Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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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.

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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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Baking pumpkin bread from scratch with mom’s recipe

Everyone wanted to know what we would eat when the year was over. We didn’t really know how to answer that question, or what to expect. The only way you can do something like what we’ve done is to give up on the alternative and stay singularly focused on the day and the meal directly in front of you. Instead of thinking about what we couldn’t have, we directed all of our energy on what we could discover, create, and improvise. This was necessary for survival, and also for joy and creativity. So, I began this year with a fridge and pantry stuffed with local food, and I could have easily glided into another week, month, or year with the same modus operandi. Not only that, but I have actually found it difficult to transition away from our food routine – which I didn’t exactly expect. The rhythm of living and eating this way has been grounding, cozy, and private, and I am emerging from it with a sense of being an alien from another food planet. During my first trip to the grocery store, I got so overwhelmed that I left without buying anything. I don’t love to cook – I love to eat. But, now I find a profound comfort in preparing food for myself. That said, I also have a lot of other things that I want and need to do in life, and look forward to having more time for life outside of food, once I adjust.

As it turns out, most of what I’ve eaten in the first few days of 2014 is basically what I was eating last week, with a few additions. Like bubbles in my water, and cinnamon and leavening agents in my baking. Today I baked pumpkin bread, and it was not totally gross at all! That’s because I uncharacteristically used a recipe this time. When I realized we could use baking powder & soda again, I excitedly texted my mom and asked for her pumpkin bread recipe, ASAP. I guess it was on my mind since ’tis the season and I had to watch everyone else eat loaves of it during Christmas. Of course, I still improvised a few things and used mostly local ingredients, but it was a baking success! One of the hallmarks of mom’s recipe is that the bread is super moist and yummy. I think you’ll love it.

I got the pumpkin for this one from Adam and Paula Gaska at Mendocino Organics in Redwood Valley. I roasted it and then pureed the pulp in the Vitamix to get the right consistency (sometimes you need to strain it if it’s super juicy). A tip on winter squash: Most farmers are sitting on more squash than they can store right now, and are feeding it to the pigs. If you want a good deal on winter squash, approach a farmer about purchasing larger quantities directly from them. You will get a much better price than at the store or the Farmers’ Market.

Fresh pumpkin puree

Mom’s Pumpkin Bread Recipe

1.5 cup & 2 Tbsp. flour  
(I used Red Fife wheat from Mendocino Grain Project, because that’s what I had)
1.5 cup sugar or substitute  
(I used honey to taste, much less than 1.5 cups – honey is ultra sweet in baking)

1 tsp. baking soda
.5 tsp. cinnamon
.5 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup water
.5 cup oil   (I would have used local butter if I’d had enough, instead used coconut oil)
2 eggs  
(I used local duck eggs only because I’m allergic to chicken eggs, but many people swear are the best for baking due to added loft)

Sift dry ingredients together.

Sifting the flour

I have never sifted anything, ever, so I asked mom if I had to and she said she always sifts, and I didn’t want to be the one to make this recipe look bad. I remembered I had bought a tiny vintage sifter at a thrift store because I thought it was cute, so I excavated my kitchen to find it.

Hello cinnamon!

I find following a recipe more tolerable when using heart-shaped measuring spoons. I think Mom got me these, too.

Beat all other ingredients in a separate bowl and then add all together.

Adding the wet ingredients for pumpkin bread

Honey trick: I heated up the coconut oil and then stirred the honey into that to make them both easier to mix in.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Mom's pumpkin bread

Since I don’t know anything about baking with leavening agents, I didn’t want to overfill the bread pan, so I also made some little cupcakes, and then froze most of them for a rainy day (a smart thing that I never do, but my mom does it all the time and it is her recipe afterall).

Pumpkin bread cupcakes


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Day 365

The biggest feeling I have today is one of normality. Its not anti-climatic, this has been a big year with lots of small triumphs and major struggles. Its just that this year hasn’t been a process of working towards a goal or running out a clock. This isn’t the peak of a mountain, or if it is it just reveals the whole range in the distance.
This is just my life.
I’m not going to run out for chocolate and coffee, but I do look forward to being an easier dinner guest for people, and to getting to enjoy local products whose ingredient lists aren’t completely local but are almost perfect and who are excellent and strong community members.

I’m going to very very slowly drink an Old Rasputin.

That’s about it. I can’t think of a thing I want that I don’t have in my immediate vicinity, and that doesn’t come with a face and a relationship instead of a brand.
That’s been the biggest gift of this project, the people. Thank you all so much, we put our survival in your hands and here we are, alive and well fed, this whole year later. We are so fortunate.
What I hope you all take away from this is how possible what we’ve done is if you’re willing to take time and build relationships. Its not always easy or convenient, but it is possible and rewarding. Driving out to help friends harvest their corn isn’t as quick or cheap as a drive through, but it got me the best quesadilla of my life, and, you know, friends. Friends have been our by-product this year, which is a hell of a lot better than packaging. We’ve met so many people, and deepened relationships with people we already knew.
We also did this on the fly, with no sponsors, no budget, and very little kitchen. Sarah’s kitchen is too tiny to even fully extend your arms, and for the last three months I haven’t even had one. I’ve been hauling my food in a wood crate and cooking on a hot plate at work and a gas camping burner at the off the grid cabin I’ve been staying at.

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This is how I roll.

The point is, we’re not even particularly equipped for this, and we did just fine with some stubborn commitment and some willingness to try. We can’t all do everything, but if we all did the things we could do, the tide would turn so strongly it would make so much possible for so more.

That’s the point of a big stunt like this, to me anyway. You don’t have to do what we did, but if something looks accessible or fun, give it a try. Ask the people who know how, we have a deep and venerable well of curmudgeon wisdom in this county. Our elders are our best resource.

The big thing that’s been happening in the background for this whole year is my family has bought a farm, in partnership with North Coast Brewing Company. From day one Sarah told me I would have a farm by the end of the year, and I didn’t believe her. She was right. Tonight I’m picking up my sister at the airport, and the next week will be spent moving. We did it. We are so grateful to everyone involved, on every level, thank you. We are so fortunate.

Many many more details coming soon, but so you all know, I’ll be looking for CSA subscribers in the new year. And I can grow some good local food- like my life depends on it.

I’m sure Sarah will share her own take on this, more eloquently than I could, but I want to leave you guys with my deep gratitude. Thank you for witnessing this process. When it’s been hard you’ve been there, and when it’s been fun we’ve loved sharing. This year contained the weddings of both our siblings, a car accident, the death of my grandfather, and selling my childhood home and finding the perfect farm to bring all our goals and ideals to life. Thanks for being there for all of it.

Sarah, I would not have made it without you, you are the fizz in my ferments, the pop in my corn, the person who dragged me out of my shell and made this a party. I love you. Thank you.

And thank you so much to Gramps. Without his gruff, constant, warm love I wouldn’t be me. His calm, quiet work of the world and knowledge of nature is my inspiration and my comfort.

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I’ll see you all in the new year, the good stuff is just getting started.

Loves,

Gowan

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