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Living off the Land- Urban Farming

Hena Zuberi

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You see him selling outside your masjid after Jummah—artisan goat cheese, yogurt, goats milk and fresh, free range organic eggs.

Matt Jose is an urban farmer; his phone doesn’t ring— it bleats and brays. He drives a truck with an exquisite deer skull strapped to the hood. He shows me the natural engraving on the skull, finding beauty in the bizarre. Down the dirt road with neat wooden signs showcasing the art of manliness characteristics —respect, honor,discipline—a table with small pumpkins marks the turn into MSLYS Farm. Jose, also known as Muhsin, raises goats, Catalina sheep, brooder chickens, turkeys and ducks at his farm.

A counselor for the 140 acre youth training center Our House in Brookeville, MD, Jose cleared the land himself, initially as a way to rid the youth home property of invasive weeds, as mandated by the Maryland weed control program. The MSLYS farm, named after the first initials of his family, started in 2010. Jose scraped money together  and acquired goats, lambs, chickens, ducks, and rabbits.

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Goatscaping is an environmentally friendly way of clearing up land, not to mention a Sunnah. Goats can clear vegetation from hard-to-reach places, and they’ll eat the seeds that pesticides and mowing leave behind, preventing vegetation from coming back next year, and can help keep herbicides out of area land and waterways. The lambs really like pine bark, this area is good grazing for them, goat eat the foliage above and lambs graze low, he shares. It’s such a good idea, even Google goatscapes.

He realized that this was a clean and healthy way to help feed his family. Raising chickens is good for the whole family as you see the food cycle, you can feed your kitchen scraps to the chickens and eat their eggs. “Many of our children are detached from their food. What you eat is what your chickens will eat,” says Jose. The shell of the free range eggs are much lighter and the yolk is bright orange; some eggs are green or blue in color and they melt in your mouth in goodness. In the future, Jose hopes to sell beginners broods of hens for backyard chicken coops.

He also hunts deer on the land. “My kids are involved, they help skin the deer.” I ordered a venison leg from him and it made such a succulent roast.

“Can I show Zahrah my BB gun,” asks his daughter, 8-year-old Lina, a spunky little girl who clucks at her younger brother, Yusuf, for disturbing the hen hiding under a ladder, nesting on her eggs. If she walks away from her eggs, then they won’t hatch.IMG_7646_converted

Tending to the farm, Jose realized that it would be invaluable to help educate people the same way he had been taught, then in turn make it possible to teach others. Along with goatscaping, he thought of making it possible to show people the minimum necessary skills required in order to farm on their own. Jose hopes to do this by offering courses to educate adults and children about farming and creating a network for small farming and teaching people invaluable skills for our children’s future.

His passion is helping abandoned, neglected, often homeless, teenage boys 16-21 year old from all around  Maryland and District of Columbia who live at Our House. Some of them are Muslim. The youth learn life skills at Our House. They get paid for the work they do here, so when they leave they have some savings. The youth do community service work every Saturday. They helped build the building on MYSLS Farm from recycled wood and metal. After years of neglect and abuse these boys are getting a second chance is life. The biggest issue to to get them to believe in themselves. Some boys train to become chefs, other work on construction; Jose teaches them about farming. “When they are with the animals, they soften up; they become different,” he says about the youth at Our House.

As he turns the venison he is cooking on the foil tray, he says that he has been there. He knows what these boys are going through because he was like one of them until he turned his life around.

A troubled youth from inner city DC, Jose was never exposed to animals. He changed at 19; spiritually seeking, not knowing, and then seven years later he took shahadah. “I wouldn’t change it for the world, it made me empathetic,” says Jose. Now a father of 3 children, Jose and his wife homeschool their children, switching night duties (his wife is a nurse) so one parent can stay with the children during the day while they other catches up on sleep. The children twirl on the tire swing, nap on the hammock and chase chickens, while Jose tends to his herds.  The fence are powered by solar panels. He just installed running water. A hand pump, under a tarp covered gazebo, pumps out the freshest spring water this side of the Mississippi.

So far the farm does not have electricity. He takes the milk home and makes the cheese at home. That takes a long time, he sighs with satisfaction.

The simple meal of eggs, tofu sausages, dried venison, and potatoes cooked over the open flame on a foil tray, and served with minimal fanfare keeps his kids and mine filled, licking their fingers, while he shows us around the farm.

The red barn on site was built with grant money. It doesn’t have a foundation. Jose hopes to continue providing select meats, and halal, cage free all natural chicken.  He envisions a commercial kitchen where he and other instructors can offer classes. He teaches the Our House boys animal husbandry and plans to offer similar classes to schools, scout troops, summer camps.  Perhaps a petting zoo will grace the farm in coming years. Big dreams and simple prayers, a groove of fig and other exotic trees are on his wish list.

You can hear yourself think, there is peace of mind.

The young men learn lessons about predators and parasites, and how to keep the sheep safe. How a herd can stay together and , away from outside, negative influences. If a chicken wanders, the hawks will get it, same way is with each other, Jose teaches the young men.

“I know Allah blessed me with this opportunity. I know where my food comes from, how fresh it is, it is really humbling,” he says. Attached to his community, Jose really wanted to give back.

A young father drives up with his 5-year-old son to feed the lamb they brought for the Eid sacrifice.  A local imam stops by with his wife to choose an animal. Jose shows them the high quality feed that he gives the herd, the area where he will gently harvest the animals, with mercy and humility, praying to the Creator.

“I will harvest them on Eid Al Adha,” he says. Jose has raised the kids and lambs, delivered them and can’t bear to use the word slaughter for his animals. I asked Jose about the Mercy Slaughter House video (below) and he says he is not at ‘that’ level…yet.

Everyone will gather on Eid day for a BBQ. A jungle gym lays in pieces, waiting for some brothers from the masjid to help Jose put it together before EId day, so families can enjoy themselves. Jose and his wife Sana like to open up the farm for anyone who doesn’t have a family to visit on Eid day, they don’t need to buy an animal from him. “I didn’t have anyone [for Eid] for years and it can get really lonely,” says Matt.

The big ram, Big Boy, sticks his head through the recycled metal fence, he is selling for $600, too pricey for many but for his size and breed, the farm cannot sell him for a lower price. Price is high this year, he gives Big Boy a fatherly swipe.

IMG_7634-min

IMG_7593-minHe does zabiha and also offers the service of transporting and delivering the meat to the needy. Anyone looking for a clean, all natural farm with succulent, quality meat where the animals are taken care of ethically according to guidelines set by the Prophetic Tradition should book their next Eid with MSLYS Farm.

You can always make a change, as the boys at Our House know really well.

To reach MSLYS Farm call (202) 494-2386

 

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Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of Muslimmatters.org. She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. hena.z@muslimmatters.org Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    alif haa

    April 8, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Thank you. So inspiring.

  2. Avatar

    Shabandar

    April 8, 2015 at 7:17 PM

    Amazing article, would love to see more pieces like this. The fight for real, organic food is one we are all fighting, muslim or non-muslim, so inspiring to see brothers like Jose and Khalid Latif do their part to make a difference. May Allah reward them immensely (Ameen)

  3. Avatar

    shariff Hira

    April 12, 2015 at 8:57 AM

    Assalaamualaykum
    Brother Muhsin & family
    Subhaanallah great and so wonderful job.
    May Allah bless all the people who are involved in this organisation only to help to acheive real goal in both world for the sake of Allah.
    I would kindly love to support and join the team to educate quraan and Islamic education to the youth as Allah has Blessed me with knowledge of Deen.
    I would very much please if Brother Muhsin keep touch with me as i live in United kingdom where i am doing Imaam leading daily prayer and deliver sermon on Friday in my private Islamic Secondary school where 200 gilrs and nearly 100 boys are enrolled and where they are doing Hifzul Quraan
    and learning Arabic Language by the grace of Allah.
    I would be very much grateful to get a swift response regarding this great issue.
    Jazaakallah for the kind attention and due consideration
    Shariff Hira
    Khaadimul Ummah
    Umited kingdom

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