Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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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.

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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 my freezer looks like with 12 days to go

While most people are baking sugar cookies and singing the Twelve Days of Christmas, I am now facing the unbelievable reality that we are only twelve days away from the end of this indescribable year. Twelve. Less than two weeks to go. The thought of it is surreal. I can only wrap my mind around what is what is right in front of me, and what I’ll be eating next (which I guess is how we’ve made it this far). While staring into my freezer today, I realized that this is the well-stocked freezer of a locavore who knows what she’s doing, in stark contrast to what it held one year ago when we were about to learn what it meant to be hungry in the middle of the winter.

In preparation for the Christmas break, I spent the day wrapping up some projects for work, hastily doing my taxes so that I can apply for Obamacare, and doing various food projects. Like devouring this rockin’ quesadilla…

Homemade tortilla with flour from the Mendocino Grain Project and fresh mozzarella cheese

Dehydrating a bunch of Hachiya persimmons…

Persimmons

And, making a batch of sea salt. This jar is Gowan’s Christmas present!

sea salt

While we only have a couple weeks left (and trust me, I’m really looking forward to relaxing my life a bit when this is “over”), it’s not really about the countdown. I could survive on what’s in my cupboard and refrigerator for months. I don’t need to keep processing and putting away food. But, that is not the point. This project is as infinite as nature. It’s not really ending and it never will; the seasons will continue to cycle and the rhythm of this new food lifestyle will continue as naturally as the wind blows. I like this rhythm, no I really, really love it, and I want to follow it to the best of my ability always.

So, back to the freezer. If my kitchen were any smaller it couldn’t even be called a kitchen. But, I do have a pretty standard-sized freezer and it is completely stacked with food collected over the last twelve months. Here’s what it holds today…

Freezer Inventory:

Beef marrow bones from Magruder Ranch
The BEST peaches I’ve ever had
Elderberries
Salmon Steak from Noyo Fish Company
Three pork chops
A pig heart and other organ meat
Bone broth made from beef marrow bones and crab shells
Meyer lemon juice frozen in ice cube trays
Brown rice from Massa Organics at the Chico Farmers’ Market
Persimmons
Raw butter
Squid bait for fishing
Spicy tomato sauce
Yellow plum jam
Figs
Bean soup
Ice packs for my trusty cooler
The bowl for the ice cream maker (it’s important to always have this in the freezer in case you have a sudden need for ice cream)
Plus, a plastic bag filled with compost. Yes I keep my compost in the freezer until I dump it. It helps mitigate funky kitchen smell and flies when you cook as much as I do. Feel free to borrow this trick.

Quite a list, eh? I even impressed myself by digging out things I’d forgotten about! Two indisputable lessons from living the local life: nothing is more comforting than full cupboards and nothing is sweeter than a perfectly ripe persimmon. I am an extremely fortunate girl and I might even have subsidized health care soon, too.


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Corn Harvest this Past Weekend

Over the hills, through the fields, into a magical corn patch we went. The corn grew red and green and handmade fresh tortillas were served to us in the field between shucking and tossing! Thank you to our badass friends who grow real, beautiful food and invite us to partake in work parties that hardly feel like work at all. I went home with a belly full of tacos and local wine with the smell of bonfire in my hair. Another day in the good life.

 

Mendocino Meats

Many thanks to everyone who helped us harvest the Oaxacan Green dent corn in Potter Valley on Saturday! We had 15 wonderful people from all over the county join us on a beautiful fall afternoon. Everyone was extremely helpful and we harvested about half of the Oaxacan Green corn. The Abenaki Calais flint corn did not produce so great, so we didn’t bother with it.

Non-GMO-Month-2013-Logo-300x149What better way to celebrate our right to choose non-GMO food than to harvest open-pollinated heirloom corn. Corn is one of the most widely planted GMO crops in this country. We have always been passionate about promoting non-GMO food and farming. In 2003/2004, Adam was an active campaigner for the successful “Yes on Measure H” campaign to ban GMO crop cultivation in Mendocino County. He has fond memories of collecting petition signatures and organizing his first fundraiser dinner! Although, while we can petition and vote…

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Roadside foraging: finding food in the most unexpected places

Truly, I have missed all of you. I needed a little break after July’s blog-a-thon so I spent a couple days alternatively doing a deep clean of my apartment and watching the entire season of Firefly. And now I feel so behind; it’s amazing how much can happen in just a couple of days in the adventures of a locavore.

Over the weekend it was verified that I have to spend a lot more time with goat udders before I am going to be able to coax milk out of them. It was also confirmed that taking the goats on a walk to pick blackberries is super fun and wonderfully symbiotic: they browse on the thorny leaves while the humanfolk go for the sweet fruits.

Milking goats (or trying to)

Yesterday I met up with sisterwife Melinda in the Anderson Valley to make a series of stops for milk, butter, plums, apples, walnuts and corn and a little wine tasting at Goldeneye.

As we were heading to the river for a sunny dip before return, Melinda suddenly says, “Our day just got more complicated,” and she looks into the rearview mirror and pulls over to turn the car around.

I assumed we had a cop on our tail. Nope, I should have known better; the “emergency” was an elderberry bush on the side of the road and obviously we couldn’t just drive past such an opportunity. We dug out a cardboard box from underneath glittery high heels and feathered boas in the backseat of the burlesque-mobile to do some impromptu gathering.

With this haul of elderberries, I will be making elderberry syrup and drying some for tea (recipes forthcoming). A cautionary note on elderberries: eating large amounts raw is very dangerous because they contain high levels of cyanide. So snack on a few while picking and cook the rest before enjoying. The most surprising roadside treasure is yet to come, though.

Today while I was walking my dog in downtown Mendocino, I saw a check laying on the side of the road. It was written for a very, very, very large sum of money, but unfortunately not made out to me. Sigh. I picked it up like any benevolent neighbor would (with the theme song of Firefly playing in my head). When I got home I tracked down the number of it’s rightful owner and called to let them know it was in good hands. It’s a small town, but I didn’t know the guy. I explained that I was the eat local girl and he recognized me from my article in the Real Estate Magazine. He said he had picked it up at the Navarro Store and once he started reading it, he sat down to read the whole thing there. Turns out that he and his partner have been growing a lot of food in Comptche for decades and they have everything from veggies to apples, peaches and AVOCADOS right now. I told him he could feel free to bring me some of this goodness, and he said, “I owe you one, I’m going to bring you food for a month.” So, I picked up a lost check and didn’t strike it rich, but I’m going to get local avocados, which is basically the same thing.


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Tell Harvest Market that you love local food!

Earlier this month, I was part of a groundbreaking meeting with the folks I love local foodat Harvest Market regarding the opening of a new local produce section at their Fort Bragg store. This is a really ambitious effort to work with many small local farms and get locally grown produce on the shelves. This will make local food a lot more accessible throughout the year, every day of the week.

Their goal is to launch soon, and I want them to know how much we – and you – love this plan. So, I created this little postcard for you to Print > Sign > Deliver. Change can be hard, and a little love always helps. Especially when it comes from customers who can’t wait to buy up all these local eats! So, click on the image, print it, write them a note in the empty space and sign your name, and drop it off in the comment box in the Fort Bragg or Mendocino stores.

I will also have a stack of postcards at my table at the Mendocino Farmers’ Market tomorrow from 12 – 2 pm, so stop by and pick one up.

Harvest Market Postcard


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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.