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My Road to Anicca Acres

"... my desire to connect with the world in a healing way
melded with the idea of food justice

by Benjamin Cossel
San Diego, California

Chickens. All photographs by Ben Cossel.
All photographs by Ben Cossel.

"People over profits" at Occupy event. Photo by Ben Cossel.

Growing in the backyard. Photo by Ben Cossel.

November 2011 was an interesting month, in what was already an interesting year, for me. Just home from a military deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I touched-down in Cheyenne, Wyoming with my eyes toward San Diego but a whole-lot of baggage weighing me down. No one to greet me, no home to go to, even my means of transportation stuck some 100 miles away with my brother. A lot had happened over the course of my 11-months in the Caribbean including the dissolution of my marriage and the upending of my family to the West Coast.

I was hurting and in a bad way.

Soon enough I find myself an apartment in the Point Loma neighborhood of San Diego and started the process of once again, settling into an area -- though at least San Diego wasn’t new, this is my third time calling the coastal city home. During my time in Cuba, I watched with rapt attention as the Occupy movement gained steam and was anxious to check out the local Occupy movement. My ex-wife was an active and somewhat entrenched participant, thus I was a reluctant to get too deeply involved. All kidding myself aside, I eventually dove in. Some of the first people I met at Occupy San Diego would go on to become partners-in-crime in my farming endeavor, not least of which was my future wife. K didn’t know it at the time, but I was pretty sure after seeing her in those tall, leather pole-climber boots, this was a women I was determined to get to know.

There were several of us, including of course K, who together formed the wellness committee and it was here the seed was both literally and figuratively planted. The basic idea of the wellness committee was simple enough -- take care of our own. Taking care of our own meant taking to the streets to tend the homeless as well as our immediate community; giving basic first-aid, providing transportation to city services and food. Food was the seed, K was the fertilizer.

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a burning interest in politics -- its what drew me to the Occupy movement in the first place. As I became disillusioned with the solutions and actions of the Occupy movement, and spent many a wee hour of the morning with K talking about food justice, I watched as my political leanings (extremely liberal), my feelings toward corporations (they are the roots from which all evil trees grow) and my desire to connect with the world in a healing way melded with the idea of food justice.

Now let me be clear -- prior to this point, I knew nothing of growing food. Growing up in Alaska, my idea of fresh peas and corn came from cans in the pantry. I regularly killed low-maintenance houseplants and I was coming from a world of war and technology. Not exactly the background one thinks of when they envision a farmer working in the fields. But to get back to the wellness committee real quick -- what is sustainable about Wal-Mart? What is healthy about pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables? Methane from cows locked up in concentrated animal feeding operation’s (CAFO) is one of the leading causes of green house gasses. Let’s not even get into everything else that’s wrong with that picture. And this is the food we’re serving to those in our community? Talk about killing them with kindness! It quickly became obvious to those of us in the wellness committee the move to feeding our community had to be through growing our own food.

I jumped right in, head first. And then something strange started happening along the way. The more I put my hands in the soil, the more I worked it, seeded it, tended it, the more I felt at peace with myself.

This was the healing I was searching for -- but it didn’t happen right away.

First things first -- while the rent of my apartment should have suggested otherwise, I was living in a particularly small space with next to no yard. This was a problem. No ... not a problem -- a challenge to overcome. I began researching vertical gardening, gardening with recycled drainage pipes, container gardening and anything I could get my hands on that had to do with growing food in an urban setting.

We went at it! Before you knew it there was parsley growing from the drainage pipes attached to the fence, squash exploding out of the fake terra-cotta pots and eggplant dangling off plants rooted in the sliver of ground I could use.

And it grew -- mine and K’s romance and my love of working the soil.

It was K who introduced me to the City Farmer’s goat collective – now we have goats in our front yard. K saw the fire in me and tossed gasoline on it, ripping out years of succulents and converting landscape into grow space. K had backyard chickens before hipsters decided they were cool -- now we have a flock of nearly 20 hens. And it keeps moving forward -- a cow, rabbits, and so many more wonderful varieties of vegetables still to come. The word anicca comes from the Buddhist idea of impermanence -- things here are constantly changing, taking new forms, old becoming new and so on.

While its not in our name, Anicca Acres is also the story of two people who found each other, who let their often diametrically opposed energies collide into a beautiful symphony all while reaching out to like-minded others to build something beautiful.

About the author:
Benjamin Cossel -- An award winning journalist, Benjamin currently serves as public affairs representative for a large department of the state of California. His travels have taken him across his home country and around the globe trying to see what he can see.

Published in In Motion Magazine December 6, 2015

Originally published November 20, 2015 in The Only Truth Is Music