About that book…
While I can hardly believe that over six years have gone by since we completed the Eat Mendocino project, in a way the experience has never been more alive or relevant as the world slows way down, stocks up on dry beans, and joins the great pandemic sourdough bread bake-off. Know that during all of this time, not a month has gone by without thinking about the book we promised to write. To the many people who followed our journey and supported us in myriad ways, thank you for the patience you have extended us during this time. We’ve never stopped thinking about our promise to write this story, nor believing in its value.
The truth is that we were winging it, all of it, and our modest Kickstarter fundraiser only provided enough funding for us to ponder the book for a short time, while also trying to fulfill all of our donor rewards, plus acclimate back to “normal”. During this time, I did some research and outreach, learned how to even begin the process of getting a book deal, and made one promising connection with a well-known publisher that focuses on food/agriculture and sustainability.
The other truth is that we weren’t ready to work on the book right away. First, we had to acclimate to society and learn how to feed ourselves again. Then we had to focus on paying our bills. Gowan started a family farm in Caspar, tended her beautiful flock of sheep, and began turning beer waste into compost as Sustainability Manager for North Coast Brewing Company. Have you seen the videoSarah produced with Mendo local Mischa Hedges about Gowan’s carbon farming work with the brewery?
Sarah grew her communications business, began working on cannabis policy and regulation, and launched a volunteer led non-profit called Good Farm Fund, which has raised over $150,000 to fund 65 infrastructure development projects on 41 local farms in five years. And we also tried to do the thirty-something thing — started noticing the tick tock of the biological clock, went to therapy, bought new mattresses for the first time, made a bunch of mistakes, reflected on the limitations of one human body in a day, and aimed to add nutrient density to the soil wherever we were.
Basically, we did what we both tend to do. We dove fully into our next projects in the present moment with a new set of things to learn and problems to solve; precisely what helped us survive on local food for a year has kept us from looking in the rearview mirror to capture it.
Maybe we did it all a bit backwards. In another version of our story, we could have played it very differently… We could have stocked our cupboards with local food before the year began, we could have mapped out where we were actually going to get our food, we could have gotten sponsors to underwrite us, we could have had a video crew follow us. We could have had a book deal in hand before we ever started the year, and we could have produced a weekly podcast during the adventure, but we don’t think we’d even heard of podcasts back then. We could have had any kind of plan at all that went beyond just feeding ourselves day by day, and occasionally posting about it!
But, we didn’t do those things. And maybe if we set out to, perhaps all that planning and preparation would have weighed us down, and we never would have actually started the project at all. The truth is that the time we spent doing the project far outweighed the time we set aside to plan for it, document it, or digest it.
And it’s been a lot to digest. In one year, we lived out many of the core issues in our food system, with no quick fixes to offer. Many obstacles in the supply, demand, and distribution of local food; inequity; racism; and the loss of intergenerational farming knowledge just to name a handful. How to tackle all of that? Certainly not by telling everyone to go out and eat local for a year. It would be naive and we wouldn’t have enough potatoes to feed y’all. Thinking about food system solutions is a gigantic issue that can only be tackled like surviving a pandemic – day by day.
So here we are in 2020, and our generation has never known a time like this one. We have never collectively been more aware of what we eat, and where it comes from. Or the fine line between enough and hunger that many Americans are walking. The side effects of COVID19 for those of us who are more fortunate is that life slowed down a bit and it brought us home to our kitchens and our gardens. I have more time to be with food right now, and to think about what this book means and why it matters. To be honest, I’m not sure about the latter, yet but I’m no longer letting that stop me. It’s not just about having some time to work on it, as there is also something very aligned about the world being focused on survival in a way similar to what we experienced in that year.Yes, it basically took a pandemic plus being unexpectedly unemployed for me to come back to working on the book.
It’s been like opening a time capsule. I started piecing together the chronology of the year that Gowan and I recorded on large flip chart pages on a rare lakeside getaway a few summers ago.
I’ve been reading through all the blog entries and social media posts, written notes, journal entries, and greeting cards sent to us.
In collecting, organizing, and transcribing, I am often surprised (like Doug Mosel saying, “The DNA of wheat is more complex than that of the human body” and sometimes impressed by what I find (November 2013: Sarah made fresh milled corn biscuits. What? I did?! It’s been long enough that certain memories have to be unearthed. This makes it fun, and also helps me relate to the project like a normal human and not one who’s been eating local for 365 days straight and lost all touch with reality.
As the project comes into focus for me again, writing is happening. Sometimes it looks like waking up from a dream with the perfect sentence. Sometimes it looks like writing 1,000 words in a day. Sometimes it looks like listening to podcasts about AgTech innovation while watering my large victory garden by hand and thinking about how to make regional food systems scalable in a way that works. Sometimes it looks like researching publishers and reading other books about food and farming from everyone from Depression era foodie MFK Fisher to Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black and everything by Chris Newman of Sylvanaqua Farm. Sometimes it looks like baking with Mendocino Grain Project flour and thinking about the DNA of wheat and how we’ve gotten stupider trying to outsmart it? Sometimes it looks like speaking to a Point Arena High School agriculture class about our experiment via Zoom. Sometimes it looks like thinking about the privilege of the diet/food conscious movement and how to not be racist when we talk about what we choose to eat.
Here’s what you can look for as we continue to ask big questions about how to feed the world in a way that works, and as we fill the pages for the book… Lots of adorable baby lamb and flamboyant dahlia photos, and updates on local produce availability from Fortunate Farm on Facebook or Instagram. Occasional blog entries on www.eatmendocino.com with recipes and reflections, like How to make pesto out of anything. And, follow Good Farm Fund on Facebook& Instagram and please, please, please, keep supporting the local farms you love.
During Shelter In Place there was a boom in CSA boxes and farm stand sales, but will it last? Keep in mind that many of these farms have lost major revenue streams in declining restaurant and farmers market sales. Farming isn’t canceled and supporting them weekly (not just liking their posts on social media) makes a really big difference.
Be safe and be kind out there!