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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday Wandering

 "Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak." - Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

For most of January, I didn't ride my bicycle. First it had a flat tire, then it was raining cats and dogs for a few weeks, and this week, I accidentally left my bike helmet with a friend. Fortunately, Green Guy's commute aligns fairly well with mine, so I've been able to get rides to and from my bus stop in San Jose and supplemented my other in-between trips with additional buses. What I learned, though, is that buses take a long time, especially at certain times of day from UCSC.

So this week, I've been walking whenever possible, such as from my bus station to my house along a lovely tree lined street, or from my office down the hill to buildings near the base of campus. The trip from my office to the base of campus is a 25 minute walk, but it's a guaranteed 25 minutes, whereas waiting for a bus to pick me up and drive me around campus and down to the base could take 25 minutes or more. The buses are also crowded, and standing on a crowded bus is not fun. Unless it's raining (or maybe even when it is raining!), I've (re)learned lately that walking is a much better option.

I posted this to Instagram (@greenbeangal) after my walk down the hill on Monday.

I've been fortunate to have meetings or events at the base of campus every day this week in the later part of the day, with enough spaciousness in my schedule to walk. The walk down the hill, with the view of the Bay always in sight, has made my days so much brighter this week. My legs are sore but in that rewarding way that makes you want to keep exercising. I've also been trying to stay up an hour later (until 10pm) to see if I can squeeze one more hour of time into my day. The walking combined with an extra hour to clean up the house or prepare for the next day has been remarkable in how I feel throughout the day. I'm less tired in the mornings, and I've felt less anxiety than usual. My mom is probably reading this and saying, "I told you so!" She has always praised the benefits of walking, and she stays up way later than I do despite having an equally early wake-up time!

I took this photo on my walk down the bike path this evening as the winds picked up but before the rains began.

I hope to keep up this walking routine--as well as continue to reflect on walking with the help of folks like Rebecca Solnit and Henry David Thoreau--which may mean leaving the bike at home more often or taking walks when I get home in the evening. Either way, I love the new-found energy I have this week and hope that you can find time this week to get in a few walks, wherever they may lead you.

In addition to sharing about my discovery of walking this week (which is reminiscent of this post from 2012 about happiness and jogging), I want to share some photos from the beautiful UCSC campus. This morning, I wandered over to the Kresge Garden before going into my office. I'm so glad I did. Look at this beautifully cultivated and thriving place! Sadly, they will be renovating Kresge College as part of the West Campus Housing development to build more beds for more students. It will change Kresge forever, including the garden. If you haven't been to Kresge College before, go now before it becomes a different place!





Where do you walk when you wander? Where does your mind take you when you walk? I'd love to hear what your experience has been with walking--please leave a comment

Thanks for reading! Happy Wednesday!

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." - Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What I Learned at EcoFarm 2017

"Every issue that's out there is your opportunity to step up," shared Amigo Bob Cantisano, one of the founders of the EcoFarm Conference, in his welcome address at EcoFarm 2017 on Wednesday evening. I was in the audience as a first-time attendee of EcoFarm, an annual conference celebrating its 37th year this past week at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, across the road from the glorious Pacific Ocean. The Ecological Farming Association that hosts this conference has a mission "to nurture healthy, just, and ecologically sustainable farms, food systems, and communities by bringing people together for education, alliance building, advocacy, and celebration." I am so grateful I had the opportunity to participate in the conference this year!


I was able to do so with the help of my good friend David Shaw, who recently started a permaculture business called Santa Cruz Permaculture. He invited me to table with him for his business in the exhibitor tent, and this invitation included a conference pass for the entire week. I love tabling, and I'm in the Permaculture Design Certificate course (PDC) through Santa Cruz Permaculture right now, so it was a perfect combination. I'm particularly glad I attended EcoFarm in this role because by being at the table during breaks, meals, and the beer and cheese tasting fair, I was able to meet and have discussions about permaculture with some pretty inspiring people, from Central Coast farmers, urban farmers, and folks farming land all along the west coast, to farm educators, food policy advocates, and students and young people just getting into farming (like me!). As someone new to farming, it made it a lot easier for me to have discussions with folks because I was tabling and had something to share with them. It also helped that David knew practically every other person who walked by since he's been attending EcoFarm for years and involved with sustainable farming since the early 2000s.

In addition to talking with people about permaculture, the upcoming PDC that's starting in April, and the sweet and delicious Hoshigaki dried persimmons that David makes and sells (contact him if you're interested), I also attended a number of workshops and plenaries where I realized how vast the world of ecological farming really is. There is so much I didn't even know I didn't know about, and as one person I was speaking with this week reminded me, that is what makes farming and gardening so fun. There's always more to learn.


Here are some insightful quotes and highlights from my experience at EcoFarm 2017:

I was fortunate to hear Rowen White, an Indigenous Mohawk seed saver, speak twice during the conference. She shared about the beautiful journey she's taken to rediscover the seeds of her ancestors and bring that knowledge into not only her community but communities around "Turtle Island," as North America is known to her people. Her approach to storytelling is poetic, full of quotes that are like seeds of inspiration themselves. She reminded us that "each and every one of you descends from a long line of seed keepers." The history of human civilization and culture is inextricably rooted with agriculture and the cultivation of food plants for survival. Without seeds, particularly seeds that are resilient to environmental threats and biologically diverse, human survival on this planet would become much less secure. Think about how much of your diet is dependent upon seeds, either directly or indirectly through the animals you eat and what they ate. How many of us gather wild fruits and survive on wild plants that propagate themselves? Very few, and this is why seed saving and seed diversity are crucial to our existence as a species. Rowen also shared an example from her own people of how seeds and ancestral foods show up prominently in cultural songs, stories, and value systems, and there are many other examples of this throughout the world.

In addition to her work with Sierra Seeds, Rowen also participated in a panel with Tony Brown, Monty Bengochia, and Jen Schlaich focused on the Bishop Paiute Tribe Food Sovereignty Program in Bishop, California. This group is "working to increase access to and awareness of healthy, traditional, environmentally-responsible, community-grown food that sustains an independent and resilient program which acknowledges, preserves, and strengthens existing community food systems and tribal sovereignty." They have gardens, a farmers market, an aquaponics greenhouse, internships, free workshops, and student education and engagement programs. They are working to feed their community with healthy, local food, as well as work to "decolonize their taste buds" and re-learn the food ways of the Paiute people. As Rowen put it, "if a tribal nation wants to be truly sovereign, they must be able to feed and nourish themselves." This includes learning not only how to grow native foods but also how to cook them, bringing back together the act of cultivation and art of culinary knowledge. She reminded us that the segregation of cooking and growing food into separate disciplines with separate specialists is a result of colonization. By bringing these two back together as skills that everyone should have, it is an act of decolonization and food sovereignty.

I also heard inspiring stories, challenges, and creative solutions for urban farming from Kiel Schmidt of Tower Urban Family Farm & Food Commons in Fresno, and Chanowk Yisrael of Yisrael Family Farm in Sacramento. In the same session, I learned about the California Food Policy Council and their work to advocate for "healthy, equitable and resilient food system for the people, businesses and planet it nourishes." This session was full of information about how urban farms can work with local government to make changes that allow farming to not only exist but thrive in urban settings. Chanowk Yisrael also shared the story of why he started growing vegetables in his backyard in Oak Park near Sacramento, which is in the middle of a food desert. (According to the USDA, "Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers." Despite the prominence of agriculture in Sacramento and the Central Valley, many of the communities there are food deserts because agricultural products are exported to other parts of the state and country.) The Yisrael family homestead has become a place for community engagement, education, and food security.

In the session on Letters to a Young Farmer, I heard from farmer and writer Mas Masumoto, Wendy Millet of TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Georgia, and Jill Isenbarger of Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in New York (which produced the Letters to a Young Farmer book). The book is an "anthology of letters and essays addressed to beginning farmers, but with lessons for all who seek a new American food system." Jill posed the question to the audience and the panelists, "Is farming a political act?" Though each panelist and those in the audience had various reasons, the answer seemed overwhelmingly to be Yes. Mas Masumoto shared that his parents were placed in Japanese internment camps during World War II, and that after their release, his father "returned and bought land to farm, staking a political claim that said 'I am an American.'" Will Harris pointed out that "farming is always political" because it's so closely intertwined with civilizations throughout human history. There was discussion of farming as "restitution for the history of what's occurred on the land," bringing to mind the environmental degradation that has been occurring on farmland worldwide since the advent of pesticides, as well as the treatment of people on agricultural lands in our nation's history and present day, including slaves, sharecroppers, and migrant farmworkers. Agriculture has always been and will always be political for these and other reasons.

The final nugget of inspiration that I'll share from the conference speakers I heard from is the story of Paul Stamets' discovery that mushrooms may be able to save the honeybees. Rather than type out the long and beautiful journey that he shared in the closing plenary yesterday morning, I'll share a few links:
For more on this year's EcoFarm conference, search hashtag #EcoFarm2017 on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also visit my Instagram page (@greenbeangal) and Facebook page (fb.com/greenbeangal) for updates I shared during the week. The EcoFarm website will also be updated within the next week with recordings of many workshops and plenaries.

Yesterday after the conference, Green Guy drove down to meet me in Pacific Grove, and we spent a few hours at Point Lobos State Reserve. We sat on a bench overlooking the sparking blue water crash in foamy white waves upon rocks. Whales breached close enough for us to see. Otters floated in the salty waves, elegantly balancing their heads and tails above water and tricking our eyes into thinking every bobbing log might be another otter. Seals sunbathed on rocks, making us envious of their marine lives in which they are blissfully unaware of the politics of human society. It was peaceful and inspiring--so inspiring, in fact, that we decided that for each month of 2017, we'll commit to going to at least one national, state, or regional park that we haven't been to before. If you have suggestions for wild or semi-wild places for hiking, biking, camping, or swimming within driving distance of San Jose or Santa Cruz, please leave a comment or send me a message.


Similar to what Amigo Bob shared at the beginning of the conference, I want to close with a reminder that in the face of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, disregard for the environment, rejection of science and fact, and the many other issues coming from the federal government in just the last week, we each have a role to play. Analysis paralysis is normal as we learn about the many different causes we could take up, but we must each move beyond the overwhelming options and choose one or two causes that speak most to us. In my previous blog post, I went into this in more depth, so if you're still feeling like you aren't sure what to do when you hear the news each morning, please (re)read this post and really reflect for yourself where you want to focus your beautiful, capable energies in these times.
"Every seed we plant is a tiny loving prayer in action." - Rowen White, Indigenous seed steward of the Mohawk and Haudenosaunee people.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Planting seeds of change on Inauguration Day

Last Friday, at my final UCSC Sustainability Inter-Organizational Retreat as a planning co-coordinator, I facilitated a world cafe-style dialogue with a room full of students, staff, faculty, and alumni affiliated with sustainability and social justice organizations. We had just heard from UCSC alum mark! Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice about what it means to decolonize sustainability and focus a critical lens on the environmental movement in support of equity for those who have been most impacted by not only environmental issues, but also the conservation movement itself. It was a powerful talk that left some in tears, others stunned by what they had just learned, and many grateful for an honest presentation that was critical and real without any attempt to sugarcoat.

The world cafe consisted of two questions, which had been crafted by our planning team of students and staff. People at tables throughout the Colleges 9&10 Multipurpose Room had 20 minutes for each question. The first asked folks to reflect on what mark! had shared and consider how they would bring what they learned or re-affirmed into their work this year.

 mark! Lopez speaking to a group of UCSC students, staff, faculty, and alumni on Friday, January 13, 2017.

The second question, posed after most people had moved to another table to find new dialogue partners, was this: As 2017 brings change for our country, as well as for each of us personally as we begin another year of our lives, what challenges do you foresee or fear related to the work that you do in the world (as a student, as an activist, as a changemaker, as an environmentalist, as a citizen, etc.)? What are you most hopeful for in our world in 2017?

Understandably, the responses to this question varied widely based on the background and identity of each person in the room. After 20 minutes of dialogue, I asked the whole group to "harvest" from their two conversations what the deeper discoveries, themes, or questions were that presented themselves. The majority of the responses focused on optimism in the times ahead, which I do believe is important to carry as a tool when we really need it. However, I know for certain that many people in the room can't simply hope for the best or "stay positive" because they are carrying the burden and fear of the many threats and attacks on their identity that have arisen in our country--via Twitter, campaign speeches, and the actions of citizens emboldened by what they've seen our new president do and say. For so many reasons, people are understandably afraid.

I attempted to open the floor for people to share their fears, but my facilitation skills or the vibe in the room or countless other reasons left the many fears unspoken during that full group share-back space. In debriefing this activity with colleagues and friends, I learned that fears were most definitely shared in the small groups of the tables, which made me feel better in some ways to know that people had a space to share but also sorry and concerned that they hadn't felt safe enough to share those fears to the wider audience. As someone somewhat new to facilitating world cafe harvests, a lesson for me was that I need more practice in creating authentically safe spaces for large groups, especially if I'm going to introduce questions like the ones we explored.

I share this story for a few reasons. The first is that I hope it provides a glimpse into some of the conversations happening at college campuses today, as well as and perhaps more importantly, demonstrate that the voices you hear most vocally are never the only opinions out there. The voices you hear are most often reflective of those who feel most comfortable in the spaces you find yourself in, whether it's online or at an event or at a party. If people don't feel safe or spend time in the spaces where you feel safe, you will most likely not hear their voices. It doesn't mean they don't exist or that they're somehow invalidated for not sharing within your hearing distance. I think we forget this when we hear our own opinions validated by everyone around us. It can be easy to think that we must be right since we don't hear the opposing view shared by anyone in our own circles. None of us are immune to this feedback effect, particularly in today's world of social media, which makes it more important than ever to seek out sources of news and opinions that differ from our own.

Another reason I share this is in hopes that you might ask yourself the question I posed to the group: As 2017 brings change for our country, as well as for each of us personally as we begin another year of our lives, what challenges do you foresee or fear related to the work that you do in the world (as a student, as an activist, as a changemaker, as an environmentalist, as a citizen, etc.)? What are you most hopeful for in our world in 2017?

The question asks you to start with fear and then find hope, but hope doesn't always erase fear. We can hold both fear and hope simultaneously. In fact, I think we must if we are going to protect our people, climate, and natural world from the many threats that have risen to power in this country.

Like the seeds I plant in my garden, we can each tap into our potential for change and grow in ways that may seem impossible to us today.

When I woke up this morning, I wrote the following reflection, in hopes that maybe it will help inspire you (yes, you!) to identify your role as a citizen, as a human, as a force of spirit with such a short time on earth to do the work that you were brought here to do.

I believe we all carry a deeper capacity to create change in the world than we realize. Coming from a place of love and compassion for all life on earth, what do you wish were different today, on January 20, 2017? Share the answer to yourself in thought or written word, but convert your answer to the present tense, as though that world you wish were here today actually were here today.

Within that vision, what are the elements you most fiercely desire? In other words, which cause will you take up or continue to work toward in your life today so that when the time comes for you to leave this earth, you can rest knowing that you did all that you could to "be the change you wish to see in the world"?

The causes we can choose to take up are seemingly infinite, and so many have been elevated and intensified by the offensive, regressive, and often terrifying words and actions of the person taking highest office in our country today. Each of us need not tackle all of these causes if each of us can tackle the one or two that we feel most called to address.

For instance, think of the many people, those you know and those many others you share humanity's journey with, whose identities and freedoms have been threatened, ridiculed, and targeted in recent months on the national stage. Consider who has been appointed to oversee public education, energy, environmental protection, and many other positions that exist to supposedly protect people and planet. There's no lack of options to turn your creative capacity toward, and there's no better time to start than today.

Where to start?

Educate yourself on the issue that you've chosen to pursue. Reflect on it and talk about it with others you trust until you can talk about it with others whose reactions you cannot predict. Write about it. Find out what specific calls you can make or letters you can send. Attend an event and find out what existing organizations have been doing. Join them.

Remember to take care of your needs so that you don't become too depleted to do the work that needs doing by people like you (yes, you!) who care.

Keep going, and find others who care. Find those who don't care and talk to them. Keep learning. Resist injustices and also create and inspire new opportunities for justice. Use whatever training and skills you have developed in your life to determine how you can be most effective. Ask questions. Seek out the opinions of others and attempt to understand. Keep going. Don't give up.

Sunrise over the Village and Farm at UCSC. Every morning the sun rises and brings us light and warmth so that life on earth can keep thriving. What simple things can you do everyday to support life on earth?

In closing, something that has been a reassuring reminder and call to action for me is that our country is by and for the people. Words are powerful, and although our country has seen more than its share of injustices, these words are written on the preamble to our nation's constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." In our actions and lives as citizens of the United States of America, we have the power to uphold these words so that they aren't just ink on paper but reality. As citizens, we still carry power, especially when united. People power is what brings forth justice. And you, dear reader, carry power and capacity that you may not even realize you possess. What will you do with it, starting today?

---

P.S. You may have heard I'm moving to the UCSC Farm in April for the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. As a result, my Office Manager & Events Coordinator position in the UCSC Sustainability Office has been posted at jobs.ucsc.edu and applications will be accepted until February 5, 2017. Learn more here, apply, and tell a friend!

Monday, December 19, 2016

UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture

Back in September, I submitted an application to the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture program. This six-month certificate program provides hands-on training in organic gardening and small-scale farming, and it's celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. The program is part of the legacy of Alan Chadwick and takes place on the 30-acre Farm and 3-acre Garden on the UCSC campus. I am ecstatic to share that I was selected to participate in this amazing program, which starts in April--only a little less than 4 months from now!

 Views from the UC Santa Cruz Farm

About the Program
According to the CASFS website, "The six-month Apprenticeship offers instruction and daily work experience in organic gardening and farming, focusing on ecological interactions amongst plants, soils, climate, insects, and pathogens. It also fosters an analysis of the political, economic, and cultural roots of our current food system and provides space to explore how we might shift into a future that supports both people and planet. [...] Since 1967, over 1,500 graduates have gone on to apply this training in a variety of ways around the world: developing their own commercial farms, market gardens, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects, starting inner-city community gardens, working as environmental educators, participating in international rural development projects, managing organic landscaping businesses, and pursuing degrees in agricultural studies." You can learn all about the program on the website here.

Fundraising
I am currently raising funds for program materials, food, and other essential expenses for the six months of the program. You can learn more about what the funds will be used for and even donate directly online at https://www.gofundme.com/greengalgardens. You can also contact me via email for other ways to provide support--promising to visit me or helping me move are other ways that friends and family could help out! If you can spare even $10, it would really help me be able to participate fully and complete the program next October with some savings in the bank to support whatever I end up doing after the program. Below I'm sharing a portion of my application for the program to give you a sense of why I'm pursuing organic gardening and farming through this Apprenticeship.

Thank You!
Thank you so much to everyone who is able to donate and help me as I prepare for this program. In particular I want to thank my parents and my partner Green Guy for everything they have done and continue to do to make my dreams possible! It really means a lot to me to have people in my life who support me in doing the work that I not only want to do but feel called to do. Many of you have been around to watch my budding interest in sustainability blossom into many aspects of how I live my life. Every day, my decision to participate in this apprenticeship program feels more and more like the right next step in my journey. I feel incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me make the decision to apply, even when I thought I might be a bit crazy for wanting to live in a tent cabin for six months on a farm. I'm excited and hopeful for this new adventure, and I couldn't do it without the support of my family and community.


Here is a portion of my application to the Apprenticeship program:

Please describe your previous experience, if any, in farming or gardening.

As a child, I helped my dad in our backyard vegetable and flower garden with planting, watering, composting, picking squash and pumpkins, and eating ripe, red, juicy tomatoes right off the vine. I would carry little bins of tomatoes into the house where my mom would make spaghetti sauce or blanch and freeze the tomatoes for later use. My mom also loved to garden and spent countless hours in the front yard planting flowers and maintaining the landscape. I grew up surrounded by gardeners, including my two grandmothers, and heard stories about my great-grandfather who had a farm in Minnesota in the 1930s. It was the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl that brought my great-grandparents to California in 1940. Immersed in an environment of plants, gardening, and my mom's exploration of natural healing through the use of herbs, I developed an appreciation for plants that led to a fascination for ethnobotany and the many different functions plants can serve in our lives--from food to medicine to tools and more. I spent many hours in high school researching indigenous uses of plants native to my hometown and considered majoring in anthropology to further pursue my studies. I majored instead in Literature for the transferable critical thinking and writing skills I would gain, as well as my love for stories and their power to connect people across time, culture, and space.


After graduating from college, I moved to San Jose where I started my own backyard vegetable garden. It was July 2015, and my collection of bell pepper, cilantro, and mint plants quickly grew into a lush garden of potted edible plants mingled with overflowing nasturtiums, sunflowers, and poppies. Soon, every available sunny windowsill held a rotating array of seedlings and experiments. My childhood passion for gardening blossomed within me now that the demands of homework were gone and I could spend time tending to my plants after a long day staring at a computer at work. I said goodbye to my first garden in June 2016 when my partner and I moved to a house with a larger yard. Less than a month after moving, we built a raised bed on a patch of dying grass where I planted tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, sunflowers, corn, and basil and was absolutely amazed by how the many tiny seeds I planted turned into a jungle of growth in the summer heat. I learned a lot about what I’d do differently next time, but I also ended up with more questions than answers about what exactly I had intentionally done right that led to the success of the few vegetables that did grow well.


I’ve come to crave time spent with my hands in the garden, and I experience a powerful feeling of connectivity and joy when I cook up meals with food I grew myself. I often post about my experiences in the garden on my environmental education and adventure blog Green Gal and its related Facebook page to share my appreciation for the wonderful partnership that gardening nurtures between human, climate, soil, and plant. In addition to growing vegetables and flowers, I’ve also tried my hand at worm composting and composting kitchen scraps and garden waste in a compost bin. My knowledge of gardening and farming receives a boost from farmers I meet when volunteering at local urban farms and as I continue to seek a more holistic awareness of effective methods for sustainably growing food and flowers.

Explain your interest in the Apprenticeship, and how this practical training fits into your future plans.
I have been a member of the UC Santa Cruz campus for six years, as a student and now as a staff person, and throughout those six years, I’ve always held a deep respect and awe for the Farm, its food access and justice programs, and the hands-on, practical experiences it provides for those who get involved. In my time outside of class as a student at UCSC, I actively sought out jobs and internships related to sustainability, but most of them were focused more on outreach and education methods for communicating campus-wide sustainability opportunities and achievements. Rarely did my internships put me in experiential connection with food systems, even though I became knowledgeable about the food programs on campus.


The work I’ve done in the last five years on campus and with the Sierra Club has provided me with skills in sustainability program management, event coordination, community building, and teaching. This work has allowed me to promote many experiential sustainability projects. For years, I’ve been a storyteller for why sustainability matters, a convener of community building opportunities through collaborative events, and a mentor to students. Though I love being connected to many organizations in this way, I’m ready to move out from behind the computer screen where so much of my work happens and transition to a more hands-on, active participation in creating a more just and sustainable world, starting with the soil under our feet and the food growing in it. I’ll never stop being a storyteller or community builder, but I want more technical and focused experiences rather than continuing to skim the surface of a broad array of topics.

When I look back on my own family history, I see a thread of profound experiences throughout my life’s journey leading toward a career in organic farming and gardening. From my vivid childhood memories in my backyard garden to my volunteer work with local farms in San Jose, I am ready to move into this type of work where I will encounter opportunities to connect myself and others with the many benefits of reclaiming community control and intimate knowledge of our food system. In recent years I have developed a passion for cooking from scratch; explored fermentation through homebrewed beer and sourdough bread; written a novel about the role of local, small-scale farms as an indicator of community resilience in the face of climate change; and visited urban farms in my city. I recently co-designed and led a community bike tour to urban farms through the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. The policy work of organizations like Garden to Table to implement the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act (AB551) provides an exciting opportunity for more urban spaces to be temporarily converted into agricultural land, where more community education and food access work can take place. From these experiences, I’ve realized that I want to bring my love of food, education, and community engagement together in a way that connects people to the food on their plate and creates change in our food system. The missing link in my experience that would prepare me for work like this is the skills and knowledge to effectively grow a variety of foods and understand the many factors that contribute to the success of a farm. 

When I’ve looked at job opportunities with these educational farming organizations in the last year, I have noticed that most of the jobs I would be qualified for would likely position me right back in front of a computer and not actively working with the growing of food. Rather than learn organic gardening methods in a piecemeal fashion through entry level part time jobs or unpaid internships on local farms while also trying to manage a job that can pay rent in Silicon Valley, I want to participate in this program that will allow me to fully immerse myself in the study of organic horticulture. I’ve also spoken with my cousin Jack, who participated in the Apprenticeship Program in 2016, about why I’m interested in organic farming and gardening. He shared about his experience in the program this year and strongly encouraged me to apply. I can’t imagine a better time in my life to reconnect with the earth, learn practical skills that feed people, and bring my previous experiences together to cultivate community through food.

In addition to wanting to be effective at growing food, I hope to find opportunities after the program to teach people in the context of farms and gardens. To this day, I recall with great detail my sense of wonder when I wandered through an organic garden at the outdoor education camp in Half Moon Bay where my fifth grade class spent a week. Our experiences with nature and the real world stay with us long after the memorized textbook information has disappeared from our memories. I want to provide opportunities for people of all ages to discover the joy of growing plants and connecting with the seasons. In addition to the food access and environmental sustainability benefits of learning to grow one’s own food, being connected with a plot of land, the climate, and the seasons through gardening can provide a deeper connection to what’s happening in our local communities from environmental degradation and global climate change, which can lead people to want to take action to create a more sustainable future. Ultimately, one of my life's purposes that I began to identify with starting in high school was the desire to help people make the connection between the stewardship of our planet's environment and climate and people's livelihoods and dreams for their future. Our food system is full of opportunities for people to make that connection, and I want to focus my efforts in helping make those connections happen.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Adventures at 20mph on an Elby electric bicycle!

As most of you know, I ride my bike to work every day. Well, technically I bike for about 40 minutes a day before, between, and after two public bus rides totaling 1.5 hours. The buses get me over the hill to the coastal oasis of Santa Cruz and then up a big hill to UCSC. The first, hour-long trip is simply infeasible to bike in the mornings (okay yes there are some people who do it, but they are super heroes). But the second bus trip I take with my bike, the thirty minute one, is not impossible to bike. In fact, I've biked it more times than I can count over the past three years, but it is hard and sweaty and painful for average humans and doing that first thing in the morning takes mustering up some serious energy. So, I just take the bus.

But the other day, I pedaled up the hill to campus without barely breaking a sweat. I glided up it, enjoying the view and smiling. There was no pain. And I was going about 14 miles an hour while doing so. How is this possible? I was riding an Elby e-bike!


Those of you who follow e-bike industry news might be gasping, wondering, "But how did you get your hands on one? They aren't available until September 1st!" Yes, you are correct, diligent followers of awesome things like e-bikes. Lucky for me, I'm friends with this really cool guy named Greg who makes surfboard racks (among other cool bikey things like dog walkers!) through his business Moved by Bikes. Greg was approached by Elby to test out how to attach his surfboard racks on their new e-bikes. In exchange for his help figuring that out, he got his hands on an Elby before they're even released! He knows I'm a blogger who bikes everyday, so he asked if I wanted to take it for a spin. Well of course I said yes, and there you have it.


My first impressions included the following: it's sleek, well-designed (it has a smartly placed battery pack that sits along the frame), has a built in front light that you control on your right handlebar (above), four settings for electric assist, four settings for regenerative braking, and a design similar to bike share bikes in that it is one-size fits most able bodied people. The chain and various cables are all protected and hidden away. More statistics and basics about the bike are outlined on the Elby website here. The version Greg has is a one-speed, but they do also make 9-speed versions.

One feature in particular that I loved right away is that it has a great rack on the back for panniers. I took my heavy pannier off my road bike, filled with my laptop, jacket, u-lock, water bottle, coffee mug, and various papers. It fit perfectly on the Elby rack, and I didn't even notice it was there throughout the ride. As a bike commuter, having a good rack for panniers is key.


To test out the bike in various settings, I sped down the street toward West Cliff Drive, a scenic drive along the bay with both slow car traffic and a multi-use path with people, dogs, bikes, scooters, etc. I noticed very quickly that not having gears was challenging for me. I'm so used to pedaling fast, adjusting gears to fit the speed I'm traveling, and keeping my legs in motion unless I'm going down a hill. Being on flat land and maxing out at 20 mph with the assist with no way to change gears and keep pedaling was a lesson in patience for me. I kept having to remind myself that I was already going 20 mph, and I should just chill.

In addition to riding in the street with cars and sometimes going fast enough that they didn't even want to go around me, I also tried biking on the multi-use path to see if I felt safe using the assist with people, dogs, and small children all over the place. The brakes are really effective and turning was easy as I wove around people. The electric assist is slow enough when you first begin to pedal that I never felt like I was going to accidentally run someone over on the multi-use path. There were a few times when turning onto streets at corners that I pedaled too fast and went shooting into the intersection or turned faster than I meant, but I attribute those moments to me not being familiar with the bike's reaction to certain amounts of pedaling. For the most part, I felt completely comfortable in all kinds of traffic on the Elby.

After testing out flat ground, I decided to bike up Western Drive, a very steep and horrible road that UCSC students who live on the west side or have class at Long Marine Lab often ride up to campus. It's torturous at the base, and then it's somewhat flat, and then it tortures you again. It's great--if you like a workout and want to feel really good about your ability to accomplish anything while you sit in class on top of the hill, pouring sheets of sweat into your lecture hall chair.

But the other day I learned that Western Drive is even better when you don't feel the pain but rather glide easily up the hill at 16-17 miles an hour. Unlike being in a car, on an e-bike you can still feel the terrain and remember those points in the ride where you'd normally stop, try to inhale to your agonized lungs, and then painfully keep pedaling. But on an e-bike, you just get to smile wistfully while daydreaming about prior trips on plebian, non-electric bikes and feel grateful that you can only just barely feel some burning in your thighs. But just barely.


From Western I turned right onto High and took the main entrance road up to campus and then turned left onto Hagar Drive. Again, it was fascinating to experience the repetition of a motion along a path that's so familiar to me with but with ample air in my lungs and no pain. It felt too easy, but mostly it was really fun.

The one place on the ride where I felt incompetent and would need to practice if I used the Elby daily was crossing the bike/ped bridge over highway 1 at the end of High Street. You're supposed to walk your bike up the curvy path that leads up to the bridge, but I ride across this bridge four days a week, and because I know how to bike slowly without coming close to ever bumping into someone, I usually break the rules. I go very slowly, looking ahead for anyone coming around the curve. Sometimes I hop off the bike if someone else is coming and they're too close to me.

When I got to the base of the path up to the bridge with the Elby, I had slowed down significantly because there was a person on a bike and a pedestrian who had just entered the path ahead of me. I turned the assist off and tried pedaling, but the 55 lbs of weight was too much. I turned on assist a little and tried going up. It was fine until I began trying to slowly turn and brake and pedal and watch for pedestrians, and then I couldn't keep control of how much the bike was jumping ahead when I pedaled. I ended up getting off the bike and pushing it up the path, which was fine and was what the sign said I should do anyway. With a few more practice rides over the bridge, I think I would figure out a way to control the pedaling and assist and braking without feeling so jumpy.


Throughout the ride, I had fun surprising people (from a safe distance of course) on the path and in cars just how fast I could go with minimal energy input from me. As you pedal faster, the bike moves faster, and although sometimes there's a jolt of energy as you push harder, it felt very smooth for the most part. The real fun comes in when you hit the throttle button and don't have to pedal at all. That felt the most like cheating; although to be honest, throughout the entire test ride, I felt like a cheater. Here's the part of this review where I get philosophical about the concept of e-bikes in general: I am so familiar with what it feels like to actually pedal and propel one's self forward without electricity that as I passed other people on regular bikes, I felt guilty for not actually exerting full effort and imagined how they might be judging me for zipping along.

But then I thought about people who can't bike for medical reasons or who will just never get out on a bicycle unless it's electric assisted. I thought about how some people might live their whole lives commuting by car because they are concerned about being sweaty on their way to work. I thought of those who might fear being made fun of if they were to bike without electricity because they would feel slow. While I believe that many able bodied people in the world who haven't tried biking should do so in safe places to feel what it's like and maybe realize how awesome it is, I can see how some folks might really prefer an e-bike. They might replace their car trips with it in ways they'd never replace their car trips with regular bicycle trips. They might bike up hills with their e-bike that they would never try on a regular bike.

I realized that by feeling guilty and wondering if people were criticizing me, I was the one being critical. E-bikes are fun, get you places fast without breaking a sweat, make certain terrain and long distance trips more feasible with two wheels, and are simply another mode of transportation in addition to the many we have available to us: bikes, cars, buses, planes, scooters, etc. They aren't a be-all, end-all, but no form of transportation is (although I do believe that bicycles can solve many of our social and environmental problems). Each method of transportation has its limit, and when the regular bicycle reaches its limit for some folks (who can afford it), there are e-bikes. Certainly they aren't the most economically accessible products out there, but I do think it's awesome that well-designed, well-marketed e-bikes could get people out of their cars and into neighborhoods and city streetscapes on two wheels. Hopefully one day e-bikes like the Elby will be more affordable as more and more people turn to them as an alternative to short-distance car trips.

One more philosophical thought before I return to this review: The Elby isn't designed for folks with disabilities so its applicability is limited to the able bodied population of the world, but a quick Google search just now taught me that there are electric bicycles designed for people with a variety of disabilities. I have no idea if they are well-designed, but it's good to know they do exist somewhere. This topic warrants its own blog post (or its own blog, really), but folks with varying disabilities are often left out of bicycle advocacy conversations and programs. Bike share bicycles, for example, are designed like the Elby, for able bodied individuals who don't require accommodations. I know there are folks out there advocating to make bike share and bike advocacy more accessible to all people, and they inspire me to pay attention to ways in which we can do better to create accessible products and welcome spaces for all people.

In summary, I would highly recommend to anyone in the market for an e-bike (as well as folks considering a motorized scooter, new car, electric car, and basically anyone without mobility impairments who enjoys zipping along at 20 mph) that they test out an Elby bicycle. I had a blast zooming up familiar pain-inducing hills to awesome views without really breaking out in a sweat. As I mentioned above, for folks who are used to bicycling fast with gears, it might be worth looking into a 9 speed versus a single speed. It's great for carrying pannier bags on the back and it's the same size as regular bicycles so it should fit on bus front racks for those who bike/bus commute. To finish off this review, I'll leave you with a video that I took while riding the Elby up Western Drive in Santa Cruz (yes, I nearly crashed at the end but it was the pavement's fault and I saved myself from falling!):

video


Oh, and in case you're curious how the Urban Farms Community Bike Ride went that I led today, you can scroll through photos from the ride on Facebook here. It was really fun and we had an awesome turnout! So many thanks to everyone who made the ride possible, including Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, Garden to Table, Veggielution, Cowgirl Bike Courier, Spade & Plow Organics, and my fabulous planning and ride co-leadership team!


Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

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