Monday, July 13, 2020

Why I Don't Watch Netflix

           Like many people, Netflix introduced me to the idea of binge watching TV. Especially once I got sick with a chronic illness, I considered it one of the only things I had energy to do. I thought that if I wasn’t watching TV, I would just be upset by the fact that I couldn’t do what I wanted to be doing (working, seeing friends, exercising). I knew I watched more TV than I wanted, but I didn’t consider it an addiction. After all, I only watched two episodes a day, and it wasn’t ruining the rest of my life.

            But eventually, I realized that Netflix never made me feel better. When I finished watching, I was still frustrated by not being able to do whatever I wanted. It wasn’t until I got through a few shows, though, that I realized Netflix was making me feel worse. It didn’t matter if the show I watched was scary, depressing, or comical, whenever I stopped, I questioned what I was doing with my life. I questioned who I was, why I was wasting my life watching TV, and I questioned why my life mattered. I told a friend what I thought, and he said,

“Usually when you think you should do less of something, it means it's a bad habbit. People who drink five cups of coffee a day usually feel like they should be drinking less. But most people don’t.”

            I’ve always considered myself a disciplined person. I live by my rules and standards, and I don’t like to violate them ever. I don’t swear, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. For several years, I wouldn’t even drive over the speed limit. To be so clearly told that this concern about watching too much TV probably meant I need to stop watching it made it clear to me that this was a choice I was making everyday.

            When I thought about it as a habit, I knew that I needed to stop watching TV completely. It was making me miserable, and it was wasting my time. Imagine what I could do with an extra 1.5 hours a day? I could read, I could learn a new skill, I could talk with friends, I could exercise, I could sleep.

            Once I decided this, I figured I should learn a little bit more about it. Was I just being overdramatic? Netflix is a social thing, my friends at work always talk about what shows they’re watching. And I have shows that certain friends love, and we talk about those shows regularly. What would it mean to not be able to participate in these discussions? After all, it's not like Netflix is harmful, right?

            The more I read about Netflix addiction, the more frustrated I got. Netflix, and many technologies, are engineered to addict us. They reward our brains through triggering dopamine and serotonin production, which not only give us pleasure, but also a feeling of satisfaction. Instead of having to do something productive, they let us feel like we’ve accomplished important things by literally doing nothing. If we can get the same feeling from volunteering, running a marathon, or watching Netflix, what will we choose? Most people choose Netflix-it’s by far the easiest way to get these rewards.

            Not only that, but the shows themselves are designed to addict us. Episodes are made in lengths of 43 minutes, a length almost impossible for our brains to comprehend. We process time in hours, or half-hours, so 43 minutes is not a clear signal for us to stop watching anything. Additionally, the arc of these shows is designed to draw us in and keep us watching, even when the episode ends. (Read more on the physical reasons why Netflix is so addictive here.

            The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Netflix couldn’t be a part of my life. I was spending a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, what job or grad school program. But how would anything seem appealing when I could sit down and get the same feelings of accomplishment, pleasure, and satisfaction from just watching TV? It would diminish all other positive feelings I experience in my life, and convince me that the challenging times aren’t worth it, because there’s other ways to get these rewards.

            When I told a friend that I wanted to stop watching Netflix, he told me how his four year old, who “is a really happy child, builds fairy houses and loves just playing outside” after her hour of iPad time once a week complains “I’m so bored,” and cries because she doesn’t have anything to do. Of course she feels like that, because her brain felt so accomplished without her having to do anything.  If a perfectly happy four year old could feel that upset after watching one hour of TV, imagine what several hours could do to a young adult already struggling with purpose and direction?

             Since deciding to stop watching Netflix, I have not once regretted my decision. When people talk about TV shows at work, I am completely okay with the fact that I haven’t seen them. Because I have better ways to spend my time. And while some people can watch Netflix and not have it be a problem, for me it was a problem. It was causing me to waste important time, question myself and my life in negative ways, and making me less motivated to do other things because it rewarded my brain in much easier ways.

            If you’re considering if you watch too much Netflix, I encourage you to learn more about the effects it can have on you. It might be doing things you don’t even know. Record for a week how much you’re watching, and note how you feel before you start watching and after you finish. Maybe it’s something you enjoy, but you might be surprised.

            As I try to be more intentional about how I spend my time, I’ve realized that Netflix is the complete opposite. Not only does it waste my time with things I don’t think are important, it confuses my brain into thinking that I’ve accomplished real things when I haven’t left my bed. For me, quitting Netflix was one of the most important decisions I’ve made for my well-being. At first, I missed the show I was watching, and I missed the characters. But I can find characters in books and in real life. Slowly, after a few weeks of not watching it, I’ve noticed how my brain is beginning to remember how rewarding it can be to work for emotional rewards. I have always know that life is more rewarding when you work for it (I’m a big believer in type 2 fun) and I wouldn’t have said that viewpoint changed while I watched Netflix, but it did.

            Maybe it wasn’t an addiction, but honestly it doesn’t matter. It was an unhealthy habit that I am very happy to have removed from my life. This pandemic has encouraged and even glorified binge watching, but instead when people talk about the entertainment they get from Netflix or other similar things, I think about how much I have gained by not using it. It has given me another way to be intentional about how I use my time, and  it allows me to stay in control of my emotions and priorities.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Books to Build Your Ideal Life

    Recently, I've been digging deeper into books focused on philosophy and building the life you want. I think it's importantly to constantly explore these ideas and hear new perspectives so that you can build your own priorities in life. Here are four of the great books I've read recently:



    As a friend who was a Buddhist monk for six years said, “It’s the closest any book has come to describing why become a monk. Even closer than any book written by monks.” Walden is a philosophical journey into a Thoreau’s choice to leave society and live on independently in the woods. In the first section of this book, Thoreau combines thoughtful commentary on the problems in society and analysis of the purpose of life, in an exploration of his intentions for his new lifestyle. In the second section, Thoreau utilizes beautiful, poetic language, to describe the nature around him: dedicating chapters to the ponds, the woods, and the wildlife that visits him in each season.



    I recently attended a free seminar by Tony Robbins, and it exceeded every expectation I had! He is so inspiring, and gives concrete steps everyone can take today to achieve their goals. In this book, Robbins gives advice for how to build the life you want, and how to master specific areas of your life that pose challenges. Citing not only his own experience, but the experience of hundreds of experts and other books, this book provides valuable insights that everyone should read.



    Essentialism is a great, concise book about how to prioritize your life. It describes how to understand what’s really important to you, and how to eliminate everything that’s unnecessary. If you feel overwhelmed often, or like you can’t dedicate yourself fully to your priorities, this book is sure to help you. As McKeown says, “[Essentialism is] about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.’”



    While I don’t often read fiction, this novel is one of the most captivating books I’ve read recently. It tells the story of a young woman in Appalachia who is dissatisfied with every aspect of her life, and on her way to make a change stumbles upon a dramatic discovery. This discovery changes her life, her family, and her town, and leads to a discourse on climate change, religion, academics, and a reconciling of these different worlds.

    What are you reading right now? And what would you add to this list of books that have made you analyze your priorities?

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Harvesting Heirloom Garlic

            This week is one of my favorite weeks of the year: the beginning of garlic harvest! After four seasons of running the garlic harvest for the farm I work on, where we harvest, cure, and store over 20,000 heads of over 20 varieties of garlic each year, here are some of the tips I’ve learned.

First garlic of the season
 

When Is Garlic Ready?

            In my experience in Massachusetts, the first varieties are usually ready around the fourth of July. Obviously, this is very dependent on the varieties you’re growing, where you’re located, and the weather that season.

            Luckily, you can tell from looking at the plants when the garlic is ready to harvest. As a general rule of thumb, garlic is ready to harvest when half of the leaves have turned yellow and died. When looking at a variety, at least ½ to ¾ of the leaves should be yellow/dead. Often, you will see plants whose stems are falling over as well, which is a good indication they’re done. If you harvested the scapes, the garlic will usually be ready for harvest 2-3 weeks after that. While sometimes the timing is inconvenient or you want it to get a little bigger, don’t wait too long past this point in ratio of living: dead leaves or there will be too few layers of wrapping protecting the garlic.

            When the leaves look ready to harvest, try pulling up a few bulbs to check if it’s the right size and looks ready.

            For more information and some helpful pictures, read this article on Garden Betty.

 

What Do I Need to Know Before I Harvest It?

            Especially if you’re harvesting garlic to cure and store, the most important thing to remember is that GARLIC IS FRAGILE! If you bruise it during harvest you usually won’t know until weeks afterwards when it rots as it’s curing. My boss used to tell us “treat garlic like raw eggs”. It can be tempting to knock the bulbs together or against the ground to get the dirt off, but this will cause them to bruise. Be especially careful when you put them in bins: if they hit the side of the bin or the other garlic too hard, they will bruise. A good rule of thumb is that garlic should never make noise. If you hear the garlic hit the bin, you’re not being gentle enough.

 

How Do I Get the Garlic Out of the Ground?

            Great question! There are a few different options, and it depends on the amount of garlic you grew, the type of garlic and the texture of the soil. You can either: pull it out by hand with a trowel as backup, pitchfork it, or undercut it with a tractor.


Here’s a chart with the Pros/Cons of Each Methods and When You Should Use It:

Method

When To Use It

Pros

Cons

Hand pulling with trowel backup

Small amounts of garlic that is easy to pull

Fast

Doesn’t require equipment

Can result in breaking a lot of garlic if you’re not careful, very slow if large quantities

Pitchforking

If you don’t have a tractor or you had trouble pulling it by hand

Doesn’t require a tractor

Makes it easy to hand pull

More physical effort

Undercutting

If you’re harvesting a lot of garlic

Fast

Reduces physical labor required

Requires a tractor

Hand-Pulling With A Trowel for Backup

            To hand-pull garlic, simply reach as low as you can on the neck (as close to the soil as you can) and pull the garlic up. If you have trouble getting it out, use your trowel to dig around it (being careful not to hit the garlic with the trowel). Sometimes, it will feel like the garlic is going to break, and it probably will. It’s okay to break a few, it will teach you how hard you can pull. If you start breaking a lot of them (when the neck separates leaving the bulb in the ground), it’s time to try a different approach. If you have a trowel and only a few are breaking, you can just dig around the ones that are having the most trouble coming up. If most of them are difficult to pull, use a pitchfork or tractor to undercut them first.

 

Pitchforking

            Pitchforking lets you loosen the soil around the garlic so it’s easy to pull it up by hand. To pitchfork, start about six inches from the garlic along the side of the bed, and put the pitchfork in as deep as you can. Once it’s really deep, angle it upward towards the garlic, essentially lifting the garlic out of the ground. Depending on how close together your garlic is planted, you can do this either to every garlic plant, or just go down the row. This won’t pull the garlic all of the way out of the ground, but it will make it much easier for you or somebody else to hand-pull it afterwards.

            It can be difficult to find the right distance to pitchfork: if you’re too far from the garlic it will still be hard to pull up, but if you’re too close you can poke the garlic and damage it. The best way to learn is to check the bulbs often. Have somebody right behind you (or do it yourself) pull up the garlic right after you pitchfork it so that you can immediately see if you’re damaging the garlic. If you feel like you aren’t getting close enough, try moving closer but be sure you check for damage frequently. You can try digging down deeper before pulling up, that’s a good way to loosen the soil more without damaging the garlic.

            If you find pitchforking to be too labor intensive or take too long on the scale you’re working, try undercutting with a tractor.

 

Undercutting with a Tractor

            Undercutting with a tractor is a really efficient way to harvest a lot of garlic without a lot of physical labor. Like pitchforking, this method won’t pull the garlic from the ground, you will still need to hand-pull it after. But, if it’s hard to hand-pull, you can quickly undercut an entire bed so it can be harvested.

            To undercut a bed of garlic, the most important thing is to find the right height to set the undercutter. You need it to be high enough that it actually makes it easier to pull the garlic out, but low enough that you aren’t damaging the garlic. Once you start undercutting, check after a few feet (and check again several times throughout the process) by looking at the bulbs to make sure you aren’t damaging them.

 

Fresh garlic

 

A Note About Heirloom Varieties

            If you’re harvesting many different varieties (and especially if you’re planning to use them as seed next year), it’s really important to keep track of which garlic is which variety. To do this on our farm, we only harvest one variety at a time so the entire crew is doing the same thing. Then we label each bin three times: one label on each side (made on masking tape with sharpie), and a piece of tape across the top labeled with the variety. This way, as we prepare them for storage, we know which variety we are dealing with.

 

Storing the Garlic

            Now that the garlic is out of the ground, it’s time to prepare it for storage. You don’t want to let garlic sit in the sun for too long, so make sure to bring bins to a shaded or indoor area as soon as they’re full.

            After harvesting, the next step is to cure the garlic. Curing the garlic means laying it out to dry for 6-8 weeks so that it can be stored for a longer period of time. Before you lay it out to dry, consider washing it. There is much debate within the garlic community about whether or not to wash garlic. Washing garlic can be helpful because it removes the dirt which lets the garlic dry faster. However, you have to do it carefully so that you’re not spreading any diseases through the garlic, and if you wash it you need to cure it somewhere with great air circulation so that the extra added moisture is not a problem.

Garlic on the Spray Table for Washing


            To wash the garlic, lay it out (we use a spray table) and spray it down with the hose. You can spray it pretty hard (some people even power-wash it), and you need to spray it with some force to make the washing effective. Be sure that however you wash it, you’re being careful not to spread disease (a really common mistake is to wash the garlic by dipping it into a bucket of water, but this spreads disease from one bulb to any others you wash in the same water).

            Next, find space to lay out the garlic. We lay it out in the greenhouse, but you can also do it in a barn or any other structure that is shaded and has good airflow. Before we had a greenhouse, we used to hang it from netting on the walls of the barn because we didn’t have space to lay it out on any tables. That took a lot more time because we had to tie the garlic into bunches of six, label each bunch, then tie it to the netting, but you can definitely be creative and make space if you don’t have a big area.

            When you lay out the garlic, be sure to label it by variety. We label with one piece of tape across the garlic and other pieces along the edge. Make sure you leave space around each variety so that no bulbs get mixed together.

 

Garlic drying in the Greenhouse


 

Next Steps

            Now, you wait. While the garlic is curing, focus on your other crops and enjoy the lovely smell of garlic in your greenhouse! In a few weeks I’ll post about what we do with are garlic after it’s cured.

 

            Do you have any tips and tricks for harvesting garlic? Which methods do you use? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Is gardening a job?

     When I told a specialist at a world-renowned hospital that I farm for a living, he asked me, “Is gardening a job?” When I told him that yes, it was, he asked, “What do you plan to do with your real life?” In the moment, I was too shocked to respond. But now, I would like to share my real answer. Because unfortunately, it’s a question that I get asked all too often, in various forms.

    First of all, YES. I don’t love the term gardening, it’s degrading (especially when used in those types of situations), and I consider the act of gardening for profit to be farming, but YES. It is absolutely a job. And possibly the most real job there is.  

    Farming is not a vocation that people get into to make money. Tell anybody that you want to farm, and they will probably laugh in your face or tell you that you need to marry rich. Some farmers would say no, farming isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. Farming isn’t a job you work 9-5 everyday before coming home to your family and your hobbies. Farming is a full-time, energy intensive job that becomes your life.

    It terrifies me, when the people we trust most with our health forget the most important truths. Food determines our health. What we eat becomes how we feel, and who we are.

    And contrary to some people’s belief, food doesn’t just magically get made in grocery stores. The process of growing food is one of the most amazing miracles of this life. Plants grow from the earth, taking energy from the sun and converting it into energy that can be used by animals. Using the sun’s energy and carbon dioxide we exhale, plants create the food and energy that sustains our life, and all animal lives on earth.

Eggplant seedlings

    For most of American history, we were farmers. Families lived on farms. Children knew that lettuce has roots, that garlic grows underground, and that lemons grow on trees.   

    I don’t know where these people think food comes from. I don’t know what people think they would do if farming wasn’t a career. I know that people don’t understand our dynamic and complex food system, even though it shapes their health, economics, and politics. I know that when people think of farmers, they think they’re old-fashioned, and they think they’re less intelligent, choosing to do manual labor because they’re less smart. But what these people don’t realize is that farmers are highly educated and there’s a very large and growing population of young farmers. People don’t farm because it’s easy, or because it’s the only job they can get, they farm because they know how important it is to them personally, and to society as a whole. Rather than spending their days in front of computers, in meetings, and filling out paperwork, farmers spend their days outside, caring for the earth that sustains our life, and growing food that feeds us.

Flowering lavender
Purple cabbage
Winter squash in the greenhouse

              Not only does farming feed us, but it is what allows all of these other professions to exist. If everyone spent their days hunting and gathering food, there would be no banks, no lawyers, no schools. People wouldn’t have time to do anything else except find food. But luckily for all of us, farmers spend the time and effort to grow the food we need.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Challenging Yourself Everyday


    Since the beginning of this pandemic, I’ve been finding one new way to challenge myself everyday. Sometimes it’s small, a phone call, or sometimes it’s something that will become a habit (meditating daily). I hope this will help me emerge from this pandemic stronger than I have been, and I hope it will push myself beyond my comfort zone.


    This week, I completed Tony Robbins’ Comeback Challenge which focused how to be your best self even during this crisis. One of the biggest things I learned was the importance of challenging yourself. Happiness doesn’t depend on results, it depends on progress. Think about a time you’ve worked for a long time to earn something, eventually the happiness from that reward goes away. But if you keep making progress, you will grow, get stronger, and be happier. People who build successful lives don’t do it by getting lucky, they get it by pushing themselves everyday and not giving up on their goals.

 

    I’ve really enjoyed planning these daily challenges and the opportunity it’s given me to focus on my priorities. When you’re thinking about ways to challenge yourself, it’s important to think about your goals. Think about different categories, and which ones are most important to you.

 

Here are some ideas of challenges I’ve done or heard of others doing in a few categories:

 

Socially

  • Answer the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail
  • Call a store and ask a question instead of going on their website
  • Write a thank you note to somebody who has played an important role in your life
  • Play a new online game with friends

 

Spiritually

  • Virtually attend a new type of religious gathering
  • Read a book from another faith
  • Engage a friend or coworker in a conversation about their spirituality

 

Physical

  • Run five miles
  • Go on a several days long hiking trip
  • Eat vegetables with every meal

 

Fun

  • Learn to do handstands
  • Play a new instrument
  • Walk on a slackline
  • Master a Rubik's Cube
  • Learn to memorize decks of cards
  • Explore a new type of art

 

Career

  • Take an online course relevant to your job
  • Update your resume
  • Reach out to someone in a job you’re interested in
  • Research future school options

 

Mental/Educational

  • Learn a new language
  • Read a book everyday
  • Listen to a new podcast about something you don’t know a lot about
  • Start a journal
  • Write poetry

 

How do you plan to challenge yourself? What are some other ideas you have from these categories?

 

One helpful hint to stay on top of these challenges is to join a group doing them. If you want to start a daily meditation practice, look for a group which does this. You can also find groups online for learning new languages, exercise goals, healthy eating goals, and home organization goals.

 

Whatever you try, enjoy it! Recognize the courage it took to put yourself out there, and explore how many things you can do that you have never tried before.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Why I'm Not Hiking The Appalachian Trail

“Do the right thing, not only when it’s easy but when it’s the hardest damn thing in the world.”

 

    My whole life, I have dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I love hiking, and the idea of spending six months living in the woods while traveling the entire East Coast. I always dreamed of completing the trail the summer after I graduated from college, but this plan changed when I spent the last semester of my senior year on medical leave from school. However, over the year since then, I decided I wanted to try the trail.


    At first, it seemed like an unreasonable goal. But maybe because of that, it also seemed like an incredible opportunity. I read five books on the Appalachian Trail, along with books on the Pacific Crest Trail and countless blogs. I hoped that the trail would give me a chance to regain my strength, both physically and mentally. I wanted to challenge myself, to prove that I would be strong enough to embark on such an intense journey. I also hoped to get to know myself better through spending six months alone. I craved adventure-after spending a lot of the past two years in bed resting or at various doctors appointments, the idea of living my days alone in the woods seemed like a fantasy.


    I prepared for the trail. I hiked five days a week with a 35 pound pack. I would drive to nearby forests to hike mountains, or climb the steepest hills in my neighborhood over and over. Just having this goal, I was able to progress from considering a two mile walk a lot of exercise to hiking nine miles with a full pack. In addition to physical preparation, I bought supplies. I spent hours researching the best types of gear, the most essential items to pack. I spent hundreds of dollars at REI and on Amazon ordering gear.


View from Training Hike


    But now, the gear is sitting in a bin on the floor of my room. And my pack sits in my mudroom, unused except for training hikes.


    When I postponed my hike in March this year (a week before I planned to start), I expected to begin my hike later this summer. Up until earlier this week, that was my plan. After deciding traveling to start might be too complicated, I decided to start in Massachusetts and work my way through New England first. Even this weekend, when Massachusetts announced they wouldn’t be opening trails for camping this month, I thought I would still do it. I would start in Pennsylvania, as that seemed to have the most things open.


    But the more I read about it, the more it became obvious to me that I couldn’t do it. Towns posted on their Facebook pages that they would arrest anyone they found on the trail. State parks closed all shelters and facilities. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy opened most of the trail for day hikes, but urged all hikers to stay local. Technically, as long as I didn’t go on the closed parts of the trail, what I was doing would be legal.


    But that doesn’t make it right. The more I thought about all of the towns I would walk through, the grocery stores I would stop at for food, the hospital I would go to if I broke my ankle, the more I realized how many people I would be putting at risk. I wasn’t concerned for my own health, I am young and healthy, it is unlikely that I will get sick. But I can’t be responsible for getting other people sick.


    For the whole epidemic, I’ve tried to be responsible. I haven’t gone anywhere non-essential, told my friends I would only see them virtually, and I always social distance. I even talked to my boss about stronger social distancing policies at work, and I have been known to back away from people who come near me in the few times I’ve been in public. I live with someone who is at a very high risk for serious complications from COVID-19, so the idea that I could put them at risk is a huge responsibility. The thought that just by bringing certain germs into the house I could make them so sick is terrifying.

           

    When I thought about backing away from people I see in public, or getting annoyed at the runner who passed me without warning me or giving me space, I knew I couldn’t go. All I can think about is the hospital workers who have risked their lives for months to keep us safe, the families who have watched love ones die without seeing them in person, the high-risk patients who died too soon. I can’t do something that would put these people more at risk, or that would make their jobs harder.

           

    It’s been hard for people to understand why this is so upsetting to me. “But it’s your choice,” they tell me. But it isn’t really. We aren’t blaming the seniors who are upset about missing prom or graduation, and that’s only one night. We aren’t blaming the people who didn’t get to start new jobs, or saying that they are choosing to keep their lives the same. But some of us have to make the decision for ourselves. And I am so grateful this is the decision I’m making: I’m not deciding if I feel safe going to work or if I should take a loved one off a ventilator. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small decision. But it’s still important.


    It’s important because this is how we’ve all been called to respond to the pandemic, and as more time passes and things start to reopen, we have forgotten. We have forgotten our responsibility to others and the risks we create by doing what we want. I want to acknowledge everyone who has postponed plans for the sake of others: Thank you. For those of you who are struggling with such decisions, I wish you the best of luck. It isn’t easy, and it never will be. But all you can do is what you believe is right.