Student Blog

by Adrian Struck, Student, Spring 2016 - May 4, 2016

This past week we spotlighted a student who is attending the Spring 2016 Semester — Here are some of the things Adrian has experienced so far. Adrian is from Cuernavaca, Mexico and has fell into the Woolman Community seamlessly.

On Coming to Woolman:

I came to woolman, I wasn’t feeling good back home in the regular school where i was studying, I felt bored in my current program because I wasn’t doing the things I loved. I decided to come to Woolman and find myself and what my passions were, and to have 1 semester to really connect with myself and see what I really want to do in my life.

On transitioning from Mexico:

Coming from a different country, it was a good transition. It’s like living in 2 different worlds; in Mexico they have a different way of acting and thinking, and seeing both perspectives gives you a whole new sense of how humans interact with each other.  It was easy for me; you need to be willing to come here with an open mind and willing to learn a whole new way of living and thinking that will change you for ever.

Living at Woolman:

Living at Woolman has been so far one of the best experience in my life, I’ve learned so much about myself and changed so much, everyday i’m happy to be here, I love to see the woods everyday, I love nature, it’s great to be in full contact with nature. Living in community you always have someone to talk to — it’s like a big family that supports you, every person here is an amazing human being. It’s great to hear about their amazing stories.

The classes are incredible and the teachers are the best I’ve ever had in my life, you can see that they really love the work that they are doing — they really want to be a teacher and you can see that through their classes.

Leaving Woolman Thoughts:

I would recommend Woolman to people who want to connect to themselves. Woolman has changed me a lot. I’m kind of a new person I now know what my passions are  — Woolman gives a great real life experience. I’ll miss the staff members, students, this place — and walking everyday for a half hour in the woods.

by Sara De Roy, Student Spring 2016 - May 2, 2016

There is no such thing as a typical weekend at Woolman. Much of them are spent talking with classmates, going for walks, eating food, watching movies, and doing homework - pretty much like weekends at home. Every weekend, our fabulous interns schedule something for us to do. There have been Capture the Flag games, trips to the grocery store, and walks outside. Other times, we have more out-of-the-ordinary activities. We’ve gone to a Lunar New Year festival, had a dance party, attended a yoga class, and spent hours making rice and nut milk. Here’s an overview of what I was up to this weekend.


8:17: Breakfast in the Dining Hall. We have brunch on weekends so if we are up earlier, breakfast is up to us,  but that’s not a problem - in the walk-in we have delicious leftovers from the Seder dinner that we made with last night.

10:07: A trip to the laundry room. Not a favorite task of mine, but I really need a clean towel.

11:13: Heading off with Hilary, our NVC teacher, for a hike to the Yuba! We did this hike our first week here and I’ve been wanting to do again since, but this is the first time that someone has been available to take me.

2:56: We’re back! Time for a snack (leftover miso soup), sending some materials off to a college, and meeting a future student.

4:48: A stroll up to Mel’s Pond. The students have been planning a cookout for a while and we have the rare treat of having hamburgers.

8:02: Chatting with a visiting alumnus. He came six semesters ago, but still comes back every semester.

8:35: A much-needed shower.

10:29: Journaling in bed. A bunch of my classmates are watching a movie in the Meeting House but I’m too tired for anything but nesting on my top bunk.


8:40: More Seder leftovers for breakfast - and a long chat with Gray’s dad about history, math, and genetics.

10:01: Making brunch with an intern and a classmate. Trying to figure out the gluten-free vegan pancakes is a bit of a struggle but everyone seems to like it - maybe it’s all the whipped cream and stewed fruit we put out with them…

1:03: Helping Charlotte in the garden. I spray two and half rows of infant red peppers with Dr. Bronner’s - to kill aphids - and help her weave a blackberry trellis.

3:38: Homeworking. We’re making “Occucards” for Global Thinking class. Mine is on free community college - on the front there’s a drawing of a community college diploma with a “$0.00” price tag.

5:36: Dinner - mushrooms, quinoa with peas, kale and peppers, cucumbers with tomatoes, and hummus - followed by dish crew in our industrial sized kitchen.

7:05: Blog post writing, followed by watching one of the interns get her head shaved!

8:52: Video chatting with friends back home.

10:21: Bedtime!

by Benjamin Hofvendahl, Student - November 30, 2014

Friday, Nobember 14th, marked the 124th firing of the oldest noborigama kiln in the U.S., built on Woolman soil in 1971 by a large crew, including Dick Hotchkiss, who runs it currently. Woolman students, local potters, and some from as far off as North Carolina came to our campus for this three-day event.

A noborigama is a Japanese style of kiln dating back to the 17th century. It features a large clay structure with multiple connected chambers situated on a slope.

Day 1:

We split rounds of cedar into massive rows of kindling.

We glazed our pieces together, and stacked them on shelves next to the kiln.

It was strange to see over 2,000 ceramic pieces, each individually and carefully crafted by so many different potters and sculptors, all fit into a single kiln.

The kiln doors were sealed shut late at night. A fire was built at the top to create suction, and another fire was built at the bottom. We stoked it until the fire glowed yellow-white and a searing kiln wind pulled from the bottom chamber out through the chimney.

Day 2:

We stoked the kiln all morning, all day, and into the night, in shifts.

One person pulls the stopper out, one throws the wood in, then shuts the stopper, all in one quick motion. It’s so hot that the wood explodes rather than burns.

The heat is intense, but it’s much more exciting than unpleasant. Except by the end of your shift, that is.

Day 3:

This is the time we'd been referring to as "Christmas morning."

We opened up the doors, and assembly-line passed thousands of hot ceramics into the open.

“No oggling. Keep the line moving.”

We oggled. I oggled quickly, caressed each piece with my hands as I passed it to the lady on my right, who was beaming back at me. Honestly, my heart was pounding with joy and excitement. I cannot overstate the emotional effect of watching all of these transformed pieces, hot out of the kiln and baked dark and smooth and vibrant, being passed out into the open. I saw each piece individually, and was briefly elated by its elegant form, its weight, the way its heat lingered on my hands, the rich dark interior or the the way the glazes interplay on the rim, before passing it to my right and taking the next on my left.

And finally, every piece was layed out together in the open, and all the artists walked among them, collecting their own, admiring others’, and talking.

There’s an element of unpredictability in the process that is fascinating. The upper chambers were hotter than the lower; the bottom one was more prone to scorching; reduction and oxidation work in mysterious ways, making the same glaze turn different colors on different pots, different colors on the same pot, or different colors on different sides of a pot; some unfortunate pieces (unless you’re into that) had pieces of the kiln roof fall into them. The number of variables that play into how a piece turns out is dizzying. It’s an exercise in acceptance.


I think I may be a little bit in love with ceramics. There were pieces so finely crafted that I could feel the sculptors hands poring over every curve and surface, and, though I’m blushing as I write this, there were pieces that were so beautiful, or so shapely that they made my heart flutter in a way that I can really only compare to meeting the gaze of someone I have a crush on.


One of the greatest things about ceramics, as Giovanna noted to me, is the community it creates. All these potters and sculptors rely on each other, and come together here for this kiln firing. Thank you all the people who built the dragon kiln, all the people who kept it running, the people who split the wood, the people who stacked, the people who stoked, the people who piled, the people who passed, the people who brought food, the people who explained to me the nuances of how the whole confounded thing works, the people who contributed works of ceramic to the kiln, the people who contributed their knowledge, the people who contributed their work and their love, and all the people who shared the joy of the whole process.

Thank you all,


(First photo by Maggie Jones. Subsequent photos by Gray and Nomi)

by Hannah Mackinney a.k.a. Thistle, Student - November 17, 2014
Clive Hamilton’s book Requiem for a Species is all about climate change. The book explains the science behind climate change, but also goes into the root causes of our excessive energy consumption. We live in a society where “success” is often measured in Gross Domestic Product, a scale which perpetuates the idea that wealth equals happiness. The book points out that studies have shown that once a certain level of wealth is achieved, happiness levels no longer rise with income, however, carbon emissions do. When we put excessive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, we create a positive feedback loop where “increases of atmospheric greenhouse gases raise the heat-trapping potential of the atmosphere, which in turn interferes with the natural carbon cycle in ways than tend to amplify the greenhouse effect.”[1] (The greenhouse effect is greenhouse gases absorbing thermal radiation from the planet’s surface and re-radiates it in all directions. The greenhouse effect is responsible for creating livable temperatures on Earth, but human emissions of fossil fuels have increased it to the point where it causes global warming.)
        As we learn from the IPAT equation, (Impact = Population × Affluence × Technology), “the level of environmental Impact depends on the Population, the level of Affluence (measured by GDP per person) and Technology.”[2] Since all of these factors are currently on the rise globally, our levels of carbon emissions have reached irreversible heights. We can no longer prevent climate change, and the window in which we have any power to abate it is shrinking rapidly. Yet on a large scale, humans still aren’t doing anything about it. Why?
        One of the main reasons is that as a society, we are dependent on burning fossil fuels for energy. The way our economy functions, we won’t have an incentive to start looking for clean energy until what we are currently using stops being profitable.[3] We don’t look at the big picture, and what will be good for the future of our species because capitalism and the advertising that targets us tells us that gratification only matters if it’s instant. We are told that it’s “modern” and “sophisticated” to “spend more, borrow more and save less;”[4] we’re told that economic growth is inherently good, patriotic, even. Most people who are skeptical of, or in denial about climate change feel this way because the idea that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions threatens the GDP-oriented idea of success which we hold so dearly. 
        If we really want to decrease our carbon emissions, we have to stop the cycle of growth for the sake of growth, and while this inspires fear in a large percentage of the population, as Hamilton argues, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He points out that  “in the consumption society economic growth can be sustained only as long as people remain disconnected. Economic growth no longer creates happiness: unhappiness sustains economic growth.”[5] Advertising has shaped our society so dramatically that people’s identities are directly linked to their status as consumers. We are told that we are not worthy or good enough until we buy the newest, hottest thing.[6] There are entire industries that feed off our insecurity and tell us what we need in order to feel good, but when we buy it, we don’t and we try to buy more crap to fill the holes in our lives.[7] What we really need is love and validation and a sense of self. When we have those things in our lives, we no longer feel as attached to our possessions, but the economy works hard to perpetuate a culture of scarcity, to keep us so busy wanting that we forget what we really need.[8] 
        When people are told that if we really want to reduce our carbon emissions, we have to stop consuming so much, they get scared because it feels like an attack at their very being, not simply their behavior. In order to do anything to prevent climate change, we must dismantle the concept of the consumer self. This is extremely difficult, because if we want our actions to dramatically affect climate change, we need to move fast, and at this point most people are unaware of how deeply their identities are linked to consumption, let alone ready to change their behavior so dramatically.
[1] Hamilton, Clive. "No Escaping the Science." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 9. Print.
[2] Hamilton, Clive. "Growth Fetishism." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 42. Print.
[3] Muller, Richard A. "Climate Change." Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: An Introduction to the Essential Physics Every World Leader Needs to Know. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2010. 383-87. Print.
[4] Hamilton, Clive. "The Consumer Self." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 93. Print.
[5] Hamilton, Clive. "The Consumer Self." Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. London: Earthscan, 2010. 71. Print.
[6] Susan is telling me about a movie called The Joneses where actors infiltrate a wealthy neighborhood in order to sell things to their community, which isn’t exactly how things work, but it’s a similar idea.
[7] Susan is telling me about another movie that explains that if you’re naked in a thunderstorm and someone offers you a warm cabin, your problems can be solved by material things, but that isn’t applicable to most of life.
[8] I live in a warm cabin. I have tea and instant oatmeal and a safe place to sleep and all my physical needs are met. But having a roommate who cares about me feels at least as important as those things. If I didn’t have Susan here, I might feel like something was missing in my life, and perhaps I would fill that void by ordering copious numbers of toasters over the internet.
by Mishel Ramos, Student - November 9, 2014

This poem was performed Wednesday night in Berkeley at a Slam Poetry event. (Click on the image to see the Video).

by Chloe Auman, Student - October 24, 2014

Every semester the Woolman campus hosts the Quaker Quarterly Meeting and many Quakers all come to stay on Woolman campus and use the cabins and classrooms for meetings and lodging. Students and interns can join, or go on a mid-semeter adventure called Staycation where we choose as a semester where to go for four days. Our semester chose to go to the Stinson Beach/Point Reyes area!

On the first day of staycation we all piled in cars and made it to our campsite and got settled in with plenty of time for a sunset beach trip and a wonderful dinner!IMG_1010.JPG


On the second day we started out with sleeping in (finally!) and a lazy breakfast. At around 10 o’clock am, a group left camp and went on a beautiful hike from our campsite down the mountain to Stinson beach. It was a day filled with lots of swimming in the ocean, reading and napping in the sun, exploring the small town, and long walks on the beach!


On day three we all drove down to the beach at Point Reyes and one group of students decided to stay and relax at the beach and search for tide pools, while another decided to go for a hike. The group that stayed at the beach was successful in their search for sea anemones and a relaxing day of reading and napping in the sun. The other group had an amazing time hiking the Tomales Point Trail. On the hike we saw gorgeous views as well as lots of lots of wildlife including tule elk, coyotes, falcons, and a bobcat!

After the hike we all met back up at the beach and had more time swimming and sunbathing before heading into the town of Point Reyes for dinner and ended the night with ice cream and free freshly pressed apple cider gifted to us by a 1970’s graduate of the John Woolman School!



On the final day of Staycation we all packed up camp and headed to the ocean for one last lunch on the beach, and then packed into the vans sandy, salty, tired, slightly sunburned and happy from a great vacation. On our arrival back on campus we were greeted with lots of hugs and joy from Dorothy, Gray, and other staff members!

by Mishel Ramos, Student - October 15, 2014

One December, 67 Suenos took a trip to Stockton, home of seasonal work. And those that work in the fields often make cardboard homes. The group had previously visited the forgotten city as they call it. My folks live in cardboard homes under a bridge, cold nights warmed by fire, surrounded by people with the same struggle. We were inspired by how much people made with what they have, and we came back with the idea to help out, build homes and give food and clothes. But when we finally got to the forgotten city, we were hit by their reality.  Stockton police remembered the forgotten people, and a week before we arrived enforcements raided their home. There was one family that stayed behind with nowhere to go, but they were not willing to talk to us, afraid of what might happen. In Peace and Conflict Studies: An Introduction, by Ho-Won Jeong, he says,“If human beings are denied decent education, housing, opportunity to work and freedom to express themselves they become marginalized. Conditions for social fragmentation are created by a lack of equity and freedom” ( pg. 21 p5). What happened to the families in Stockton is a perfect example of both how they were treated as insignificant, and not respected enough to be given the right to build their own homes out of scratch in a country that is so rich and has enough resources for everyone yet poverty still exists. Structural violence is when certain people, genders, classes and nationalities hold more power as opposed to others, more resources and opportunities than other groups. This unequal advantage is built into the very social, political and economic systems that govern societies, states and the world. Since the system was built with the goal to keep classes and races believing that they are less than, then the system has not failed because it was never intended for us, people of color, to succeed. Hence poverty, hence the multitude of people that got stolen from their right to build their way up. You hate us in the streets but you love us when we are working for your companies.

I come from a community full of hard working people, from working early mornings to midnight shifts all to take care of bills and feed their children, East Oakland is where I reside. My community is one of the many targeted communities, from trying to pass curfew laws, to gentrifying the city that black and brown immigrants already occupy. Gentrification is a part of capitalism.  Capitalism relies on some areas of the world being underdeveloped so that they can be cheaply invested in, "developed," and used to make profits. This happens across countries, within countries, across cities, and within cities. Gentrification is one way that capitalism develops “urban” areas.  Capitalist landlords let certain neighborhoods get run down and refuse to do repairs.  Once the neighborhood is devalued, landlords and capitalists can then invest, fix things up, and sell for a higher price.  The difference between the value of a property when it's run-down and devalued and the value of a property that's re-invested in is called the "value gap."  The difference between what a run down property can charge for rent and what a fixed up property can charge for rent is the "rent gap."  The rent gap is what motivates landlords and capitalists to invest in run-down neighborhoods . . . the potential profit that they can get once they fix things up. In Oakland Jerry Brown, California Governor, came up with the idea that to fix violence he needed to bring in 10,000 more new residents into our city. A city that already has high incarceration rates due to “legal discrimination” – housing: rent, location, condition. Employment and education: built to keep us eating right out of their hand. Public benefits: what is that? We have none. – My community has a lot of racial profiling and targeting so many youth in school. I come from a district that uses a lot of our schools budget that should be going into our education, yet they use a lot of our funding for school police. Our youth are being targeted in and out of school. From the book The New Jim Crow, author Michelle Alexander states, “.. National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals .. No new institutions for adults should be built and existing institutions for juvenile should be closed”. In 1973, there were 350,000 people held in prisons nation wide but today there are 2 million humans incarcerated in the US alone. Over the past twenty years, the State of California has built twenty one new prisons, added thousands of cells to existing facilities, and increased its inmate population eight fold. Nonviolent offenders have been responsible for most of that increase. The number of drug offenders imprisoned in the state today is more than twice the number of inmates who were imprisoned for all crimes in 1978. California now has the biggest prison system in the Western industrialized world, a system 40 percent bigger than the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The state holds more inmates in its jails and prisons than do France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the Netherlands combined. There is overwhelming evidence institutions create crime rather then prevent it.

I am a part of a youth group called 67 Suenos, 67 came out of the 67% of the youth that weren’t going to benefit from the Dream Act, the Dream Act “This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the United States as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four-year institution of higher learning” says Wikipedia. This bill off course did not benefit more than half of our youth, they were viewed as either valedictorians or criminals, but most definitely left out the real part the human part of our undocumented youth. The ones that had to stop pursuing an education because ICE enforcements struck them with deporting a mother or a father and now our youth had to take care of siblings or even have to look for help to provide economic help, we are not criminals but we all cant get straight A’s when we have to worry where our next meals will come from, recently we found out that also from the immigration reform 67% of our undocumented families are being left out of an important conversation, our future. What 67 Suenos does is hold a safe space for youth to learn and get informed with what is happening in the real world struggles and what media is always leaving out. We hold a healing circle for our youth to talk about the things that we have to carry around, it provides us with a space to heal each other and ourselves by communicating and using medicine we call sage, sap of the tree. We go on protest to fight the many things that affects us and our communities. In a letter from a Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King says “we know through a lot of painful experiences that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed… justice too long delayed is too long denied”. And we have to fight the system and unjust laws, like closing Wells Fargo because they are the main source that is investing in the detention centers of our people, boycotting Mi Pueblo a super market that ran background checks on its workers and fired so many workers that worked there for years when the owner was once undocumented himself, protesting Pacific Steel a company that fired a lot of their workers one a week before Christmas and left them without pay. “There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope sir you understand our legitimate and unavoidable impotence,” writes Martin Luther King in A letter from a Birmingham Jail. I strongly believe in my heart that there comes a time when people get so tired of all the injustices that they see around them and just have to lash out to the main cause of their oppression, people have to wake up at some point because even sleeping beauty woke up from a spell. Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.

For years my people have been taunted about what we “do not have”. Put in our faces pictures of what real beauty is, and that what we look like isn’t. Live in third world countries that have gorgeous landscapes, and yet we have been convinced that beauty is cities full of skyscrapers, city lights, and traffic. Migrated from beautiful lands full of grass and delicious crops in search of the American dream, the one that doesn’t exist. We come from humble communities full of culture and tradition, introduced to busy streets full rushing citizens. Locked into a system that doesn’t want to see us shine. Structural violence tries to keep us shut down yet we look for all ways to break free whether under the system or concrete we will break out of the oppression and set ourselves free. “Peace ultimately has to be obtained by changing social structures that are responsible for death, poverty, and malnutrition” – Martin Luther King. Change is gonna come.

by Susan Bell, Student - September 27, 2014

Before I visited the Berkeley Edible Schoolyard, I had fairly low expectations. I thought it was an interesting program, but I was skeptical. In my past experiences with observing similar programs, I have been disappointed because they have not been entirely successful.

Within the first ten minutes of hearing the woman speak about the program and the kids’ involvement, most of my expectations were exceeded. I was impressed with the facilities of the kitchen, and the layout and upkeep of the garden. I was surprised by the organization of the schoolyard, from color-coded tools to agendas written out for students. It was also nice to see the kids learning to become most self-sufficient, and leaning life skills. I think this program is very sturdy, and does wonders for the students and the school as a whole.

One thing I learned about the program that I did not realize before is that they incorporate animals into their program. I think this is a valuable lesson to help kids understand where their eggs and meat come from by creating relationships with chickens.

I would have liked to spend more time in the kitchen to observe their cooking program. From just walking around, it looked like the kids were enjoying themselves and having fun learning.  I think the most impressive aspect of the program was the enthusiasm from both sides, the administrators and the students.  I got the idea that the students look forward to the class, and the class has grown to make the school a better place. 

by Heather Sieger, Student - September 25, 2014
On Monday, our second stop was at Wolfskill Experimental Orchard, or National Clonal Germplasm Repository, which is owned by the federal government and land is leased from UC Davis. I enjoyed seeing this “living library” of so many different species and varieties of fruits and nuts. First, we learned all about how grafting works. Grafting means to take a limb off of one tree and line it up with a similar part of another tree and since trees’ immune systems are so much different from our own, it heals up the cut and the new branch will grow into the tree. It was common here to see walnut trees with the bottom of their trunks a darker bark color than the top because of the types of trees grafted onto one another. The darker color is a type of walnut that has a strong root system that fights off bacteria and diseases, which the top kind is another variety that we want. I find this interesting because you could have so many different varieties of a fruit on one single tree, and for apples, all of each variety comes from one tree and then is grafted onto other apple trees.
Since this is a Germplasm Repository, they do not harvest the food grown here and just keep it as a place to preserve species and varieties of grapes and fruit trees and nuts. I was impressed with all of the grapes—there are 3500 varieties at this orchard, some with seeds and some without. How are seedless grapes grown? They actually have seeds when they are young, but at a certain time as they are maturing they get a mutation that kills them. In order for these to reproduce from seed, someone must go into the grape as it is young and take out the premature seeds before they leave.
We also got to see and taste olives, pistachios, and figs. Olives taste really bad when they are first picked off of a tree, they are very bitter and need to go through much processing to taste how we are used to them tasting. To make olive oil, the olives are juiced and then the oil and water that comes out is separated because the water holds the bitter taste while the oil is what we know. The pistachios have three layers, the seed, the shell, and an outer coating. Unique about this nut is that the shell forms before the seed inside forms, which is opposite than must nuts like almonds and walnuts. The figs were different colors, so that wasn’t what told us they were ready to be eaten, but rather when their stems were leaning downwards. I really enjoyed spending time at and learning about the Wolfskill Orchard!
by Thistle (Hannah) Mackinney, Student - September 12, 2014

I perceive the world through a construct of words
articulate my articles with literate alliteration
a carefully constructed concept of creation
coerced into calling my own
but my bias is based on beliefs
that pile up. Poignant presumptions
grounded on ideas and experience
of ethos, air, and education.

Some species sip the sunlight
a succulent subsistence
sentence structure is superfluous
when you’re older than the dinosaurs
sending out spores
and I am opening doors made of driftwood
and other things that I’ve forgotten.

Some things don’t need words:
the way the bark curls off the manzanita
falls at the slightest
pressure of my finger
as if it wants to be undressed, and that’s okay.
It’s totally fine
not to feel fine all the time.

That’s what I’m doing.
I’m walking with God.
I have just enough fear to keep me alive
as I strive to find the dragon.
Something is hidden in these woods
so I ask for love from the Archangel Michael:
you’re my idol and the only muse I need
cause everything’s inspiring
when everything is nothing
and everything is buzzing, humming
and all that love is part of God.

I met a water snake. I didn’t shriek
I simply followed upstream
swimming, sliding till I too became a snake
and I slipped through the silky spray
the safe suck of the current
swishing on my scaly skin
the silver satisfying surface tension
of the Yuba.

If I follow this path
I’m bound to get hurt.
If you walk barefoot sometimes you get splinters
and pain stings more than numbness,
the tingle when your foot falls asleep
but now it’s time to wake up!
and I’d swear every step brings me closer to God
but I don’t need to.
You have my truth
and I don’t give a damn if you don’t think I’m good enough.

I will sing a song of succulent surrender
and of sanitation cause it’s hard to remember
that even the messy bits
are part of God.
Spilled yogurt and microaggressions
the dirt in a wound and misguided perception
clutter and chaos and unanswered questions
Nothing can hide from the light.
You may feel insignificant
but deep down you are sacred
and it’s totally fine
not to feel fine all the time.

by Jena Brooker, student - May 5, 2014

     There was a guy on the side of the road holding a sign saying, "Farm Tours" painted along with an arrow and a strawberry. Intern Tom said, "That looks a little like Bear." (Bear was the guy who was giving us a tour.) So, we kept driving. And then realized ten minutes later, that was in fact the strawberry farm we were touring! So we turned around.

      Bear was very gracious about our tardiness. He welcomed us with three gallons of strawberry lemonade, which was much appreciated on the 82 degree day. We gathered around his pickup truck as he explained the basics of Swanton Berry Farm. 

     Swanton Berry Farm is the first organic strawberry farm. Swanton was also one of the first farms to change worker conditions in a positive way. A lot of farms pay for quantity; you get payed by the box. However, Swanton decided to try out paying by the hour and it greatly benefited them. In addition to paying by the hour, the pay is a livable wage. They are able to succeed because their berries are picked at a better quality, due to their workers not rushing. Another really cool thing about Swanton is their approach in the worker's ownshership of the farm. I didn't quite understand it all, but it's kind of like a co-op. It gives their workers security, completely opposite to the likelihood of being fired on the spot for whatever reason. The strawberry beds are also raised 36 inches off the ground. This minimizes the harm done to a worker's back, due to having to stoop over so low. 

     They also grow: blackberries, kiwis, artichokes, rhubarb, broccoli, and other berries. To help the abundant plant life on the farm, they have nine bee boxes. We got to check out the bees and I learned that there were different colored shapes on each box to guide the bees back to their home. Bees are incredibly smart. 

     When you grow a lot of one thing in the same area, your crops become much more prone to disease. Strawberries especially require a lot of chemical upkeep to maintain their potential. Swanton struggled with losing their strawberries to Verticillium. However, one year they found that planting strawberries in a field recently planted with broccoli got rid of the disease! So, Swanton is able to provide us with delicious berries without using non-organic harmful sprays to keep their crop alive. 

     After touring most of the farm, we got to the strawberries! We were given free range to pick as many as we wanted. When looking for the right strawberry you want to flip the strawberry over and pick the ones that are the most red, all around. Warm from the sun the strawberries were incredible. It also felt good that these berries were the product of social justice. 

      TIP: U-PICK strawberry fields are really gross, kind of like a McDonalds play place. 

by Cait Corrigan-Orosco, student - May 5, 2014

On the morning of Thursday, May 1st The Woolman Semester School visited the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, which is a non-profit that “provides job training, transitional employment and support services to people who are homeless”. Kate Pearl gave us a tour of the 3-acre organic farm.

One thing I found interesting about the farm was the system used to make soil that they have in place. Soil, compost and grass are the layers of the system. Separate mounds are in place for it to decompose faster.

After the tour we got into two groups 1) to help weed or 2) to pick strawberries. We volunteered working in the garden for 1 hour and it was awesome!

Visiting the Homeless Garden Project was such a rewarding experience. Knowing that places like the Homeless Garden Project exists gives me hope that by working together in communities we can overcome the economical issues in the world.

by Jena Brooker, student - May 5, 2014

Located off the beach in Santa Cruz, California is The Homeless Garden Project. By far, this site was the furthest along in terms of planting, than all the other sites we visited on the Food Intensive trip. The garden was abundant in both vegetables and flowers. 


The Homeless Garden Project is an organization that hires people without homes for 20 hours a week, at minimum wage. This garden offers a transition period between no job, and a job, through work experience and the services they provide like basic job skills and resume building.

The product of all the hard work is sold at the Farm Stand and in CSA boxes. The Homeless Garden Project puts together 45 boxes altogether, but donates 24 of those each week to non-profit service organizations. This project is even looking to triple their size! It was evident there was dedication and care in the people and the land. 

Overall I was impressed and warmed by how kind everyone was there. Everyone we saw was happy and said hi and they were really excited we were helping. It was great to actually do some farming also, while visiting all these farms. My group planted Crimson Clover which will be dried and used in the beautiful wreaths they make. So, if you're in the area, stop by The Homeless Garden Project Farm Stand and purchase a wreath!

by Imani Sherley, student - May 5, 2014

Driving up to Veritable Vegetable in the iconic and distinctive Woolman vans, I was not at all excited. It was a hot California day and as I stepped out of the car I was faced with hot pavement, cars, and a warehouse. This was not the image that I was expecting to be presented with on our Food Intensive, which so far had consisted of feedlots, organic farms, and lots of produce. At first glance, it was nothing short of underwhelming, and as our guide led our group into a conference room, I was anything but jazzed. This seemed like just another typical company with typical policies feeding into the ever growing, ever more pervasive capitalist hierarchy. Boy was I wrong.

Veritable Vegetable is probably the coolest produce transporter since ever. They transport exclusively from organic growers and bring their produce to restaurants, grocery stores, institutes, and other places in California, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. Their trucks are on the highest end of sustainable technology, and they map out their routes in order to be as energy efficient as possible. While of course wanting to run a successful business, all their decisions are made based on a set of core values that focus on healthy working conditions, helping the environment, and the support of their growers as well as the communities they service. People from many levels and job descriptions help make important decisions in order to help make things fair. Their staff is 60% women, and the difference in pay between the CEO and the workers doing manual labor is never more than a 5 to one ratio. They rock hard.

Yet those facts, which anyone could find by just looking at their website, don’t even compare to the experience of walking through their operations. As Woolman students and staff were led into the main warehouse, we were met with funky music blasting from wall to wall, and both men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and appearances working the floor. Our guide (who was way cool) took us on a tour of some of the different coolers where they keep produce, and explained exactly what the journey would be for all the mushrooms, bananas, peppers, and other tasty treats that filled each ice box. As we danced our way through the warehouse, jamming out to Veritable’s sweet beats, our leader talked to us about alternatives to wooden pallets and plastic wrap that were being used on a trial basis to help the environment. Then we took a look inside of their trucks, and a few of us took a try at screaming our lungs out in one of their storage spaces, which was so thick that no one could hear us. We asked a lot of questions, and got some honest answers.

Finally, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we went back to the conference room we started off in, where we were greeted with two huge bowls of strawberries. It was magical. I was and still am completely hooked on Veritable Vegetable, and I wish that for every food producer, there was such a rad transport company. I would love to work there someday, and would love to see more companies move in their direction. However, until then, I’m happy to know a place so hip and cool exists. So the next time you’re in Briar Patch or another California marketplace, take a minute and find out if your vegetable are veritable.

by Hannah Rose, Lily Elder, and Zoe Dillon-Davidson, Fall 2009 students - May 5, 2014

Hannah Rose, Lily Elder, and Zoe Dillon-Davidson performing the Woolman Lane song at the Fall 2009 Graduation. Doug Hamm on banjo.

by Jena Brooker, student - May 1, 2014

These four rows will soon become rows of medicinal herbs. For my sustainability project I am working with intern Chloe on planting various herbs and harvesting them to use as teas here at Woolman! In addition, we will create signs to go in the garden along with a book filled with information on which teas to use for different ailments. We have met a couple of times and in that time have decided what information to put on the signs and planned out the beds. Our next step is to purchase the seeds/ transplants. Just some of the herbs we’re planting are: Nettle, Alfalfa, Echinacea, Catnip, Astragalus, Hyssop, Marshmallow, and Valerian. In the last few years I have made the personal decision to stop using prescription and over the counter drugs. I firmly believe in the effectiveness of natural alternatives, and it’s important to me to learn about natural medicine in an applicable way. I’m so excited that I’m going to have firsthand experience in the planting and harvesting of medicinal herbs, and I’m so excited to learn all that Chloe has to teach me!

by Imani Sherley, student - April 7, 2014

On Thursday night, April 3, many students stayed up way past tuck-in, decorating the Dining Hall with posters, signs, and giant hearts. They declared Friday, the day before Spring Break, "Woolman Day," celebrating the half-way point of the semester. Here, student Imani Sherley performs the song she wrote for the occasion.

by Dontae Sharp, student - April 2, 2014

The Berkeley Poetry Slam was the best poetry slam I have ever been to. There was this guy who wrote to Marshal Mathers a.k.a Eminem. He talked about how he is so homophobic and tries to make a living off of dissing the LGBT community. The poem was dope and got a 10 out of ten from all 5 judges.

There was this other guy who wrote to the D.M.V about how they drive him crazy and make him get out of character. He spit his poem as if he had two personalities: one that was a really nice guy who just want a little bit of understanding, and the other guy who was mad and didn’t care about hurting anybody feelings. He got mostly 9 from all the judges.

This one guy who was black and white had wrote about his life. He lived a life where people told him he wasn't black enough. He said as basically his course in the poem “I'm black and I'm white and I'm white and I'm black what the f--- you gonna do about that?” This guy was so deep. He made me think about all the time I made fun of light-skin people for portraying themselves as blacks. Who was I to tell them they wasn't black? Why should color identify who we are as people? This is the overall message I got from this great poet.

Overall I had a great time. There were more poets I can talk about but that will last forever. I learned a lot about different cultures. I wish I could've attended the next round that took place last Thursday at the same place.

by Miguel Avila-Macias, student - March 31, 2014
When driving down International Boulevard in East Oakland, you will see liquor stores, prostitutes, and dope dealers at just about every intersection. Take a turn up Montclair, and the scene changes entirely. Liquor stores become organic food markets, community organizers replace prostitutes, and the dealers become friendly neighbours. How is it that these communities can reside in the same city, and yet be so different? Part of the answer can be found in the availability of healthy food. Unfortunately, healthier foods come at much higher prices than fast food and other affordable options. In the neighborhoods of East Oakland, where residents live off of an average annual household income of roughly $32,000 (Bass, et, al.), these healthier foods can seem too expensive. Even if the decision to purchase these foods were to be made, finding a market with organic products would be nearly impossible. Instead, neighborhood liquor stores and fast food restaurants litter the streets, where the healthiest choice would be purchasing the baked potato chips over the regular ones. In this paper, I will attempt to illustrate the exact way in which this inequality exists, unveil the history that created it, and propose solutions which, if expanded upon, could quite possibly solve this great dilemma.
The first aspect of the problem is access. In California, a state well known for its vast farmland, one could safely assume that fresh produce would be at everyone's disposal. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As stated above, the poor communities of Oakland do not have access to healthier, organic food. East Oakland resident Gregory Higgins stated, “It’s easier to stay drunk than it is to eat” (Bass et, al.). In communities like these, it is much easier to gain access to drugs and alcohol than a decent meal. Supermarkets here are a rare sight. If a community member wanted to buy healthy food they would have to travel long distances, which would be an additional expense to their already small budget.
The existence of this “food apartheid” (Parame) in Oakland has its roots in a long history of disinvestment from certain parts of the city. As wealthy people began to move out of central areas of Oakland, businesses and supermarkets left with them. Poorer families occupied the remaining homes, causing banks to “redline” these once thriving areas as locations where investment would be risky. Patricia St. Onge, a member of The Hope Collaborative in West Oakland stated, “The effect is that today it’s still easier to get a loan to open a liquor store than a supermarket in low-income neighborhoods of Oakland” (Bass et, al.). Many supermarkets have stated that West Oakland is “a neighborhood that… isn’t able to sustain a full-functioning store” (Field & Bell).
Despite the fact that these corporations and banks have opted to pursue profit, community members and organizations are fighting to bring organic, healthy foods back to East and West Oakland.  The Hope Collaborative is a food policy organization working towards establishing Oakland communities with independent community gardens. Through Hope, many community members have taken action and turned once abandoned lots into thriving community gardens. By doing this, not only will these families have access to healthier food options, but most gardens will give away the produce to those who worked the land (Bell et, al.).  
Another food justice initiative is People’s Grocery, a supermarket with the mission to bring nourishing and delicious food to its community. They were founded with the Black Panther Party’s breakfast programs in the 1960’s and quickly learned that feeding the children is just as important as any revolution. Executive Director Nikki Henderson believes that People’s Grocery is a space “to raise the consciousness about structural racism and the role it has played… in creating and maintaining food deserts” (Field & Bell).
Although these amazing organizations have managed to bring healthy foods back into the poor communities of Oakland, it’s still not enough. For many living there, accessibility is still a great obstacle. The gardens and markets currently in existence don’t even come close to fully meeting the needs of the population of East and West Oakland. However, organizations like The Hope Collaborative and People’s Grocery are taking steps that if expanded upon, could lead us to a more just future.

“No Grocery Store in Sight” by Angela Bass, Puck Lo, Diana Montaño.  Oakland North.

“Food for Body, food for Thought, Food for Justice: People’s Grocery In Oakland,California” by Tory Field and Beverly Bell.

“Food Justice In West Oakland” by Parame

by Jena Brooker, student - March 30, 2014

     Woolman has a partnership with MetWest, an alternative public high school in Oakland, CA. We visited this sister school on a recent trip to the Bay Area to explore prison and education systems and how they tie together.

    As we drove up to the school, Dontae (a student of MetWest and Woolman), was yelling and whooping with excitement and begged for the windows to be opened so he could yell out to his friends. There was great excitement from everyone to learn more about MetWest by vistiting the school.

     The Woolman crew, along with MetWest’s school counselor, restorative justice leader, and students of MetWest, gathered in a circle and introduced themselves. Then, instead of saying, “Hi, I’m Jena from Michigan and my favorite color is purple.” we said our name, where we were from, and a recent conflict we had resolved. That felt different in a really good way.

     Current MetWest students whom were considering attending Woolman had the opportunity to ask us questions about our school. One question we got was, “Are there showers?” A Woolman student answered yes, but how often people utilize them is variable from everyday to once a week.

     Next, we asked them questions about their Restorative Justice class and practices. MetWest believes in healing wounds, and not punishment. For students who find themselves involved in a fight, they are given the option to do a restorative justice circle, or suspension. Most students at MetWest are open to restorative justice, and see the value in it. The Restorative Justice teacher (Malik) said most of the circles they do are because students come to the teachers with an issue, and request the practice.

     During the visit we learned Malik was trained by Marshall Rosenberg in NVC, a class we have here at Woolman! We hope to learn more from MetWest about their restorative justice practices among other things, and further develop our relationship with them. The weekend following spring break, some MetWest students are coming up here to visit us!