as a class, our goal was to live more intentionally for a few days. i wanted all of us to experience organic living first hand, in first life, as unmediated as possible. and while we were doing that, i wanted us to be as collaborative as possible.

i had been to stonelake farm before - twice with sarah, once alone as an artist in residence - and have always found life there to be intentional, sustainable, less mediated, and collaborative. i had to remind myself, though, that my prior visits to stonelake were during the summer and early autumn, when school's out, the sun and sunflowers are high, and everything is beautiful and bountiful. this visit was different. this visit had seven students. this visit had snow.

most of our farm work involved gathering wood for heat. we'd gather wood, chop wood, and saw wood. we gathered a few trees francis brought down and hand-sawed them into logs - logs for the campfire, logs for future octagonians, and, most importantly, logs for the wood stove that gave us heat, sweet frickin' heat, from the cold out doors.

all of our meals were collaboratively made and extremely delicious. and whenever possible, we'd eat together outside.

by saturday, melinda stone, the second-half of the stonelake team and my media studies friend and colleague, arrived to the farm. melinda brought with her seven baby ducks and one mild snow storm. because it was butt-cold outside, my students decided that saturday's dinner would be a fava beans-and-greens feast served inside, in the octagon. the meal was prepared and cooked collaboratively by the students and declared absolutely delicious by all of us.

before arriving to stonelake, i gave my students an assignment: while at the farm, digitally disconnect and reflect deeply about something important to you. before returning to the city, i gave my students a homework assignment: write your best blog post ever. log off before you blog off.

and they did:

Amber McChesney-Young's Reflections on StoneLake Farm

Blake Wilberding's Stonelake Farm

Kelly Pretzer's Stonelake Farm

Lis Bartlett's The Best Blog Post Ever

Lulu McAllister's The Digitally Literate Go Back to the Land

Sara Bassett's StoneLake Farm

Steven Barnett's coming-soon podcast thingy (i will update this link when the post goes live).

back in class on tuesday, one by one we'd read out loud our best blog posts ever. i projected individual blog posts from my laptop to the screen on the wall and the author of the post would come to the front of the room and read his or her own writing. then we took a few minutes to discuss the post and share what we thought worked and what didn't. then, individually, we'd write on paper a list of tags that we associated with the blog post - food, firewood, logging off, snow, sustainability. finally, we'd record the tags and their frequency on the white board on the wall.

as class ended, it became clear that we had covered a lot of ground in the last few days.

and then, silently and stealthily, davies student sara collected the tags and their frequencies, logged back on, and dumped them through TagCrowd. what she created was this, a pretty accurate tagcloud of what went down and an excellent way to end a blog post about the davies forum at stonelake farm.


laura_p said...

It sounds like the experience of a lifetime. Interesting concept, logging off... I'll have to try it someday, haha.

Sara said...

The tag cloud is so powerful, and is made even more so by the collaboration behind it. Love it.

Sara said...

Oh, and the peer review made an already great blog post into a "best ever." The writing is really amazing.

Anonymous said...

laura - it was a really unique experience. the good news is that you're a sophomore which means we have two whole years to scheme a way to get you, and other USF students, out to stonelake farm.

sara - thanks for the comments and for the excellent feedback in class. (for those reading this far, i too read out loud a blog post in class on tuesday, but a draft of one, and received some of the best feedback ever from the davies students.) the share-our-tags exercise was one i won't forget and hope to try it out again real soon.

Anonymous said...

The tag cloud is sweet...thanks for the opportunity to visit such a unique place!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the visit too! I will look forward to reading the blog posts. Our Pop Arts class recently had students retreating, from the media. For 3 days. This is one area where profs & students have had a similar experience, as we have all grown up with -- literally -- a (mass)mediated background.

Kelly said...

Great summation, Prof. Silver. It's remarkable what peer review can do. I was curious about the "rules" of the trip. It wouldn't seem too out of the realm of possibility to say that you had some reasoning behind the rules--was it just a "make one as it comes up" logic, or some deeper thought?

Anonymous said...

hey kelly!

actually, a combination of both. let's see...

1. all of us must work on the farm for at least one hour a day;
this rule existed before we arrived and was worked out after talking with francis. by working on the farm, the octagon rental fee was substantially lower and, more importantly, we had the opportunity to give back to the farm. i wanted us to disconnect and think and read and reflect, but i also wanted us to work, get our hands dirty, and earn our appetites.

2. those who cook a meal do not have to wash dishes;
i love this rule! too often, tasks associated with the kitchen (like cooking and cleaning dishes) are assigned to women or assumed to be "female jobs," whatever that means. but with this rule, all of us, male and female, were required to do kitchen work.

3. lulu can't cook every meal;
hee hee, this one was made up as we went along! as a grad of california culinary academy, lulu can cook and loves to cook. but the more she cooked, the less we cooked so i wanted to make sure that responsibilities were distributed.

4. if anyone gets unruly, everyone has the right and responsibility to approach him or her and say, "hey, settle down";
i've been thinking about this rule for years - basically, is it possible to self govern a collective group of people? in this case, yes! fortunately or unfortunately, we never had to employ this rule, therefore it never got tested.

5. we are allowed to use the internet, cell phones, and text, but use as little as possible; and
rule five was the main assignment of the field trip. it allowed us to ask, what happens when we log off? i didn't want to be too strict, though, for a number of reasons. first, some of us had very real needs for communicating with folks off the farm. second, i didn't want it to be black and white, all or nothing, because that would suggest the farm is a place of no technology and the city is a place of all technology. this, of course, is plain wrong.

6. be mindful about as much as possible.
i thought of that rule a few days before we arrived on the farm. =)

Samantha Blackburn said...

this sounds absolutely amazing. i am beyond jealous that i couldnt have been a part of this trip and the digital literacy seminar in general! which was probably a little obvious since i came to about half (maybe more) of the speakers.

great post! great pics! said...

David, I think back to our conversation at the cafe lounge before I was scheduled to give my talk). You were telling me about this field trip and the objectives.

Now, reading your post and all the Davies Scholars' posts, I feel as if I've attended part of your class (albeit a very small part) and completed the journey as well. Heh.

Anonymous said...

hey sam! thanks for the comment and thanks for attending so many of our talks.

ivan - yes! i remember that conversation we had in the cafe and i remember the field trip was, at that point, in its infant stages. the next time you visit the bay area i strongly suggest spend some time in stonelake farm.

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