Spring Weekend on the Farm


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From May 17-19, I celebrated a special kind of anniversary. I had been WWOOFing (volunteering on an organic farm) for a year. After making 4 visits to the same organic farm, Raven Crest Botanicals, its safe to say that I am in love. My friend Susanna’s beautiful, natural nook in Berne, New York will always have a place in my heart. Since I am so in love with her farm, the sense of community it brings, and all that Susanna stands for, I decided to bring my boyfriend for a weekend.

Friday Night

After over four hours in the car, driving through constant downpour from New Jersey, we arrived in upstate New York…and went right to sleep.


Since I was a kid, I have gotten cold sores. Nowhere near a conventional pharmacy, but surrounded by nature’s pharmacy, I asked Susanna for an organic remedy after a cold sore appeared Saturday morning. She made a mixture of echinacea, lavender, St. John’s Wort, and lemon balm that sent me well on my way to healing. I was so thankful to have a healer for a friend!

After Susanna made my medicine, we went into the village of Schoharie and walked around. Then, we all got lunch and carrot cake from the Carrot Barn, which was absolutely delicious! Next, we went to get some strawbales for strawbale gardening from a farmer near Susanna’s land. We made friends with some of the animals at Willaine Shropshires.

Once we returned to the farm, we (my boyfriend Jeff) dug holes for blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. Then we planted the babies with soil, compost and organic fertilizer. To learn more about the organic fertilizer that Susanna uses, read another one of my posts.

Our berry plants all in a row!

Our berry plants all in a row

On Saturday night, we all enjoyed a beautiful dinner made by the Rainbow Goddess Ashley! We had raw soup made hot by blending for 10 minutes, roasted veggies and couscous, and kale salad. Yum!

Raw food made by the Rainbow Goddess

Raw food made by the Rainbow Goddess


According to Susanna’s biodynamic calendar, Sunday was not a good day to plant anything into the Earth. Her biodynamic calendar takes into consideration lunar phases and astrological influences to determine whether a particular day is appropriate for soil and plant development.

Instead of planting, we mulched and weeded around our berries. On Sunday night, Jeff and I went into Albany to see The Grand Budapest Hotel with Susanna’s full-time seasonal WWOOFer Lisa. Lisa is a lovely person with great, positive energy and a love for crystals and music. She also has a really awesome SUV that we drove around in quite a bit during our stay at the farm.

On Sunday, we pulled weeds and mulched around our berries You can see the mulch line in front of us.

After we pulled weeds and mulched around our berries. You can see the mulch line in front of us.


On our last day, Jeff, Lisa and I went to the Middleburgh Diner and visited our friend, Jane. Jane felt a cold coming on and needed some of Susanna’s medicine to feel better before a fun weekend she had planned. We were so excited to see Jane’s home and felt so honored when she showed us a breathtaking view of the Catskills Mountains from her property.

Gorgeous view of the Catskills Mountains at Jane's house

Gorgeous view of the Catskills Mountains at Jane’s house

From drinking Chaga tea, to eating duck eggs and homemade bread while looking at the hidden messages of water, Jeff and I had a wonderful time on the farm. I was so happy to bring someone I care about into Susanna’s space and continue to spread her message of love and wellness. We can’t wait to go back again soon!

For more posts about Raven Crest Botanicals, WWOOFing, and organic farming, check these out:


Winter Visit to the Farm


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In between my old job and my new job, I went up to Raven Crest Botanicals for a long weekend. The farm is so beautiful, especially under a blanket of snow. We didn’t do any planting or harvesting, but went into town for project materials and into Albany for a showing of the film Her…and still ate amazingly delicious fresh, real food. We also had an extremely thought provoking conversation about food labels. Stay tuned for a blog on this topic in June!

For more posts about Raven Crest Botanicals, WWOOFing, and organic farming, check these out:

Interested in Volunteering on an Organic Farm?


Self-sufficient living

Interested in any of the above?  Consider volunteering at Raven Crest Botanicals! An organic farm located in Upstate New York, Raven Crest Botanicals is looking for two volunteers who can commit to the full season from April/May 2014 through September/October 2014. A couple or two friends would be great!

Here is more information from the owner of Raven Crest Botanicals, Susanna:

Photo Credit: Susanna Raeven

Photo Credit: Susanna Raeven

  • “We are a beautiful micro scale medicinal herb farm, worked with organic, permaculture and some biodynamic methods, tucked into the hills in upstate NY, a 45 minute drive from Albany.
  • In addition to working our herb gardens, we own 250 acres of pasture and forested hills on which we wild craft herbs and medicinal mushrooms with love and respect for mother nature and all her creations.
  • We grow over 80 varieties of medicinal and culinary herbs for our tinctures, creams, balms, salves, oils, herbal teas and honeys. We have a pond fed solar irrigation system and grow our herb seedling in an earth sheltered greenhouse without the use of fossil fuels. We solar dry our harvests and the greenhouse is used as a drying space during the summer months.
  • There are 100 vines that will give enough grapes to make wine for the first time next year.
  • We have two bee hives on the farm for pollination, honey and propolis harvest.
  • Our large vegetable garden feeds us through the summer months. We cook healthy and delicious vegetarian meals, occasionally organic local meat.
  • All medicinal plants are grown from seed, harvested, dried and processed on our farm. Herbal products are made in our own processing room. We visit local farmers markets on the weekends and offer occasional herbal classes on our premises and at near by locations.
  • We are in the process of adding additional permaculture growing space and somebody handy with wood working/building experience would be a big plus. Some permaculture experience would be great as well.
  • We are currently building a wood fired bread/pizza brick oven and you are encouraged to learn how to bake.
  • We are fermenting a lot of foods and you can explore the art of fermentation and add more foods to the list.
  • We have an extensive library on herbalism and plenty of educational DVDs to watch. I am always available to answer questions and teach. You will learn the healing power of medicinal plants and how to connect to the plant world with respect and in balance with the earth.”

Volunteer responsibilities include: greenhouse work, planting, tending, watering, weeding, harvesting, wild crafting, drying, and garbling of herbs, blending teas, making herbal products, weekly visits to farmers markets, and preparing and mailing web page orders and CSA packages.

Additional planned projects for 2014:

  • Raven Crest Botanicals planning to host herbal class retreats with yoga, sound healing sessions and raw food.
  • They inoculate medicinal and culinary mushroom logs in the spring.


  • A swimming pond and a yoga platform to practice and meditate lays behind the house.
  • A pickup truck you can drive is available, but your own car is preferred.
  • Speak English and German.
  • No pets please. They have a cat that is shy around other animals. Smoking only outside the house, non-smoker preferred.

Some More Fun Information:

  • The Howes Caverns are nearby, which are fun to explore. The next movie theater is a 45 minute drive away. A Tibetan Center of Wisdom and Compassion with weekly open meditation classes is close by. Otherwise, there are a lot of woods and fields to enjoy.
  • Susanna is a Mother Earth News Blogger. To learn more about Susanna’s background and Raven Crest Farm click here.

To Learn More About My Experience as a 20-Something Environmentalist on Susanna’s Farm, Check Out the Posts Below:

If you are interested in volunteer at Raven Crest Botanicals,
please e-mail Susanna at susannarae@earthlink.net.

Full Circle


With the windows down, sunny blue sky on the horizon and Third Eye Blind on the radio, I drove up the New York Thruway the first week of August for my second visit to Raven Crest Botanicals, an organic herb farm.

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I arrived Monday afternoon to the open arms of Susanna and Thomas, eager to have more help harvesting the over 3,000 medicinal and culinary herbs and plants on Susanna’s property.  Before going out to the terraces to collect calendula, chamomile, blue cornflower, Mauritian mallow, I passed some interesting looking rocks on the table in the sun room.

While collecting herbs, I learned that, depending on the time of year and the type of herbal remedy needed, there are different parts of the herb that are harvested: aerial parts, root, blossoms, leaves, and buds.  Thomas explained that midday is the best time for harvesting because it is when all of the chemical processes and energy is present in the plant.

Thomas and I

Thomas and I

Also on Monday, Thomas gave me a tour of the strawbale house on the property.  It was an existing structure when Susanna and Yoav bought the farm and a few friends are clay plastering the walls.  The building is made of straw, sand and clay.  It is a breathing, natural house and it is beautiful.

Susanna and Thomas spoke with wide eyes about Burning Man throughout the day, a spiritual celebration on the Playa in the desert that they were attending in a few weeks.  Later that night, we talked about “the lost language of plants” over a bonfire and I listened to Susanna and Thomas play the didj and Susanna sing and play the Shruti Box.  I couldn’t have been happier to be back.


Shortly after I woke on Tuesday morning, I learned why farmers love the rain; watering crops takes a long time!  I watered the permaculture beds, tree guilds, strawbale gardens, vegetable garden and potted plants for almost two hours that morning.  I enjoyed it though.  It was soothing to be among the honey bees, butterflies, locusts, hummingbird moths and all different types of birds: Cedar Waxwings, warblers, goldfinches, and hummingbirds.

The Rainbow Goddess at work

The Rainbow Goddess at work

I spent some time reading on the hammock outside under great, big trees and met Susanna’s friends Ashley and Peter that day.  Peter is from Denmark and has the kindest eyes I have ever seen.  He listens to every word you say with genuine interest and sincerity and has a remarkable aura.  Ashley, his soul mate, goes by “Rainbow Goddess” when she is cooking her amazing raw food, but I think she is more like a ray of sunshine.  Her happiness is contagious and her presence can brighten any room.

Thomas and I harvested some holy basil and thyme and planted some herbs in the pasture.  I swam in the ice-cold pond water and we went up to The Vines to humanly take care of the Japanese Beetle problem on the grapes.  We would tap them off the leaves and into a bucket of soapy water.  The soap in the water breaks the surface tension and creates a painless exit for the invasive species.


By Wednesday, I had settled into a morning routine.  I would get up around 7-8 AM, post a few photos on Instagram, go for a run on some country roads of Albany County, and then come back to the farm and water the herbs.

Thomas and I harvested sage and chamomile and “garbled” the herb Eclipta (the oil is great for hair).  Garbling involves removing the stems of dried plants and crumbling them into smaller pieces for storage…and it’s so much fun!

View from the ATV

View from the ATV

Racing alongside deer on the ATV, Thomas and I went up to The Vines and to the pasture.  Susanna, Thomas and I went on a peaceful walk through Susanna’s natural “medicine cabinet” in the pasture.  Although none of the herbs felt ready to harvest, we did befriend a praying mantis.

On Wednesday, I met Ben, a natural builder from the East Coast.  We got along right away and he told me how he went to “university” in the UK as we humanely got rid of Japanese Beetles on The Vines.  Ben explained how he has been in the construction trades for around a decade, but got started in natural building a few years ago when he grew tired of “pouring concrete all over the world.”  He is currently helping to organize a community farming project in upstate New York and plays some mean Led Zeppelin on guitar.

I had one of many full-circle moments on the farm on Wednesday when I realized I had harvested almost all of the ingredients of my favorite tea that Susanna makes, her Happiness Tea, made from anise hyssop, Tulusi, and calendula blossoms.  On my first visit, I had planted some medicinal herbs, now I was watering and caring for them and also harvesting and drying them.  I was slowly seeing the whole process come together.


View on my run

View on my run

After my morning routine, Ben, Thomas and I began putting lists together and calling stores for the supplies we needed to build the new rocket mass heater.  We were looking for recycled and refurbished items where possible, although one store did tell us, “If it ain’t kick your ass beautiful we ain’t got it.”  We didn’t go there.

It took all day to find the supplies we needed; even specialty stores told us that our do-it-yourself project had a “weird set up.”  When we stopped for lunch half way through the day, it took us a good twenty minutes to find a restaurant that wasn’t a corporate chain.  Look for small business owner restaurants next time you’re on a main road; it will take longer than you think.

It was an exhausting day, but it was fun driving the pickup truck around Troy and broin’ out with Thomas and Ben, and we came home to an incredible raw food dinner with raw lasagna and cucumber and zucchini noodles.

This is not spaghetti and meatballs! It is raw food! Zucchini and kelp noodles!

This is not spaghetti and meatballs! It is raw food! Zucchini and kelp noodles!


Middleburgh, NY

Middleburgh, NY

On Friday, it finally rained!  No watering for me.  Instead I got to make some medicine, Elder Wisdom tincture and aromatherapy sprays; Lovely Lavender Facial Mist, Peace and Calm Facial Mist and Sacred Mountain Facial Mist.  I made some jewelweed oil with Susanna, which is used to treat poison ivy, skin irritations, rashes and insect bites.  As we made medicine, we talked about fracking and what it would mean for Susanna’s farm if they opened Upstate New York to the natural gas industry, the Obama Administration and the pace of society.

Susanna received some excellent news on Friday, so I went into Middleburgh, NY to the liquor store to get some wine.  I had no idea I would be driving right into the town that time forgot.  It was refreshing to see families out on their front porches and folks walking from mom and pop store to mom and pop store.



On Saturday, I hung out in the strawbale house with Thomas and Ben and we listened to The Beatles. Yoav arrived later that night and made me laugh like a crazy person, as he usually does. That morning though, I had an epiphany while eating breakfast alongside a ruby-throated hummingbird.

On Susanna’s front porch, there are two rocking chairs and a hummingbird feeder hanging on a post near one of the chairs.  After my run in the morning, I liked to eat my granola and yogurt breakfast on the porch and watch the hummingbirds.  On Saturday morning, a particularly bold hummingbird kept flying over near where I was reading, about three feet from my face, stare at me, and fly off.  He would come and go, cock his head to the side at me, like a dog, and fly off.  As I watched him, I realized he was as curious about me as I was about him.  In that moment, I was made to feel small by a creature no larger than my palm. Not in a bad way, in a mind-opening kind of way.

Yoav and Susanna

Yoav and Susanna

We coexist with millions of beautiful creatures on this planet who are just as curious about our existence as we are about theirs; and that is something we must always keep in perspective.


On Sunday, after visiting the rock lady (more to come soon), running and watering the plants one last time, I left the farm to go back to New Jersey.  I drove away with an insatiable appetite to contribute to the world and make it better, and I have my friends at Raven Crest Botanicals both to blame and to thank.


As Seen On MotherEarthNews.com

As Seen On MotherEarthNews.com

Jersey Girl Gone WWOOFing


“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do.”

I have to agree, digging in the dirt is awesome.  Ever since I was a kid, I loved playing in my backyard, getting dirty looking for insects, building forts and splashing around in creeks looking for frogs and crayfish.  Being outside made me happy, and continues to make me happy in my twenties.  I was not surprised to find gardening at Raven Crest Botanicals therapeutic, but was a little surprised to find that I now agree with the defiance of gardening.

I began my act of rebellion when I became involved with WWOOF, at the suggestion of some of my college friends.  Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is a program connects people who would like to learn more about the organic movement, permaculture and sustainable agriculture, with farmers who want to share their knowledge. No money is exchanged between host farms and “WWOOFers,” just room and board for the volunteers.

After a few weeks of e-mailing host farms, I found an herbalist in Upstate New York who didn’t mind having a blogger stay with her for a long weekend to learn more about organic foods.  I took a few days off work, said good-bye to the ocean and made my way up toward the Catskills.

Day 1: Wednesday


I arrived at Raven Crest Botanicals safe and sound after driving on some COUNTRY roads in torrential rain just in time to see a rainbow across the trees of the farm.  My host farmer, Susanna, was extremely kind and hugged me right away.  Another WWOOFer, named Thomas, was also staying with Susanna.  His knowledge of herbs and permaculture was impressive, having only been on the farm a month.  Thomas had come to Susanna after backpacking through India and teaching English to children in Chile.

After an amazing dinner of fresh vegetables, salad and fish, I listened to Susanna play the didgeridoo, learned what the hell a didgeridoo was, and acquainted myself with Tibetan singing bowls.  I felt a planet away from the Jersey Shore, which was alright with me.


Day 2: Thursday

I followed the other WWOOFer, Thomas, around like a puppy all day.  He taught me how to drive the 4-wheeler and explained permaculture guilds and sheet mulching to me.  We drove around looking for the supplies we needed, got slightly lost, tried to help a few turtles cross the road, gave apples and carrots to Susanna’s horses on a different farm, and at Gordon Farms (where we got the manure for the sheet mulching) I got to try to feed a calf that was just a few hours old.

Day 3: Friday

Kiss of Venus on the greenhouse door

Kiss of Venus on left

My third day was a bit of a lazy day, Thomas had left to go up to Massachusetts to buy an archery bow and I spent the day with Susanna.  She has such a wonderful aura and an incredibly powerful presence, I could listen to her tell me about her herbs, her “babies” all day.  I learned that a tonic herb can be taken every day, to help build up and enhance your system.  Elixirs usually contain boiled-down roots and honey, while tinctures are alcohol/water based.

We spent a lot of the day watering her plants.  I had no idea that most farmers spend at least 2 hours a day watering, when it rains too.  Even a good rain only goes through about a half an inch of soil.

I loved going in and out of the earth-sheltered, passive solar greenhouse on Susanna’s farm.  The door has the Kiss of Venus on it, which is a beautiful symbol of sacred geometry that is formed by the orbits that Earth and Venus make around each other.

Susanna’s partner, Yoav arrived on the farm that night.  An immigration lawyer right outside Boston, Yoav is a bit of a smart ass and I liked him right away.  He spoils their cat, Forest, in the most adorable way possible.

Day 4: Saturday

Saturday was my favorite day on the farm.  Thomas and I went on another adventure in the old pickup truck to dumpster dive (reduce, reuse, recycle!) for more cardboard for sheet mulching and to get some bread.  Then, he took me to the dump…which was a lot more fun than it sounds.  We got some more cardboard there too.

Susanna at the Farmers Market

Susanna at the Farmers Market

We met up with Susanna and went to the Farmers Market in Berne.  After the market, we got ready to go to Woodstock.  Susanna was performing in a sound healing at SAGE Healing Center there with her friend Lea.  Thomas and I walked around Woodstock before the performance and I bought a turquoise ring from The Turquoise Lady who may or may not have wanted to make stones out of the color of Thomas’ eyes.  She was perfect for Woodstock.

Susanna and Lea’s sound healing incorporated didgeridoos, chimes, chanting and the singing bowls to send us all on our journeys.  It made me feel serene and balanced and gave me perspective.  I felt more like a being in the universe, instead of just a girl in Upstate NY.

After the sound healing, we went to pick up bees.  Susanna has one hive on her farm and wanted to start another one.  On country roads late at night in Hudson, NY, we somehow ended up in a scene straight out of Grapes of Wrath.  The bee keeper came out in suspenders and all his children ran out with him, barefoot and dirty.  Clothes were hanging on the line and I’d never seen so many stars.

Day 5: Sunday

On Sunday, I had to leave.  Which, quite frankly, sucked.  Every meal on the farm had been like a blessing, fresh, organic and wonderful.  No more swimming in the pond, drinking juices fermented by SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) with Geranium ice cubes, watching “Drinkin’ Outta Cups” and laughing until my sides hurt, and spending time shoveling manure in the afternoon sun.  I made the best of it and had a great day setting up the bee hive.

Susanna and Thomas setting up the new hive.

I learned that two bee hives can coexist right next to each other because each queen has a different scent.  The bees would never fly into the “wrong” hive becomes it smells completely different.  I watched Susanna and Thomas gear up and take off the top of the box of bees.  Susanna took the queen (who was safely in a case sealed with sugar water) and put her in her pocket.  They shook the bees into the frames and put the queen in last.  Even though the bees were not raised with this queen, they will get used to her with time.  After a few days, the bees know her smell and will eat the sugar water cap off to release her from her case.

After the new bee hive was set up, Thomas and I took the 4-wheeler up to “The Vines,” one of my favorite places on the farm.  Yoav is growing grape vines for wine up there and is tilling some land to plant the Three Sisters.

The Vines

The Vines

Later that night on my way home, just like my way there, it down poured.  I like to think that the rain was cleansing me and symbolized some sort of rebirth back out into the world.

Susanna settled on the name Raven Crest for a few reasons, one of which being the symbolism of the raven in Native American culture.  They believed that the raven brought light to the world. Susanna and Raven Crest farm brought light into my world about how to live well, be well and treat others well and for that I am truly thankful.

Susanna and I in front of her greenhouse

Susanna and I in front of her greenhouse

Since I’ve been home from the farm, I haven’t had a so much as a sip of Diet Pepsi (I’m a recovering addict), have spent a decent amount of my paycheck at Trader Joe’s, committed to eating less beef and more seafood and veggies, and have looked into farmers markets in my area.  I even have a few small basil and parsley plants growing in my apartment.

Join me.  We don’t need GMOs, Monsanto and multinational corporations; we need to support our local farmers.  Start with small acts of defiance.  Let’s build a revolution.

I blog for MEN

As seen on Mother Earth News