Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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Good Farm Fund Benefit Dinner serves up a side dish of hope

Tomorrow night is my favorite event of the year. And it’s not because of the unparalleled farm to table menu, fancy locally-distilled cocktails, lovely summertime gathering of so many friends and community members, or the fact that we will raise thousands of dollars for local farms. It’s because of what happened when I went to the Dollar Store the other night to buy a few final event supplies…

germain_robin

(Yes, I know. “Eat Local & Shop Local?” Almost everything for the event is locally and consciously sourced/upcycled/reusable. It’s an imperfect wabi-sabi world… So I’m hoping you can suspend judgment about my trip to the Dollar Store, and that I bought a Snickers bar and ate it.)

I needed to purchase picture frames to put on each table for the 3rd Annual Good Farm Fund Benefit Dinner at Yokayo Ranch in Ukiah tomorrow night. We have 26 badass chefs and restaurants attending this year’s event, and each one is paired with local farms to create a special edition locally-sourced menu item served up in small plates all night long along with local wine, beer, spirits, and kombucha. I needed a lot of picture frames to capture this lineup.
benefit_dinner
Being in the Dollar Store means facing the unpleasant state of everything I wish were different. A bunch of imported cheap toxic plastic crap creating an illusion of abundance in an over-extracted and underfed world. A mother shopping for a graduate gift with chattering teeth and mumbling to herself, clearly strung out on meth. A young and able-bodied panhandler shamefully asking someone to buy him dinner which eventually manifests as a liter of soda, a bag of chips, and a stick of beef jerky. This is not food, and this is not the world I want.

I walked out with a box full of picture frames in my arms and a heavy heart. I almost wanted to turn around and return everything, hoping it would undo the whole experience – or at least cut into the Dollar Store’s profits by $30. But, as I drove away in the misty coastal rain, I wished not to undo a thing. Because I remembered this is exactly why we founded this organization. It’s exactly why we do this event. Because doing something small and imperfect is so much better than closing your eyes and pretending or wishing that everyone had real food on the table, and a job, and a loving mother.

When Gowan and I completed the year of eating local food, we realized that if enough people tried to do what we did even some of the time, there would be massive food shortages immediately. So she and her family purchased a 40 acre farm in Caspar and set out to produce more food for our community. For me, the question became: how can we scale up local food production and access throughout the county, so that it’s not such a rare – or elitist – endeavor?

This led to the founding of Good Farm Fund. This volunteer-led organization simply wanted to put money in farmers’ pockets so they could farm more land and produce more food, while battling an industrial food system that is rigged against them. In only two years, we have had a real impact on local farms as well as low-income people in our community. Good Farm Fund’s mission is to fund infrastructure development on local farms, and help make local food more affordable for everyone.

goodfarmfundlogoyellowAll event proceeds support Good Farm Fund’s two initiatives:  (1) Funding the EBT/Food Stamp Match at farmers markets to subsidize the cost of local food for families who can’t afford it and (2) The Farm Grant Program which helps support and grow small, local food farms by funding capacity-building projects like greenhouses, farmstands, equipment, and fencing. In 2016, we awarded $20,000 in farm grants to fourteen local farms. Read about our past grant recipients here!

We raise all of the money to do this work right here in Mendocino County through farm-to-table events and generous support from local businesses and community members. That’s the point after all – building sovereignty and resilience in the place we call home, and investing in the future of our local foodshed now.

So, if you haven’t gotten your ticket, yet get it now and come raise your glass to that tomorrow night. It’s a beautiful evening and it’s a chance to do something toward building a different food system while feasting on local food as you have never seen it before. If you can’t make it, but would like to sponsor someone else’s attendance, holler. Or make a donation directly on our website.

xo,
Sarah

Sneak preview of the menu…

Sisters Ridge Chicken Potstickers with Floodgate Farm Loganberry Glaze & Famous Greens

Goat Merguez Sausage Flatbread with Harissa Creme Fraiche and Fermented Veggie Pickle

Crostini with Pastured Chicken Liver Pate with Cherry Ollalieberry Compote

For more info:


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Farm to Table Dinner: July 18th at Caspar Community Center

We are super excited to announce the first Farm to Table Dinner of the summer!

Onions

When: Friday July 18, 2014 at 7 pm

Where: Caspar Community Center

What: A delicious meal featuring locally sourced veggies, meats, cheese and grains from farms throughout Mendocino County. The meal is a surprise, based on what is seasonally available. Dinner is served in family-style courses, complete with appetizers and dessert. Vegetarian options will be available.

Who: Everyone is invited! This is a family-friendly event and children are welcome.

Why: This dinner is a benefit for the Farmers Market Food Stamp Match fund for the Mendocino & Fort Bragg Farmers Markets. This important program makes local food more affordable for all members of our community by matching Food Stamp/EBT funds. If people spend $10 in food stamps, they will be given an extra $10 in tokens for a total of $20 to spend at the farmers market. This program grows the farmers markets, supports local farms, and gets healthy, fresh food to those in need; it’s a win-win-win!

How much: Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door for adults, $15 for children.

TICKETS:

Available every day at If the Shoe Fits in Fort Bragg & TWIST in Mendocino.
Also available at the Fort Bragg Farmers Market every Wednesday from 3 – 6 pm and at Mendocino Farmers Market every Friday from Noon – 2 pm from Julie & me (Sarah), the market managers.

Presented with love by Eat Mendocino and Noyo Food Forest, prepared by the Spontaneous Cafe

We hope you all will join us, and bring your friends and neighbors. It takes the whole village to feed the village!

Email eatmendocino@gmail.com with questions, or to RSVP or volunteer. We need people to help with all aspects of the event including food prep/cooking, serving, and clean-up.

We are also collecting items for the silent auction, so let us know if you’d like to donate something you do or make!

Love,
Sarah


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Cup of tea.

I woke up with a sore throat in Sarah’s house this morning. She’s driving in from Ukiah today, so I was solo in her kitchen and opened her cabinets to find something to make tea.
I was overwhelmed by affection, pride, and connection. I made a very strong throat coating tea with dried elderberry that Melinda and Sarah gathered and I dried for her, oregano her mom grew and dried, nettle chef Matt and I gathered and Sarah dried, lavender from my garden, a hot chili from my greenhouse, slices of lemon from Rachel, and a big dollop of raw honey from Keith.
My community is represented in a cup of herbs, water, and fruit, supporting my health like they’ve supported my physical existence for a calendar year.

image

There’s a quote on Sarah’s cork board in her swirly hand writing that says:

Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea. -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In my Western brain this translates to me all too easily what this project has been about. We believe in an ethic of positive social change; rather than rail against Monsanto we want to celebrate and promote their opposite. But in my heart this whole year has been a deep sadness in knowing, as food and primal connections to people and place pull me ever deeper into my ecological womb, that most of us in this country are orphans wandering in food deserts. Its not their fault, many upper class writers might decry the laziness and ignorance of people’s consumption of processed and toxic food, but I believe that is a major injustice and cruelty. Massive systems of oppression are stacked against all of us putting up barriers between us and our own sustenance. We pay so much in taxes toward corporate subsidies for grain that arguably we’ve already paid a large amount of the cost of a processed food item whether we buy it or not. Having to bear those costs again by directing your purchases to local farmers is outside of many people’s reach. We need to do everything in our power to change this. On the ground level by sliding scale CSA, farm-to-school, and WIC at the farmers market, and on the legislative level by pushing to end grain subsidies and hold big ag responsible for their pollution. If they had to bear their own costs, the seemingly cheap flow of junk food would collapse.
At the same time these thoughts swirl in my head, my daily reality is hope and change. Farming is one of the most concrete forms of philosophy- what I believe is under my feet, in my hands, in my body. I know we can feed ourselves and each other. I’m alive and well after a year, and so is Sarah – more alive and well then I could have imagined, sore throat notwithstanding. We can reclaim this communal, ecological, animal birthright. No corporation fed me this year. My friends fed me. I fed a lot of them right back. I think this is a viable model for the survival of our species,  seeing as it’s worked just fine for untold thousands of years. We’re in a tiny blip of history where a few corporate entities want to take control of our food and therefore our lives. Its a brief experiment and I don’t believe it will last. The sun is rising while I sip my tea.

Loves,
Gowan


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What the postman delivered

I must be doing something right, because I got the best mail today. After a long, full day at the farmers’ market, I went by the post office to mail something and was surprised to find two packages awaiting me. When I opened them, this is what I found:

Eat Mendocino Mail

The first package held some hand-sewn cloth “pockets” which are like an apron/fanny pack combo. Our lovely graphic designer, Jen Barbato, came up with this signature design when she became a mom and needed more places to put things. She sewed a custom jar with a heart on this pair for me. Love love. Jen says that these pockets are for “mothers, artists, gardeners, travelers and do-ers,” and she makes them in pretty patterned prints, or solid colors. I’m infamous for rocking an AARP look by wearing my fitover sunglasses and a fanny pack and some of my friends will be much relieved when I sport these adorable pockets instead. Here’s a better look.

Pockets by Jen Barbato

The second package came from Chico, mailed by a friend and Mendocino native, Isa. (Funny how we’ve swapped hometowns!) She send an issue of the Edible Shasta Butte magazine, pointing me to an article about the Chico Seed Lending Library. Very cool concept which allows people to borrow and return seeds from the Butte County Library!

“Here’s how it will work. Home gardeners check out donated seeds, plant them, let some plants go to seed, and return the seeds to the library collection. No obligation, no fines – just opportunity.”

How awesome is that? We have a few great seed and scion exchanges around the county every year, but it would be wonderful to extend the concept into an organized library, available year-round. So many good ideas… but, a locavore’s got to make time to mop the floor and fold the laundry, too (which is exactly what I decided to forgo all other plans to do.) While flipping through the rest of the magazine, I found this poignant quote, which was photographed at a local dairy farm.

Thomas Jefferson quote

Then, my email inbox dinged. A friend forwarded me a message about a very clever online Farmers’ Market Recipe Generator from the New York Times.

“The Recipe Generator is essentially a one-armed bandit of ingredients and techniques, offering more than 50 combinations of things you’re most likely to find in a market or your C.S.A. basket, with recipes that make wonderful use of them.” – NYT

You start by choosing your produce item, or cooking method, or herbs, and it will concoct a recipe accordingly. Or you can select “randomize” and it will do all the thinking for you. It’s really fun to play with, check it out!

Seems to me that all of these little surprises are the law of attraction at work. The deeper we get into this year, the more good news seems to arrive on our door steps. Food connects all of us, so by getting closer to our food, we are getting closer to each other.  When these little packages show up, or when strangers introduce themselves at the market just to let me know that they have been seriously moved by what we are doing, it is a concrete reminder that we are operating within the universal vein. And, when you tap into that, abundance is the law.


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An 8th grade English teacher made my week with this letter

My inner cup is flooded with joy and gratitude. What a week it has been. Beginning with the big article on Sunday, the week only got more momentous as it went on, which is hard to believe. Today’s major news is that I have negotiated a deal to expand the footprint of the Mendocino Farmers’ Market into a grassy field adjacent to the market, which will allow many new vendors to join with varied local products and will provide an open lawn where people can park their bikes and children can play and eat fresh strawberries. While at the market today, I got to visit with some of my favorite ladyfriends and felt so lucky to be part of something that is one of the last remaining forms of “the commons.” The farmers’ market is a truly beautiful hub of friendship, commerce and togetherness in a world where much of life can feel separate and fragmented. Also, these women and their squirrely kin are now the official models of the market!

FMladyfriends

Amidst the bustle, over 30 customers and farmers signed our postcards to Harvest Market, and I can’t wait to send all that local food love their way! I talked to a lot of people about the SF Chronicle article and was really moved by so many saying how much they appreciated the article, and to hear that organizations across the country have been sharing it to shine the light on Mendocino County’s outstanding local food efforts. This totally made up for all the late nights and keyboard weary wrists.

The real topper of this week, though, came unexpectedly. We received this message today from an eight grade English teacher in Fort Bragg:

Hi Sarah and Gowan,

I’m an 8th grade English teacher at Fort Bragg Middle School looking for some help. At the beginning of the school year we spend about 7 weeks reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and talking about food in the US. Towards the end of the book, Pollan writes about local, sustainable and do-it-yourself food. I was hoping that one of you, or both, might be interested in coming and speaking to my students toward the end of September-beginning of October.

Also, I plan on having my students complete some sort of multi-media project about farmers in Mendo County, and was wondering if you knew anyone who might be interested in being interviewed, photographed, etc. I have scheduled a few Farmers’ Market field trips so students can get pictures there, but I know when it’s busy, the last thing a farmer wants is to talk to silly 8th graders.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this – I hope we can work something out!

P.S. The recent SF Chronicle article, and your response, have now found their way into my curriculum!

This gave me goosebumps. And then I roasted a chicken to celebrate.

Roasted Free-Range Chicken

We have received a lot of invitations to speak at events or meet with school/community groups, and Gowan works with high school students every day at the Learning Garden in Fort Bragg. We know that education is a profoundly important part of the local food system and the schools are a natural link. But, this letter really got to me. First of all, I wish I had this teacher as an 8th grader. Lucky students. And I know the farmers will be really touched to have the next generation of eaters taking an interest in the farming life. Upon reading this, I could see all these different dots connecting at once and it finally registered that this project has reached new heights in impact and relevance, on an extremely meaningful scale.

The number of blog hits is only so important as to how many people actually give a damn. And, there are so many of you who do. You follow us daily (which is enough to make both of us blush.) You care enough to think in terms of miles when you look at your dinner plate, to ask questions, to talk about where your food comes from with your family or neighbors, to shop at the farmers’ markets even when it’s windy and foggy, to cook from scratch and to grow your own food… And, then there are some that try to make local food relevant (and even cool) to 8th graders – a tough audience at best. It’s totally goosebump-inducing.

To know that we have been able to elevate the discussion around local food, and to motivate others to create new relationships with food isn’t unforeseen, yet it’s still enough to make me take pause. Honestly, I would love to gather around the stove with Michael Pollan and writer from the SF Chronicle and make dinner and talk all night. In a way, that is what we’re doing. With different ingredients in different ways we are all cooking up the future of food.  Our story is making local food real and tangible right now, every day for our neighbors and people all around the country, and world. It’s so fricken’ cool (I am learning the names of new countries through our blog stats). It’s been a good week, and it’s not even over, yet. Now I need to sleep to get ready for a very full day at the Not So Simple Living Fair in Boonville tomorrow.


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How to shop at the Farmers’ Market (and why Ukiah rocks)

Today was one of those days where my butt molds into the shape of the computer chair and I wouldn’t know the temperature outside if my dog didn’t need to relieve herself. The sun broke the misty grayness that has blanketed the coast lately, and it was delightful to feel its warmth for a brief moment while my dog sniffed about. Time at the computer was well-spent, and I launched the website for the Mendocino County Farmers’ Market Association. Just after launching the site, I was asked to post some exciting news:

Ukiah is currently #2 in the entire country in a national “I love my farmers market” campaign! So, if you love the Ukiah Farmers’ Market, please go to www.LoveMyFarmersMarket.org to make a pledge for the Ukiah market each week you will be shopping there through 9/9/13. By the way, if you haven’t visited the Ukiah market in a while, you’re missing out. They are hogging all the sunshine over there, and have an incredible array of produce, meats, fresh crepes, jams and preserves, baked goods, body products, live music and the Ukiah Bicycle Kitchen, an on-site bike repair unit. It is a vibrant and wonderful event, which reminds me a lot of my hometown Saturday market in Chico.

Ukiah Bicycle Kitchen

We enjoyed our own little slice of inland summer this afternoon on my deck, when Gowan sliced open a cantaloupe she picked up from Covelo Organics today at the Fort Bragg Farmers’ Market. The first melon of the season, and holy sweetness – it was everything a melon should be. The most incredible thing about this time of year is that the food comes to us every week from all over the County. It is a major contrast to the winter months where we had to travel inland often to get staple ingredients. Now, each week, the food express arrives and basically our groceries are delivered to us directly by the farmer. How amazing is that? You don’t really appreciate this fully until you become entirely depending on the local foodshed.

Cantaloupe from Covelo Organics

Shopping at the Farmers’ Market

As Market Manager, I have noticed that most people don’t come to the farmers market with the same mindset that they bring to the grocery store. Most people are drawn to the shiny, colorful sweet things like carrots, berries, tomatoes, eggplant and of course the baked goods. People often overlook staple ingredients like potatoes, onions, garlic and even the leafy greens. That’s kind of the difference between visiting the market for subsistence vs. seasonal flare. I love the shiny sweet things like this cantaloupe as much as anyone. But, here’s a suggestion on how to experience the market more fully: this week, when you come visit me at the Mendocino Farmers’ Market on Friday, purchase a couple things that are on your shopping list that you don’t usually look for at the market – whether it be mustard greens, olive oil, spuds, onions or rhubarb. And, if you see something you don’t recognize (or have never successfully cooked), like kohlrabi, I encourage you to ask the farmer what to do with it – they are the experts. That’s the real magic of the market; your farmer grows your food, delivers it, and offers free culinary advice!

Remember to bring your reusable bags, and visit the new Mendocino County Farmers’ Market website for lots of other tips, including advice on storing produce without plastic.


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7 ways to access affordable fresh food in Mendocino County (and why the SF Chronicle article is dead wrong)

It would be advisable that a reporter who is writing an article about Mendocino County actually set foot in Mendocino County before drawing sweeping conclusions about the economy, culture and landscape of this place.

The San Francisco Chronicle published an atrocious article titled “In Mendocino County Fresh Affordable Food is Hard to Find,” which I found so upsetting that I canceled a trip to lay in the sun on the banks of the Navarro River this afternoon in order to respond immediately. Instead, I am sitting here with the heater on, wearing a down vest, typing furiously. In the words of the ever discerning Gowan, this article is “classist, ignorant and offensive.” Here’s one excerpt:

“Their drives sound extreme, but Mendocino County, for all its natural beauty, is actually a difficult place to be healthy. To name a few examples, it has rugged, unwalkable terrain, more fast-food joints than grocery stores, and high rates of premorbidity, obesity and coronary heart disease.” – Stephanie Lee, SF Gate

First of all, if it takes someone 8 hours to do the 140 mile round trip drive from Gualala to Santa Rosa, they stopped at too many wineries along the way. I realize she’s probably accounting for shopping time, but this line alone would discourage anyone from ever wanting to visit our neck of the woods. If Stephanie M. Lee had been to Mendocino County, she would discover that we do in fact have paved streets, and side walks, extremely fresh air, and tons of active, fit and healthy residents. Where the pavement ends, there are numerous hiking and biking trails, rivers and lakes for kayaking, oceans for surfing and diving.

But, what gets me most is what she said about food. In most cities and towns in Mendocino County, you actually have a hard time finding a fast-food joint. What you would find instead is a community that has, by large, resisted chains of any kind and is fueled by many innovative small businesses including locally owned grocery-stores, co-ops and collectives and farm stands, with a dedication to a high quality of life and well-being.

Mendocino County Line

I love living in Mendocino County and I will be the first to admit that there are segments of this community that are seriously economically depressed.

I have struggled with this myself; the job market is very limited, and the cost of living is high. Poverty, hunger, malnutrition and obesity exist in Mendocino County, as well as depression, alcoholism, drug use and all the other problems that plague everywhere USA. And, yet, this is only one part of the picture. It is dangerous, and bad journalism, to speak to only one family in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s and make a few phone calls and surmise conclusions about the entirety of Mendocino County.

These obstacles are real, and yet, there are also many opportunities for people to access fresh, affordable and healthy food.

Gowan and I are living examples of this; we have eaten only the freshest local food, every single day for the last seven and a half months, on very limited budgets. We recognize that we have a lot of things working in our favor. We are two educated, middle class white girls, without any children or severe disabilities. Gowan has access to land where she can produce a lot of the food that we depend on. We know a lot of farmers and producers who are willing to barter, or give us food when they have abundance. Our project has become high profile, and strangers often appear with gifts of food or salt or just encouragement (which also really matters). We are very, very fortunate. And we are resourceful as hell and just as stubborn, too. So, we have been able to make this work on an extreme level.

All of this said, there are many ways that affordable, fresh food is accessible for everyone. Here are seven, to start:

1. Mendocino County is on the forefront of the Farm-to-School movement

Noyo Food Forest, located in Fort Bragg, CA, is a groundbreaking non-profit farm education program. They have built Fort Bragg’s community garden in Noyo Harbor, as well as ensured that there is a school garden at every school in Fort Bragg. At their two-acre flagship mini-farm, The Learning Garden, high school interns and community volunteers help grow food that goes directly into all four school cafeterias, feeding incredibly fresh, nutrient dense organic produce to a population where almost 70% of students are from a low income home. The farm also grows food for several of the best restaurants in town, several catering companies, and has a summer booth at Fort Bragg Farmer’s Market and a winter booth at the Caspar Community Center’s winter market. Their model of Farm-at-School is so innovative that Eco City Berkeley came and toured our gardens and interviewed the staff because they wanted to start a farm-to-school program in Oakland and NFF was the closest program they could find to what they wanted to create. Our school lunches are beautiful, vibrant, and fresh, as good as anything you’d find in a restaurant, and we are raising a community of children who are not only kale eaters, but garden lovers.

Gowan is the farm manager at the Noyo Food Forest and is pictured above teaching interns about worm composting.

2. Mendocino County Farmers Markets accept EBT/Food Stamps and WIC Coupons

Shopping at the Ukiah Farmers' Market

In order to make the farmers’ markets more accessible to all, EBT Cards (Food Stamps) are accepted at all of the Mendocino County Certified Farmers’ Markets, located in Fort Bragg, Mendocino, Boonville, Ukiah, Redwood Valley, Willits and Laytonville. At some of these markets, EBT cardholders can benefit from Food Stamp Matching program where their food stamps are matched with grant funds or community donations, so they can receive an additional dollar for every EBT dollar they spend.

3. Community Gardens feed many families in Mendocino County

State Street Community Garden in Ukiah

There is a vast network of community gardens throughout Mendocino County, coordinated by organizations such as the Gardens Project, the Noyo Food Forest, and many smaller neighborhood-based groups. These gardens provide affordable growing space to local gardeners and families, allowing them to grow their own food in a community setting with established infrastructure such as fencing, soil, seeds and irrigation. Community gardeners also have access to  training and knowledge-sharing and this is a fantastic way to learn about growing food if you are a beginner.

4. Food Banks distribute fresh local food

Fort Bragg Food Bank

The local food banks receive plentiful donations of fresh produce from many local farms and gardens and grocery stores, which are freely available to clients.

5. Farmer CSA accepts EBT/Food Stamps

Live Power Community Farm CSA

Live Power Community Farm is an awesome 40-acre, solar electric and horse-powered, certified Biodynamic farm located in Covelo. Their Community Sustained Agriculture (CSA) Program  allows consumers to invest in the farm by pledging financial support of the farm at the beginning of the growing season, and then they receive a box of farm-fresh goods every week throughout the season. They accept EBT cards (which are automatically billed monthly) to help make their fresh, high-quality produce accessible to all.

6. Nutrition education teaches students and parents about healthy eating

North Coast Opportunities and the Gardens Project, headquartered in Ukiah, run a variety of programs to support nutrition education and healthy eating. Visit the Gardens Project website for more information about these programs and others.

Fresh from the Start: Teens learn about nutrition and cooking

The Fresh from the Start Program is a nutrition and cooking class for the teen parents of Ukiah High School’s Young Parent Program.  Fresh from the Start aims to help teen parents make healthy choices for themselves and their families.  The program focuses on mother/adult nutrition, as well as infant and child nutrition, giving teen parents a well rounded understanding of their family’s health.

B.E.A.N.S (Better Eating, Activity and Nutrition for Students) is a program for high school students interested in cooking, healthy food, teaching and learning to become Teen Nutrition Advocates in Willits, Ukiah and Fort Bragg. This program trains teens as peer educators.  Teens learn cooking skills, nutrition basics and gardening, then teach weekly classes to elementary, middle and high school students.

7. Mendocino County is a wonderful place to forage from the land and the sea

Wild Mushrooms

Our “un-walkable” rugged landscape is full of bounty, which is in many cases free for the taking. We forage many pounds of wild mushrooms and seaweed, collect bushels full of berries and tree fruit, and for only the cost of the license you can fish or dive for abalone or catch crab. Living in this county means living much closer to the land and all of its abundance.

Healthy Food = Healthy People

The only thing I can get behind in this article is the recognition that improved access to healthy food is essential for addressing health problems.

In Mendocino County, officials are using the money from the five-year grant to start healthy living programs, encourage locals to stop drinking soda and to walk more, and ban smoking from apartment complexes.

In the full-length version of the SF Chronicle Article, she discusses some of the County-funded and community-based programs that focus on prevention through healthy eating and other lifestyle habits. After painting a pretty gnarly and inaccurate picture of the County, she discusses some of the active programs that are trying to reverse some of the food and health issues in our community. This article could have been framed much differently, even titled, “Programs address obstacles to healthy food in Mendocino County.” Yeah, that’s quite a different, and far more productive, story – especially if the goal is to help more people find access to healthy options.

SFgate_mendocino_073_JT

Food vs. “food”

It is also flawed to be drawing comparisons about processed food when making claims about healthy, fresh food. This Trader Joe’s shopping cart is filled with pre-made enchiladas and frozen waffles. This is not healthy, fresh food. And the produce buried underneath is arguably “fresh” – Trader Joe’s like most stores sources produce from all over the world, and by the time it gets to the shelf, it is far from fresh and wrapped in many layers of plastic, but that’s another story. While certain things are cheaper when purchased from chain stores (due to the simple economics of scale) often there is a perceived savings because certain items are cheaper, whereas others may be quite comparable to what is available locally. Most people don’t buy whole foods when they stock up at TJ’s or Costco – they tend to purchase cases of non-perishable processed foods. This more-for-less mentality has nothing to do with health and nutrition.

We cannot compare frozen waffles or cartons of chicken broth to a shopping list made up of whole foods. Yes, it takes more work and time, but it is often cheaper (and always healthier) when you buy whole ingredients and cook from scratch. This is one of the things that has made the biggest difference in our diets this year.  You can’t compare Top Ramen to the price of potatoes; one is food and one is empty calories. And, we understand that there are times when the only thing a person can afford is Top Ramen. But, fortunately there are other options, such as the Food Bank or the opportunity to volunteer in community gardens in exchange for fresh produce.

The cost of healthy eating

When people ask if our local food diet has been more expensive, they are often surprised when we say, “no.” Imagine never going out to eat, cutting out all processed and prepared foods, and eliminating your daily latte. We purchase only whole foods, often in bulk quantities, usually direct from the grower/producer. This cuts out an incredible amount of the cost. And if we want waffles, we use the freshest locally milled flour to make them. The price per gallon of milk or per pound of butter is significantly higher than what people would pay at Safeway or Costco, but the quality is unparalleled, and you make up for that cost by not purchasing a lot of incidental, non-essential food items. Our budgets have been trimmed by eliminating crap from our diets. We understand the austerity of making these changes might be a shock to many peoples’ lives, but you cannot argue with the fact that it is both economical AND healthier to shop and eat in this manner.

The real problems in our food system

I need to emphasize that this is about a lot more than personal responsibility. We need to address the broader injustice of the industrial food system, government subsidies for commodity crops, GMOs and the rising price of petroleum. ALL of these factors contribute to a more comprehensive picture of the real challenges to the food system and affect every single family in this country (rather than single out one County as a hotbed of problems). The statistics about health issues are not the problems themselves, but the symptoms of the deeper imbalances in the food system.

Furthermore, we cannot have a real conversation about the economics of Mendocino County without discussing marijuana, and the impact of the pot industry on real estate, housing and the cost of doing business.

There are many problems facing our community; some are unique, and others mirror the issues we see across America. The best way to deal with many of these challenges is to pursue viable local solutions, such as the seven listed above. I love this place, for all its beauty, and all its troubles. I am proud to live in Mendocino County and to work alongside so many people who are dedicated to building a vibrant and just food system. And, I would like this reality not to be our best kept secret.

Stephanie, if you want to see what’s really happening in the food system here, you’ll have to look deeper, and beyond federally-funded grant programs. I’m pretty sure it was Einstein who said problems are never solved by the same thinking that created them. Certainly, these programs are a critical link in identifying and addressing the problem, but they cannot be observed by looking at a map and a few statistics. Change is happening through a broad network of initiatives which include both the public and private sector in establishing a new food future in our community. Let us know if you want to tell the true story of Mendocino County, we’d be happy to give you a tour of some of the most exciting and transformational food system projects underway here. You’ll need to wear closed-toed shoes, you might get a little dirty.