Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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A recipe for vulnerability

We are in the final stretch of the year and when people ask how it’s going right now, my response is that these last three months may be the hardest yet, and on some levels I’m totally over it. It’s harvest season and, yes, food is abundantly available and we’ve gotten really good at sustaining ourselves. But, the life of a locavore isn’t simply about the season or the food supply.

Most of the things we do are relatively easy, such as these examples from the past week:

  • Overcoming my fear of canning and turning 30 pounds of tomatoes into sauce
  • Devising a fruit fly catcher to deal with the population boom due to the above
  • Making pickles & yogurt before the cucumbers and milk go bad
  • Figuring out how to extract salt from seawater
  • Finding the first wild mushrooms of the season
  • Even dealing with the “too many mothers” in our virtual kitchen who constantly assume that I am doing everything wrong and destined to get botulism.

Next week I’ll be harvesting bay nuts and corn and making corn tortillas from scratch with our friends at Mendocino Organics. As I’ve said many times before, no single undertaking is inherently difficult. Whatever we are making/doing usually just requires time, some basic equipment, and enough will to triumph over the lazies. I love making, foraging and problem-solving and this is all really fun (aside from the stress and fatigue) and I feel like a domestic ninja when things work out. Every single meal is an accomplishment, and the joy of working so hard for your survival is unparalleled.

The not-so-easy things:

The difficult part is integrating all of this into the rest of life and work, at a pace that is not built for living from scratch. Traveling for work last week I survived on nuts, cheese and apples for a few days when I didn’t have time to cook nor access to a kitchen. But it’s all doable, and with a little more planning and prep, I could have been well-fueled. Why wasn’t I? This gets to the core of it – I don’t want to. Not every day, not all the time. Not all by myself. And, I miss green tea and chocolate and tequila.

While living closer to the land and food has been tremendously grounding and empowering, it has also been isolating and lonely. When I signed up for this, I didn’t want to eat 3 meals a day by myself for 365 days. Community has been built through the project, but it has also been disruptive and alienating to have such an extreme diet that means I can’t eat at restaurants, meet people at a cafe for a hot beverage, or eat the food at a wedding or a birthday or go on a normal date. Sometimes I make dinner with/for other people, or bring my own food to group meals, but the food often feels like a barrier between me and the situation. It becomes the focus of conversation when sometimes I want to enjoy the warmth of other human bodies and connect about things beyond sustenance. I know, it’s also totally amazing to be so connected to food, and be talking about real food with people every day. That’s the point of this. On a more basic level, I am sick of cooking all the time, and I don’t always want to plan ahead or take so much responsibility for every darn thing I put in my mouth. Plus, I have been largely stranded in Mendocino for six months without a car, which makes connection and community exponentially more difficult in a rural area.

All said, limits are extremely revealing and the Eat Mendocino project (along with the near-death experience this year) has allowed me to take a big, deep look at my existence. And I think that all the “hard things” really come down to one hard thing, which is the hardest of all: being vulnerable. This year, more than ever before, has made me realize how much we need each other – as neighbors, friends, and links in the food chain. Communities were created around the food supply, and now, food exemplifies the disconnectedness of human society. We don’t need each other to survive. We don’t need to know where anything comes from, or where it ends up. We don’t need to plan ahead, we don’t need to get along. We can just go to the store and buy food from strangers. It’s convenient, and it’s cheap-ish, and it’s simple. But, the costs of our fossil-fueled culture of ease are enormous.

I watched this video today by one of my favorite speakers, Brené Brown, who has dedicated the last ten years to studying vulnerability. I want you to watch this video, all of you (and her other videos, they are fantastic). But, if you don’t here’s what she has to say about the ills of a society dominated by an avoidance of vulnerability:

“We numb vulnerability. Evidence of the numbing: We are the most addicted, we are the most medicated, obese and in-debt adult cohort in human history; we’re numbing. And this doesn’t even include busy-ness […] Because we just stay so busy that the truth of our lives can’t catch up.” – Brené Brown

I think she’s so right.

People often ask me, “What are your goals are with the project?” There is a compelling list of social, ecological, political and spiritual reasons behind our mammoth undertaking. But now, I simply say this:

My goal is for people to become more intimate with their food.

To me, it’s all about intimacy. Whatever this means, for whoever you are, wherever you are. It doesn’t have to mean eating local. It’s about slowing down and getting one giant step closer to your food, whether that means making dinner with your kids, cooking something from scratch for the first time, or buying too many strawberries or peaches and throwing some into the freezer to forget about them and rediscover them in a few months. It means doing something that you are afraid to do and not worrying about whether it works out, reading the labels and asking questions about the ingredients, or picking an apple from a tree. This is one thing we can do to un-numb ourselves.

To me, this greater intimacy is the direct path to awareness which ultimately leads to being more vulnerable in life, and with each other. On this path, how can we deal with our vulnerability, and lean into it (even when we’re tired, frustrated, or scared)? This is what Brené Brown advises:

1) Practice Gratitude

I have mad gratitude for every seed and hand that has fed me this year, and I will try to remember to say thank you daily – especially when I want to whine. I have never been so grateful for the gestures of others; there is simply no higher act of love than feeding me. Thank you to Sisterwife Elizabeth for making me this yummy dinner last week at the end of my big work trip. I would so marry you.

Dinner made by Elizabeth

Elizabeth also shares some really good advice about How to remember the good in a recent blog post, which boils down to writing down the compliments that people give you. When I want to numb, I need to remember the incredible things that strangers have said to me about how we have inspired them to think differently about their food; there is truly no greater compliment.

2) Honor Ordinary

It’s true, we often overlook the ordinary, waiting for the next big thing. When we get closer to our food, and really stop to taste it, an apple becomes extraordinary. By turning off our monkeyminds to notice the ordinary beauty in the world (like this beautiful golden chanterelle we picked yesterday) we get closer to what is always right before us.

Golden chanterelle

3) Fill Your Reservoir with Joy and Love

There are countless ways to fill up with the good stuff. Take the time to do that. For me, tonight, it was writing this post, and knowing some eyes out there would read it. Love to all. – S


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10 things I am grateful for after 7 months of eating local

Tonight culminates the end of the seventh month, and marks the end of my daily blog challenge. I wrote almost every day in July and as a result I haven’t been to bed before midnight all month. But, it has definitely been worth it, and the writing will not stop here. Hopefully Gowan will trade off so that I can get some more sleep, like taking turns to check on the baby at night.

During the past month, our project has transformed into something much bigger than I could have predicted thirty-one days ago. I am tired, but I am filled with gratitude and awe at how this eating local project has unfolded…

10 things I am really, really grateful for:

1. Farmers

Bottom line, you are keeping us alive. The farmers in Mendocino County also tend to be the most radical, stubborn, soulful and loving of their breed. Thank you for feeding us, hugging us, inspiring us, and making us laugh.

2. The Seasons

Living so much in the moment means being entirely present with the flavors, smells and textures of each season. The conventional diet literally prevents us from tasting time. Summer feels like a honeymoon and the first few months of this year now seem like a distant Soviet past. But, each season yields many lessons and many gifts.

Pink Pear Apples w/ Chevre

3. The SF Chronicle

The recent article in the SF Chronicle, flawed as it was, has stimulated a spirited and essential discussion about access to local food in our county. Unfortunately, it grossly misrepresented both the family it focused on and the entire county. Yet, it gave us the opportunity to contribute to a conversation that has reached people all over the country and beyond. Most importantly, it has hit home here in Mendocino. Today, the woman profiled in the article, Irma Barragan, invited us to interview her so that we can tell her real story. It is an honor to be a voice for this community, and the second largest newspaper in California helped broadcast our voice beyond our imaginings.

4. Living (and drinking) in a small town

This is what happens when a small-town locavore orders a drink…

Me: Can I get a glass of Mendocino red wine?
Bartender Alex: Yup, I’ve got Zinzilla.
Me: Are you sure that’s local?
Alex: Sarah, I know what you’re up to and I’m NOT going to F— it up for you

5. The Mendocino Farmers’ Market

Managing the Mendocino Farmers’ Market has been a lifechanging endeavor (which got much better once I hired someone to help with the signs). I am grateful to hang with the vendors (all of them are total characters) and community members each week. It’s an honor to be part of an essential link in the local food system, and to help it grow. Plus, grocery shopping at the Farmers’ Market is the best.

Summer produce from Inland Ranch Organics

6. The MTA bus drivers

As a bus-pass carrying rider, I am grateful for the bus drivers who act more like chauffeurs and know their riders by name. The bus schedule in a rural area is severely limited and inefficient, but I have to be grateful that it exists at all.

7. The freezer

Thank you to my freezer for saving me from the guilt of fruit gone bad. Part of seasonality is sudden bounty, which doesn’t coincide with one’s schedule. And, most likely I will forget about 1/2 of what I put in there, so I’ll be in for some sweet summer treats when I dig them out in the winter.

8. My sisterwife Gowan

Thank you for having this visionary idea and for entering into an extremely intense, intimate, and all-consuming endeavor with me. Thank you for your calculated pragmatism, Germanic efficiency, and fiercely beating heart. I love every meal we share together and every crazy idea we dream up.

Gowan's "girl farm" fists

9. Everyone who made it this far in the list

Seriously, thanks to all of you who actually want to read what we have to say. In other circumstances, it would be creepy how many people introduce themselves by saying, “I’m following you,” but it is a huge compliment that you share your time with us. Thanks for all the ‘likes,’ comments and support. We love you.

10. Bacon

Tonight we ate bacon for the first time in seven months thanks to Adam & Paula Gaska from Mendocino Organics. It was a very special occasion; I am pretty sure we both have bacon-sized holes in our mighty little hearts. Thank you to the land and pigs that make bacon – and happiness – possible.

Smoked bacon from Mendocino Organics


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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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The third shift: What it really takes to eat local

You’ll have to forgive me for skipping last night’s daily report. I needed a break from the blogosphere after all the excitement, so I watched the Giants game and made dinner with a friend. Of course, we ended up talking about local food all night, while making a delicious dinner (food is pretty much life, so it’s hard to turn it off even for an evening).

After publishing the last post, “7 ways to access affordable, healthy food in Mendocino County (and why the SF Chronicle was dead wrong,” our blog traffic was astronomical (for us): 1,240 visitors and 1,737 views on Monday alone. That is equivalent to what we usually attract in a week!

It was an adrenaline rush to see such a huge response to the article, and to spark so much important discourse about accessing healthy food in Mendocino County. Thank you to everyone who engaged with the article through sharing it, commenting, and pondering it. It wasn’t possible for us to deal with the constant stream of feedback, as it was Monday and Gowan and I both had to work our day jobs, run errands like normal people, plus breed a goat that suddenly went into heat. The days are very, very full, and this project is like a third job for both of us. In spite of the fact that our article made some majorly positive waves, I have to admit that I felt a little bit defeated by some of the comments yesterday, which basically accused us of being bourgeoisie white girls who don’t know what it’s like to live dollar to dollar. Let me just say that we do, we really do.

For me, this last year has been extremely revealing, as I’ve struggled with the constant stresses of trying to find right livelihood in this county and embarked on the largest undertaking of my life – eating local for a year. Additionally, I nearly lost my life in a car accident which I was fortunately able to walk away from, but has left me carless. For almost four months, I have been recovering from a serious injury to my pelvis, running my own business, managing the Mendocino Farmers’ Market, plus cooking every single thing I eat from scratch and writing about it on our blog and Facebook page. (I will admit, my sink is often piled with dishes again – the zen kitchen routine I achieved in the first few months of this project has been disrupted. Oh well, life is messy.). And, all of this without a car in a rural area with severely limited transportation. It’s gotten real. Life has been stripped down to the bones, and what matters has never been more clear.

I don’t love writing about the vulnerable edges of this experience. I would prefer to talk about how to make kim chee, or show the stunning abundance we have invited into our lives through this journey to get closer to our food. Ok, on that note, I will share a picture of last night’s dessert because beauty is always nearby and it’s important to remember that.

Browned peaches and figs stuffed with goat cheese and honey

But, I understand that this angle of the story is also really important to tell. We are not two trend-seeking girls who decided to play Martha Stewart for a year and show everyone how cute it is to eat local. This project was borne out of our deep hunger to transform this community’s relationship with food. Our goal has always been to inspire through doing it, educating people by showing them how, and opening up new pathways for change by showing the gaps in the food system that need to be addressed. We want to be the faces of what’s possible, but we are staring the truth right in the face. We understand the poverty and severe food insecurity that exist in this community. Gowan grows food for the most vulnerable in the population: public school students who are on the free/reduced lunch program in Fort Bragg (which, to underscore, is a whopping 70% of the student population). I ride the bus with many people bound for Safeway or the Food Bank and listen to them talk about every single thing that the SF Chronicle article was trying to say – the main topics of conversation are the cost of everything, the lack of work, and a multitude of health problems. We really get it.

The reality is both bleak and promising and the juxtaposition is never lost on us. We have chosen to do this project because this is the best way we know how to start building a better, and more just food system right now, with our own hands. There are some really hard moments. Sometimes we are living jar to jar, and making pretty hard decisions about how we balance our time and resources to feed ourselves and also pay the rent and keep telling our story so that others can actually benefit from it. At times, this has been an inherently lonely undertaking, we are so far outside of the system that a lot of normal life routines have been completely overturned. This has also opened up doors to so many new people, relationships, opportunities and places that we have never, ever doubted that this was exactly what we are supposed to be doing right now, even when it’s almost midnight, and I still need to make yogurt and finish a project for a client. This is what I call the “Third Shift.” (This is also one of the reasons that it is hard to date a locavore.) In the last seven and a half months, whether I was laying in bed nursing my back, or spending four hours round-trip to take the bus to Fort Bragg to get some veggies from Gowan, I have never once thought, “Am I really going to eat local today?”

So thanks to each of you, for joining us on this journey and listening to what we have to say and believing that it is worth hearing. It means everything; you are why we’re doing it.

So much love,

Sarah


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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.


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How to open a wine bottle with a rock

What happens when a bunch of amazing women who are thought leaders in the food/farming movement get together for a weekend on a cattle ranch? For those who came from the coast and the Bay Area, we strip off our fog-proof layers and introduce the Potter Valley sun to our flesh. The inlanders greet us with and ATV loaded with ice chests and lead us to the river.

River bound!

Where we float on innertubes like kids, drink chilled wine, apply precautionary amounts of sunscreen to the places we can’t reach, and do what women do best: we bob around in the current, naturally flowing in and out of conversation with old friends and new faces as our bodies languidly salute the afternoon sun.

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We discuss things like the feasibility of a meat processing plant in Mendocino County, how to follow your passion for food systems change and also pay the bills, and setting boundaries with men – and baby piglets (which actually have quite a lot in common).

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The best way to summarize the amazing weekend we had is with this video. For nothing demonstrates the creative resourcefulness of a bunch of Type A food visionaries who are not waiting for a better world. We are picking up whatever tools we’ve got to make it happen, right now. Everyone has something to offer and we are all indispensable. In this case we would have been lost without Katherine’s primitive bottle busting know-how when we realized we’d brought everything but a wine opener…

We were invited to Magruder Ranch for a retreat with a group of women who work in food and ag as farmers or ranchers or media people, advocates and organizers. Basically, it was a locavore’s dream. We were surrounded by our people, filled with vibrant enthusiasm for creating a new agriculture future. Most of all, it was a chance to connect with other womenfolk, talk about life and work and health and joy and how to balance it all. And, of course we ate a TON of incredible food.

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… including TWO different kinds of local popsicles. Farmer Kyle made us these peach, mint & redwood tip delights!

Popsicles!

Eaten on the patio of Black Oak Coffee Roasters, where Gowan had a LOCAL LATTE, made with Lover’s Lane Honey and bee pollen. We were pretty much brimming with happy.

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And then we picked up berry-apple pops at Gowan’s Oak Tree farmstand on the way home. What a weekend, what a life. Thank you women, for a wonderful, heart-bursting getaway of goodness. We returned to the coast with toasted skin, renewed smiles, and sticky popsicle fingers. It’s so good to know that there are friends and colleagues out there, all over the state, country and the world who are working toward a food world that truly feeds people. But, it’s even better when we actually get to hang out together, gather around the cutting board and the stove and share a glass of wine. These comings-together are just as important as the work we are all doing; that truly is what it’s all about.


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Mama Ellen talks about family and food

My family has had a couple weeks of sleeplessness, grief and gratitude. My beloved Gramps passed away on the eve of our sixth month of this project. I’ll write about him when I’m ready, but for now, here’s what my mom had to say.

She is such a powerhouse I rarely get to surprise her. Her 55th birthday was July 5th, and she spent is burying her dad and flying home. She got up and went to work the next day. When she got home, I was there with dinner. Characteristically, she first cried, then put me right to work, and we made farm budgets over dessert. Also characteristically, in spite of all her other work, she took the time to write this. The warm practicality, grace, fierce love and strength of our matriarchy speaks through her, let it wash over you.

Listen.  This is what it sounds like in a family where love rules:

 

It sounds like someone running dishwater while in the background your daughter, light of her grandpa’s heart, sits with your stepdad of 33 years, holds his hand and talks quietly to him.

 

It sounds like settling the dining room with no one else around when your stepdad speaks suddenly out of the silence, saying to you, “I’m sure gonna miss you,” and you run to him, take his hand and say, “I will miss you, too, for the rest of my life.  But I promise always to take you with me.”

 

It sounds like kids running up the stairs, waking the patient, but he doesn’t mind.  It sounds like kids always saying yes, always minding, always ready for a smile or some tears.  It sounds like grownups remembering that kids need both, to learn how to make love rule in a family.

 

It sounds like the laughter of lunatics, of people too tired to carry on who are carrying on anyway, and the absurdity of it all is like a drug in the system – bracing and mildly hallucinogenic.

 

It sounds like voices singing “Happy Birthday” – badly but wonderfully – five days before the event because you are flying home in the morning.

 

It sounds like your stepdad’s last words as he sits with the remnants of the birthday cake: “Fortunate.  Fortunate.”

 

It sounds like the quiet voice of your sister saying so calmly, “Come kiss Papa now, and thank him – he is passing.”

 

It sounds like the noise your mother makes as he looks into her eyes and she sees that he is gone – the saddest, most lost sound in the world.

 

It sounds like your own voice cancelling your flight.

 

It sounds like the telephone ringing – again, and again, and again.

It sounds like your mother, strong matriarch in a family of strong matriarchs, inquiring after the needs of others.

It sounds like a well-earned 21-gun salute, on your real birthday this time.  It sounds like the beautiful voice of a daughter speaking a poem selected long ago, and like your own voice singing the song of good-bye – and not wavering even though everything inside of you is wavering and shaking.

 

It sounds like the turboprop taking off directly after the ceremony and discharging you into the welcoming party of husband, daughter, and kids smiling and shouting to share the surprise as they sweep you into their arms.

 

It sounds like a daughter’s voice on the phone, wondering where you are as you pull into your own driveway.  It sounds like her laugh when you realize you are talking to her on your cell phone and looking at her truck in your driveway.

 

It sounds like all of the million things we have to say to one another over a beautiful meal, delivered to an exhausted and soul-weary mom – fresh from the living earth, prepared by loving hands. 

 

And it looks like this:

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And this:

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A family where love rules is made up of people who truly see one another, hear one another, and serve one another.  It is a family where the greatest single value is authenticity, beginning with the food we feed one another and the love in our voices when we serve it.

 

These are the ways we learn to inhabit our own lives.  These are the moments we realize that truly we are fortunate.  Fortunate.