Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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Farm to Table Dinner: July 18th at Caspar Community Center

We are super excited to announce the first Farm to Table Dinner of the summer!

Onions

When: Friday July 18, 2014 at 7 pm

Where: Caspar Community Center

What: A delicious meal featuring locally sourced veggies, meats, cheese and grains from farms throughout Mendocino County. The meal is a surprise, based on what is seasonally available. Dinner is served in family-style courses, complete with appetizers and dessert. Vegetarian options will be available.

Who: Everyone is invited! This is a family-friendly event and children are welcome.

Why: This dinner is a benefit for the Farmers Market Food Stamp Match fund for the Mendocino & Fort Bragg Farmers Markets. This important program makes local food more affordable for all members of our community by matching Food Stamp/EBT funds. If people spend $10 in food stamps, they will be given an extra $10 in tokens for a total of $20 to spend at the farmers market. This program grows the farmers markets, supports local farms, and gets healthy, fresh food to those in need; it’s a win-win-win!

How much: Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door for adults, $15 for children.

TICKETS:

Available every day at If the Shoe Fits in Fort Bragg & TWIST in Mendocino.
Also available at the Fort Bragg Farmers Market every Wednesday from 3 – 6 pm and at Mendocino Farmers Market every Friday from Noon – 2 pm from Julie & me (Sarah), the market managers.

Presented with love by Eat Mendocino and Noyo Food Forest, prepared by the Spontaneous Cafe

We hope you all will join us, and bring your friends and neighbors. It takes the whole village to feed the village!

Email eatmendocino@gmail.com with questions, or to RSVP or volunteer. We need people to help with all aspects of the event including food prep/cooking, serving, and clean-up.

We are also collecting items for the silent auction, so let us know if you’d like to donate something you do or make!

Love,
Sarah


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The Solace of Food: 3 lessons from my year as a locavore

At the culmination of the year of eating local, I was invited to write a retrospective piece for a local magazine. Due to publishing delays, they invited me to share the article with you here. This article was written in January 2014.

If you had asked me a year ago what I expected things to be like at the end of this project, I probably would have been wrong. The unknown has characterized this project from Day One. If we had known what we would endure in the roughest times, we might not have signed up for this. Similarly unknown was the profound impact of this mammoth undertaking.

For exactly one year, my fierce farmer friend Gowan Batist and I embarked on a radical plan to eat locally for one year. In the past twelve months, our siblings both married, our friends raised children, and we wed local food.

The rules were inspired and unforgiving. The goal was to eat food produced within Mendocino County, exclusively. This meant all of the raw inputs, from the grain to the oil, salt, and spices we consumed. No chocolate, no Sri Racha sauce, no coconut water, no avocados – no exceptions whatsoever. After 365 days of this extreme locavorism, I am a changed woman.

Now that the project is officially over and I am stumbling around the grocery store aisles like Encino Man, I am struggling to assimilate back into society. Everyone is wondering what post-project freedom looks like. It’s been strange. The first time I went grocery shopping, I left the store without buying anything, overwhelmed at the entirety of the experience.

The second time I went, I bought a half-gallon of organic milk. It was the first time I’d bought milk in a carton in over a year; my milk has been coming in glass mason jars, straight from the cow. Coincidentally, the cow that has been providing for us dried up the week that the project ended, and there won’t be more fresh milk until spring – or I befriend a new cow. I stood in the aisle bewildered by the fluorescent lights and bright cartons, and was surprised that the cost of milk in the store was actually the same as what I’ve been paying for fresh local milk.

Standing there I realized that I really did not want to buy that carton of organic milk. And then I wondered if that may be the most pretentious thought I’ve ever had. The point wasn’t just that the milk didn’t have the same unadulterated richness and a thick layer of cream on the top. It felt uncomfortably foreign to just go to the store and take a generic carton off the shelf. I would never know where the milk actually came from, nor where the carton would end up. These seem like inconsequential details, but they staggeringly matter to me now. I have become so intimately involved with the lifecycle of every single item that came into my kitchen for a year that I now see this carton as part of a profoundly complex and fragmented food system where the cow is separated from the consumer and the cream is separated from the milk.

I waited until there were exactly four squares of toilet paper left in my house before I forced myself to go to the grocery store again. I pondered the week-old Christmas cookies (I’d been lusting after them during the holidays) but they just didn’t look that appetizing. Most things don’t even look like food to me anymore and the ingredients lists confirm that. I came home empty handed and made improvisational butternut squash ice cream and muffins, which were delicious. I have become so accustomed to the DIY lifestyle – and it being better than anything you can buy (and cheaper) – that I think I’ve passed a point of no return.

My Cupboards Contain Multitudes

The first few months of 2013 were stark and trying. Yet, by the end of last year I was well prepared for the winter. We have become food-sourcing samurais and my fridge, freezer and pantry are fully stocked with a collection of stories in the form of foodstuffs. My shelves hold an assortment of pickled veggies, tomato sauce, peaches, grape juice and applesauce canned by neighbors and friends. From the woods, dried hedgehog, bolete and candy cap mushrooms, and roasted bay laurel nuts. From the sea, I have a collection of dried kombu, wakame and sea palm seaweeds, and some canned tuna. The spice rack holds dried bay leaves, oregano, sage, dill, cayenne peppers, lots of garlic, alongside a wedge of fresh honeycomb and Lovers Lane Farm wildflower honey. The olive oil comes from Terra Savia, the apple cider vinegar from the Apple Farm, and I fermented the red wine vinegar using Frey biodynamic wine. The tea section is comprised of wildcrafted nettle leaves, peppermint, elderberries and chamomile.

In the grain department I have whole grain rye, purple pearl barley, oats, and wheatberries, cereal mix, and Red Fife wheat flour from the Mendocino Grain Project. We helped harvest the heirloom Green Dent Oaxacan corn from Mendocino Organics, and the quinoa was cultivated at the Ecology Action garden at the Stanford Inn. The bin of speckled bayo beans from McFadden Farms couldn’t fit in my miniscule kitchen, so I stowed it in the laundry room in my building. Thankfully my neighbors are really understanding of my food sprawl – and sometimes even bake me local pies.
It took an entire County and many hands, many seeds, and many bees to fill these jars. It took two women an entire year to track down all this food, process and store it, and learn what to do with it. These are some of the most important lessons I learned in doing so.

Lesson #1 Eat whole foods.

Many people ask how I feel on the local food diet. I tell them I feel like superwoman, and that cannot be attributed to my minimalist exercise regime. Yet, I have never been physically healthier. I know it, on a cellular level. I even defied certain self-imposed dietary restrictions and began eating wheat and more fruit and honey than I would normally allow myself. What I found is that my body told me what it wanted and needed, and I listened. The seasons provide perfect balance and have a natural way of moderating excess and abundance.

I believe that most modern “diets” miss the point entirely by creating an artificial food ritual that involves constantly counting, eliminating, worrying, and encourages eating highly processed fractured foods. I believe that we have lost our intuition when it comes to food due to a highly predatory food system. I think the single best way to rediscover an intuitive relationship with nutrition is to eat more whole foods, before you go for the supplements and miracle shakes. Many chronic health issues actually disappeared this year and I was able to reintroduce gluten in moderation, eating the local heirloom grain that is delivered whole or freshly milled. Much of the contamination and degradation of our food happens in the processing and the closer we eat to the source, the more nutritional return.

Lesson #2 You don’t need a recipe.

The constantly changing flow of seasonal ingredients required nothing less than fearless improvisation on a daily basis. In a reversal of our usual relationship with a meal, we started with the available ingredients and shaped the meal accordingly. I usually start with a general concept, consult my favorite cookbooks and the all-knowing Google. Recipes served as inspiration and guidance in terms of temperature, ratios and flavor combinations, but much of our cooking was intuitive and experimental, with ingredients limited by the seasons. When I post pictures of meals online and people ask for a recipe, I often feel bewildered. Each meal is an original creation, probably imperfect, and will never be recreated in quite the same way. To me, cooking is less about the recipe than it is about the process of learning how to be resourceful and creative. Which is why I’m terrible at baking. My takeaway here is that you don’t need to be a genius in the kitchen to prepare delicious food, especially when you’re working with real, fresh, tasty ingredients). You don’t need a dishwasher either, or even an adult-sized kitchen to cook regularly (though I dream of having both when I grow up). You do need courage, and a lot of mason jars.

Lesson #3 Friends are those who feed you.

We owe our survival to the farmers, ranchers, and foragers who provided our sustenance. We can name these people off one by one, and I have come to see every food transaction as a life-giving act. To be a farmer or rancher today is an act of righteous faith. Growing real food is an investment in our collective future, and the people who choose to do so are my heroes. I can name them by the first names, and many of them have invited us into their homes, shared of their pantries, or met me on the side of the highway to give me bacon. We supported many local growers and we also received many generous gifts, from strangers and neighbors alike, of everything from home canned goods to abalone and shiitake mushrooms. Our friends fed us, and those who fed us became friends.

It is a test of a friendship to have a devout locavore around. It is an extraordinary friend who will bake you a 100% local carrot cake for your birthday (sans baking powder) because it’s what you want the most. It is a patient friend who will teach you how to can even though you’re really afraid of it. It is a generous friend who lets you take over their kitchen with your huge cooler, mobile pantry, and lots of dirty dishes every time you come for a visit. It is a gracious relative who will halt holiday preparations to help you track down a local chicken on Christmas Eve. I am beyond lucky to have many such people who tolerated my lifestyle, fed me, and made this pioneering journey more delicious and less lonely.

The Solace of Food

In reflecting on this outrageous, profound experience only a week and a half since the finish date, many of my thoughts are still lost in translation. One thing I know, for sure: this project wasn’t really about food. It’s about what we found through food. Things that I don’t want to give up, even when the rules no longer apply. What I have found is more than just how to cook spare ribs, make meringue or, bake bread. It is Intimacy. Connection. Limits. Abundance.Standing now in the freedom of the future, I find myself wanting to be home in my kitchen, stirring the milk to make yogurt, existing in the solace of food. In learning how to feed myself, I feel I learned how to truly nourish myself – which may be the greatest lesson of all.

As the seasons go, winter leads to spring and our endeavor will not end with the calendar year, but transition into a new beginning. Living and eating with the seasons is a way of life, and it’s a really good life. In a world of seemingly endless choices, the best choice may actually be the simpler choice. We will continue to eat close to home, to be fed by our neighbors, and to believe in a different agricultural future, where all people can be healthy and nourished. We can take a step toward that every day, with every meal.

Much has been compromised for this food mission, and other pursuits will surely reshape my rhythm. But, I have channeled my inner pioneer woman, and she’s here to stay. She will continue to stock the fridge and pantry with local goods, pull over on the side of the road to pick berries or nuts, and she will keep cooking without recipes. The days ahead will also hold a little more spontaneity, a lot more tea parties with friends, some traveling, plus the addition of exotic spices and leavening agents.

Sarah Bodnar is a consultant and writer living in Mendocino, CA. When not cooking or foraging, she can be found on her yoga mat or throwing an axe. Follow her on Twitter @sarahebodnar.


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The Gratitude Tree: Thanks for the love!

After launching our Kickstarter campaign only 4 days ago, we are delighted to have raised just over 25% of our goal! As each donation comes in, I’m amazed at the outpouring of support from fans, friends, neighbors, relatives, colleagues, high school classmates, and people I don’t even know! It’s really an incredible feeling to know that each of you has been affected by our journey, and wants to see this book written. Last night I wrote down the name of each supporter to hang on the gratitude tree, which is a manzanita branch that hangs on the wall of my bedroom.

Gratitude_tree_names

Gowan came by to find me hanging the last name and vocalized her amazement at all the people who love us. She’d been busy tromping around in the mud installing an automatic watering system at the farm and was surprised and moved to see what had transpired amidst our “virtual” community. She pointed at names of past interns, community members, and friends with the same pride and humility that filled me as I decorated the tree. Even though I’d been tracking the donations, the magnitude of it didn’t hit me until all thirty names were dangling from the branch. It was beautiful. And really inspiring.

Every single one of you brings us closer to our goal, and makes it evermore real that we are actually going to do this. Upon waking in the morning, the first thing I see is the gratitude tree and I know that 1. this book must be written 2. you all will make sure that it does (even though the idea is a quite daunting). Thank you all for believing in us – and for helping spread the word!

To add your name to the tree, visit our Kickstarter page and contribute today.

Sarah_gratitude_tree


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Eat Mendocino launches Kickstarter campaign to help us write a book!

A couple of weeks ago we shared some big news. That within our mighty little hearts was a book that needed to be written. And now, we invite you to help us make that happen.

We’ve said all the important stuff in this video, and in the project description: what we plan to do, how we plan to do it, and why we feel we owe it to the world to make this happen. Plus, the cool rewards you’ll get for supporting this project.

We ate local food for 365 days. Now we have 16 days to raise $5,000. I posted the video on Facebook this evening and we have already raised $340 from 9 backers and it’s not even midnight. My heart is swelling up.

This fundraising campaign is short and straight-shooting, ending on Valentine’s Day because it’s my favorite holiday (if you’ve been following us since last February you know I love any excuse to wear hearts), and I really see this book as a love letter to local food, from all of us.

The way that Kickstarter works is that you only get the money if you meet your fundraising goal, so know that every dollar counts; it all adds up. Watch the video, spread the word, and be our valentine!

Click here to visit our Kickstarter project page and donate.

A giant thank you to our wonderful friend Mischa Hedges of TrimTab Media for making this lovely video in record time and doing his best to make me seem charismatic in the morning, with a script that I could not memorize even though I wrote it. Ha!

Thanks for all your support in helping us “barnraise” this book!
XO


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Fan mail: Thanks for the love. Plus, a big announcement…

It’s almost two weeks since the “end” of our project, and we’re still digesting the past twelve months. Gowan and I met for bacon bloody marys yesterday morning at Flow in Mendocino and it was the first time we’ve seen each other this year. We compared postpartum assimilation stories from the last two weeks (such as me throwing a piece of romaine lettuce on my plate rudely at a restaurant, her crying over a plate of potatoes, eggs, biscuits and gravy and bewildering her waitress by sending it back uneaten). What we never expected is that in a way it’s harder to not eat local for us now.
Bacon Bloody Marys
Many people expected that we would rush to the grocery store and essentially reset our diets with everything that we’ve been “deprived” of for the past year. Instead, the transition is slow, awkward, and full of surprises. It’s taken me awhile to remember that certain things exist, and most trips to the store have involved a single purchase. One day I remembered cinnamon, another day sparkling water, and today it was vanilla. I didn’t even buy chocolate until Day 11.

The new dietary freedom certainly relaxes my routine, but instead of feeling liberated I feel a little lost. Food became the pendulum for my life, and the daily rhythm was comforting in its simplicity. This re-integration process has made me realize that I am a changed woman, and in a way there is no end. The greatest comfort right now is knowing that other people have also been affected by our endeavor.

Last week we got this email:

Dear Sarah and Gowan,

I just wanted to write and tell you both thank you for your blog this past year and the sharing of your journey. I came to Mendocino last February to work on a film and stayed for 2 months…during that time, I came across your story in a local paper and immediately was fascinated and started to follow your blog. I have loved every one of them and feel so fortunate to have found y’all and your stories.
I have longed for a stronger connection to food, farming and the earth and also community…reading your story helped me make that connection and to also think more about where I want my food to come from… and to take action on that.
You both have inspired me, touched me and helped me realize more about what is important to me in life…and so I want to thank you. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors and if I get back up to Mendocino anytime soon…would love to see what projects y’all have going on!

Sending you peace, health, prosperity and love in 2014 and beyond!

And this morning we received this one, from France (which I especially loved because I’ve had Julia Child on the mind)

Dear Eat Mendocino,

I believe in your adventure and I think this is great.
Me and my boyfriend plan to visit the Mendocino Area next month for a few days.
We are very interested into eating local, truly.
We are french and we consider eating local as a way to discover Mendocino as tourists.
Would you have some adresses to share with us? Restaurants, coffees, bars or grocery store lists so we are not completely clueless when we arrive?

Notes like these make my day. To know people have been watching, listening and connecting to our project makes feel way less alone. Because Eat Mendocino is really a beginning, for all of us. Thank you to those of you who have shared your stories with us, it means a lot. To everyone else: we’d love to hear how you are changed, seriously. Email us (eatmendocino[at]gmail.com), post on our Facebook page, or respond to this post.

And now, for the BIG news…
This is not the end of the story. Because this truly is just a beginning and there is so much more to tell, we agreed yesterday morning to write a book. For real. We will be launching a fundraising campaign tomorrow so that you can help make this happen.

Thanks for reading, eating, and changing with us this year.

Lots of Love,
Sarah


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A tale of two breakfasts

One of the things that has shocked me the most about my week of being technically no longer bound to local food is how much everything costs. Comparatively small amounts of raw calories and products becomes so expensive when they are prepared and packaged by someone else. The price tag for a fairly normal non-local food day seems extremely high to me coming from the land of local food, where bulk goods and cooking ahead prevail.

This is in contrast to the often repeated assertion that local food, and especially organic farmer’s market food is too expensive for most people to afford. This is completely true for many people- the up-front price tag is just too high. But I would argue that when cost out on a per meal basis, local food is actually much cheaper in many circumstances. I know my food budget plummeted during the last year.

Much of this was due to the fact that I know a lot of farmers, and am one myself. Eating some of the produce I grow is a perk of my job that partially compensates me for the nature of the work- which would be all the time, no matter the weather or how long ago in the week my paid hours ran out. I have access to a lot of food, due to the nature of my life choices. I do slightly resent the implication that this privilege means I’m not qualified to speak about the ease or difficulty of local food on a budget though- I live a life of extreme food privilege, but I also had to give up everything for it. This includes not having a job that would allow me to spend more on food overall. It also includes giving up things that many people take for granted, like $1.99 for a soda or $2.00 for a coffee, which adds up fast. It also includes choosing to budget my time to account for cooking and storing food. Which I did on hot plates and without a fridge for the last three months, so it can be done. It takes some knowledge about access, and it takes some know-how, but not much of either considering I could figure it out, and I am a person who can’t braid her own hair at the age of 25.

Anyway.

In the spirit of the EM adventure, I did a little experiment. Here is the break down, in terms of time and money, for both a typical breakfast for during this last year and a typical breakfast for my college years. I used the prices for local food that I charge at the Farmer’s Market- which are my highest prices. The price of food we grow for the school district is sub-wholesale for local food. That means the true cost to me of this breakfast is much lower, because I get access to the food I grow, but factor in having to pay my student loans on a farmer’s income!

Local breakfast:

On two hot plates in the morning at work, while doing my morning chores, I heat up a small amount of water in a sauce pan on one burner and a kettle of water on the other. When the shallow pan is simmering, I crack in two eggs. They poach in about two minutes. The kettle takes slightly longer at about ten minutes to hot but not boiling, when I pour the water into a mason jar with dried mint and lavender, and add a spoon of Lover’s Lane honey. I grab an apple from my tree out of the bag I keep stashed on my shelf, and stick it in my pocket to eat as I walk around the garden checking the irrigation. I eat the two eggs while my tea steeps, then take the tea and the apple and start my rounds.

Time: About 15 minutes, including the clean up.

I did have the buy the food at the market in this scenario, which means being able to get to Franklin street before 6 on Wednesday.

Costs:

A dozen organic eggs at the market is $6. I used two, so that’s $1.

I sell bundles of herbs for tea and seasoning at the market for $1 each. There’s enough for about 4 cups of tea in one, so $00.25

A quart of Lover’s Lane honey is $18 at the market. I use big spoons of honey, so lets figure 40 spoonfuls in a quart. That comes to $00.45

Local apples from Gowan’s Oak tree sell for $1.50 lb at the market, (Though you can get better deals in bulk: 20 lbs for $16.50 and 40 lb for $28) and I figure one apple is roughly 1/4lb depending on the variety. So that’s $00.40

Total cost of the meal: $2.10

Equipment needed: a two burner electric hot plate and an outlet, a small pan, a kettle. The hot plate was free- in a box of old stuff I found in the barn. The pan and kettle were thrifted for a few dollars and can be re-used indefinitely.

Waste: None. The tools can be re-used, the egg shells, apple core and tea leaves can be composted.

How I feel afterwards: Normal. Blood sugar stable, satisfied until lunch.

Typical breakfast of days past, re-created for this experiment:

I drive to the coffee house and find parking a couple blocks away. I walk to the coffee shop, and wait in line. I order a bagel with cream cheese and a 12oz chai with honey to go. I wait for it to be made, then I drive to work, sit at my desk and unwrap the bagel, spread the cream cheese and eat it. Then I get up and start my rounds.

Time: 15-20 minutes including drive time. Could be less or more depending on the work rush.

Still need regular grocery shopping time, either at the market or store.

Costs: $5.83

Equipment needed: transportation. People can definitely walk or bike to a coffee shop, or have one immediately at their work, but I didn’t.

Waste: single use cup (can bring your own) paper bag for bagel, plastic tub of cream cheese, plastic knife.

How I feel afterwards: Okay, this is the least fair part of this, because I’m not acclimated at all, but I feel awful. Buzzy and nauseous, and hungry pretty soon afterwards. My stomach made rumbling noises noticeable to my coworkers. I feel like I’ve dumped a ton of sugar directly on my nervous system- which has to be due to the bagel, since there was no sugar in the chai.

0106140929

So delicious in the moment, so uncomfortable now.

Conclusion: even paying the higher prices at the farmer’s market, you’ll often ultimately end up paying less by buying raw ingredients and doing it yourself, which can be done quick and dirty. The time pretty much washed out, and I found the time waiting for tea to steep at work was more active time than waiting in line, where I couldn’t multitask at all.

I know this is highly variable and many people would eat very different things for breakfast- I wasn’t willing to. I went to my local coffee shop, but prices seem to be about on the same level as Starbucks or Peets. Of course, my local coffee shop carries many local items and I’m not demonizing them at all, just trying to recreate my typical pattern from high school and college without going into a chain store.

My point here is that these purchases are ones I have often seen made by people who are on very tight budgets- my fellow college students almost all ate like this and bought coffee out almost every day, almost universally. The Americorps members I’ve worked with at Noyo Food Forest often bought soft drinks or packaged food items with their tiny food budget of $5 per person per day that were the equivalent price of local meals. A lot of this is due to convenience, and that’s understandable, but the time spent, especially when you team up with a couple people and share cook and clean time, is usually the same or less. For time that isn’t “active” like crock pot cooking, meals for several days or several people can be made in about the same amount of active time as going out to buy a coffee.

Local food costs more up-front than packaged food in a lot of cases. Some things, like meat and cheese, just are straight up more expensive unless you really plan ahead and get in a bulk deal, which requires having money up front, and storage. That isn’t accessible for everyone. But the cost of local organic potatoes per pound is a hell of a lot less than the cost of processed potato chips per pound. The nickles and dimes are what gets us, pretty much always.

As a former hard-core coffee addict, (you’ll notice I got an equivalent priced alternative beverage- I don’t trust myself with coffee even once for science) I really suggest that you try putting aside the amount of money you spend every day, (or twice a day, let’s be honest) and see what it adds up to in a month, and then spend the same amount on local food and see how much you can be fed for the same price.

I’m not a big fan of exercises that say about local food “look how easy and how cheap it is!” It’s not always easy, and it’s not always cheap. What it is is a different set of choices and expenses, with different outcomes. My feeling is that the outcomes of local food can feed us better.

Loves,

Gowan

 

 

 

 

 


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Stranger in a strange land

So, we’re now at 5 days since the official completion of this project.

I’ve spent the last week moving onto the most amazing farm I can imagine, the embodiment of all our hopes and dreams, the acres that will sustain us.

Moving is crap for local food. I know this well, since I went through a move and subsequent months of being a couch-surfing urchin in the build-up to moving to the farm, trying to save my pennies for things like cows and row cover.

1224130847bIsn’t she worth it though?

Sarah also experienced this a lot while traveling for work: hauling coolers back and forth, carrying dried fruit and hard boiled eggs, and timing your kitchen access is complicated. I was sharing the moving process with my whole family, who despite being incredibly supportive of me through this project haven’t lived the way I have, and understandably aren’t in the same mind set. That meant that eating out was the obvious solution for what to do when your kitchen is still in boxes, you’ve been working for twelve hours, and everyone is exhausted.

I can’t begin to tell you how strange and disorienting it is to walk through a grocery store and think “I could eat any of this!” It doesn’t feel real. Food is everywhere, and suddenly it’s all possible, all available. Food from any culture or place in the world you could name off the top of your head. I went from living absolutely in my place, to being this little mini colonialist, able to snatch anything from anywhere I wanted in the world, without knowing those people, being familiar with those hands. It was dizzying. Truly, it felt like the floor was spinning under my feet.

I worked up my nerve. I was going to buy something. Something fantastic and sweet and so complex I couldn’t see how it had been made or begin to replicate it.

I walked through Harvest Market for thirty minutes and bought a toothbrush, because I had lost mine somewhere the night before when I was shuffling bedrooms to accommodate my sister and her husband. As I stood in line to pay for the toothbrush I stared at a basket of cookies by the register- lemon sugar cookies. I pictured the combines harvesting the grain for the flour- where? I pictured the topsoil eroding and blowing away during the tillage. Which watershed did it wash into? Where was the sugar cane grown, who are those people? The things I didn’t know and faces I couldn’t see left me stunned and reeling.

And this was our local store- a place where I know the owners and manager, where I know the employees, and where so many products are locally made, or ethically sourced if not from here. My sense of distance was with the food itself, not the people or the business. I can’t imagine what it’s like for most people when they go to a place that is responsible for feeding them and know no one at all.

I felt like an alien, barely able to even look around me, oddly furtive and embarrassed that so much was available to me, even though I honestly couldn’t see anything I really wanted. The image in my head of the dazzling, forbidden concoction didn’t even seem appealing, and its reality even less so. I walked past cookies, chips, cupcakes, produce from everywhere, and it all seemed unreal and impossible to imagine eating.

I did eat some non-local things this week, and discovered again how powerfully food connects to memory. In desperation for calories I bought the simplest thing I could find- veggie sushi from the bar, where I could see the person making it. Taking a bite was a jarring tug right back to high school, where Adrian and I drove up from Mendocino on our lunch break in our first car, a Subaru named Hubert with a piece of driftwood wired on for a bumper, and fed each other veggie sushi on the drive back. The memory was so visceral it left me weak and trembling.

My grandma brought us her ginger scones when she came to see the farm for the first time, and told me how hard she had tried to make them appealing to me: organic flour and sugar, local dried fruit, crystallized ginger from a local woman who made it. I was so grateful. I had a bite, and was immediately eight years old, and at her table in Gualala. I also couldn’t get over how strange the texture was in my mouth, and I couldn’t finish it. The flour or the sugar or both left me feeling oddly dizzy and over stimulated, and vaguely sick. I felt a sense of loss that I couldn’t seem to connect to them, like the experience was so different after this year that it’s lost forever.

Food is a connection to people and place, like it always has been for our species. I’m grateful I can experience those things again if I want to. But after this week of chaos, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming tug back to “normal.” I know I’m not going back.

I know this farm will feed me, and so many of us. And until it gets up and running, my friends will still keep me going. And if I want to, I can go out with them for a beer, and that’s perfect, the best of all worlds.

Loves,

Gowan

 

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