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.
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.