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Monday, May 23, 2016

Mapping History #2: San Jose, The Garden City

This post is part of an ongoing series called "Mapping History." Get the backstory here.

My first entry in this series focused on one quote about the "most desirable" part of Santa Clara Valley according to the author of Santa Clara County California, published in 1887 by the Santa Clara County Board of Trade. In this second entry, I've pulled out some more of the quotes that demonstrate the significance of agriculture in this region as the basis for its rapid growth at the time the book was written.

Before I share the quotes, I want to explain that this book opens with a discussion of the geologic history of the region and then goes into its climate and soil as a foundation for why agriculture is so lucrative here. From the beginning, nearly the entire book focuses on the ideal climate of the valley and the fact that almost anything can be grown. Agricultural productivity is the main argument throughout the book for why easterners should move here and purchase land.

I've selected quotes that demonstrate this best, but really almost every sentence in the book paints the picture of agricultural paradise. When I read and studied The Grapes of Wrath in high school, I learned that this kind of propaganda was widespread in the 1930s to encourage people to come live in California, so although this was written in 1887, I take some of these claims with a grain of salt, especially given how many times the author claims that this area was the best in the world for a variety of different crops. Despite this caveat, the importance of the region's agricultural history in shaping its future is evident.

From Santa Clara County California (1887):

"Of the varied productions of this valley it is difficult to speak in terms which shall not savor of exaggeration. The question is no longer what can, but what cannot be successfully produced" (11-13).

"To-day, with this industry [the growing of fruits] comparatively new--its means of transportation a monopoly--its markets but recently found, and its methods of reaching these markets an experiment; with all these to contend against, the fruits of this valley are as well known, and highly esteemed in the markets of the East and of the world as are those of Sicily, Asia Minor and the Adriatic [...]" (13).

"Orange trees have been grown for many years in this county (in San Jose more for ornament than for fruit) generally seedlings, and with no care as to either selection or culture. In the vicinity of San Jose, considerable groves have been growing for twenty years, producing abundant crops of well-flavored fruit. The citrus fairs held last year in San Jose and other places showed the very extensive sections where these fruits were being successfully grown; and this, with the stimulus of a market, has induced the planting of orange trees throughout the warm belt in this county" (15).

We have an orange tree at our current house, and the place we're moving to in June also has an orange tree. Fruit trees are ubiquitous in San Jose.

"In this description of the capabilities and climate of Santa Clara Valley, I have substantially described San Jose--for this is her environment, these are her resources, this the rich setting, of which the 'Garden City' is the central gem" (19).

"The basis of the past, present and future prosperity of Santa Clara County is its agricultural resources. These resources depend on the fertility of the soil and congeniality of the climate. The experience of years demonstrates that our soil contains all the elements essential to plant growth, while our climate is of a character that insures the perfect maturity and ripening of its products" (49).

"While Europe, Asia and some of the United States can grow one or two of our fruits, there is no spot on the globe where they can all be grown to such perfection as in California, and no place in California where they can be grown to such advantage as in Santa Clara County. The character of the soil, the topography of the country, the peculiarities of our climate, and our situation as regards transportation and market combine to place this county at the head of the fruit growing countries of the world" (50).

Scenes in R.D. Fox's Nurseries, San Jose, from Santa Clara County California (1887)

It's fascinating to me that the history of this place is so rooted in agriculture and that this very success was a factor in bringing so many people to the area. Today, this is no longer well-known as The Garden City but rather a central place in Silicon Valley, a very different kind of connotation. If you look at San Jose today, you see an urban center with huge buildings and crowded freeways surrounded by suburban sprawl. There are more people here than affordable housing can accommodate, traffic on our freeways and trains is ridiculous, and airplanes and train horns contribute to the urban orchestra of sounds. Reading about the beautiful landscape, birdsong, and open farmland of 1887 while sitting in today's San Jose is odd--but it's also inspiring. Because if you look a little closer at San Jose today, you'll notice that underneath and next to freeways, in neighborhood yards, at community parks, and in some of the most random places, there are farms and gardens growing, producing food and flowers, growing chickens and ducks (more on that here), and re-connecting to San Jose's agricultural heritage.

 Veggielution Farm is located underneath the over crossings of highways 101 and 280 in San Jose.

Food connects and nourishes people. Growing food provides not only sustenance for oneself and neighbors who might not otherwise have access to fresh produce but also relief from the stress of spending eight hours+ in front of a computer screen and battling traffic on the way home. It's inspiring to me that people are still connecting with their food system and that there are people in this city working to expand urban agriculture so that more people can have access to healthy food, as well as a chance to connect with where it comes from.

The people I refer to are part of organizations like Garden to Table, Veggielution, La Mesa Verde, SPUR San Jose, the Health Trust, and others who are working to implement Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (AB 551), which the UC Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources describes on their website: "In 2014, California implemented Assembly Bill 551, which allows landowners in metropolitan areas to receive tax incentives for putting land in agriculture use. First, cities and counties must create urban agriculture incentive zones." These organizations I listed are working to do just that in San Jose.

I attended an event at Garden To Table's Taylor Street Farm last month that engaged community members with questions about what we would want to see happen in these urban agriculture incentive zones. Questions ranged from, Would you eat food grown in a formerly vacant lot? to What kinds of animals should be allowed to be raised in these zones? to many others. The organizations who hosted the event are compiling our feedback in order to support the implementation of this bill in San Jose. You can learn more about this project on Garden to Table's website here and read about how San Francisco has adopted this ordinance here.

The Envision Urban Ag event I attended at Garden to Table's Taylor Street Farm in San Jose. Notice the freeway entrance overpass in the background.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mapping History Project: Intro & Entry #1

Maps fascinate me. Anyone who's ever used a map knows that it's basic function is to show us the geographical and spatial relationships between physical places, which provides us with useful knowledge for getting from one place to another. In today's modern world of smartphones and computers, most people interact with maps in a very different way than people have for millennia. We can type in or tell Siri our destination and starting point and then be told--without even looking at the map ourselves--how to utilize the streetscape of our world to get to our destination in the most direct route. This is useful, sure, but we miss something when we let Siri tell us the way, and that something is the very thing about maps that fascinates me most.

When we pull out a paper map or zoom out on Google Maps to view more than just where the GPS reminds us we are at that moment, we can learn so much about a place through its spatial organization. Culture, history, natural features, politics, and so much more can be learned by using maps. Maps are made by people, and the streetscape that we traverse almost every time we we look at maps today--unless we're backpacking--was designed by people. Even when backpacking, we're following a trail that has a history. Humans leave behind clues in everything we make about the context of history and culture in which those things were made, and so by looking at a map, we can learn much more than just how to get from A to B. We can travel back in time, as well.

The small table in our kitchen has a glass top, so when we moved here I placed a 1992 AAA map of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties beneath it so we can look at where we've been and where we are. I often study the map when eating at the table, trying to piece together more spatial awareness of the place I live. Because it's 24 years old, it's missing some of the development that's happened since then--such as some of the housing in Gilroy.

Maps can show us how we got from the past to the present, especially when we overlay a standard map with other details, such as what happened in a particular place that might have influenced the human-built landscape, where particular demographics of people live or have lived, where the soil is most ideal for agriculture, etc. In some ways, this is what we do with our minds when we learn something new about a place. We file away that information as an overlay to the physical landscape that we have painted in our minds. When we walk down a street and notice an old tree or a vestige of history in an old storefront, we acknowledge that there is more to know about place than what can be seen at first glance. We learn new things over time about places we might have been visiting our entire lives, and once we have that knowledge, it becomes second nature to associate that place with that history. Or at least, that's how I imagine my mind keeps track of what I know and experience about places I've been.

I bring up maps because I've decided to do a blogging project about history that will weave together various snippets--photographs, old maps, quotes, historical facts, etc.--so that I can better understand the map of my life, where I live, who I come from, where I come from, and what this history can teach me. By telling and exploring my own history at the same time as I learn about the history of the places where I've lived, I also hope to better understand the connections that I have to my community.

This map project will not produce a map that you can see, but one that can be added as an overlay to the map of the world that we each have in our minds. It will zoom in on details, as well as connect them to a larger narrative. I will share what I learn as I learn it, rather than trying to organize it. I want you to discover history with me as I come across it and join me on the journey to understanding the connections. Ready?

Mapping History, Entry #1: Willow Glen
The other day as I biked from UC Santa Cruz to downtown Santa Cruz after work, I realized that despite living in San Jose for a year, I still know very little about its history. Knowing that the Santa Cruz Public Library has a Californiania section, I biked there and went directly to the aisle with books on Santa Clara County.


I went home with five books, and the idea for this project began as I started reading one of them: Santa Clara County California, published in 1887 by the Santa Clara County Board of Trade. It compiles articles about Santa Clara County's climate, society, agricultural land, and places of interest that were sent to the East Coast to try and bring more people to the area. What struck me about this book is its significant emphasis on the success of agriculture in the valley as one of the main reasons people should move to Santa Clara County. Given my own explorations into gardening since last summer in San Jose, I found myself personally connected to this aspect of the region's history.

Here is one of the quotes and images that I especially connected with:

"Upon the Los Gatos and Guadaloupe [sic] Rivers are some hundreds of acres, formerly dense willow thickets, but now in the highest state of cultivation. These lands are regarded as the most desirable in the valley. The soil is a sedimentary deposit, easily cultivated, requiring but little irrigation, and producing every variety of fruit and vegetable" (11).

Although the author doesn't include a map of the particular area he's talking about, I'm fairly certain that Willow Glen, the neighborhood where I live, is included in the area that he describes as "the most desirable in the valley." I imagine it's not a coincidence that Willow Glen is also one of--if not the most--wealthy parts of San Jose. Those who lived here at the time this book was written had an advantage agriculturally over others in the region due to the soil, and the wealth that they accumulated way back then is still evident in the Willow Glen neighborhood. Although agricultural land is not the reason any more, Willow Glen is still an incredibly desirable place to live--the neighborhoods are beautiful with tree-lined streets, well-kept yards, and older, well-maintained homes. We have a comparatively quaint "downtown" area with parades, street festivals, and all kinds of shops and restaurants. There's a strong sense of community and connection to place that I felt immediately when we first visited this neighborhood.*

 This map of Willow Glen from ~1853 is on page 15 of Old Willow Glen by Elizabeth Giarratana, published in 1978.

Green Guy and I are moving on the first of June and are incredibly lucky to have been able to find another place, even farther into the heart of Willow Glen. To know that the history of this place and its desirability can be traced back to the desirability of the soil is really fascinating to me. The fact that this neighborhood is where I finally became a gardener makes me feel even more connected to this history.

 My thriving Willow Glen garden today.

I'll save more quotes from this book for future entries that will demonstrate what I meant by agriculture being a significant topic in the history of this region. Agriculture and gardening are likely going to play a large role in this mapping project, as well, given my own family's history and the history of the three places I have lived in my life.

I welcome your thoughts and comments below, as well as suggestions for future posts!

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

*There's a lot more that should be said about the lack of inclusion in the Willow Glen neighborhood, as well. I won't go into this too much today, but I need to acknowledge that from what I've experienced, this is a wealthier, predominantly white neighborhood surrounded by a variety of demographics, including less wealthy areas inhabited by many people of color from diverse backgrounds. We have a large homeless population living just nearby along our creeks and freeways. San Jose is a place that encompasses both wealth and poverty along stark lines, and the inequities that exist are complex and unfair. In future posts, I'll write about the ways in which food access is being addressed through urban agriculture projects, and the ways in which the region needs to prioritize safe transportation access in lower income communities. I will also examine in future posts the violent history of the missions and displacement of native people that is so often romanticized when white people write about the history of California. I'll do my best to understand and learn about these inequities--past and present--and illuminate these less pleasant aspects of history because they are central to understanding everything else about this region.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Joel Salatin on Soil, Earth Worms, & Why We Need Farmers

This evening I attended a talk by Joel Salatin at the Santa Cruz Rio Theatre. I had heard of Joel Salatin through the Mother Earth News magazine, which I’ve been reading thanks to Green Guy’s step-mom and dad who have been passing their read copies along to us. Salatin works for PolyFace Farm in Virginia, where he not only grows food and raises animals (among many other things), but in his words, approaches his farmland, plants, and animals as one would a lover—caressing, caring for, and loving them so that they will be happy and thrive. He made a point to explain that he’s a romantic, a poet, and that even to use the word sunlight is too scientific for his liking. He prefers sunbeams, and I have to agree.

Joel Salatin (Image source)

Thus, in addition to being a stellar farmer, he’s funny and poetic, and he had the audience laughing and smiling throughout the evening. But within and between his jokes, which featured many imitations, funny faces, and metaphors, Salatin told a story of our nation’s and our planet’s history featuring the choreographed dance of megafauna and birds from season to season that nourished—"caressed"—the ecosystems of our planet and most importantly, the soil.

The story told of the grazing of megafauna—animals larger than humans, he defined—who roamed to new places with the changing seasons—and the migration of birds, who filled the skies so that the sun wasn’t visible for days. These animals traveled for miles and miles, in huge packs, and they grazed on grass—which converts sunlight into energy more efficiently than trees and therefore helps with carbon sequestration in amazing ways—and pooped and then moved on, which gave the land a chance to rest. For millennia these animals danced in sync so that the land was nourished and the circle of life could thrive.

No longer, however, is it possible for the remaining wild animals of our world to do this in most places, thanks to our buildings and cities and freeways—and ice cream parlors, he reminded us. Not to mention we don't have animal populations on that scale anymore. We know this, and yet we don’t think about what it means for our soil, our earthworms, and the many living beings (microbes) who live in the incredible soil ecosystem beneath our feet. One thing Salatin encouraged us to do is ask ourselves in the shower in the mornings, “What am I going to do today to help the earth worms?” Laughter of course followed, but this really is a question that we should be asking, in addition to the question, “How will my actions affect the earthworms of my region, of our planet?” The answer to the question is important for the future of food.

In his creative and funny way, Salatin made the story of our topsoil depletion weave directly into a solution that he practices on his own farm: grazing animals and chickens on a rotating basis in a managed, structured way. The cows eat the grass when it’s at the end of its productive growth (he went into detail about the lifespan of grass), they poop digested grass onto the soil in a way that nourishes the soil extremely faster than if the grass had decomposed where it died (I had never before realized that composting is biomimicry of ruminating animal stomachs), and then they move on. Then come the chickens, who help also with the pooping and the squishing of the poop into the soils, and also eat the insects. And then they move on, the grass can grow again, the soil microbes dance and sing, and when the grass is ready to be grazed again, the animals come back. With the human intervention of helping migrate the pasture raised animals on the land, the farmer not only grows livestock but nourishes the soil ecosystems and earth worms that make growing food possible and sustainable.

Salatin also spoke about the issue with environmental abandonment, the belief that because humans have caused so much damage to our ecosystems over time, that the only solution is to not let humans access or participate in wild or open spaces. Salatin suggested that instead of just leaving land like this alone—or all land like this alone—that we conserve not only the land but also the farmer. The farmer is the one who can participate as a manager of land so that soil can be replenished with the help of other animals. The farmer of our era in many people’s minds is the farmer of industrial agriculture, depleting soil and polluting with chemicals—but this is not the only kind of farmer there is. It’s not the farmer I think of, thanks to the abundance of organic farms in the region where I live. The small scale, local, organic, agro-ecologically knowledgeable farmer is the farmer of our future—if we support farmers like this in our purchases and lifestyle choices.

A huge takeaway message from this talk was that we need more farmers, young farmers. Salatin said that the average age of farmers in this country is 60 years old, and that an industry is typically considered in decline when the average age of its “practitioner” is over 35 years old. Yikes! This message, though, resonated with me and felt affirming of what I’ve been thinking about lately. You all, my lovely readers and friends, have read and seen photos of my garden for the past seven or so months. You’ve seen photos of culinary experiments I’ve made from scratch. You’ve seen the beer fermenting carboys and sourdough starters and kombucha SCOBYs in my kitchen. The trend in the last seven or so months of my life has pointed toward food, the growing and eating and experimenting and fermenting of food. It’s been exciting and fun, and the more I do it, the more I realize how so much of my life’s work in sustainability education and community building and leading a life aligned with my values converges in the world of food--where it comes from, how it's put together artistically and culinarily, the community around the table, social justice and equity in healthy food access, and what our food does to nourish health of self and environment. Sustainable agriculture, gardening, "homecentric" local food, farming. Woah! So I’m thinking about what that means for my future, and where it might take me if I pursue it. My cousin recently began the farm apprenticeship program at UCSC, so I have a wonderful opportunity to live vicariously through him and find out what kinds of things he's learning and enjoying and finding challenging about the field (ha, get it?) of agriculture.

The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems farm where my cousin is an apprentice at UCSC. It overlooks Monterey Bay, and it's one of my favorite places in the world. It's where I met Green Guy, actually! (Image source)


But since we can’t all become farmers tomorrow, Salatin encouraged us to keep in mind the many ways we can support sustainable, land-caressing, sustainable farmers. The major way is that we have the power to choose what we purchase at the market. He said we need people who are excited about buying seasonally, locally, cooking that local seasonal food in their own home, participating in community supported agriculture programs, and finding other ways to use our own unique skill sets and passions to support the needs of farmers. He spoke in-depth about why organic, small scale farms have more expensive produce and products—long story short, the permitting and approval system is rigged in favor of enormous corporations and monocultures that focus on only one crop or product. A small farm that wants to do a variety of things, which is what we really need for sustainable and resilient communities, has to pay unreasonably enormous costs due to policies that have been enacted in the era of industrial agriculture. Local, small scale farmers don't have higher prices because they want only rich people to access their food or because they want to make more money.

First, they are producing food that is humanely raised and sustainably grown and therefore representing actual costs that are hidden when you've got massive feedlots with antibiotics or pesticide-laden crops--yuck. But the higher costs are also due to an even more complex and frustrating story that provides a glimpse into the dangerous and scary direction our industrial agricultural complex has taken us. But, there's hope, and not only that, but good people are making change happen every day. And to be part of that starting now, when those of us who can currently afford to support small farms do and do so consistently over time, we can collectively support changes in the larger system.

All of these little snippets that I share are part of a larger story, one that you can research or probably read about in one of Salatin’s books, so if my statements seem confusing or unsubstantiated, believe me that Salatin made a solid case that left me astounded in my seat. And then a minute later, I was laughing along with a full house at the Rio Theatre, among farmers and community members who want to join Salatin in creating a sustainable future through happy soil and the many ways that happy soil creates better lives.

In looking Salatin up to write this post, I found out that he has a BA in English and is a writer--kinda like yours truly! An English degree-holding farmer? That’s awesome! It gives me hope and encouragement that there might be a place for me in the future of sustainable agriculture. We'll see where this inspiration and interest leads me on the path ahead...

In related news, this weekend is the UC Santa Cruz Bioneers Conference, which I've been a lead coordinator for over the past couple months. It's going to be incredibly inspiring and fun, and if you live in the area, I highly encourage you to attend this free event. My sister Jeune Gal is speaking and leading a workshop about social justice, feminism, body positivity, and intersectionality! Learn more at commonground.ning.com/ucscbioneers.

Until next time,
Green Gal

P.S. Thanks to my friend Maryna, also a UCSC sustainability alumna, for joining me at Joel Salatin's talk tonight! It's always better attending events with friends, and it was wonderful to have a chance to see you!



Sunday, March 27, 2016

Garden & Other Updates from February & March

I've been so busy trying new things and experiencing life that I haven't posted here since early February! Today, I'll share about the garden and some other odds and ends from the past two months.
It's been raining a lot here in California thanks to El NiƱo. Above is the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz, full of water gushing toward the bay. This is a very welcome sight to us all in California, but we have to remember that one wet season does not solve a years-long drought on its own.
The nasturtiums in my yard have been enjoying the rainy weather and have grown numerous beautiful yellow and orange flowers. In fact, the nasturtiums have somewhat taken over the garden!
I got a bike trailer back in December, and I finally used it recently to go to the garden store. Now I can transport soil and heavy items up to 100 pounds without using a car! It's amazing how light items feel when they're in a bike trailer versus on the bike rack and especially when compared to having those items in a backpack! Yay physics!

Also pictured here is the tomato cage/trellis that I am using to grow peas. I also carried that home in the trailer. As I set about potting new plants and re-arranging the garden, I enjoyed a bottle of our homebrewed beer.
Speaking of bicycling, I've spent many Sunday mornings and early afternoons bicycling along the Los Gatos Creek Trail on my way to and from the Campbell Farmers Market. It's an awesome trail that follows Los Gatos Creek and lets me avoid car traffic nearly my whole journey to the market.
I added something new to the garden! This old closet door had been left by the previous tenants at our house, and it's been sitting by the garbage cans out back since June! The other day, I decided to repurpose it and incorporate it in the garden. I dug a trench so it would fit in at an angle and not tip over, and then I popped some of the shutters out so that the nasturtium can climb it. As the nasturtium grows, I'll pop more out and weave it throughout. I also have plans to paint some flowers or quotes on it! And I've been able to use the popped out shutter slats as garden dividers.

I have to give credit to my dad for the idea. His backyard garden has a door and a window hanging on a fence. I probably wouldn't have thought to put a closet door like this in my garden if it weren't for his creative repurposing!
I've got a lot of little plants growing in the garden! You can see where I used the shutter slats as dividers. That little plot has a bunch of flower seeds planted, and I wanted to make sure I didn't accidentally step on them or put pots on top of them. You can see how the nasturtium is encroaching on everything on the left.
I also repurposed an old, strange table that was left by previous tenants. I split the table in half and placed it against the house so that the circular side faces out. It makes for a raised mini-deck so that I can have two layers of potted plants. I also have the peas growing happily on the trellis.
Here's the full visual of the backyard garden. It sure has grown!
The oranges on our tree in the backyard are finally sweet enough to enjoy! Yum!
I've been trying to keep freshly cut flowers in the house every week because they add a sense of springtime, aliveness, and beauty. Above are some that I picked up at Whole Foods Market, and the ones below are from a flower shop/bakery down the street from us.

I also made a mini-bouquet of kale, broccoli flowers, and arugula the other day when I picked some from the garden. I need more ideas for recipes with arugula and kale because we have more than we really eat!
The rice flower plant that I have turned pink and has been thriving with all of the wet weather.
My broccoli plants have been doing great, and they are such a treat to eat straight from the plant raw.

Thanks for reading! Happy Easter and Happy Spring!

Green Gal

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Symphony of Sounds in San Jose

This morning I share with you an ode, a poem, a painting in sounds that I wrote on January 27th after biking home from a Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition San Jose Team meeting.

"Tonight's City Symphony"

On two wheeled journeys
through this City's streets
I hear a symphony of sounds,
sounds muffled by car doors and windows,
so that perhaps many do not know what they sound like, really.
So I will tell you what I've heard, so you can listen, too.
The murmur of freeways crossed under and over, they hum and buzz, white noise that doesn't go away but fades and grows as you move between neighborhoods.
The creaking and rumbling of light rail trains, reminding you with a bell that they are on the move; watch out for their tire-eating tracks!
The honking and revving of cars passing by--sometimes louder and closer than you want. Yikes!
An airplane's thunder and light show in the sky; brake to a stop and experience it through your sky without a roof.
The squeak of bike chain, which says for you, "I'm here!" until you shift gears and it stays silent until the next red light.
And gloriously, happily, if you listen closely, you just might hear the ribbeting of frogs singing from the thrist-quenched Guadalupe River, grateful for the rain and chance to celebrate.
All this you hear, and more, if you listen closely--sans headphones, sans car walls, sans the sound you make in your head when you think too much.
Listen, there's a symphony of San Jose sounds; they play for you when you tune in.

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