How Wildfires Affect our Gardens

As many people with hot, dry summers know, wildfires are almost a guarantee at some point. Depending on where you live you might see them in the news or even, unfortunately, in your own backyard. Whether or not you are affected directly by these events or just by some stray ash, you might wonder what is happening to your plants in the meantime!


Save those seeds!

You have probably heard the term "seed-saving" before. It is what is sounds like- the process of extracting seeds from something that you've grown and saving them to be used to plant again. What you might not know is how important its history is, and how it can help your garden and your community's future!

Seed-saving is practiced throughout the world, and has been since plant cultivation first began. For most of human's agricultural history, saving seeds was the only way one could plant crops for the next growing season. Now, in the modern age we have access to a variety of seeds from all over the world. This can include special varieties farmers have perfected over the years, but it also includes specific crops that are owned and patented by corporations (names like Monsato and DuPont may ring a bell). The effect of this is that anyone using these seeds must pay a premium price for them- AND it is illegal to save the seeds of these crops to be used, which means that farmers are often obligated through contracts to keep paying over and over for the use of these crops.


Growing Resiliency

Over the past decade, the Gardens Project has been growing more than just delicious, local produce. We’ve built 47 community gardens to grow resiliency in our community.

Take it from Lorindra Frances, a member of the brand new Middletown Community Garden. “The whole fire thing this year was really scary since I lost everything in the first one. But to have a garden again makes my heart really really happy,” Frances remarked as she watered her raised bed, beautifully adorned by a variety of vegetables. “I left during the evacuations and those that didn’t, watered my area while I was gone. What better way than with the earth to unite a community with so much devastation.”


YOU have the Right to Grow Food!

Happy New Year!

Now that it is 2015, the Neighborhood Food Act is in effect in California. This new law helps renters and members of HOA's secure their right to grow food for themselves where they live! Check out the FAQ below, and wishing you a garden and food-filled 2015!

Spice Up an Autumn Evening with this Seasonal Soup Recipe!

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup

Visit your local Farmers' Market and pick up some pumpkins or squash to use in this healthy and delicious recipe!

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup

By: Elizabeth Archer

This soup is perfect for fall. It’s as elegant as it is flexible: pick a squash, any squash; substitute white beans for chicken to make it vegetarian; play with the spices and proportions to get the flavor and consistency you prefer. However, unless absolutely necessary, do not leave out the fish sauce!


* 3-4 lb sugar pumpkin or other winter squash like Red Kuri, Kabocha, Butternut, or Hubbard
* 1 lb chicken breast or tenders
* 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
* 1 can full-fat coconut milk
* 1 medium onion, diced
* 2 cloves garlic
* 2 TBSP fish sauce
* 2 tsp hot sauce like Siracha
* Curry powder
* Garam masala
* Cumin
* Cinnamon
* Olive oil
* Salt and pepper to taste


1. Cut the chicken into strips and boil until cooked (about 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness). Drain and rinse with cold water, then shred. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, cut the pumpkin or squash into wedges. Scoop out the seeds and reserve if you're roasting them - incidentally, these same spices make for great roasted seeds! It’s up to you if you want to peel the pumpkin before or after cooking.

3. Arrange the slices flesh-up in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with curry, cumin, masala, cinnamon, and salt, rub with olive oil, and pour about one half-inch of water into the casserole dish to create a steam effect. Roast at 375 for about 40 minutes or until a fork goes in easily.

4. Peel the pumpkin if you haven’t already. In a food processor or blender, purée the cooked pumpkin with the garlic cloves, coconut milk, ½ cup broth, and fish sauce.

5. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions on medium heat in a tablespoon or two of olive oil with a generous dose of curry and a sprinkling of all the other spices.

6. Once the onions are translucent, add the shredded chicken and ½ cup broth; bring to a simmer.

7. Add the blended mixture and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more spices/salt/pepper as desired, plus more broth if you like a thinner soup.

8. Serve with crusty bread and a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, plus a drizzle of hot sauce or squeeze of citrus to brighten the flavors. This soup also freezes beautifully if you somehow manage not to eat it all!

Happy Fall!

Looking for more cooking inspiration? Click here for past recipes from the Real Dirt Blog!

Faces and Visions of The Food Movement

Check out the article below from civil eats which features our very own Miles Gordon. It's a great website, with a lot of information on the local food movement in our communities!

Miles Gordon is the Founder and Project Coordinator for The Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities which he started three years ago in Ukiah, Mendocino County. His inspiration for The Gardens Project began 10 years ago as a result of a local hunger assessment that revealed that Mendocino County needed more access to food and Miles helped organize the Cleveland Land Community Garden – now Ukiah’s oldest and largest. As a former teacher who worked with school gardens, Miles saw that some struggled, competing for resources. He saw a need for two things: networking existing gardens so they could share resources and expertise while simultaneously, and rapidly, developing access to new gardens.

In the last three years, The Gardens Project has helped develop 16 new gardens and network over 65 gardens in Mendocino County. They include gardens at schools, senior centers and community gardens. Miles and his wonderful Americorps VISTA volunteers also work on farmer development and rebuilding the food system on many levels.

CE: What issues have you been focused on?

MG: Empowerment. Empowering local communities through food. Access to land, organizing, facilitating community ownership of process, developing gardens, and empowering leadership by facilitation.

CE: What inspires you to do this work?

MG: Being in a community garden on a Sunday evening filled with families, tending gardens, talking story, sharing food, it’s beautiful. Whenever I need inspiration I go out the garden and I talk to people. It’s the community spirit and the feeling of joy that comes from connecting people back to the garden and their communities at the same time.

CE: What’s your overall vision?

MG: A community that has access on all levels, from backyards to neighborhood gardens to schools to cafeterias to farmers markets—that we’ve rebuilt the food system so people have control over their own food supply and therefore their own political system.

CE: What books and/or blogs are you reading right now?

MG: The last one is the Monthly Review Journal. Now it’s a great issue on 21st century socialism in Latin American and about organizing from the bottom up. It’s all about bottom up!

The last good novel I read for an escape was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and on, the whole series.

CE: Who’s in your community?

MG: There’s a strong, mostly Mexican migrant community here that really make up the backbone of the local food movement and the gardens, who bring a recent tradition of farming and community spaces. There’s a lot of back-to-the-landers and second generation of back-to-the-landers from the 70s, with those values too. We have a strong tradition of ranchers and farmers that have grown pears and cattle and now grow wine grapes. There’s a dying timber industry and lot of people trying to figure out what’s next. And, a lot of people in between.

CE: What are your commitments?

MG: My kids, they are my biggest commitment and my greatest joy of commitment. It’s cliché, but another one is making the world a better place—and not just in my image, but in helping others realize their vision. I’m at a place in life where I’ve chosen the work I do. I’ve gone from being a full-time public school and college teacher to working longer and harder for less money but greater joy.

CE: What are your goals?

MG: For myself, for my kids, for my community, for where I go, to bring delete up joy to humans in all their interesting manifestations. And, have that joy connected to this world we’re in right now. I try to make things less bad and more loving and joyous when possible. It comes with a lot of hard work, but it wouldn’t be as satisfying if it didn’t.

Professionally, my goal is to make myself obsolete by facilitating the change.

CE: What does change look like to you?

MG: Change looks like a lot of people, a lot of new people, and a lot more people getting involved with their destiny than previously. The more involved people are in shaping their destiny is what change looks like to me. It’s people speaking up. When people are activated and involved in what’s happening in their world, then change is happening. Otherwise someone else is in charge.

CE: Regarding the practicalities of enacting change, what planning is involved? What kind of outreach?

MG: A lot of listening and assessment. What do people want? If you ask the questions and open an opportunity, people have a good idea, in general, of what they want. So finding what the needs are. It’s connecting again to the resources. Community assessment. Knocking on doors, canvassing. And, facilitating the process to enact it. Connecting people to accessible land, figuring out legalities of land, who the players are, talking about the possibilities and setting a date to get to work and being committed to making those dates happen. Sometimes people just need an opportunity and a little cheerleading and off they go.

Then once they are started we can help facilitate leadership and organizational training too.

CE: What projects are affiliated with yours?

MG: Master Gardeners of the UC Cooperative Extension, School Nutrition Network, Network for a Healthy California, Head Start, the state pre-school system, local tribes, Family Resource Centers and gardens, local soup kitchens and their gardens, public health, all the cities in the county, lots of local businesses around materials and labor. And, the First 5 Commission, which focuses on children 0-5 and their health.

CE: What projects and people have you got your eye on or are you impressed by?

MG: One of our issues is scale since we are small and rural compared to many great urban projects. But, I love Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco because they have successfully brought on neighborhoods that take responsibility for their change, while simultaneously working with the city to create a viable program for developing urban forests. There’s a lot of ownership and accountability for those who want the trees.

I love the CFSC. They are doing what we’re talking about. They are networking and proving a national forum. They are active and showing we can do this locally, regionally, and nationally.

CE: Where do you see the state of agriculture/food policy in the next 5-10 years? Is real policy change a real possibility?

MG: I see us in a transition period and how long that lasts will be based on the global commodity system. We will gradually build because we reconnect people to their roots, and it’s too inspiring to let go. There are cracks in the global system and every disaster brings a window that we need to push through. And, it will require subsidies during the transition that support our work. I think we’ll always be in a process of struggle; that’s what makes life interesting.

CE: What does the food movement need to do, be or have to be more effective?

MG: It needs to focus as much as possible on connecting on a local and regional basis with as many partners, agencies and people. We shouldn’t see ourselves as an isolated piece of our policy and economy, but as an integral piece, because food connects to everything. So the more we make the connections between health, self-sufficiency, economy, etc. the stronger it becomes. It’s really about re-building, not building the local food system.

CE: What would you want to be your last meal on earth?

MG: Hanging out in an apple orchard on a beautiful, sunny, Fall day eating crunchy apples out of a tree.

Scenario 2020: The Future of Food in Mendocino County

I was asked to give a presentation to a group called Leadership Mendocino. Every year about 30 people in our County, usually from a mix of businesses, government agencies, and non-profits, meet monthly for a full day and intensively study a particular topic. Nov. 14th 2008 was their Ag day, and my presentation followed the Ag Commissioner’s, who reviewed the County’s history and present. I didn’t want to talk about the future as if I knew what was going to happen, but I did want to highlight the vulnerabilities and tensions I saw building and suggest some alternatives to our predicament. Hence I created a storyline in which I was now the County Historian in 2020 giving a talk to the group about the past decade of change.

While the details are specific to where I live, the general lessons apply to the whole world.

An video of my presentation is available here.

Click on any image to see a higher resolution version

For Mendocino County the key date was December 12, 2009. The trucks didn’t show up that day.

Why weren’t the trucks running? I’ll give a quick overview of what led up to the Little Death.

Let’s start with the credit market break down in 2008. What followed was a plunge in the volume and reliability of global trade. Without access to the free flow of credit, countries experienced food and fuel shortages. People began rioting.

We saw how developing countries were in profound crisis, but most of us didn’t imagine how those awful scenes would so quickly be in our own neighborhoods too.

Everyone knows the story…Pakistan devolved into anarchy and was unable to keep all of its nuclear weapons secure. Several went missing and the world didn't find out where they went until it was too late.

South-Central Asia and the Middle East were on fire.

The nuclear exchange was contained within the region, but the effects spread globally. The world’s largest oil production facilities and ports were destroyed or inaccessible. The daily flow of supertankers from the Middle East was over.

It was common knowledge at the time that crude oil was the lifeblood of our economy, but little had yet been done to reduce our dependency on oil. The modern world was suddenly without sufficient transportation fuels and totally unprepared.

The specific numbers are staggering. Only a quarter of U.S. crude oil consumption was domestically produced in 2009. The trucking system was the key part of what was called the Just in Time delivery system. Warehousing and stockpiling were no longer practiced significantly and so no buffer existed when the trucks stopped. Our Just in Time system unraveled over a period of several weeks.

J-I-T now stood for "Just Isn't There."

As the flow of goods and services slowed dramatically and then in some cases stopped moving altogether, we were subject to cascading, compounding failures in key sectors of the economy. Just a couple of examples…Without constant truck movement, spare parts and basic supplies ran short. Electricity production relied on coal, which relied on diesel.

Most dire of all was that within three days of the halt to trucking, the grocery stores were out of food.

Looking back at historical records it is clear that, while shocking, this was no surprise. Community-based organizations had been warning of this exact possibility for years.

Nowadays we have buffers and resiliency built into our systems, but that was not the case in 2009. Government hadn’t prepared, having placed its faith in the market to provide for basic goods such as food and energy. Global food stockpiles had been declining for over a decade, and in any case they were not under any government control.

Although some people had stockpiled food and essentials, most people hadn't because either they never thought this could happen or were simply distracted. It might be good to remind everyone what life was like in 2009. Most of us tended to spend our free time in front of the television or interacting with various media and communication devices. Gardening, food preservation, community meals and stuff like that wasn’t cool and exciting for the majority of people, although interest in food security had been increasing for a few years preceding the crisis.

After a week everybody became scared, and most started to feel hungry. This was so unthinkable that many also became profoundly disillusioned and angry. This was not supposed to be happening to “us.” The Five Stages of Grief were on full display.

Events began to run their natural course.

Scared, hungry people saw that some households still had food. This led to looting in some areas. A handful of police and sheriffs couldn’t protect private property from a desperate populace. In other areas looting was averted (barely) as neighbors and authorities agreed to pool private food holdings and distribute them evenly.

As the crisis deepened, a triage system was established. Food was preferentially given to those who could work, and the young.

All sorts of questions that had been ignored for decades became very important. “What about the local farms,” the people asked. “Can they feed us?”

“It’s the middle of winter,” the farmer’s replied. “We can plant potatoes and grains in the spring but they won’t be ready until summer.”

“And where are the seeds going to come from? We are hay farmers, cattle ranchers and grape growers. We don’t even have the right equipment for this.”

Three months passed without relief. Clearly, household preparation wasn’t enough, and now the population was starving.

Other problems arose too. Electricity was spotty. Every bit of gasoline and diesel were needed in generators to keep pumps for water and sewer systems going, to keep the hospitals powered, and to cook food in community kitchens.

But by spring these supplies, commandeered from the tanks of gas stations, were gone.

FEMA didn’t arrive with supplies of food, fuel and medicines in the major valleys until March 2010. These were barely enough to end starvation and give tractors some fuel.

When the railroad cars arrived in May 2010 we finally had enough of the basics again. Freeways were abandoned for hauling freight. They were in disrepair from winter storms and far too expensive to maintain for the now minimal trucking system.

In addition to supplies of grain and beans (25,000 lbs per trailer load), enough seed potatoes were brought in to plant. Potatoes became our survival food for a few years. As we all know, it is hard to eat enough of them to keep the weight on! Health care providers estimate that the average person lost twenty pounds between 2009 and 2012.

Here’s another graphic from the archives. Food security organizations in the County knew that storage foods with high caloric density were essential, and had even started to import and store them in the County. The grain and bean silos established in Willits in 2009 really helped that area weather the crisis better than elsewhere. Silos were quickly built along the railroad tracks in every town.

All of us began to learn some of the basic facts about nutrition and agriculture, such as how many calories we need per day and how to eke that out of the soil.

Even with farm supplies brought in by rail car, we lacked much of the needed energy infrastructure to irrigate crops as electricity was still unreliable. Few well pumps ran off solar panels. So in most cases, yields weren’t as large as we’d hoped. It was terribly frustrating; we could see the water 30 ft down in the well but couldn’t get it out fast enough to make a difference.

Ever since the Little Death, precious tractor fuel has been limited. Much more is now done with manual labor than in the past. This was a difficult adjustment, both physically and psychologically. Some people were excited by the challenge and adapted well. On the bright side, “unemployment” is nearly non-existent and we are a fit and industrious people.

Explicit warnings of our vulnerabilities, and an alternative vision had been given by local community groups as early 2004. In August 2010, a plan for a local food economy was adopted by local governments based on the research of community activists that preceded the crisis. The food system we have today is by and large based on those plans.

The ranching community was familiar with the concept of carrying capacity, but usually called it the “stocking rate.” Good ranchers made sure not to put more cattle on a piece of land than it could handle. A local food system plan had to think about the sustainable population of humans in the County too.

Some basic facts that were used to frame the plan:
1. The County’s population in 2010 was estimated at 80,000 (down from a peak of 90,000 before the crisis).
2. Somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 acres of prime ag land remained in the county (after an initial endowment of 95,000).
3. To supply enough food to feed one person requires about one acre.

The plan also recognized that a local food system had to overcome serious capital deficits with respect to: renewable energy, equipment, infrastructure, education and worker skills, business to business relationships, and public law and policy.

In any environment it would be difficult to overcome these deficits, but the crisis was a mixed blessing. Everybody now recognized that a new system had to be built. Nearly all resources were allocated according to this need. Ideology was replaced by practicality. What people were “willing to do” changed overnight.

Now I will shift gears and contrast the food system of 2009 with what we have today. I’ll start with a review of the 2009 food system.

Here are a couple of graphs that summarize data at the national scale when the crisis hit. At that time, one calorie of food energy depended on several calories of fossil fuel energy. Basically, all parts of the system were highly dependent upon fossil fuels, long-distance supply chains, and complex financial markets.

Today’s food system has many features that improve our resiliency and security. Key attributes are:
Diverse. A complete and balanced diet can be had within the agricultural base of the County.

Local. Food produced here is consumed here, and the agricultural landscape is no longer dominated by grapes and cattle for export.

Renewable. Energy inputs for agriculture, transportation and processing are based on solar, wind, hydro and other non-fossil sources.

Non-toxic. Artificial pesticides and herbicides are no longer available and we use biological controls and landscape management to dampen pest cycles.

Cyclical. Soils are improved rather than depleted through conservation tillage, smart land-cover rotation patterns, and composting of all human and animal wastes.

Adaptable. As climate changes and new farmers learn what works best, systems are in place to exchange information and perform needed research.

Buffered. The future is always uncertain. Always be prepared for trouble by storing extra of what we really need.

Today’s food system is completely different. The plan recognized the web of relationships needed for a sustainable system. Fossil fuels are nearly eliminated. Transportation distances are very short. Waste becomes the new fertilizer.

While mechanized to the extent energy availability allows, the farm of 2020 uses efficient hand tools when those suffice.

Compost today is very expensive. Farmers work very hard to create the fertility they need on site as best they can. Food scraps are highly valued and used in vermiculture systems. Human wastes are professionally handled and sold to farmers certified disease free.

Imported chemical pesticides and herbicides are also very costly. More knowledge and labor is now used, including beneficial insect plants that add a lot of color and interest to farms.

Off the farm society has changed just as dramatically. People often use solar ovens to cook, and disposable packaging is rarely seen anymore.

Because a transportation fuel crisis was the proximate cause of the crisis, people were especially keen on eliminating reliance on long-distance supply chains. Households began sourcing as much food locally as they could. In 2009 a trip to the grocery store would mean a 1500 mile diet. Today that could be more like a 150 yard diet. Bikes with trailers can now handle much local transport. Streets are quieter, and the air less polluted.

Not only have on the farm practices changed, but farms are cooperating like never before. This creates synergies at the landscape level we all benefit from.

For example, this goat dairy sows a hay crop rich in wildflowers, thereby supporting a local beekeeper. The beekeeper’s hives also service orchards and row crops in the area, ensuring good pollination and food for all of us.

We have much to be proud of now. We made it through very tough times together by mostly keeping our heads on straight and making good decisions when it really counted. But we also live with the pain of loss and regret, asking ourselves over and over, “How did we let this happen?”

What does the last 10 years teach us about the importance of leadership?

I look at this issue in two ways. First, good leaders do their best to prevent crises. This requires the ability to help people accept the reality of unsustainable tensions before they go too far. Just talking to people can establish new conversations that propagate. Only when enough people are having similar conversations are social changes possible.

Of course human history is full of one account after another of societies that failed to recognize their obvious problems before it was too late. When disaster strikes, good leaders manage their shock and the loss of normalcy. They model the proper attitude, reducing panic and heightening clear thinking.

The best crisis leaders are those that combine awareness of the problem before it arrived with a sense of direction and clarity. Because they saw what was coming, they often have a plan to deal with it as soon as the population is forced by circumstances out of denial, distraction and inaction. Since what people are willing to do changes in a crisis, wise leadership can make a lot happen for the good very quickly.

Household Food Security Handout

Mendo Food Futures

During times of economic instability more attention is paid to the very basics in life, such as food.Food is grown and moved from farm to fork by what is called the “food system.” The current food system in the United States depends on energy intensive agriculture, food processing, and long-distance transportation. Few of us get our food from the land we live on, or even from the state where we live. If any one of several potential external threats, such as an earthquake, economic collapse, fossil fuel depletion, or disease pandemic, were to occur we would lose access to affordable, reliable food.

Our security and local economy will be improved by developing a local food system, but this will take time. This handout addresses, in general terms, what steps households can take to be more resilient during a crisis, save money, improve family health, and help build a local food system. For details, look for topic specific handouts, and see the list of resources at the end.

Step 1. Create a food buffer

A person needs, on average, about 2400 food calories per day, most of which come from staples such as grains and dry beans. Plan to store at least about ¾ pound of grains and ¼ pound of beans per person per day. In addition to the grains and beans, store dried or canned fruits and vegetables, cooking oils, honey or sugar, and seasonings. Some people like to include powdered milk, sprouting seeds, multivitamins, and “treats” in their food buffer.

Step 2. Tend a Garden

The best fruits and vegetables you could ever eat will likely be those harvested right outside your home. While fresh produce isn’t dense in calories, it does provide essential vitamins, minerals and the flavors that make food enjoyable. If you don’t have the space where you live, perhaps a neighborhood or community garden is possible. To maximize the return on your efforts and provide for a diversity of food year-round, the following crops are recommended for the Willits area: kale, tree collards, chard, lettuce, potatoes, beets, carrots, radishes, green beans, winter squash, zucchini, tomatoes, peas, garlic, potato onions, walking onions, common storage onions, table grapes, apples, raspberries, and strawberries.

Step 3. Know how to cook with whole foods and local produce

Getting accustomed to a diet based on whole foods and seasonal fruits and vegetables may take some time and learning. Doing so, however, usually pays off in terms of improved health and lower food expenses. The grains and vegetables are often accompanied by meats. One way to make a single purchase of meat last a week is to buy large, unprocessed cuts and use them as parts of many meals.For example, a whole roasted chicken can also become chicken pieces in a stir fry and a chicken soup base.

Step 4. Support local farmers

A local food system needs local farmers. Currently, most local produce can be found at Farmers’ Markets and through farm subscription programs, often called CSAs. Some of us can’t garden, and most of us won’t satisfy all our needs from household gardens, but we can support the livelihoods of those who do farm in our area by buying local food.

Step 5. Learn a useful skill

Aside from gardening and cooking, there are many skills that could be performed as enjoyable hobbies that would enhance food security. Food preservation comes to mind, including the arts of drying, fermenting, and cheese making. But opening a book on home economics or homesteading reveals ways to usefully occupy time, save money, earn income in work or trade, and improve community self-reliance.

Step 6. Join and share

True food security requires broad participation. Just imagine if yours is the only household on the block to be healthy and prepared for a crisis. Encourage others to take these steps, and better yet, do them together. Save money and time by sharing resources. Friends and neighbors can be great morale boosters and problem solvers for each other, which is especially important during stressful times. How might places you work, and the restaurants, stores, churches and clubs you frequent be part of the solution?


Web: For comprehensive information related to Mendocino County see: and for more background on food security and related links see: and

Books: For seasonal cooking a great start is Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice. For gardening, see titles by John Jeavons, Carol Cox, Steve Solomon, and various practitioners of permaculture. Keeping Food Fresh and Preserving Summer’s Bounty will guide food preservation. An encyclopedia of preparedness is When Technology Fails by Matthew Stein.

Community Groups: In Willits, the primary groups planning and organizing work towards a local food system are the Willits Action Group (WAG), and Willits Economic LocaLization (WELL). Look for their events in the local paper, find them at the Willits Farmers’ Market booth on Thursday afternoon, or call their offices at 456-9005 and 459-7076 respectively.


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