Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


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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.

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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.


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Freedom Song for Local Food

In celebration of Independence Day, Gowan, Apple, and Fourth of July ParadeI marched in our quirky little small-town parade today. We wove through the streets of the Mendocino village in a procession of colorful and eclectic floats. It’s a snapshot of our funny little corner of the world which is quite unlike any other place. My mom came to the coast for the holiday to escape the Central Valley heat, so we tasked her with capturing some photos of us. In her characteristic diligent manner, she documented the entire procession. I will upload her pictures to our Facebook page tomorrow, so be sure to follow us.

As we walked with our neighbors, I was reflecting on what we were “standing” for. We were marching with the Moms Across America Label GMO group and flanked by our local and mighty Grange contingent. Our collective message was simple: real, safe food is a right. Our personal statement is that we can choose to exercise this freedom every time we put food in our mouths. Not that it’s simple, not that it’s always cheap, and not that it’s convenient. But, it is our right, and it is one that many of us give away every day.

Like voting, you have to show up and do it. The food system is subject to many of the same flaws as our democracy as they are inextricably linked; the deep pockets of corporate powers, suspect political agendas, and the strategic disenfranchisement of the poor. The difference is that when you cast your ballot, you are thrown into a convoluted electoral system that doesn’t ensure that your vote really matters (nor that it will even be counted). When you eat, your cells cannot be deceived. Eating real food, especially fresh local food, has profound impact on your sovereign body as well as huge social/political/ecological implications – with immediate return.

On a day that celebrates our independence, we have much to be grateful for. Running water, birth control, washing machines, the internet and now, finally, same-sex marriage. We are also a sick, stressed, and tired nation ridden with cancer and diabetes. How many people really feel healthy, relaxed and hopeful about dying happy in their sleep at ripe old age? The statistics are getting worse as time passes. Yet, optimism is appropriate when we realize that this, truly, is a matter we can take into our own hands, every day.

Every single time you eat, you are choosing to create the world you want to live in. It is that big of a deal. Every calorie is an investment in your own health and longevity, every dollar spent supporting a local farmer is a subsidy toward a local food economy, and every gallon of gas saved by consuming locally is a carbon credit that your children and neighbors will directly benefit from.

And perhaps the most important return of all is one that is more difficult to quantify: joy. We have compromised much in the name of convenience, efficiency and freedom – the simplest deep joys that come from harvesting potatoes (which is like a subterranean Easter egg hunt), waiting for the first tomatoes to ripen, or the sweet smell of a pie in the oven. We endlessly seek entertainment, happiness and stimulation without knowing what our lifestyles have cost us. Often what we chase just takes us further from what we need the most. Reconnecting with our food opens up new roads to bliss, daily.

So, how did we celebrate our freedom today? After the parade, we came back to my apartment and I supervised the ever acrobatic Apple while she mowed my lawn and Gowan assembled some patriotic taco salads for us.

Apple the lawnmower

Patriotic Taco Salad

Then mom and I toasted the day with a glass of Mendocino syrah. With every bite, and with every sip, I love this country.

4th of July toast


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Six months of eating local in Mendocino County

I was at a potluck a few weeks ago and a friend told me about the “daily report” that her grandmother emails to the whole family every so that they know she’s alive and well. She is aging and lives alone, so it’s a practical way to keep the family from worrying. It has also turned into an amusing and revealing correspondence that has captured precious family history and deepened their knowledge of her.

I bring this up because I realize many of you may not actually have evidence of our being alive, unless you’re following us on Facebook, or if you saw our smiling faces on the front page of the local paper this week. Otherwise I know I haven’t blogged in over a month, but let me assure you that our hearts beat strongly on the eve of our halfway point for this endeavor. In fact, Gowan had a physical exam at the doctor recently and we can officially report that she is in optimum health. I am recovering quite well from the car accident and we know we owe much to the power of local food. The baby goats are healthy and growing very quickly, too!

Eat Mendocino girls

As of tonight, we are exactly halfway into this yearlong adventure, and I really can’t believe it has gone so fast. One one hand, it’s impossible to summarize this experience when people ask us, “What has it been like?” But, there are certainly strong themes that have pronounced themselves. Here’s one way to break down what we learned during the first six months of eating local in Mendocino County.

Six-Month Redux: Key lessons
Month 1:  The importance of fat and potatoes.

Month 2:  Pie is a psychological necessity.

Month 3:  It doesn’t work to eat slow food, but drive too fast.

Month 4:  Life is better with ice cream.

Month 5:  It is hard to date a locavore.

Month 6: Summer also has its perils; such eating way too much stone fruit.

Looking toward month seven, I am inspired by my friend’s grandmother to make a new commitment to this project. It’s not enough for you to merely know that we are alive; the real lesson from the daily report is that much is lost by the lack of corresponding regularly. Even in the digital world where we are communicating with our various devices all the time, some of the most important conversations are never part of our daily lives – we wait for the big events or bad news to be in touch.

Our blog is meant to be a window into what it takes to start getting more intimate with your food, and to do that, we must actually show you how we make it all happen, day in and day out. In general the diet has become easier as the months get warmer, but there are new lessons, thoughts, recipes, victories and frustrations each and every day, and they need to be shared. So, I have decided to blog every single day in the month of July. I know myself, and it will be much easier for me stick with my commitment if it’s extreme (thus this entire undertaking!). Plus, eating is so much easier at this time of year, so I can spend less time hunting for food and more time with the keyboard. So, get ready for the “Eat Mendocino Daily Report.” I will only excuse myself from my daily writing regimen if my sister-wife wants to blog. I’ll see you here tomorrow. 🙂


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Will work (really hard) for local food

This is not a glory moment. I don’t even want to write, but this is what it’s all about – the guts, too. I am sweaty, windblown, exhausted and my back aches. Before I explain, I need to say a genuine thank you to all of the wonderful people who supported my micro-fundraising campaign to purchase a bike trailer. I raised the full amount, and the only reason I haven’t bought the new trailer, yet is the very next day, someone generously donated one. Of course I would rather use something old than buy something new, but this bike carriage was designed for carrying children, not cargo, so I wasn’t sure it would work. Today, I found out.

I just got the trailer yesterday and didn’t have time to test it on my bike until this morning, before the market. I wasn’t sure exactly how it attached to the bike, but any way I tried, it just didn’t fit. Might be the size of my bike frame, or the tires. I tried to Google it at the last minute before abandoning the issue for the morning, and packing up what I could carry to the market, and walking. The wind was fierce today, blowing strong and knocking down signs and umbrellas and stirring everyone’s nerves. It was also the best market day so far of the season, probably due to it being Memorial Day Weekend. The tourists (and locals alike) really love the Fort Bragg Bakery’s cookies.

After the market, I was generously offered a ride home with four of the heaviest signs that are used to close the street. I came home to rest from the wind, do the farmers’ market accounting and work for a couple hours before dealing with the rest of the signs. My dog was cagey from being in all day, so i decided to walk her and pull the bike trailer by hand to see what we could haul on foot. I was hoping she would actually pull the thing for me, but she was immediately frightened and skeptical of the new bright yellow & red contraption and was trying to run away from it instead. As we started walking through the village, I noticed people looking at me and my trailer and my adorable pitbull like I was either homeless, or with amusement. At some point I will eventually laugh about this.

After picking up and loading the first wooden sign, foodevangelistsI realized I wouldn’t be able to fit many into the trailer, and also realized that my physical therapist nor my masseuse would approve of this endeavor. I was a clunky scene trying to navigate Mendocino’s non ADA approved sidewalks. I stopped to let some tourists pass and my dog licked their hands as if to say, “please adopt me, she’s gone mad.” I picked up two more signs, and then trudged home. My arms began to ache and my lower back was protesting. I am home now, awaiting Gowan’s arrival. We’re going to make dinner and I will bribe her with dessert to help me pick up the last few signs with her truck. I am wondering why sometimes the simplest things can be the most confounding and the most challenging. I don’t want a car, but I am pretty exasperated by the alternatives as well.

Once again I am left feeling that all of my problems would be solved by having a horse.  And ice cream, with fresh peaches.


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The domesticity debate: Feminism & going “back” to the kitchen

Between bowls of chicken soup, I read three things today while resting in bed. The first was a book about the iconic artist Frida Kahlo, the second a Time magazine article about Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and her mission to “reboot” feminism, and the third a Mother Jones article titled, “How Michael Pollan Romanticizes Dinner.”  I was trying to rest as my immune system is in overdrive, but all this reading turned me into a bedroom philosopher and got me thinking about my own feministy tendencies. Yes, that is a word; it is my own modification of an -ism that has never quite felt entirely comfortable, but also one I’m unwilling to abandon entirely.

So, I spent the afternoon thinking about what it means to be an ambitious woman in today’s world and also be going “back to the kitchen.” I am not going to make any grandiose statements on the issue, because my head still hurts and I got a little distracted by a visit from Gowan and the famous baby goat, Apple. And, I really wanted to make shortbread cookies tonight. If I write, will someone bake me local cookies? Thanks.

The discussion of domesticity comes down to the fact that a certain number of basic things have to be done to sustain life such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and pets. This is usually called housework, but it is really survival-work. Because what is more fundamental to life than the preparation of food? These tasks have often been considered “women’s work.” Michael Pollan’s newest book, Cooked, explores the history of women in the kitchen and what drove them out – citing feminism and entering the workforce as causes. I am less interested in what specifically drove women out of the kitchen at this point, and more interested in how i’m going to eat in the next week. This is where it gets interesting and particularly unnerving for me. Now, we don’t even have to wonder who’s going to cook. As Pollan says:

 “For the necessary and challenging questions about who should be in the kitchen, posed so sharply by Betty Friedan in the Feminist Mystique, ultimately got answered by the food industry: No one! Let us do it all!”

I have never been more domestic than I have during the past five months. I have also never been less dependent on a globalized corporate industrial food system that has tried to replace food with ingredients that you cannot pronounce. All of the cooking and dishwashing does not make me feel like I am fulfilling some genetic calling; it makes me feel like I am taking responsibility for my life. Ideally, it has made me aware that it is totally unsustainable to live alone as a single woman if we want to transform the broken systems that support life as we know it. We need neighbors to join together in the growing, harvesting, preserving, and preparation of food. We need sister-wives we can call on when we are lonely, hungry or tired so they can bring us foodstuffs and baby goats to cuddle. We need shared resources such as tools, equipment, and skills. We need a community of people with knowledge that spans many generations and geographies to solve all the problems we face. We need the humility to ask for help and the courage to try to do something we’ve never done before. We need to be willing to swing hammers and bake bread, regardless of whether or not we have a Y chromosome.

In short, reconnecting the dots for a sustainable, fulfilling economy will require the whole damn village – men and women alike. No one should be forced to cook, or do anything they don’t want to. If we all do some of the work some of the time, there is enough for everyone. I am not suggesting that these problems are simple to solve. Neither is overturning patriarchy. Oppression, racism, classism and sexism exist, and they are all reflected in a food system that is built on injustice.

Gowan and I decided to take one giant step toward a better food future in our own lives, to show that it is possible. And, that it is fun, and challenging, too. We are both exhausted from working triple time. The “joy” of cooking is real, and it’s also hard work! As Tom Philpott points out in the Mother Jones article:

So even Julia Child, born in 1912, grew up with servants in the kitchen and scant memories of her mother whipping up dinner—although, to the 1960s-era audience of her television show, live-in cooks were likely much less common than they were during Child’s 1920s childhood, because the cost of labor had risen over the decades. But the point stands: People with sufficient means have long been able to opt out of cooking. What I wrote back in 2009 still sums up my thoughts today:

Pollan was right: people do need to revalue the craft of cooking, to embrace it as a quotidian pleasure, not a mere chore. But if we manage convince them of that, we’ll have achieved something new, not returned to a lost past.

There is no going “back.” No going back to the land. No going back to the kitchen. There is no perfect past where gender relations and domestic duties lie in perfect balance. Our relationship with food has been structured by social movements, political will, economic shifts and cultural norms. Now, it is largely being decided by corporations. So, as we move forward into a new food future, I think the biggest battle is getting Betty Crocker out of the kitchen and getting Monsanto out of the White House. In the meantime, let’s make dinner together. (Seriously, if anyone wants to have us over for a local dinner, let us know! We’d love a break.) And we think men in aprons are sexy.


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Local wheels for local food

It has been a big, big week for Eat Mendocino.  I baked my very first loaf of bread (after 5 1/2 years of being gluten free and a lifetime of not being a baker) the same day that the owner of the big local grocery store, Harvest Market, contacted us wanting to collaborate to get more local food on the shelves! Then, Gowan’s goat Mandy delivered twins on Mother’s Day. And, the very next day, Gowan adopted a third baby goat, which we snuggled while eating our first 100% local apple pie. She has since been aptly named, “Apple.” It’s a good, full life. *sigh*

Apple, Gowan's new dwarf nigerian baby goatSarah eating sourdough rye bread. Joyful disbelief.Sourdough rye bread for breakfast!Bakemistress Jacquelyn cutting the apple pie!

But, that is not what this blog post is about. This entry is about mobility. It has been a month and a half since I totaled my darling steel tank, Mrs. Butterwheels. I still don’t love talking about it, but it’s essential to understanding how my life is changing in deep and important ways. Time has passed, but I do not like being in cars, to say the least. I try to limit most of my activity within walking radius, and ride the bus or carpool when I really need to. Usually, this works. I have swiftly and resourcefully redesigned my life so that I can do most of my work from my living room, walk or ride the bus when I must get to the doctor or visit just-born baby goats. I’m learning to slow down, in profound ways. I am rethinking how much I really “need” to go somewhere, and am exploring the wonderfully dangerous world of online shopping (my shiny new bread knife arrived today!) There are flaws in all of these systems and choices, but it’s basically working out so far and the local diet has yet to be compromised, thanks to many benevolent agents who have delivered food in clutch situations.

Ironically, the main obstacle in this locavore’s life is my new gig as manager of the Mendocino Farmers’ Market. It is located approximately 7 blocks from my house, and you would think it’s the ideal job for a localized locavore. Yet, the only thing that has forced me behind the wheel of a car is my market manager duties. I have to lug tons of heavy signs around town before market day, and then bring all the gear for my booth every Friday (table, chair, paperwork, schwag, and the machine to accept Food Stamps, etc.). Thankfully I have many wheeled friends who have been helping me thus far, but I’m feeling far from autonomous and my favors are running out.

I have been fretfully wrestling with this conundrum for the past 2 weeks. I need wheels. But, I don’t necessarily need a car. The first thought was a large red wagon, at the suggestion of some of the other market managers. Which might work, but wagons are most efficient when used at the market itself. I need to schlep signs all over town, and then pick them up after a long day at the market. I need to cover ground, and not spend my entire Friday night doing so. The solution became fairly obvious.

As my favorite bumper sticker says, I realized it was time to, “Put the fun between your legs.”

I needed to outfit my bicycle with some kind of cargo cart! After some internet research, I have found the perfect thing: the Croozer Cargo Bike Trailer. It’s probably made in China, but it’s all part of the transitional economy…Croozer Cargo Bike Trailer

My market budget cannot afford this new expense ($200), so I’m inviting you, beloved fans, to help me get back on the “horse” and fuel a pedal powered local food economy. It’s easy, just click here to donate safely and securely via Paypal. Donations of any amount are deeply appreciated, from the bottom of my shaken but mighty little heart.

The market is off to a great start, and I know the season is going to unfold in wonderful and unexpected ways. Sheriff Tom Allman drops by for a visit at the Mendocino Farmers' MarketMy goal is to use it as a platform to get as many people excited about local food as possible! Sheriff Allman dropped by during opening day and purchased an apple tree grafted by the horticulture students at Mendocino High School. He invited Gowan and I to visit the County Jail’s garden, which has introduced locally grown food into the jail kitchen, allowed inmates to get their hands in the dirt, and reduced the annual food costs by $40,000! This is what it’s all really about. Do come by and say hi to me at the Mendocino market every Friday from Noon – 2 pm. You will find Gowan and her lovely produce at the Wednesday market in Fort Bragg from 3-6 pm.

And, if you need to see more baby goat pictures (because who doesn’t?), check out our Facebook page, and our YouTube channel.

xo
Sarah