Hunter’s thoughts

Eat Mendocino is kind of like that game where you try to make a meal out of the random stuff left in your pantry when you’ve been procrastinating going to the grocery store.

It’s also like when you’re backpacking and every bagged dehydrated cup of noodles meal is the best thing ever because you’re hungry and it’s what you have, but you also spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about cheeseburgers.

It’s also like when you have a favorite blackberry patch that fruits on your birthday and you look forward to it all year only to feel bittersweet about the last fruits shriveling on the vine two weeks later.

The truth is that we live in this ephemeral world where plants grow and die and are subject to the seasons and climate. The truth is that it’s all about the plants. We are dependent on them and the farmers who know how to coax seeds into sprouting, a magic unbeknownst to me.

My skills are in looking under leaves to find the biggest fruits, saying thank you and yes to the abundance growing in wild places and in between the cultivated rows. My boots are wet from mushrooming and my hands are stained purple from huckleberries. I keep calendars and google maps full of labels to my uncultivated pantry.

But this is new territory for me. Both geographically, and on scale. I’m not used to putting things away with such fervor. It’s usually enough to enjoy the thing in its season, as a supplement, as spiritual practice, as communion; but not as staples.

Harvesting is trivial, it’s the processing and storing of food that contains much of the work and the reward. The white noise of the dehydrator has become our bedtime stories, and the cycle of the canner is no longer something I need to google each time.

It feels extravagant to spend time this way, as if it’s cheap, as if feeding our bodies is the only thing that matters. I suppose, in a way, it is.

I’ve never had to meal plan so much in advance. I’ve never cooked so much consistently. It’s common at a meal we spend half the conversation complimenting the chef and the plants and animals who went into the bowls… and the other half taking about what we are going to eat tomorrow.

I’ve always been the kind of person who squirrels away. A saver. I’ve never had such permission to actually use the good stuff.

And y’all, the stuff is really good.

I’ve learned that if you want to have pizza in January, it’s going to cost you oil or freezer space or propane burner time to seal your jars of late summer tomatoes. It’s a luxury.

I’ve learned that quail roosters sounds like tiny velociraptors. I’ve learned how to cook dried beans and how to appreciate goats milk and I’m slowly figuring out how to keep my pet sourdough culture happy.

I’ve learned that it’s always worth it to pull over one more time to harvest just a few more bay nuts. You don’t know when it will be your last chance.

I’ve learned that the reason I think jars of food are beautiful is not just aesthetic; it’s a promise of safety and a time capsule of a season’s abundance.

It’s also a representation of a value, harkening back to a time when single use plastics were not as ubiquitous. I am passionate about not producing a ton of waste in the same way Gowan is passionate about local food. It turns out, the two go together really well.

I used to sometimes buy things in plastic and put them into glass jars, the convenience of better storage and the aesthetic without the reality of living closer to your food. There always ended up a pantry of shame where I hid the open cellophane bags with the rest of the pecans that would never quite fit in the jar.

Now, food goes straight from waxed cardboard produce baskets or our gathering buckets and bags, or 25lb brown paper bags with the pull tabs on top. It feels good. It feels right.

I believe in the power of beauty. Sometimes aesthetics are a sign post to values.

What’s delighted me most —other than the fresh, complicated, delicious, unexpected food that goes in my mouth— is having a partner just as enthusiastic as I am. I feel endlessly lucky and enchanted to be on this unexpected journey with them.

It feels too good to be true, to be met by someone just as enthusiastic about roadside acorns as I am.

Hunter Rook

Week #1 down, 51 weeks to go.

We opened: 2 jars of salsa, one jar of pickled onions, and 2 jars of sauce

We took out of the freezer: 4 pounds ground beef, one small duck, one carton chicken broth, two cartons mirepoix, one carton baba ganouj, one baggie red pepper paste, two baggies pesto.

We put in the freezer: an extra pot pie I made since two is about the same effort as one! And a pan of roasted garlic blended into cubes and frozen.

We foraged: a basket of candy caps and a whole bunch of pine needs for ferments.

This week in the kitchen was mostly about the kind of slow cooking I could do between the power outages and finish on the wood stove if necessary. We’ve had power completely or partially off for four days this week, including this morning.

We had a strong start to the project, waking up on the 1st in the afterglow of a fantastic NYE dinner at The GoodLife, to find a nice crockpot of stew waiting for us. The week took a turn in an apocalyptic direction when Hunter almost sacrificed themselves for the pantry in an earthquake, and then the raining and outages started. We’ve been able to stay strong and on target and even fed six people this week at various times.

All our potatoes are sprouting so we’re eating what we can and planting the rest! Ronda gave us some beautiful potatoes for next week with not a sprout in sight. Noah came over with goat milk and cheese which was awesome after three days of no dairy, and theirs is so sweet and mild, it’s been nice in lattes with bay nuts and in scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes.

We also ate a lot of fruit this week. We still have kiwis from Amalias vines, apples and citrus. A lot of that will run out soon, and hopefully I’ll get a little more creative with making us meals when I’m not so worried about keeping the farm afloat through this storm.

preciousness and scarcity

One of the things I learned from this project last time is not to let preciousness trap us into scarcity. Open some special jars, right at the beginning. Make some favorite meals even though they’re more work. Do as much in advance as possible. Have food ready before you get too hungry.

So far, since New Year’s Eve, I’ve opened a quart of canned tomatoes for choulent, a half pint jar of the hot and sweet sauce we canned with roasted Fresno chilies, roasted garlic and honey, a pint jar of pickled onions, and a pint jar of ketchup. The only one we used up was the canned tomatoes, but the pot they went into fed us for two solid days, 4 meals for 3 people in different forms. We fished the infused hardboiled eggs out for brunch, ate the thinner stew in bowls, several times, and ate the thicker stew the next day in quinoa wraps with the hot sauce and pickled onions.

This afternoon I’m going to start chicken soup with wild rice for tomorrow. Wild rice, really Indigenous cultivated, always reminds me of the gift of it we were given by a young woman who had gathered it in a canoe and danced the hulls off. We were housing at Fortunate Farm as a refugee from a fire inland, and the rice was one of the few things she grabbed in her dash to safety. She shared a bit with us as we cooked together, and it was nutty and smoky and perfect. This wild rice was grown by MendoLake Food Hub Cooperative members, and delivered to our barn.

To make this soup I will take broth out of the freezer from a young chicken, and a frozen bag of mirepoix, which is the sautéed mix of onion, carrot and celery that we made before the fall celery harvest shriveled. I’ll also peel and dice a ton of our increasingly sprouting potatoes, and the winter squash cubes that go into literally every meal. I’ll also float some eggs to hard boil, as I usually do in crock pots of soup.

Our friend Lee is coming to stay, so I went to our cabin to make a fire to warm it before they arrive, and on the way back we loaded the rest of our dry storage from it’s old home to our new house. I have beans and onions and jars of dry chilies to find homes for, and somehow another box of potatoes I’d forgotten all about. Every potato on this farm is threatening to sprout and I have long hours of processing ahead of me to save them for the really hard months- February and March.

In some ways I feel like I know how to do this, in others I’m totally experiencing this new. Having two capable people ready to julienne potatoes for frying in March is a revelation. So much has changed about my daily life. To have partners in this that live in my house is magical. To not be a full time vegetable farmer, heavily laden with kale in a single swipe of my arm, is surreal. The sheer quantity of dishes is the only thing I feel like I don’t quite remember. This time, however, I’m not the only one doing them.

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, Hunter was washing dishes while I was processing vegetables. My phone started buzzing and shrieking, the screen flashing an earthquake warning. Hunter went straight for the pantry shelves, leaning their whole body against it. I grabbed them by the scruff of their neck and hauled them to a doorway, grabbing Morgan who was coming to see what the alarm was, and the dogs, we stumbled together to the most solid beams of the house, the huge fir posts framing the bedroom where it meets the hallway. We clung together until we were sure that nothing was actually going to happen, and then laughed through our tension and hugged each other. I scolded Hunter for grabbing the pantry shelves- especially with the magnetic knife block on the wall right next to it. I remembered my friend’s smashed kitchen up north, that thankfully they weren’t standing in when the shake happened, and shuddered. Your face is more important than the canning jars, I said. “I could have broken their fall with my face!” They protested, laughing. I kissed their face over and over, trying to convey the clarity of my priorities.

I’m so grateful that in the last ten years I’ve grown more confident with canning, thanks to my patient teachers. I’m grateful for our shelves of jewels, transforming bland winter staples into exciting and nourishing food. Sometimes I just stand and admire them, a wall of sturdy stained glass more precious than the windows of a church to me. They are security, variety, wealth. I would rather see every single jar smashed on the floor than have Hunter be hurt by their falling, even a little.

I’ve just returned from checking the flock and water is pouring off of me, denim is plastered to my thighs and my coat is heavy as I hang it by the stove on the wood rack. Morgan went into the sea for salt water, and it’s reducing in big clouds on the back porch on our canning burner. He’s kneeling, blowing on the coals to rekindle the fire in the rainy, gloomy afternoon. Hunter’s sourdough is rising, and their pine soda is gently steeping in the window. The dogs are snuggled on the cow hide by the fire, the hide that used to adorn Pip, my elderly cow who passed last December, whose body I saved to nourish us this year. In the pouring rain of Januarys gone by, she would lick the water off my face with her rough tongue, and extend her massive russet head for scratches under her chin.

Titania, my old goat, died this morning. I have now been doing this long enough that my old guard is elderly or gone. Ten years ago she was a young goat, who leapt down from the truck she was delivered in like a deer, and immediately checked my pockets for treats. I adopted her during Eat Mendocino 2013. She would walk into the woods with me and my students, who kept browse journals with drawings and leaf samples of the species she liked to eat, and those she passed over. She was a strong and tall white goat, a breed called a Saanen, and had delicate upright ears and grew a magnificent beard as she aged. Long after her milking career ended she and I would go on walks in the woods, she walked beautifully on a leash all her life. We would pick berries together and I could always count on her to lead me to the sweetest patches. One day she lay down on the trail and wouldn’t get up. I waited for her to rest, feeling ashamed that I hadn’t noticed we were pushing her old bones too far- she hadn’t shown any sign of fatigue until then. Shortly after that walk, I noticed she was unable to keep up with the flock and was being hazed off of feed by the young rams. Our neighbors adopted her for a life of leisure in their small barnyard, where she spent her golden years being loved by their toddler until the toddler became a kid, and Titania became feeble. Last night she lay down and wouldn’t get up, this time for good. She was loved to the end.

We pour care into these relationships with plants and animals and people, and they pour it back into us, and we tend each other as well as we can. In the end we let go, and that is an expression of love too.

May the grass on Titania’s bones grow tall and wild and sweet, and may I never put into a jar anything I wouldn’t sacrifice gladly during an earthquake, to keep Hunter’s face safe.

It’s time to start the soup.

Here we go again

On this day ten years ago, I packed dry beans, thawed frozen tomato sauce, chopped onion, beef, barley and cubed roots into a crock pot, so that in the morning, local food would already be there.

As luck would have it, my thrift store crock pot scorched everything into a malodorous mass. I woke up, ten years ago tomorrow, to a kitchen full of acrid smoke and an empty stomach.

In this crock pot, today, is redemption, reinvention, returning to the promises my youthful self brashly made, fulfilling them.

In the morning begins Eat Mendocino 2023, as foretold in the ancient scrolls of WordPress circa 2013.

My partners are coming with me on this journey, as much as they want to, and so are my lifelong friends and cousins. You can too, in your kitchen and here online as I document this journey. I will be sharing recipes, local food access tips, information about the hidden gems in the County’s agricultural community and how we keep going as a producer community.

Much has changed since 2013! At the end of Eat Mendocino 2013, my family and I founded Fortunate Farm in Caspar. In the last ten years my hand injuries have caught up with me, and I am no longer a full time vegetable farmer. I am the flock manager of the Fortunate Flock, heritage sheep and rescue goats that control invasive species with their cute bellies and make beautiful textiles. I also work remotely helping other ranches coexist peacefully with apex predators via the Mountain Lion Foundation. Luckily we are part of a vibrant food community and produce is still being grown on site in Caspar by my partner Morgan and Hunter and neighbors Sam and Julia and Megan and Cameron, and goats milked by Leu and Clara and Noah, and an herb garden managed on Fortunate Farm by the Mendocino Herb Guild. Xa Kako Dile, an Indigenous woman lead non-profit, has its home at Fortunate Farm and works on food sovereignty issues. I feel blessed and secure to be so surrounded by the work of so many capable hands.

Sarah is traveling for work these days, and while I look forward to feeding her when she’s back in Mendocino, I will miss her on the daily and miss her social media skills. Please be patient as I figure out a schedule and sync the accounts.

For those who are able, I have a Patre-on account under my name, Gowan Batist, where you can contribute to my writing time for a few dollars per month. Work there consists of Eat Mendocino articles as well as work on other subjects, and except for some content that’s too spicy for this platform, you can follow all of the Eat Mendocino journey without subscribing.

It’s been the privilege of my life to spend ten years in this beautiful place, and I like to think I’ve learned a few things in the years between the gangly kid I was at 24, and the person I am today, filling a pot with provision for tomorrow.

Happy New Year, with my love,


P.S. below is the recipe, I won’t always have time to do this, but when I can I will always use folks names and give enough direction to replicate what we’re eating. A lot of substitutions, some weirdness, and very little measuring is involved.

Cholent/Chili crockpot fusion:

The recipe I made today is a riff on a traditional Shabbat stew, which is made the evening beforehand with beef, potatoes, sometimes beans, and barley. Whole eggs in the shell are often included, and so are whole cloves of garlic. This is what I tried to make last time, but what gives this a bit of a twist is that it includes dried chiles and ground beef rather than a roast, and cubed rather than whole potatoes. (I also don’t have barley this time- in 2013 the Mendocino Grain Project grew purple barley, but this year they didn’t. We have tons of bags of other good things from them though!) The eggs will steep in the broth overnight and be cracked and eaten tomorrow, infused with the spices.

This is a recipe that can be improvised on literally endlessly. I sautéed the ground beef with the salt and spices. I added the soaked beans and cubed veggies to the crock pot along with the quart of tomatoes and added enough boiling water to cover, then mixed in the sautéed ingredients and nestled the garlic and eggs into the top. I cook on high for about an hour and then turn down to low. Beware the thrift store crock pot- this time ten years ago I sent it to low… but faulty wiring meant all points on the dial were “high.” This one should be better!

This crock pot contains:

Ground beef from my beloved 12 year old cow, Pip, who had to be put down this spring after she broke her hip.

A candy onion from New Agrarian Collective

Shallot, carrots and rutabagas from Caymin at Big Mesa Farm

Sea salt collected by my partner Morgan and made into herb salt in our kitchen

A bay leaf from a tree in Willits collected by Hunter

Chili powder from Booneville Barn Collective

Bayo beans from McFadden Farm

Olive oil from Terra Savia

Tomatoes grown by Cam and Megan and canned by us with our friend Amalias help

Potatoes and whole heads of garlic grown by Brian at Covelo Organics

Red Kuri squash grown by us here at FF

Aaaaand whole eggs given to us by our friends Sarah and Alex

In this food, there is a community, our community, our story. I can’t wait to tell some of it.

Thanksgiving 2022

It’s Thanksgiving morning, and the table is full of thick slices of winter squash sitting on trays like fat golden half moons. They smell like cantaloupe. We are taking the squashes with dings and bruises that will not cure down for winter and roasting them into puree for the freezer, and juicing them for pumpkin vinegar.

Today is a fasting day for us. I have fasted on Thanksgiving, (Thankstaking, Truthgiving, etc) for a bunch of years now. I donate the money I would have spent hosting a big dinner to a Native cause. This year it was helping cover transportation and hotels for people traveling to Alcatraz for the Sunrise Ceremony. It has already happened, and was beautiful.

Hunter just dropped a squash on its soft spot and it imploded wetly. The ones we can’t eat will be fed to the chickens, who love fermenting and soft fruits like these. The work of processing includes handling the messy and unpalatable and transforming it into nourishment in some form as well, through the beaks of chickens or mouths of worms in the compost.

For most years I’ve followed the model of fasting I use on Yom Kippur- I don’t eat or drink from sundown to sundown. Some years I have had to work outdoors in the cold very hard on this day, because animals don’t understand holidays or days of mourning, and on those days I have tended to drink hot water, because dehydration is dangerous and drinking cold water in the cold while fasting feels unhealthy. Today is the first year we have been seriously sick in my household.

I feel miserable. Fever and headache and chills, and my throat is so dry and painful I can barely swallow. So today, by the consensus of the three people living in this house, we will drink tea with honey and salt for electrolytes, and will drink broth later if we feel we need to.

I want our abstinence to be meaningful, but not unsafe. I want to acknowledge and atone for our group complicity in injustice and also maintain love and care for ourselves as vulnerable individuals. This is a balancing act present in every day of life on stolen land.

The human impulse to celebrate a Harvest Festival is ancient and present in many cultures, such as the Irish Mabon and the Jewish Sukkot. I think its an inherently wholesome thing to celebrate, except when it comes with a self congratulatory erasure of the actual history of occupation of a stolen land, which sadly this holiday does. So, after years of compromise when I called it something else (“farmsgiving”) and included donations and education about local contemporary Native issues, I ultimately decided just not to participate in this day. I live a beautiful life full of beautiful food and 100% of that is dependent on the work Indigenous land stewards did for millennia and are doing now to try to protect what is left after the destruction of colonization. I can give up food and celebration for one day in solidarity.

Not all of us can afford to do that. Some of my peers whose work schedules give them no time to see family might feel they need to seize this time. We’re all trying to survive Late Capitalism, and if giving this day up isn’t workable, I’m not going to judge you for that. I would just encourage you to listen to Native voices on this issue, from a diversity of perspectives, and contribute to their causes if you can, and reflect on your place on this land.

Considering today as a day of mourning, I am thinking about the people in my home county who were forcefully marched across the mountains at gunpoint, the elders killed along the way, and how many of them were sick, as I am sick today, but without the soft bed and rest that I can return to if I get too fatigued being up. The cruelty of the settlers and colonists is truly beyond my comprehension to understand, but I see it still happening now, in how Water Protectors are gassed and shot, at how the Pomo Land Back movement here is attacked and Indigenous grandmothers threatened, with bullet casings thrown at one of them by young white men in trucks speaking about target practice. Others with revving trucks a foot from their face. I see it in my queer siblings lost this week in Colorado, and in the sign to our Shul across the road ripped off the building, the “Jew” in Mendocino Coast Jewish Community gouged.

I see the hatred and cruelty, but I can’t understand it. I can’t understand what drives people to do these things. I worry that if I can’t understand it, I don’t know how to stop it. I am mourning for the people who were hurt and killed by it in the past, and those that are today. I’m mourning in advance for my beautiful community who I am afraid will be hurt or lost. There is something deeply broken in the spirit of Americanism. A brokenness that defends itself from reflection with violence.

Today I am mourning that the United States of America exists at all. Imagine for a moment what this continent without colonization would have been. I don’t mean without travel- Polynesian and Asian people had been traveling to this continent for ages before colonization. What happened here wasn’t inevitable. It didn’t have to be this way. Imagine California, one of the most linguisticly diverse places on earth, the home of elk and grizzly bears and wolves and the mightiest migratory bird flyway in the world, untamed and undrained by agriculture. Imagine this continent entering the Information Age as a collection of sovereign Indigenous Nations. When Europeans were still shitting in the streets cities in Central America had indoor plumbing. What would have happened if Europe hadn’t interfered with their scientific advancement?

What would have happened in Europe itself? If transportation, as it was called, wasn’t an option to get rid of political dissidents and the starving poor? If the Scottish Clearances couldn’t have happened? If the Diggers Movement couldn’t be broken up, if England couldn’t have outsourced production to colonies and therefore couldn’t have devoted all its own land to industrial mills? Europe would have had to deal with itself. It wouldn’t have been just the French who had a revolution. The Irish may not have been starved to death because the British would have been weaker as a military power. My ancestors might not have had to flee.

I wish Europeans never learned to build boats. I don’t imagine there’s any version of history that would be without cruelty and bloodshed, but I think it would have been a better world.

I’m brought back to the present moment by the oven door opening, trays of golden squash coming out in a fountain of steam. It’s strange to process food without tasting anything, but at this time of year we can’t spend a whole day out of the kitchen. The winter squash is a Native invention, a result of millennia of selection. It is an amazing technology, an electricity free storage method for carbohydrates and protein rich seeds through the long winter. Everything I have is due to Native innovation and labor. My very body, with its mix of genetics from all over the world coming together in Agricultural California, would be impossible without colonization. I would give all of it up to see a world where none of this happened.

Because I never will see that world, instead I want to see a future where Native land management and culture take its rightful place at the center of our society. One way we can begin to make that possible is to tell the truth about the past and present treatment of Native people on this land, and let go of our comfortable fables. Another way is to directly return land stewardship to Native people. Xa Kako Dile, a nonprofit lead by Native women, is housed now on Fortunate Farm, which we began years ago to feed the community. I understand a bit more now about what that means, and what is required of us to make the future we want to see. I know I am only just beginning my education and deconstruction, which will go on forever.

Wherever you are today and whatever you’re doing, I hope you take a moment to mourn the lives, stories, cultural knowledge, food ways, and relationships lost to colonization, and reevaluate how you can act in this next year to bring healing and reconnection to the land you’re on.

Making Pickles

It’s the dark of 5am and there’s a reaching streak of condensation at the bottom of each window. One partner is sleeping, the other is moving drying corn around on the rack erected above the four poster guest bed checking for mold, and stirring drying salt in flat pans in the dehydrator, and simmering molasses made from reducing the broth of boiled shucked corn cobs on the wood stove. They are the little steam engine generating the fog on the inside of the windows this morning. Why don’t you just write, they said.

The sweet smell of corn molasses is entwining uneasily with the rainy mushroom smell of wet ducks insinuating itself through the vents in the kitchen that lead into the attached greenhouse. Our gaggle of teenaged ducklings must have successfully turned over their water again, despite the wide shallow basin M wedged it into. When M wakes up the duckies will be the first visit on the list, made with coffee.

Yesterday I canned the last cucumber pickles of the year, in the water-bath. Usually I do sliced rounds and I just fridge pickle them, because otherwise they get mushy. Fridge pickles are packed raw into sterile jars and have boiling brine poured over them, and are sealed. The jar lids sometimes ping, but because they haven’t been processed in boiling water, they are not shelf stable and need to stay in the fridge. A couple dozen quarts in the fridge is a lot of real estate, even if we do have a commercial reach-in. The main reason for canning in the first place is shelf stable storage, but… nobody likes a soggy pickle.

The varieties of cucumber I usually grow are the long thick green slicers and round lemon cucumbers that don’t lend themselves all that well to water bath canning. On the foggy coast the fruit will grow, but the plants always look sad and defeated. I grow them on black ground cloth in a high tunnel, but they still look anemic and sullen about it. Their fruits are also thick skinned compared to their inland relatives, but tend to set a lot of sugar. For the first time this year I peeled some of our big spiny cucumbers to make into sliced rounds prior to canning and they have turned out sweet and crisp and pale as water chestnuts.

Yesterday’s pickles were grown by my friend Michelle at Green Rainbow farm, inland above the fog layer. I had thought pickles were done weeks ago, and had put away all my tools, but then got a text and jumped on the chance. The variety she grew makes a short, nubby and sweet little cucumber with a vanishing skin and must be intensely time consuming to pick with their small size. Michelle put aside a bag for me in her farmstand in Mendocino, on the patio of the GoodLife. I picked them up alongside my lover’s favorite gluten free carrot cake cupcake and a loaf of buckwheat bread.

Washing the small cucumbers in a basin at home I remembered in my bones waking up in the dark in Oregon to pick cucumbers before the sun could get on them. I loved picking them by feel with my headlight off, smooth and warmer than the rough ground or the prickly vines, and hated the way the end of the row was invisible in the dark, making it feel endless. The Russian customers that came to the farmstand wouldn’t buy anything picked the day before, picked in the heat of the day, or longer than a pointer finger. When one of the grandmotherly customers brought us a jar she made, they were crunchy as fresh fruits and spicy and tart- the best I’d ever had- but their quality cost a lot of crawling and lost sleep. I admired their fervour, but not enough to replicate it. I’m happy to just have good pickles instead of perfect ones, and pick them the day before.

For these pickles I boiled brine made from sterilized filtered sea water and boiled apple cider vinegar from Philo Apple Farm. You MUST boil this living vinegar or it will grow in your sterile jars and burst the lids off, a lesson I learned hard with our first two batches this year. The fermented pickles were still perfectly safe to eat and delicious, but wouldn’t store long term without processing which would render them soggy. We ate them quick and learned to boil the vinegar in the future.

To this brine base I added powdered citrusy chili, dill and coriander, and flakes of parsley, as well as the strained juice of four small shriveled local Meyer lemons.

I blanched the clean cucumber fruits in the brine momentarily and packed them into clean jars warmed on the wood stove. Warming on the wood stove is great because the notorious crack zone, the bottom, warms first instead of last… as long as the fire is a mellow sleepy one.

After packing the hot jars I got the brine boiling hard and ladled it over the fruit, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.

Wiping each jar rim carefully I placed the Ball rubber seal canning lids… and then fumbled around for a ring that actually fit since Late Capitalism doesn’t care about food safety and the Choice and Country Classics type jar rings are not compatible with Ball. This corporate decision ruined several quarts of salsa earlier this year when the rings came off in the canner and earned my ire for all time henceforth. I still have not entirely purged my ring stash of their evil, since I made the mistake of assuming safety standards would require compatibility and sterilized all the quart rings together regardless of brand.

I took the sealed jars to the porch where the propane cannon was roaring under the boiling enameled canner. I set the hot jars slowly into the boiling water, finding their resting place on the metal rack on its bottom. The water level… only came up to the top of the lids, as the batch was small and hadn’t filled all the slots. This was a problem because time in the canner equals mushy pickles, but the timer can’t start until the water level is 1” above the lids of the jars. I ran inside and grabbed a jar from the top of the now roaring stove, which had been built up by my partner who had come in cold from chores. Gingerly holding the rim with my calloused fingertips and cursing over my burn from the hot glass I filled it with the warmest water from the sink… which promptly cracked the bottom of the jar from the temperature change. The hairline crack still held water, so I plunked the open topped jar into the canner, which raised the water level enough to start my timer. My partner M adding a clean brick to the pot was a less dangerous and effective addition.

15 minutes later the jars were fished out and set on the warmed deck. I usually lay out a fluffy insulated towel, but I had left it inside, so I just splashed a ladle of boiling water onto the wood to lessen the shock of transition and set the jars down. None cracked.

The time between setting the full jars down and their sealing is a superstitious and delicate time. I always tell myself I am not going to check until they cool, but I always do, running my fingertip as lightly as possible across the hot metal surface of the jar lids. Any bump or telltale dimple in the lid means the jar has not sealed, and will have to be re-processed from the beginning or stored in the fridge and used first. Any disturbance during this time can foul the seal.

When I pulled this batch out with my worn jar lifter, most hadn’t sealed, which is normal in a short bath. I determined to focus on other things, and by the time I came back, they had all sealed. The dimple that was in the lid was gone, the entire surface smooth and slightly concave.

This morning I will take the rings off the jars and check the seal, spin them a few times gently to bring any bubbles in the brine to the surface, and fridge any that don’t appear perfectly sealed. The chaotic last pickles of the year are done. Kraut and kimchi making and acorn shelling and bay nut roasting are ahead. Persimmons to slice and dry and ginger to grate and freeze sit next to the few last tomatoes. Crates of spaghetti squash with dings that will not cure sit waiting to be cut, roasted, topped with marinara made from the last tomatoes of the year and packed into the freezer baking trays H bought me, that come with a top for storage but can go right into the oven.

Every bite of food represents work at every trophic level. Every moment of present comfort is a gift from past labor, like excessive luxury can be a theft from the future. I want deep winter and its small circle of chores and wood stove and bed, and to take from the pantry instead of give, but this is how we get there.

The sky is turning a bruised melon pink with purple at the edges, the chickens are waking up and peeps are issuing from the vents to the attached greenhouse. Coffee is being pressed, we are all awake and working separately in this close shared space. The pickles are done for the year. Out of the dozens of tasks on the list, that box is well and truly checked and I can relax.

There’s a message on my phone from last night, from Green Rainbow Farm. They might actually have some more, if I’m interested. Of course I am. 

What is Eat Mendocino?

This is a question I’ve been asked multiple times in the last couple of weeks of posting prepping process photos and that question alone shows me how much time has passed. A significant number of people I know and love now in the County weren’t around back then!

Eat Mendocino is the name for a local food experiment, coined by Sarah Bodnar who did the project with me in 2013. It was and will be an investigation into the food ecosystem made by putting my body on the line. For a calendar year, January 1st to December 31st, everything I eat and drink including oils and salt and spices, must come from Mendocino County.

I always intended to do this project again a decade later, and that time has now come.

It’s not intended to be prescriptive- it’s not a comment on how anyone should eat. It’s a farmer and rancher exploring the limits and celebrating the abundance of this place by choosing to be entirely dependent on it. It’s a show of trust in my community and a willingness to find our gaps by stepping into them. Obviously a lot changes in a decade. We are stronger in so many ways, and have also suffered losses. I’m also not the plucky young farmer I was then, I’ve gained competence but lost the simplistic certainty that comes with the limited perspective of youth.

Eat Mendocino 2023 is a survey of what has changed in local food here in the last ten years, and an exploration of what is different internally, what has been slowly simmering in my personal kitchen this last decade.

The rules:

No anonymous food. This means no fillers and additives. We harvest saltwater to make salt, we know the people who press our oil. When we say everything we mean everything. I won’t be drinking coffee or eating chocolate or buying (I still feel conflicted about this one) locally made products whose ingredients are not locally produced.

People can bring food to trade with us from their region when they visit, and we can bring local food with us if we travel, and enjoy local food where we are too.

A new rule for 2023 is that in the last decade The MendoLake Food Hub was born. Fortunate Farm has been a partner from the beginning, and we are deeply invested in their success. We host a Node for distribution on our farm. Relationships are more important than arbitrary borders, and the partner farms in the Hub are my community directly. Therefore, all produce on the Hub is kosher for EM, even if the farm is across the County line.

I will be writing through the whole project. Posts will be a combination of process and recipes, food system discussions, and reflections on the changes over time in this very small food shed over the last decade. Nobody will get judged for their food choices on my page, but I will do my best to share ways to make local food more accessible for everyone as I find them.

I’m amazed at the audacity of my young self to assume I would be farming in this county ten years into the future and be able and willing to repeat this project, but that prediction came true, though not in a way I would have imagined. I am still here and I am still willing to do some ridiculous stuff for love and curiosity. You’re welcome to join me!

(The first photo here is me in Fall 2012, in my bean patch prepping for 2013. The second is Fall 2022, processing dry beans, preparing for 2023.)

seven weeks to go

The canner on the deck has been bubbling for days. In the rain the steam billows, and the hot jars sit on the wet wood, cooling and pinging. The top of the wood stove is clustered with warming jars. I like using the wood stove to warm clean jars, because the thickest part of the jar, and where fractures tend to happen from temperature shocks, is the bottom. On the mellow wood stove that part warms first, and I’ve never shattered a bottom using this method.

It’s really coming down this morning. The fields out the window are barely visible through the sheets from the eaves. Yesterday we filled three dozen jars and the dehydrators, today we are making ketchup and sauce and juice from 100 pounds of frozen tomatoes.

Freezing the tomatoes makes the skins slip right off as they thaw. Those skins, which are full of pigment and nutrients and sour tomato flavor, will be dehydrated and powdered for recipes that want tomato color and flavor but not the texture or water. I often blend it with dried pepper powder and cook it with rice in chicken broth.

There are seven weeks to go before Eat Mendocino 2023. I am half exasperated with myself, and half full of joy. A tiny corner of my mind feels like I am being held hostage by the tyranny of my past self. I was incredibly driven, I was idealistic, I was spending my energy like it would never run out, and I was deferring loans on my body’s limits that I am now paying back with interest. Young me was too much. Why should I obey past Gowan’s dictates and do this project again?

We tend the land in cycles. Most of us raised within an annual agricultural paradigm dictated by colonial systems think and work in annual cycles. I’m no exception, the months of the year are defined by tasks and harvests more than by their names. Some of us get to think in slightly bigger cycles, the lives of fruit trees and generations of cattle and rotations of pasture. This is a ten year cycle, a momentum still carrying me forward and I am as bound to it as I am to crop rotations.

My last box of cucumbers molded before I got to it. I ignored the fact that probably thousands of pounds of cucumbers have molded in the field or in customers crispers in my career. I ignored the memory of the boss I worked for who made us throw out all unsold day old cucumbers- insisting that their Russian customers wouldn’t buy any that weren’t picked that morning at 5am. (He was right, they wouldn’t, but that didn’t take away the sting of feeding 50lb bag after 50lb bag into the compost pile or to pigs.) That summer I canned every night and I still couldn’t make a dent in the waste. None of that mattered in the face of my failure to can that last box of the year, and I felt shamed.

This turning point of the season, when the apex of abundance and ripeness turns into soft grey mold and melts away is like grabbing at the sunset as it turns dark. We do get little sips of it tucked into jars, but never more than a slim echo, and it never feels like enough when faced with the long slow monotany of cabbage and potato and pumpkin.

The first time I did Eat Mendocino Sarah and I coined the phrase “soup fatigue” which is a phenomenon that occurs when the colors and textures of food have been too similar in color and texture, both soft and muted, for too long. Literally anything crunchy and colorful feels like a miracle after a month on that diet. The first radishes in February that I ate in the garden with mud and rain still on them felt like glowing jewels.

The pantry is well stocked with rice and beans and flour and pickles and salsa and onions and garlic and salt and herbs. The kitchen is exploded onto every surface, there are pumpkins literally everywhere, on every windowsill, on the tops of all the cabinets sitting on flat cardboard, and along the banister of the loft, and the big shlep of the season is almost over. The weight of all this preparation has been distributed on so many backs, from my partner plunging into the sea with buckets for salt, to my lifelong friends wielding their apple spiralizer, to the neighbors who show up with a box of pears. I have love and support and companionship that I couldn’t have imagined during the darkest days of death and isolation in 2020 and 2021, when my whole world felt like it had fallen apart. I remember people who had been close to me assuming that I wouldn’t do Eat Mendocino 2023 in light of the losses I had just experienced. What I felt internally was that what is left when everything else falls away is me, and that is enough to keep my promises. I went forward planning to go alone, but I had hardly been on the path for a step before I was joined by lovers and friends and colleagues and family. Sometimes just starting is enough to call the right people in. Sometimes letting go of the vision we wanted means more than we could have imagined finds us.

One thing that a life spent working outdoors has taught me is to accept being uncomfortable for a considerable length of time. When discomfort is embraced, opportunities expand exponentially. I remember thinking, in the middle of a rainy spring in 2013, that this project was both the most austere and most luxurious thing I had ever done.

Maybe Eat Mendocino 2013 was just the most austere and most luxurious thing that I have ever done… thus far.

Keep your giving as local as it gets on Giving Tuesday!

When our year of eating local ended, it was just the beginning of answering a new question: how could we actually make more local food available to more people? Like, normal people and not just some crazy locavores who would drive 150 miles to pick up duck eggs, oranges, or butter.

Gowan’s answer was to buy a farm with her family in Caspar and grow a bunch of food while sequestering carbon through composting and regenerative grazing. My answer was to start a non-profit organization called Good Farm Fund. I actually didn’t set out to start a non-profit, I just wanted to find a way for people to support local farms directly. From my job managing the Mendocino Farmers Market, I saw firsthand how tight the margins were for farmers, and that they couldn’t afford the most basic infrastructure improvements necessary to grow more food.

I also believed that the community wanted to do more than just shop at the markets or farm stands. People love our local farms, and they provide so much more value than just calories. What was missing was a way to actually invest in them. I had been producing farm-to-table events for a couple years, and I simply wanted to start hosting events to raise money for farms.

The problem was that we needed a bank account to put the money in and some farm-appropriate criteria for funding projects…. Thus, Good Farm Fund was born. We created a volunteer-led organization run by people who had a stake in local farms’ success and created a Farm Grant program that minimized red-tap and maximized the impact to small farms. Grants are awarded based on financial need, and the capacity to increase access to local food for underserved members of our community.

When we announce our 2020 Farm Grant Recipients at the end of this month, we will have awarded $250,000 in grants in six years.

This money has funded infrastructure development on farms throughout Mendocino & Lake Counties. We have funded ranching operations, vegetable producers, grain and bean farmers, bread bakers, and mushroom cultivators. We have financed items as small as hand tools and compost spraying backpacks to tractors, greenhouses, and cold storage buildings. Read more about the projects we have funded at These are some snapshots of past grantees:

These projects have had reverberating impacts in the farming community, often with multiple farms benefiting from shared infrastructure. For example, the cold storage building we funded for New Agrarian Collective has been utilized by neighboring ranches, and provided backup refrigeration for other farms during power outages – and even helped store trees that were being replanted after the Redwood Complex Fire.

When pandemic related food shortages hit this spring, many of the farms we have funded were able to provide critical food relief to hundreds of community members in need. Although we have canceled all events this year due to COVID-19, local farming is more essential than ever, as is continued community support. We are a volunteer led organization and raise all of our money locally, through events and sponsorships.

Usually, in the first week of December we host a fabulous Winter Feast at Barra Vineyards in Redwood Valley (pictures from the 2018 event below). This is one of our two major annual fundraisers, and we really miss coming together with many of you to celebrate and eat!

Instead, we invite you to chose a cause very local to your plate and make a gift to Good Farm Fund this #GivingTuesday. A gift to Good Farm Fund is a thank you to local farms, and an investment in a more sustainable, resilient, and delicious community!

Join us by making a gift today, and sign up for our e-newsletter at & follow us on Facebook & Instagram.

About that book…

About that book…

Dear readers,

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?

Dahlia fireworks at Fortunate Farm (available at the farm stand now!)

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 with recipes and reflections, like How to make pesto out of anything. And, follow Good Farm Fund on FacebookInstagram 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!

Love yous,