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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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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Tell Harvest Market that you love local food!

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

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

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

Harvest Market Postcard


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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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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