This is probably the most difficult thing I've written. Six years ago yesterday, I introduced myself to the blogosphere, writing my first post, "Naturally I Love Farms." I do love farms—no matter what is going on in my life, stepping onto a farm instantly erases all woes. Just as being eye-to-eye with a baby does. There is something so holy and right about what farmers do, and how babies are.
If you've been reading my blog regularly, you've noticed that the posts have been fewer and farther between. It's not that I don't want to write, it's the circumstances in which I find myself—in which Bob and I found ourselves. All of which have combined to make life more difficult than it's ever been for us—except perhaps the time we were embroiled in family court for what seemed like a few centuries of the Black Plague.
I haven't had much work to speak of for the last several months. I suppose everybody's tightening their belts. Simultaneously, there has been a need for me to step up and get Logan after school. Because my car is badly in need of a tune-up, my former whopping 15 MPG Volvo sedan now gets under ten miles to the gallon. And that means a roundtrip to Logan's school and back costs $6 or so. Throw in a front light repair from a fender-bender—and an eBay ripoff—and the fix-it ticket, and there went another bundle.
And then there is the weather. While I don't begrudge a drop of rain that falls in California—the farms and ranches need it!—Bob's building work falls off when the weather is inclement. Last month alone, he figures the rain cost him $1000. And it's not "off the top," it's "from the bottom."
Last week, after endless rain, I stepped out of my bed and my feet went squish on the carpet. The same thing happened when I stepped into the bathroom. Bathroom, bedroom, and garage: flooded. Not up to our knees, but enough that the carpet had to be ripped out. And if there is anything stinkier than a mildewed carpet soaked in mud, please don't describe it to me.
About the only impass in our relationship is with our landlord. Bob simply refuses, EVER, to ask him for any repairs or improvements to our house. Because we are (since we took on the responsibility seven years ago to raise Logan) constantly late with our rent, he stalwartly refuses to ask the landlord for anything. Not even things that landlords are required by law to provide to renters. Never mind that the landlord is very, very, very monied. (And a nice man, but still.)
Following the flood, the French drain that Bob dug so the water wouldn't enter the house—well, it stopped working. Just too much water. So we can only flush the commode or take a shower rarely. As is the case with our neighbors, in the cabin on higher ground than ours. Otherwise, sewage floods the lower bathroom.
I know: this is not a tsunami. No babies died. The only damage, besides the carpet, was to some of Bob's most precious original vinyl LPs. (Don't cry for me, Jimi Hendrix.) But there is simply so little money that I can't afford to drive to farms right now. This week, I took stuff back to Trader Joe's so I could just get bread, milk, and eggs. And I didn't get organic eggs or milk, either. They're two dollars more, and two dollars is five gallons of water, or a chunk of cheese or bunch of carrots.(I haven't bought anything at a farmers market in months.)
The list of obligations includes:
Repairs to our house…carpet, paint, linoleum for the second flooded bathroom.
Paying off my mechanics from nearly a year ago ($700)
Car insurance ($100)
Paying off some of the medical bill from my hospitalization last fall ($600)
Getting out of being overdrafted over $100 (no choice: had to pay the fix-it ticket or get fined another $300)
Oh, the necessities of life. Some groceries, a few seedlings for the garden, a pair or two of shoes, and a few new clothes (none of those in over a year)
Other stuff. I'm overdue for an eye exam (apparently I am growing a cataract), dental work (ouch), and some prescriptions to be filled (fortunately, they're less than $30 a month). No, we have no insurance.
Those are my dear darlings. Being Logan's Nana is the most awesome job I've ever had. And the most life-saving blessing for both Bob and me—and, I suspect, for Logan as well. He's the opposite of radioactivity.
Just when our three girls were all out on their own, this amazing being, Logan—our grandson—came into our lives, through circumstances much like those you would see on Jerry Springer, if you were inclined to watch Jerry Springer. When Logan came in, everything that used to be recreation went out. We stopped going out to dinner. We stopped going out of town. We stopped getting HBO. We cut out both of our landlines. Bob started paying for Logan's day care, and we figure that the monetary costs alone have been upwards of $30,000 in the past seven years. The cost of time (lost work) in dealing with the various agencies: family court, Child Protective Services, etc., and all the drama created by other players in the scenario also approaches several thousand dollars.
Naturally, the toll in stress has been close to unbearable—especially if you add in the world events and my level of empathy with the Japanese, the union workers, the protesters in all the countries, and decent Americans who deserve more than 1% of our citizens controlling 80% of the money. (I can't watch the news now.)
I have been following a recommended regime of extra Vitamin D and sunshine—it's made a difference. But the other side of the coin is creative paralysis and concrete procrastination. When I have had work, it's hard to focus. My to-do list is fairly long, and most of the triangles are not filled in. (Maybe if I confess my sins, I'll feel guilty and make amends to the notepad.) I've become somewhat agorophobic, but part of that's just feeling like I don't have anything to offer in a conversation, unless it's to exclaim about Logan's substantial abilities and achievements. I don't want to go out because my clothes aren't nice. I don't want to go out because it costs gas. It's a Möbius strip of shame.
So I don't know when I will post something related to farms again. I feel like a sham. On the other hand, I love what I do, when I get to do it. LOVE it. And my work revivifies me.
I am asking for help, which I've done before. I need help getting out of this financial hole. I need help remembering that Logan's worth every single penny it's cost—because he is a joyful boy with a staggering amount of creativity. (He also misses his mother so much that he curls up in a ball and cries, which just thinking about, makes me cry, too. He hasn't seen her in over a year.)
I have sold some jewelry, and will be selling a couple more of my most favorite pieces. I can live without them: they're just shiny things. I need a shiny aura more.
I miss my farms. I miss being a bright light in the world. I hate being a burden. I hate feeling like a failure, while simultaneously taking joy in my passions and the ability to laugh and laugh hard. And to make others laugh. Twitter's been a sanctuary of one-liners, and I follow some of the most irreverent, hilarious people out there.
That's really all I have to say. Too much and still incomplete. So many people have let me know they've missed me here, and care about me (here and in real life)…I'm letting you know where I am, and where I'm not. My heart thanks every one of you who've sent me comments, notes, love, and given me your time—be it Facebook, Twitter, or in person.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter. —Blaise Pascal
Thanks for being there. I will now attempt to resume a normal breathing schedule. Deep breath. Click:Publish Now.
PayPal address, if you want it, is firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again.
Saturday was beautiful. I walked between the raindrops all over downtown Santa Cruz, looking for a client/friend who was hiding at one of three holidays fairs in an 8-block radius. I found her too late, and in a room too dark to photograph her wares. (More on her soon. She is Heidi Schlecht, former owner of the River Street Cafe & Cheese Shop (now owned by the talented Claire Palazzo), and Heidi has renamed her incredible preserves with the Plumline label.)
I headed over to Chocolate bistro next to Bookshop Santa Cruz, hoping to see my friend, the owner and chef, David Jackman. He was there, and we talked about the usual: friends, food, Wikileaks, our involvement with the internet and then…he was leaving. David owns a second restaurant called Backstage Kitchen, next to the Rio Theater. Originally started as a lunch-dinner venue, Backstage now only hosts private parties—absolutely delicious fare, as you can expect from David and his talented team.
Before leaving, David gave me some news, and invited me to an event that was happening that night. A new enterprise in town is Lightfoot Industries, who hosts "Supper Club" events in a pilot program for at-risk teens. The students get to train in a real restaurant, learning not only professional skills that will serve them in life, but equally important: about sustainable foodways, community, family, and excellent communication. David has generously offered his restaurant for staging the events: professional guest chefs are employed to do the cooking. The work that falls to the teens is as you'd expect: set-up, service, and so on. But it goes further than that.
Pictured here, Hari Mohan Pant (pronounced HAH'ree MO'hahn Pahnt) who, at nearly seventy years old, can scramble around like a baby goat on the hills of the Chadwick Garden at UCSC to procure the overflowing bag of fruits and vegetables for me and my visiting friend, Simon Majumdar, when we visited in early September.
I am at a loss for words. It doesn't happen often—it's not writer's block, but just the timidity of wanting to do honor to someone, and to help his charity, that I hesitate. Hari is just concluding his six-month residency at the UCSC Farm & Garden's apprenticeship progam (CASFS). I believe he is the second oldest of over 1300 participants in the 43-year history of the program. (The other man was a retired doctor.)
Yesterday was the culmination of three months of procrastination and guilt (for not blogging), but I was roused to action when I heard that Ken Kimes was going to be honored by the Mayor and City Council of Santa Cruz. (You can read the entire proclamation here.)
Pictured here with his wife, Sandra Ward, and Mayor Mike Rotkin, Ken is holding the proclamation with his injured left hand. He lost his right hand and part of his arm in a machine that grinds mustard seeds for biodiesel, one of his abiding passions, in August. While most of us would collapse into terror, self-pity, or just freak out, what is apparent in both Ken and Sandra is the deepest gratitude. He is alive. It could have been so much worse.
Beyond that, Sandra's first email to our community was that they could feel the prayers and love holding them up—and that the sense of humor they share (with the world) is one of their greatest treasures right now. Read this article about Ken's progress in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (September 7, 2010). I can just hear Sandra's alto voice saying, "I can cross-dress him if I want to. I shower him and I can rinse him the way I want to rinse him." Ken, in many ways, has learned to SURRENDER, DOROTHY.
With less than an hour's notice yesterday, I learned about the proclamation, and got myself, along with Paul Cocking, owner of Gabriella Café, to City Hall. The serendipity of parking right where Sandra and Ken were walking was stupendous: I leaped from the car, hugged them both (hard) and said, "You're the reason I'm here!"
I haven't seen them in weeks, and I had tears of joy in my eyes just to lay eyes on them again. We headed to City Hall, where a dozen or so of their friends appeared—I didn't see anyone from the markets except the good folks who occasionally run the New Natives booth.
What you need to know is that I don't know many farmers at all who are a$$holes or mean or unpleasant. One reason I came to love my farmer friends is how committed they are to really good food. Another reason is that they're real—there is so little pretense of snobbishness among people who work so hard—we laugh at the idea of snobby farmers. Among all the farmers I know, Sandra and Ken have been SO kind (especially to Logan, whom they've know since he was barely a year old), and SO funny, and they are legendarily generous in our community—sharing time, knowledge, and physical work with so many people. Paul Cocking told me, "That downtown market would not exist without Sandra and Ken."
After the brief ceremony, we went into the shady courtyard, where I met a bevy of women who are either elves or angels…they are coordinating all the fundraisers for Ken's medical bills. (Those are expected to reach $100K, very little of which is covered by insurance.) There are two fundraisers:
Benefit Evening this Friday, October 1, 6:00-10:00 p.m. at Pacific Cultural Center (1307 Seabright at Broadway). Traditional Berber music by Fattah and Mohamed of Aza; traditional music from Zimbabwe by Kuzinga Marimba. Desserts and refreshments, and a silent auction to help pay Ken's medical expenses. Tickets $25 at New Natives stand at the farmers markets and at the door. You can also make donations at the New Natives stand at the farmers markets: cash or checks.
Additionally, there will be a farm dinner in San Juan Bautista on October 30. I'll post details when I get them. (There is also a benefit dinner scheduled at Gabriella Cafe, tentatively posted for October 28, but that might change.)
Two of the angel/elves walked with Ken, Sandra, and me to Chocolate bistro—for a little wine, a little food, and a tier of desserts prepared and gifted by David Jackman—a dear friend and a farm lover to the core.
It would be hard for me to capture how simultaneously casual and attentive both Ken and Sandra are. He discussed the accident, the rescue, the incredibly detailed procedures on his arm and remaining hand—without any squeamishness or angst. I felt free to tell him what a beautiful hand…hands?…he has, and he admitted he always liked beautiful hands, and said, "And now I only have one," with the tiniest bit of rue in his voice. But forthright and welcoming, and more than anything, both of them ready and able to laugh at things ribald and irreverent. Truly my kind of people.
And I am not alone.
Sorry, Sandra, for the out of focus tilt, but I want people to see the light in Ken's eyes. It's there for all of us. Thank you, both, for all you do.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "If the Supreme Creator had meant us to be gloomy, he would, it seems to me, have clothed the earth in black, not in that lively green, which is the livery of cheerfulness and joy." —Janet Graham (1723?-1789), The History of Emily Montague
Thanks for coming. Thanks also if you help spread the word about the fundraisers.
I know, she doesn't look like a farmer. She isn't a farmer. Saturday, I attended our daughter's graduation from UCSC…my first college graduation ceremony ever. We knew Malaika was going to graduate with honors from the university and from her department, but what we did not know flabbergasted us.
I was flipping through the program and glanced down a page to see Malaika's name, one of twelve in her college, under the Phi Beta Kappa heading. WHAT?! I knew it was a big deal, but it wasn't until later, after come Googling and asking around just what a big deal this might be. 17 U.S. Presidents, 38 Supreme Court justices, and a slew of other people who can only be described as leaders, scholars, and more.
We're hoping it bestows a second round of free education for her: she intends to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience. (Her four years at UCSC were completely covered by a Regents Scholarship that included housing and more.)
My column today simply is to congratulate Malaika for working as hard as she could since she first set foot in kindergarten. She's a born student, an amazing artist (she paints, draws, does ceramics, etc.), and she has earned honors in almost every subject I can think of. Beyond that, she is a happy young woman who makes people feel better. She's a wit, a liberal's liberal, and an excellent cook—some of which I can lay claim to influencing her for the better.
Malaika, dearest: thank you for choosing your daddy and me to be your parents.
I promise to write more tomorrow: something important has come up.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “ΦBK — Greek initials of the motto ‘Love of learning is the guide of life.’” —from the Phi Beta Kappa website.
Five times a week, the Santa Cruz Farmers Market holds a market somewhere in the county. The oldest and largest of these markets grew out of the rubble of the 1989 earthquake, in the parking lot downtown where Ford's department store once stood.
Last week, market manager Nesh Dhillon gave me the news that the market is celebrating by expanding into 20 new slots, featuring a variety of vendors that will enhance the market's cultural influence in our community. One new service:
A “veggie valet” program [will be] a free service for customers of the market. We have a spot in the market that has street/car access where anyone can check in their shopping bags, continue shopping or go retrieve their vehicle and pull up and get their food. This new service makes it easier to drive into downtown and shop at the farmers’ market. The service will be fully function April 28th.
In addition to the customary farms and hot food providers, the expansion will feature "live music, valet bike parking, arts and crafts, cooking demonstrations, information space for non-profit organizations, and expanded restroom facilities." The arts and crafts booths, a pilot project with The Tannery Project, will be sure to attract new visitors, as will the addition of new prepared foods vendors. I'm also very pleased to see that Sharp Quick, my knife-sharpening friend, Terry Beech, is being given a full-time spot.
Tomorrow's festivities will have live music (Harmony Grits!), a photo exhibit of the past 20 years (featured on the back wall of the market), cooking demonstrations by the inimitable Jozseph Schultz, and more. (Jozseph is re-opening India Joze, a Santa Cruz local legend, on May 1, much to the delight of his Jonezing fanbase.)
You can view and download the new farmers market map, above.
On a more personal note, I've been involved with an incredible project at the UCSC Library that is coming to fruition on Earth Day (April 22). Irene Reti, the Director of Regional History Projects, has for years cultivated her dream of creating an oral history of sustainable agriculture in our Edenic little part of the world. There have been so many passionate pioneers who've had a major influence on agriculture, globally, that it was time to gather these stories. 58 interviews with "large- and small-scale farmers, farm advisors, activists, educators, researchers, policymakers, farmers-market managers, food distributors, and other shapers of the region’s past 40 years of agricultural history."
April 13, 2010 UCSC Library to launch new web site on Central-Coast sustainable agriculture and organic farming
While the project focuses on developments in Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, many of the interviewees have influenced the movement for sustainable food systems at the national and international level.
Local organizations represented include the Agricultural and Land-Based Training Association, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California Certified Organic Farmers, Organic Farming Research Foundation, California FarmLink, the Ecological Farming Association, the Homeless Garden Project, UCSC’s [Farm & Garden] Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, the Life Lab Science Program, and the Wild Farm Alliance.
I was honored to have been asked to provide photographs of the faces of so many of these participants: so many are my friends and my heroes. The interviews fill 4800 pages of text, which ultimately will be printed in 10-edition bound set, available at local libraries.
The website is scheduled to go live on April 22 (Earth Day). Later this year and next: "The UCSC Library will feature an exhibit based on the project during Fall Quarter of 2010. A celebration will be held at the Science and Engineering Library on October 14. A reading will also take place at the Watsonville Public Library this fall. In 2011, a book of edited excerpts from the oral histories will be published by the UCSC Library and distributed by the University of California Press.
Contact information, should you need it, is linked at the Library's website, above. (Yes, you can order books.)
• • • • • • • • • • •
Two more wonderful things about living in Santa Cruz. More to come on Slow Food and The Butcher, The Baker, The Wedding Cake Maker.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: ""Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing
exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the
well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed."—Herman Melville
Thanks for visiting.
P.S. The tent cabins at UCSC are a beautiful reality! This photo was taken by Don Burgett, former apprentice, and current treasurer on the Board of Directors for the Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden with me. More on Grow a Farmer soon, too!
Though I am loathe to give up top billing to YellowWallFarm.com—about my favorite thing I get to do is shine light on the good and beautiful in the world…well, I've got a barrelful here for Hellman's® and their completely ludicrous and cynical misuse of the words "real ingredients" when listing what actually goes into their products.
I am aware that Hellman's and Best Foods are the most popular mayonnaises in this country. I am also aware that some people eat ground beef at Taco Bell and McDonald's, so clearly we are a nation who likes to play fast and loose with our food safety.
You might be lulled into a sense of food security with the sincerity of words like "real" and "natural," and even "organic" and "free-range" or "cage-free." Then, last evening another pro-food (real food, not corporate chemicals in boxes and jars) food blogger, "Genie," aka @egratto, tweeted this little nugget:
"So. Hellman's Mayo has an ad campaign claiming they're making it from real ingredients. Here's the nutritional info: https://bit.ly/bWPawC"
And that's when my insta-cynic knew I was about to launch out the gate for a horserace to be the first to find out…WTF, HELLMANN'S?
Pictured above, my newest website design: a collaboration between farmer, Judy Rose Hasty, and me, for Yellow Wall Farm, which she and her husband, Allen, own. I'd received an email from Judy shortly before the EcoFarm conference in January, and mid-February, we hooked up. All I knew is that Yellow Wall Farm—I'll get to the name in a minute—was partnered with Freewheelin' Farm as the "hot weather crop" component of Freewheelin's CSA.
I drove up the road to the farm—one of my favorite roads in the county—and she met me at the gate with dogs a-barking and a big smile. Because all the farmers at Freewheelin' are young, I expected Judy to be one of their generation. I was happy to meet a contemporary of my own age—and that was just the beginning of our commonality.
So the website is still in development, but we'd like to get your input on recipe sites you like, particularly if they are seasonally based.
Obviously, there will be more to come here about Yellow Wall Farm, but I just wanted to have a fresh post up here because—would you look at that? Morning Edition is now following me on Twitter! (I'm @tanabutler.)
Leave your recipe recommendations in the comments, if you would. Thanks!
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." —John Muir
Thanks for visiting! I'm excited about the new work lined up for springtime!