Friday, February 15, 2008

Who's on the What now?

We're back on the road again, truly.
We had a few false starts; well, not false, but seemingly tentative forrays back into the world of sustainable ag before having to return to the city. We probably ruined our carbon footprint driving the commuters' route between the North Bay and San Francisco a couple of times. The reason?

Mainly, we had some business to attend to back in the city, and had a gap of a couple of days with no interviews/dates scheduled.

So here's a recap of our trip since the 6th:

On the 6th, we stayed with a powerhouse of a woman, Patty Karlin, at the Bodega Goat Ranch. She has been raising goats and making goat cheese small scale for over 20 years in a bucolic setting in Sonoma county. We ate traditional Peruvian food, 4 types of goat cheese (my favorite being the creamy french style), Saint Benoit Yogurt made on the same farm by Patty's co-"team farmers", and serenaded Patty to thank her. Patty is also looking for an intern, in case you're interested in learning about goats, permaculture, and team farming.

On the 7th, our plans were cancelled due to miscommunication...oops.

On the 8th, we drove to Hopland to speak with Ann Thrupp, Director of Sustainability and Organic Production at Fetzer Vineyards, and the organic wine label Bonterra. Ann has been working in sustainable agriculture education and advocacy for a long time, and in her mind, the wine industry is definitely leading the way with a lot of sustainable techniques, practices, and attitudes. While she acknowledges that many companies may be getting on board for "greenwashing" purposes, she maintains that both Fetzer and Bonterra believe and are committed to what they preach, and are in fact active agents for spreading the "sustainability" word to other vineyards. The day before we arrived, Ann had given about 50 wine growers from around the state a tour of the Fetzer facilities, which includes wildlife habitat, solar power arrays, a "green"/natural administration building, recycling facilities for their packaging, and, of course, organic grape vines. Considering Ann's passion, knowledge, and obvious interest in true sustainability, I don't doubt that there is potential for large producers to adopt far more beneficial practices than used commonly. There's a long way to go, of course, as organic wine grapes only form a small percentage of total wine grape production, and Fetzer itself runs about a quarter of that total acreage.

On the 9th, we were priveleged to have a long stay with Brock Dolman at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Brock was recovering from a killer fever, and though it was his first day up and about after being bed-ridden for days, he was on top of his game as usual. I grilled Brock on the prospects of sustainable water usage in Agriculture for California, and he gave us some good perspective on what people can do to make this happen, starting at the level of one's own watershed.

We also had a little walk and talk, discussing the ups and downs of habitat "restoration" (restoring to what? I asked), and the way farms--and human settlements of all sorts--can be made to be functional for humans and ecologically beneficial to all other life as well. It's possible, but it takes foresight, intelligence, good information, and a willingness to work within natural systems laws.

OAEC is one of the most amazing places I've been to, for its convergence of community, ecology, beauty, and (best of all) really good food. I'd recommend you check out one of their open Wednesday workdays (10am-4pm), if you're within reasonable distance. You can meet some of the expert long-time gardeners, take in the forests and the orchards, and eat a fantabulous lunch, all for free!

We came back to the city for the 10th and 11th, handled some very important but secretive business, and then headed out to Willits. After a brief stay at the Super 8 Hotel in Ukiah, we met with Maximillian Meyers, of the Mendocino Ecological Learning Center, at the home of Jason Bradford, farmer at Brookside Farms and one of the founders of the Willits Economic Localization (WELL). Max has designed and implemented a permaculture design for Jason's 1/3 acre home site, and I must say, it's one of the first permaculture designs that I've actually been really impressed by. Max has used many of the traditional permaculture concepts and techniques (swales, guilds, rain catchment), but integrated them with beauty and immense functionality. My favorite part was the teeter totter (designed for Jason's two kids Curtis and Davis) that pumps water as its played on. Talk about using on-site resources!

Max is also a hero, to me, as his project, MELC, teaches FREE courses of material that rarely is free. Permaculture courses, you might notice if you look online, are an expensive proposition, and for folks that can't normally afford 2 weeks off work for a design course, any cost is too much cost. I'm not quite sure how they do it (lots of generous donations, I imagine), but the MELC model has been working this way since 2003.

Next we interviewed Jason on food and energy descent. Jason was also recovering from a cold, but provided well thought out, eloquent responses to my boring questions. And he let us stay in his extra room out back. Thanks Bradford family!

While in Willits, we also visited Cyndee Logan, an organizer for WELL and other localization efforts. Cyndee told us of some of the programs and efforts to increase local food production, and she thought that there was a surge in the interest for local foods, at least in their area.

We have to go now (we're leaving Arcata to head out for some farm interviews up north/east), so I will leave the rest of this update for later.

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