Slowly Getting Settled in California

One year ago, I didn’t know I would be living in California. I could say our transition started in December when J signed his employment paperwork to go to work for a company that would move us to the San Francisco area, but that’s not entirely true.

In the spring of 2014, I knew my time as Founding Director of the Puget Sound Food Hub would have to end so that the project could thrive. I willed change to happen, but I didn’t know when it would be right for me to leave or how it would happen. I needed to let go slowly so that others could assume their leadership roles and continue building and shaping the project into a sustainable, farmer owned cooperative. The goal to really expand the market for small and mid-scale farmers, increasing food access and reducing emissions by taking trucks off the road through creating strong partnerships and building a coordinated grassroots supply chain was lofty, but it was working!  I was optimistic and I was tired. How would I plan to leave a vocation that had become a central part of my identity – my torch – for the last six years? Did I do enough?

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In my case there was not much advance planning. J was courted by a few companies and we decided the Bay area was the best place for both of us career-wise (me = food systems and he =  game industry) so he said yes. He drove down two weeks later and I spent the next four months wrapping up the project and passing the baton to colleagues. The weather in the Bay area would be more similar to Seattle than Los Angeles or the Midwest (yes I like clouds and rain). The decision to move was made pretty quickly but getting settled in has taken many more months and has been much more stressful than I imagined. This due to the increased cost of living, a super competitive housing market, and being a newcomer, among other things.

I am grateful to have landed a job quickly upon arriving. After living in short term housing while looking for something to buy during our first three months here, we decided to rent a home in Berkeley. We both wanted to live in Berkeley. We found a nice rental home that accepted our two dogs, and the neighborhood is comparable to our old one. We have privacy, an avocado tree and raised garden beds in the back yard. Our neighbors are all very nice. It’s an easy place to live and we are paying a fortune for it.

I often remind myself that I asked for change, and the universe answered, “OK, here ya go!” My response has been a combination of “thank you” and an 8-month long stream of expletives and resistance. I’ve been a brat many days since moving here. But I’m nearer to “letting come” or heading downward into the U.  I wish I could say I’m nearer to letting go of my former life, but that’s just not the truth. I’m working on it and have one more thing I need to accomplish (writing a white paper that tells the story of the food hub’s development). I haven’t found my next calling yet. I know I need to be patient since I’m still feeling a tad burnt-out from my last one, so I guess I should lighten up, right?

Reading the stories of refugees from Syria and Iraq on Humans of New York Facebook page this summer made me ponder the human’s ability to rapidly adjust to “the new” when faced with life or death decisions. When a person has no choice but to leave their home, they cannot afford to have a breakdown, can they? A person must simply choose to live and then put one foot in front of the other, and try to keep themselves and their loved ones intact through the transition into relative safety. I wrote a little about how people maintain their values and identity through food in my book, Pickled (2003). I read these new stories and wondered what memories will sustain these people? My guess is: a favorite tree, a familiar smell coming from the kitchen, a friendly neighbor waving hello. It’s the little mundane things, added up, that mean the most to us and make us feel like we belong. I hope and pray for their safe landing.

Memories of home can manifest in new places, but we have to be open to seeing it. Recently “home” has become a new favorite running spot, a new favorite tree, a familiar smell from my kitchen, my friendly new neighbors waving hello when they see me. I’ve been comforted at just how nice Californian’s have been to me, J and our dogs. Recently some dear friends drove up from LA to see me, and their visit lit up my home and my life with dancing and laughter.

And I’m absolutely loving the local, seasonal produce in Northern California.

The food grown in California is different, more diverse, than in Washington, Oregon, New York or Texas (the other states where I’ve lived and called home). Despite the serious drought, California’s mediterranean climate and soils provides an abundance of year-round produce that I’ve never experienced any other place. Last week I picked up a produce box from Mariquita Farm with eggplant, frying peppers, cherry peppers, pomegranate, turnips (two kinds) chard, lemongrass, green garlic, apples, tomatoes, cabbage, and arugula. I know, right? Bountiful!

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This week I picked up more tomatoes, onions, plums, eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, cucumbers (two kinds), and a pumpkin (not shown here) at the Ecology Center Farmers Market in Downtown Berkeley. Just two weeks after moving into this rental house, I got out my canner and canned tomatoes and pickles, and have since made another batch of slow roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers to have in the fridge for salads, sandwiches and easy pasta dishes. Last night I grilled a batch of eggplant to freeze for future casseroles and dips. I have found a new source for pastured, organic beef and pork (but let’s face it, Skagit River Ranch is a tough act to follow!)

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Preparing and eating good food from my new home state is a simple, familiar way that I can connect with the feeling of being at home. I did the same thing when I moved to New York, Portland and Seattle and it worked every time. New friendships will come next. Then, hopefully, in time, a new calling will emerge.

Last week I put a deposit down for our Thanksgiving turkey through a program coordinated by Slow Food Russian River to support heritage breeds, young farmers, 4H, and organic farming. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be part of supporting this effort.

J and the dogs- my immediate family – are here with me and we are well. I miss Seattle. I missed Portland and New York when I left, too. I miss my family and friends in Texas. It’s the same small world.

But I guess time will change everything.

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Farmers Market Finds: Early Season

100% of these dogs know this food will be delicious!

I decided against subscribing to a CSA this year primarily because my previous farmer halted delivery to Seattle, and the two of us won’t be eating at home enough to justify 20 weekly shares of fresh produce this summer. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to forfeit the opportunity to buy what I can, when I can, the most delicious and satisfying foods of the season, directly from local farms. Thankfully there are lots of “farm direct food” options in Seattle. The Wallingford Farmers Market, located just 12 blocks (walkable) from my house, is a small market but has some excellent vendors. I know several of Wallingford’s vendors because of my work at Northwest Agriculture Business Center, and the Puget Sound Food Hub– the latter being a business that provides marketing, aggregation and distribution for local farms to commercial and institutional buyers, including preschools in low-income neighborhoods in South Seattle. I know that purchasing local food supports local farms, increases our region’s food security, protects the environment, creates jobs and boosts the local economy. Plus, I can find greater varieties of vegetables, fruits, livestock breeds atypical in the commodity market and highly prized for flavor, not whether or not it holds up in cold storage.

Here are today’s treasures:

  • sweet pea blossoms
  • pasture raised chicken (leg and thigh)
  • pasture raised pork butt shoulder
  • pasture raised pork bratwurst sausage
  • pasture raised, chicken eggs
  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • green garlic
  • garlic scapes
  • parsley
  • radishes
  • butter head lettuce
  • loose leaf spinach
  • broccolini
  • savoy cabbage

This summer I will be posting sporadically- not weekly. I will include photos of my dogs with each local food find. Sometimes, I will post recipes or information about a particular variety or breed that I think is worth mentioning. As usual, I will do my best not to preach or make anyone feel inept.  I have been working in food systems for almost 15 years, I know more about the issues related to local food economy, access, climate change than I will ever discuss on this blog.

I am bored with “foodies” and recoil at the “food police” that alienate others because of what they eat (being the “food police” is a lonely existence…just ask Gwyneth). Readers, I will not beat you over the head with “what you ought to do or else”…rather, I invite you all to smell, touch and taste your food. Care a little more about soil, water, climate, animals, farming…and did I mention taste? Purchase (as much as you can) your summer groceries from local farms, prepare simple meals or plates (a bowl of fresh cherries is excellent!) and then invite your family and friends to your table, share food together and enjoy. That’s it!

I wish it was easier to share with you a sun-ripened strawberry or tomato that has never experienced the chill of a refrigerator, the unrivaled flavor and composition of a pasture-raised farm egg, the rosy (not white!), nutty flesh of roasted pasture raised-heritage breed pork, a tender butter head lettuce salad that melts in the mouth – to me, these are life-affirming taste experiences that I want for everyone- not just for those who can afford to eat at fancy restaurants or shop at farmers markets. Between this blog and the work that I do professionally, I hope to contribute to a better tasting, healthier world for all eaters.

Enjoy the summer and don’t sweat the small stuff.