I’m a small farmer- a micro farmer really.
I manage a non-profit farm to school market garden. We have just about two acres, which are laid out incredibly inefficiently, have hard clay soil with no drainage, a north facing slope, and buildings sited to fully embrace every bit of the wind that comes whipping off of the ocean less than a mile away. And we feed people.
We feed a lot of people.
We can feed everyone.
We grow food for four school cafeterias, three local restaurants, the hospital lunch program, Safe Passage’s cooking classes when they are in session, and we donate to the food bank, we have a summer booth at the farmer’s market, and we just started attending the fledgling winter market in Caspar. And it’s good stuff, and there’s lots of it.
My initial idea to do this project came about from reading somewhere, I think in Grist, about a critique of locavore culture as classist and unrealistic. I actually really agree- the popular image of local organic food is of an upper class white woman in organic bamboo yoga pants paying $20 for a salad. And we certainly love and feed her and her kin. But we also feed local school kids, about 70% of whom qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. And we feed sick people in the hospital. And people who have to wait in line at the Food Bank. And people bringing their food stamps to the market. This land can feed all of us, and we all have a place in the garden.
There are huge problems with access to fresh local food for people. Especially people who live in cities, people who are not white, and people with disabilities and seniors. Large scale monoculture, which promised to feed the world, has not made any of these issues go away and if anything has made them much worse. Fresh food that grows in your community should logically be cheaper than food grown thousands of miles away, packaged and shipped and stored. All of these steps add labor and fuel and costs. But due to subsidies and economy of scale, and yes, a culture of privilege, this hasn’t been the case yet. I charge more than Safeway and I’m not making bank.
I fully acknowledge these issues and that I live in a position of extreme privilege to get up in the morning and greet my sweet sleepy goats. I gave up everything for this privilege, but the fact remains.
I really believe we have the tools to fix these problems and that we can start by growing food where we are. We also need massive social and legislative changes, and people to work on policy- like overthrowing laws that don’t allow people to grow food in their yards, and getting former Monsanto employees out of the USDA and FDA. This is all big important stuff. But the immediate reality is that we live in a world where despite the unbelievable abundance of the earth, which showers us in riches if we give it half a chance, we have this exploitative, cruel, inhumane food system. Bad for the soil, bad for the water, bad for the animals, bad for the farmers, bad for the people. And us tiny guys are dismissed as at best a cute gesture, at worst a fad and a fashion statement.
I am many things, but cute and fashionable? Not so much.
I wanted to make a serious gesture about food. I knew I could do it, I also knew it wouldn’t be entirely comfortable. I decided to live entirely off of my land and what I could trade with other farmers for a month. If I could do that, I would do it for a year, and leading up into January, I would wean myself off of all processed food, and all non-local food.
What I learned is that I still love fava beans after the millionth meal. And that its totally possible and even blissful with planning and commitment. I also began to learn so much more about who is living here in Mendocino county, and the unbelievable abundance in this place. It began to be less about an austere example of how human life can be sustained on a postage stamp, and began to be more about connections and community. I believe that by pooling resources everyone can do this. We happen to live in paradise, but I’m also hoping that some of what we learn could be applied to less hospitable environments like cities.
When Sarah and I talked about doing this together as a celebration of Mendocino county it was like all the pieces clicked into place. This beautiful powerhouse of a human being is able to make the connections and reveal the beauty that surrounds us. I’m handy with a shovel. We are going to have a great time this year. And by expanding our diet off of my land alone and into the rest of our community, we can show the true nature of local sustainable agriculture, which is an intricate web of people, plants and animals. We can’t do any of this without all of us.
But we can totally do it.