The art of farming
JOY JOYCE is a novice organic, biodynamic vegetable farmer – a farmer of the soil and an artist. The soil is her palette. Her paint is compost, organic amendments and holistic sprays. Her brushes come in the form of shovels, rakes, pruners and cultivating tools. She shares with us her passion for farming as an art of the soul.
Q: Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
JJ: My first desire was to become a landscape designer. I studied Ornamental Horticulture in high school. I have art in my blood, be it singing, drawing, crafting or landscaping. My love of being outdoors and working with my two best tools (my hands) gave me the assurance that landscaping was the right path for me. I spent a brief period of time working alongside a landscape designer and realized how much of what they do is behind a drawing board, not in the field. This quickly re-directed my future career path.
In the interim I returned to the restaurant business where I had started when I was 16. Eventually I became a restaurant manager. About five years into my career, my father passed away from terminal cancer. This shook my world. During his service, my mother placed a token from each of us kids in my father’s suit pocket. My token was a small wooden saw that I had painted as a child. On this saw I had painted a farm scene. Soon thereafter I had health challenges of my own and knew I needed to spend more time outdoors and feel Mother Nature’s healing presence. I searched Google for days looking for any way I could volunteer in an outdoor setting. I didn’t care if it was a nursery, conservation group or farming. I was desperate.
In 2013, I stumbled across Apricot Lane Farms – an organic, biodynamic and regenerative farm – and learned about their garden volunteer program. My first day of volunteering felt like a dream. I couldn’t believe such a place existed here on Earth and only a short distance from home. I learned of the connection between soil health and the similarities of our gut microbiome. I continued to volunteer when I had the time, and silently whispered (what I thought was a pipe dream) to the universe, asking that I might be a part of this world-changing endeavor.
In 2014, I received an e-mail from the garden team-lead at Apricot Lane Farms, asking if I was still interested in becoming a farmer. I almost fell off my chair! Without even a thought in my mind I called, set up the interview, accepted the job and then told my husband. Some would have thought me crazy to leave a very stable career path for a farming career. However my loving mother and amazing husband supported me 100%.
I have been blessed to be on a path of learning holistic healing through growing food that is nurtured by healthy soil. In addition, I’m able to utilize my artistic skills through planting and maintaining the garden. The most fundamental part of what I do is overseeing the volunteer program. I meet so many incredible people who are all on a path to finding a deeper connection to life, health and nature. This is priceless. I am a teacher and a student all at the same time. Farming is a lifetime of learning (as is life) and I’m happy to be a lifetime student.
Q: Please tell us about your art. What do you do, make and create? How? Why? What’s the message or inspiration? What do you hope people take away from it? What should we know about your artwork?
JJ: I am a novice organic, biodynamic vegetable farmer. That being said, truly what I am is a farmer of the soil. The soil is my palette. My paint is compost and organic amendments and holistic sprays. My brushes come in the form of shovels, rakes, pruners and cultivating tools. Most artists (at least graphic) would provide a rough sketch or have a plan before jumping right into the painting. I too have to plan the entire garden in advance, accounting for varieties, heights of different crops, dates to maturity, seasons, row spacing and cost of supplies. There is much to be taken into account, especially the beauty of the garden and nutrition of the food. The post harvest and, of course, the flavor of the food is where you can get a taste (pun intended) of some of my art skills. Whether it is assembling an edible flower pack or an herb bouquet, I pour love into every aspect of what I do! My hope is the food that we grow is nourishing for the body and the soul.
I pour love into every aspect of what I do!
My hope is the food that we grow
is nourishing for the body and the soul.
And the biodynamic side brings another element into the equation. In a nutshell, biodynamics is seeing the entire farm as a single living and breathing organism. We must work with nature to assist maintaining balance of her ecosystem. For instance, we maintain many native perennial plants as a border around the garden. This border is a natural habitat for beneficial predator insects and pollinators, such as bees, ladybugs, lacewings, earwigs and praying mantis, not to mention it looks absolutely stunning! Think of this border of plants as your immune system. From time to time we all get sick with colds and flu, you name it. But the reason we have an immune system is to defend our bodies and to attack all the bad guys. If our immune system is compromised, this can delay the healing process or worse. However, when we give our bodies what they need with proper nutrition and exercise they should be stable, or at least strong enough to fight against possible intruders. Without these beneficial habitats, we can only hope that these precious creatures will come to our aid in our time of need. I have seen the biodynamic practices and their effects first hand, and can tell you that, while no system is perfect, this is undoubtedly the way nature intended it to be.
To me, farming is an art of the soul. I have met others from many different walks of life who love growing food and gardening. I sense that gardening is an art form for more than artists. Gardening means wanting a connection with life, nature and community. Gardening is about a desire for balance, which requires being observant. So push away the idea that it takes a green thumb to farm and get out there and get dirty! Get connected!
To me, farming is an art of the soul.
Gardening means wanting a connection with life,
nature and community.
Gardening is about a desire for balance,
which requires being observant.
Q: How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
JJ: Currently, products from Apricot Lane Farms can be found at three farmers markets in LA. On Saturdays we are at Calabasas and on Sundays we are at two locations, Mar Vista and Santa Monica. We send products to Erewhon Natural Food Market, Venice and Santa Monica, in addition to a few restaurants that add our products to their specials, including Pedaler’s Fork in Calabasas, Melisse in Santa Monica, Follow Your Heart in Conoga Park, Farmshop in Brentwood, Gjusta and Gjelina. There are also some caterers and private chefs who come directly to the farm to pick up our produce. Chef Laurent Quenioux is one of our biggest supporters, as he uses our produce for many of his pop up dinners at MaMaison. Be sure to attend one of his amazing dinners, as it’s a lifetime experience! Miss Kate’s uses our products for her catering events and Wild at Heart in Ojai is a small independent food and fermentation company that uses some of our produce for their hot sauces and kombuchas.
I encourage everyone to volunteer in the garden! We have projects for all levels of experience. You will feel as though you are in a different world!
Q: We often hear that being an artist can be lonely. Do you have any advice for those looking to connect with other artists?
JJ: I’m not sure that ‘lonely’ quite describes my experience as an artist. I’m sure you have all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” In my line of work as a farmer, it takes a team to make the dream happen. I would say to those artists who are finding their profession lonely, find a way to branch out and connect with others.
I once invited a co-worker and old friend to start a sketch group. We went to the Ventura Harbor, grabbed our sketchpads and just hung out on the grass sketching whatever our hearts desired: the people walking around, each other, dogs, the harbor. By no means do I consider myself a good sketch artist, but I don’t take myself so seriously that I can’t have fun trying new things and, best of all, connecting with others.
Sometimes being an artist is overwhelming. There are moments when I have so many ideas in my head, and so many projects I want to tackle, that I literally feel like I may explode. But it’s exciting and I am totally and completely blessed to have these abilities. Time has given me a new attitude and outlook on life and I see my talents as the gifts they are.
Q: Please provide any contact information we can share with our readers.
JJ: Everyone should check out the Apricot Lane Farms website. It is where I first fell in love with the farm before I even set eyes on it. The short films by farm-owner John Chester are sure to tug at your heartstrings. The photos are breathtaking. And the site will give you more insight into what our farming practices are all about.
Reprinted with permission from VoyageLA at http:// voyagela.com/interview/meet-joy-joyce/
Interviewed by the staff at VoyageLA
Photography by John Chester, Sandra Keats, Ainhoa Hardy,
John Amis, Apricot Lane Farms