A dirty word

Recently, I've been thinking about how the word 'consumer' has such a bad feel to it- it fits perfectly with our society, with exploitation, with mindlessness, with a poor outlook for the future, and it lacks a sense of reciprocity. Consumer has come to be a dirty word for me. Perhaps this is just semantics at work, but I was happy to find an alternative, at least so far as food is concerned, and the principals laid out here could apply to many other fields. . .
"We consider ourselves co-producers, not consumers, because by being informed about how our food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become a part of and a partner in the production process."
-Slow Food USA


Defining local

The average food product will travel well over 1000 miles before reaching the table. In addition to the obvious pollution caused by such transport, other downfalls include increased pesticide/preservative use and decreased taste in produce.
The 100 Mile Diet has gained popularity in recent years, abdicating food from within a 100 mile radius of where ever you call home. Their website offers a tool that will calculate the area for you, which is where this map originated.
Since we'll be arriving midwinter, we won't have garden goods available for some months, so in the meantime, we'll be getting to know the local food scene. I'm psyched that Eureka/Arcata and Santa Rosa fall within our circle, although I wonder if places like Redding really count, since transportation lines would actually be much farther than 100 miles-but enough with the nitty gritty for now.

Local Eats. . .

Preliminary web search yields local beer and cheese!

. . . What more could a girl want?



La Querencia

Homeland is a term that may not mean as much to as many people as it once did. La Querencia “a place on the ground where one feels secure, a place from which one's strength of character is drawn." -Barry Lopez, The Rediscovery of North America (Recently, Estevan Arrellano came to Flagstaff -- in one of his lectures, he mentioned love, which to my poor grasp of Spanish sounded like ‘querencia’- As Estevan was speaking about the connection to land and water and tradition, I could see how these two definitions could go together, and the idea is beautiful to me.) Sometimes it feels strange to be packing up and moving as the first course of action in a project devoted to connection with place. I’ve known and loved many places as home. The velvety emerald forests of the Olympic Peninsula, and the sun baked, windswept, alluringly beautiful southern Colorado Plateau, and the moonscape remains of hydraulic mining, fog shrouded cypress, and rich fall colors of northern California all hold strings to my heart, the memories and tastes of these places like theoretical wedding rings (In Diane Ackerman’s ‘A Natural History of Love’ she says something like, there is a (blood)vein that runs from our ring finger directly to our heart) arching across the continent, from heart to land like so many rainbows of memory. The red, dry rocks and high skies of the Colorado Plateau are as much a part of me as the crashing waves, sheltering redwood and rejuvenating fog of the Pacific Northwest.

There is an aspect of homecoming to this voyage, however—I began my life along the south fork of the Eel River, about 30 river miles from my new home. This feels important to me.

There are numerous logical reasons for what I’m doing, but the truth is—they’re not the real reasons. This migration is due to a deeper yearning, a sort of tugging that I can’t ignore. You could say my feet are hungry for the kiss of dirt, that my mouth aches to taste ‘green’ or that my dreams bring me to the misty places of memory and icy mountain creeks. All of this is true, but it leaves so much out. I want to live with the land I belong to.


To address the what, why, where, and so on for this whole project, in a roundabout manner

Over the past few months, my heart has broken more actively than ever before—it has also been mended by the countless threads of wonder and beauty that hold our world together. A lot of this was instigated by the lectures and readings I experienced in my first semester as a grad student. I’ve tasted a bit of what it means to know a place, and I’ve read a lot about our slim chances of having a place worth knowing if we continue this way. It became apparent that for me, it’s not possible to wait any longer. I hear about, research, write about and think about a devastating culture that has eaten away at the traditional, ecological, and spiritual strings of our land, but I barely act on this knowledge. The contradiction within me became too much—so I decided to DO something: I’m moving to northern California to conduct some pre-thesis research, or, more precisely, to live. To connect with a place, to know the people and animals and plants and weather and history of a place, the place where I was born. I’m moving back to the banks of the Eel River. I spent my first quarter of my life along the south fork of the Eel River in northern California, 12 miles as the crow or the osprey or the heron flies from the Pacfic Ocean, among huckleberry bushes and madrone trees. Perhaps you can’t ever step into the same river twice, but in a way I’m going to try.

I think one of the most painful undercurrents of modern society is the knowledge that we’re living in a way that harms our ecosystem, in a way that will make it difficult for future generations to live, in a way that currently causes 35-150 species to disappear every day. (http://forests.org/archive/general/coolfact.htm)

Here’s a look at my own behavior: According to the Earth Day eco foot print calculator, if everyone in the world lived as I do, we would need 3.3 planets- I require 14 acres just to support my living habits. My biggest requirement is food, at 5.5 acres – I’ve read elsewhere that if you grow your own food, a quarter acre could provide most of your needs, which is much better than 5.5 acres- and much more fun than all those trips to the grocery store. But the acreage alone isn’t everything- most commercial mono-crops are dowsed in chemicals, harvested by machine, and increasingly genetically altered, I know I can do better than this. So I decided to plant a garden and immerse myself in what it means to be a ‘locavore’. Following the local eating trail laid down by Nabhan, Kingsolver, Smith, Mackinnon and the vast majority of the preindustrial population, I will reintroduce myself to the food cycle, and learn what it means to feed myself.

“Distance is the enemy of awareness”- Plenty

In creating this garden, I hope to weave the threads of tradition back into the process. The first few months in my new home will be dedicated to relearning the native plants and animals, to exploring the garden that already exists. I want to grow traditional plants from the Yuki, Cato and other regional indigenous peoples, but I also want to incorporate plants from my mixed heritage- Welsh, Moravian/Check, German, Cherokee, and some other unknown English influence. I found a tomato named after the river that my mother grew up along in Iowa, where my grandparents still live. Aside from these focuses, my goal is to grow a garden that can support a family of four and supplement any neighbor’s food supply as desired. Since this is a response to devastating land management techniques and invasive practices, I will research traditional ways of growing, speak with local gardeners and carefully plan before beginning. All the digging will be done by hand, no synthetic fertilizers will be used- just compost, and heirloom seeds with a preference toward rare or endangered varieties will be chosen.

“Gardening is the principal way in which we come to understand that we belong on this earth and are part of it.” –Katherine Grace Endicott, Northern California Gardening

I’ll be living next to a creek called Chicken Coop Creek, which connects to the South Fork of the Eel River a few hundred yards away after flowing beneath a roadway . The road that it crosses connects the Pacific Ocean to highway 101 by way of a mill a few miles west of my new home. The mill, although situated among a redwood forest, processes Canadian trees that come to shore in Eureka, California, about 100 miles to the north. The huge trees are carried by truck past my house twice (at least) in their life. Once in semi-sized lengths, and once as lumber, boards, and chips. About five miles west, the deep redwood forest begins, and perhaps twenty miles farther, the Pacific Ocean, misty and grey, massages the igneous shore. To the east, it becomes a bit drier, but many of the plants stay the same.

I will be living next to a patch of Cow Parsnips, partially beneath white spruce, and behind towering bay trees. It is a beautiful place, from my small grasp on the history of the area, I gather that this was the site of the original European homesteader’s barn. Across the street and river, a 2000 plus acre ranch, a remnant of this homestead, remains. Before this, the Cato and Yuki people knew this region as home, they lived in cone shaped houses covered with bark in the winter and brush in the summer. Their diet consisted of acorns, fish, deer, seeds, nuts, berries, grasshoppers, and bird eggs. (http://ceres.ca.gov/ceres/calweb/native.html)

I wish that the changes that need to take place for the health of our world were as simple and easy as moving home to do what we love. I know there’s more to it than that, but right now, for me, this seems like a good place to begin.