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Feasible green tips and stories about nature, adventures, place, and humanity. Live a little simpler, save a little green, and connect with your community to be the change that you wish to see in the world. We're all in this together.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The inspiring motivation of community engagement

I'm filled to the brim with inspiration this afternoon after a delightful chat over coffee with my friend Cain at a cool little coffee shop in downtown San Jose called Social Policy (part of the Bellano "family of coffee lovers"). (If you live in SJ, you may have seen Cain cranking down the street on his red cargo bike hauling huge boxes of awesome stuff for Cowgirl Bike Courier!) We discussed an upcoming bike/art event he is planning, a bike-to-farms ride that I'm planning, San Jose bicycle news and issues, Viva Calle SJ promotion, and more. Last evening, I also connected with friends at my house to plan our bike-to-farms ride. We had a potluck feast of homemade, vegetarian yumminess, and then we identified next steps for turning our vision into a reality. And the night before last, I attended a bike coalition meeting where I saw plans for putting bidirectional contraflow lanes around the SJSU campus and heard the good news that the Willow Glen Road Diet has overall met its intended goals and will hopefully remain permanent. It's been a fun few days of seeing awesome people and working toward exciting projects in the San Jose community.

This morning, Cain remarked about how great it is to find other people in the community who care and are doing cool work, and I could not agree more. I don't know about you, but it can be easy for me to get stuck in a routine of working, eating, sleeping, and watching Netflix when I'm not connected with the inspiring work going on around me. Meeting people doing that work and finding meaningful ways to get involved is one of my favorite activities, and I've found that once I find the motivation to follow through with one project, I end up connecting with many other projects until eventually I'm doing meaningful work in my community on a regular basis. This happened in Santa Cruz for me after getting involved with the bicycle community there, and I can feel it starting to happen here in San Jose. Finally!

I find it motivating and exciting to be connecting with people like Cain in San Jose who are creating spaces for people to connect, have fun, ride bikes, celebrate creativity, and support tangible change for the betterment of the community.

After our coffee meeting, I asked Cain if there were any good parks nearby for reading. He pointed me in the direction of William Street Park, and on the way I biked around the San Jose State campus since I hadn't ever done that before and I'm considering applying to graduate school there. My parents also both attended SJSU (my dad for undergrad and his Masters degree, and my mom for her Masters degree) and my mom even worked there. It's silly to me that I'd never wandered around the campus before! The campus was very cool and William Street Park was delightful. I am grateful to now know about this little gem of greenery near downtown San Jose. Thanks, Cain!

 The quality of my phone camera is less than ideal, but this is one of the beautiful trees in William Street Park in San Jose.

As I sat at the park under the shade of a tree, I wrote a little bit. Here's a somewhat edited version of something I jotted down in my notebook:

When you follow a thread in your life, it often reveals a larger woven cloth connected to other people, history, and subjects. It is the concept that Muir referred to when he said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." What parts of the fabric of life are you picking out and tugging on, attuned to and engaged with? What are those threads connected to, and which threads have you avoided, thinking they weren't part of your cloth? Keep tugging and picking out new things to find where they lead, and don't worry about unraveling the cloth. The more we tug and pick and find the connections we didn't know existed before, we help to weave a stronger and more connected fabric of life.

Certainly I'll share more about all of the exciting projects I mentioned above once more details are ironed out and ready to share. If you're interested in getting involved with this kind of inspiring and fun work in San Jose, send me an email: greenbeangal@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!
Green Gal

Monday, June 13, 2016

Building a raised bed

A couple of weeks ago, we moved into our new place just down the way from our previous rental. We've been settling in, still sometimes discovering unpacked boxes hidden in our closets, and this weekend we turned our attention to the backyard.

When we moved, we brought almost all of our plants from the previous place with us since most of them were in pots. Seeing all of the plants in a big pile made me realize how many plants I really have! It took multiple car trips to get them to the new place, and when we unloaded them, we set them on some cement along the side of the house. I rearranged them over the last couple weeks and have been watering them, but because they're on cement, they dry out much more quickly than when the plants were sitting on dirt previously. I put some of them on plant saucers or greenhouse trays, but I wanted a solution that included dirt, and I also wanted to be able to grow corn and pumpkins. What to do?

Before we moved in, we had asked the landlord here if he would be okay with us removing part of the back lawn and putting in a garden. He told us to just let him know our plans, but he agreed that it would be a better use of space. We had also run the idea by our nextdoor neighbor (we live in a duplex), and she said it sounded good to her.

On Friday, I was planting and watering in the back when the landlord came by to trim some bushes in the front yard since he's our landscape gardener as well as landlord. I asked him what he thought about a raised bed in a section of the lawn, and he immediately agreed and encouraged me to plant tomatoes. So just like that, we had his approval and began dreaming up what we would plant there.

This is what the backyard looked like when we moved in (it's a photo from the Craigslist ad). The smaller section of lawn on the right is where we put the raised bed.

After visiting garage sales with my sister Jeune Gal on Saturday for the neighborhood-wide annual garage sale weekend, we headed over to Home Depot (I know, the owner supports Trump but they were the only hardware store around that had the right lumber!). Green Guy was home sick with a cough, so it was just me and Jeune Gal in the enormous warehouse maze of Home Depot, looking for a whole lot of redwood lumber (which will last longer than other woods, but cedar would be even better), galvanized nails, hardware cloth for keeping gophers out, and ~30 cubic feet of soil. (A list of what we ended up using for the raised beds and cost is below.)

We found the lumber section and then couldn't find the dimensions we wanted, so a kind and strong employee helped us and lifted three 2x12'' 8 foot untreated redwood boards from the rack and set them in a huge cart for us. He checked all three boards and made sure they didn't have cracks or rot--he had to go through quite a few of them before finding three that were in good shape. After searching for a bit and getting lost a couple times (some of the Home Depot employees we talked to weren't all that helpful), we found galvanized nails designed for decks (but you'll found out later why we didn't use them). At this point, we checked out so we could see how much more room was left in the car before we got soil.

The boards fit in Green Guy's Montero, but they went all the way into the front cab of the car. They weren't anywhere near the gear shift and didn't interfere with my ability to see, so we just prayed they wouldn't go crashing through the windshield. It looked like we could still fit about 4 bags of raised bed/potting soil, so I went back in and bought them, along with some hardware cloth that I finally found in their fencing/chicken wire section. I lifted all four bags of soil by myself onto the cart, pushed it to the car, and lifted all four bags into the back. Whew, what a work out!

We made it safely home with our heavy load of materials to find that Green Guy had been shoveling in the back and removed all of the grass for us! I guess he was feeling better! Also, special thanks to my dad for letting us borrow his shovel.

The ground was rock hard, and we probably should have been watering the lawn for a few days before doing this project, but we didn't really know we'd be doing it on Saturday. Ideally, we would have dug into the soil to loosen it, but we didn't, and I suppose we'll find out if that was a mistake once we begin watering the bed.

Once we checked that most of the grass was pulled up, we attempted to level out the dirt somewhat. We weren't scientific about it since we don't own a level, but maybe we should have been. Most of the websites and videos I watched encouraged leveling to avoid uneven draining. Again, we'll see if we made a big mistake soon!

Then we laid out the hardware cloth, which will prevent gophers and other ground rodents from eating our veggies. I had some random tent stakes in my backpacking pack, so we used those to hold the corners of the hardware cloth down. (Note to self: Buy more tent stakes!) The reason why this step is so important is that my grandma told me a story about one time when she watched from her kitchen window as a gopher pulled her crop right into the ground. Imagine caring for a plant, watching it grow, dreaming about what it will taste like, and then seeing a thief yank it into its underground lair. Horrible!

When we went to lay out the hardware cloth, I realized I hadn't purchase enough (I got two rolls of 3' x 5'). If we had wire cutters, we could have cut some of the extra off one end to place in the gaps, but we don't own wire cutters. The visual of a gopher pulling our future corn crop into the ground was enough to make us agree to finish the project on Sunday.

Although we knew we couldn't pour the soil in until we finished lining the ground with hardware cloth, we decided to build the raised bed structure so it would be ready. Fortunately, our nextdoor neighbor happens to own an electric saw, so Green Guy carefully measured one of the redwood boards and cut it in half to make two 4.5 foot boards (the boards weren't exactly 8 feet as we found out, but since we measured it to cut it in half, rather than cut it to 4 feet, it didn't matter).

Then Green Guy began hammering the boards together, but it was so difficult and loud and pretty much impossible that he decided to go buy some screws. The neighbor with the saw also has a power drill, so when he returned from the store, he quickly screwed the whole raised bed together. It was so simple!

We would probably still be hammering the boards together if we had continued using nails...

...and this is why humans invented power tools.

Yesterday on my way back from working at UCSC's Commencement ceremonies, I stopped by Home Depot to get some more hardware cloth and soil. I'm getting pretty good at lifting huge bags of soil! 

We laid out the rest of the hardware cloth, set the raised bed on top, measured it to make sure it was even with the edge of the concrete, poured in the soil, and leveled it out!

The view from our backdoor.

We may need to add a couple more bags of soil since it will compress when we water it, but it's basically ready for planting! It was a much simpler project than some websites made it seem. We didn't bury it into the ground or have posts that secure it down, but we don't think we'll need that. We plan to put gravel or rock around the edges to cover the dirt and extra hardware cloth. I can't wait to see it filled with plants!

I would encourage anyone with some extra space in their yard to build a raised bed. It was fun, easy, and didn't take all that much time. Below I'm listing the materials we used for this bed as well as some tips. If you have suggestions or ideas, please leave a comment!

Raised Bed Materials (4 x 8 ft) from Home Depot*
Tips if you do this
  • *Plan ahead and find out if there's a locally owned hardware store where you can get some or all of these materials. We were in a hurry to get the project done on Saturday, but in retrospect I would have felt better about shopping at our favorite farm supply store that's about an hour from here, even though it probably would have cost more. 
  • If you absolutely must shop at a big box store, consider placing your order online ahead of time. Since we got a late start in the day to do this, we wasted a lot of daylight searching around Home Depot. 
  • Be sure to measure the boards in the store and check for cracks or rot. Some of the boards that the employee pulled were actually 14'' not 12'', which wouldn't have been the end of the world, but would have been unnecessarily expensive.
  • If you own or can borrow power tools for this project, do it. Nailing into and hand sawing redwood is really labor-intensive.
  • Watch some videos as you're designing your raised bed. Sometimes the online descriptions can make this project sound much more complicated than it is. 
Thanks for reading! You can scroll through these photos on my Facebook page here.
Green Gal

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!

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