Yearly Archives: 2008

Happy New Year

Yep, I turned 36 yesterday.

The best gift by far was talking to my long-lost friend Maura. For two hours we caught up on the last four years. She’s so rad–she has adopted four kids! My hero. It made me think–what have I been up to?

I guess taking care of animals, and writing this book

cover

which is now in the Penguin Press summer catalog; if you want to check it out, you can download the whole catalog:

booksellers.penguin.com/static/pdf/penguinpress-summer09.pdf

Happy New Year!!

Merry f-ing Christmas

Yesterday I felt all Scrooge-like about xmas. but then after a shift at the Oasis, the biofuel station I run with some friends, suddenly my heart was filled with goodwill and joy. Our custies are so wonderful and happy! I came home and made some spicy tomato soup and baked lime bars for our loyal customers. Then I packed some olives to give as gifts. Then I squeezed on Bebe’s teats and tried to get a whisper of milk out of her.

biofuel-bwsmall

I went up to Lake County and picked up the goats last week. Of course it started snowing. Of course I had no heater and only one windshield wiper worked (the wrong one). Bebe and Orla looked like mountain goats. They sprouted some major fur while up north. I got a quick glance at another buck she got to be with–a dark hairy guy who was just adorable. Leah told me Orla’s probably not preggers because she’s a bit young and um, stubborn. I might try to breed her again in March. We packed the goats into a dog crate as the snow swirled down. I drove like a banshee to get home before it got too dark and cold. When I opened up the dog crate, Orla and Bebe were all cozy and warm inside. They smelled like bucks, which is to say, high goat.  They jumped out and ran toward the backyard where they live. It was a joyous homecoming–I really missed having them around.

farmshot

But I also miss their milk. Bebe isn’t producing much, which Leah said is normal post-breeding. I’ve been milking her twice a day to increase production. The milk tastes bitter and gross–a natural occurence post-breeding, somehow the buck hormones get into the milk. Eventually I’m hoping Bebe will give me her usual sweet, high-fat milk. I sure do miss my morning goat cappuccino.

bebesays2

Urban Farming in the DF

Went down the DF, Mexico, Cuidad Mexico, whatever you want to call it, to relax and have a vacation, visit with our dear friends, eat tacos, and find urban pig farms. I got to do all of these things except one.

dfpigmural

We took a red-eye flight, arrived at Benito Juarez airport at 6 in the morning. Amazingly, Nick picked us up, cup of coffee in hand. The first thing you notice about Mexico City is how many people there are. In every corner, in their cars and on the highway, selling fresh squeezed juice, making quesadillas, protesting, celebrating: people. I found it terrifying and overwhelming.

dfelchopo

But then I remembered my beehive. When you open an active hive, the bees will want to defend their colony and to do that they will sting you. In order to avoid stings, you should use a smoker, but you must also remain very very calm. There’s a place I go in my mind when beekeeping, and so during my time on the streets of Mexico City, I would go to that same place. Calm, almost out of body. Then the altitude–7,000 feet–starts to get to you. Then the polluted air starts to get to you. Don’t get me wrong, though, I loved the DF!

Mainly because we were lucky to stay at Casa de los Amigos, a Quaker hostel filled with peace activists. It was the former home of the muralist Orzoco, and was very tranquil. Nick and all the volunteers at the casa would make breakfast and then out Bill and I would go. Every corner of the DF has something going on. One day in a park, I came across a pseudo-bullfighting ring where old men pretended to be bulls (they held a pair of impressive horns) and other men practiced their matador skills.

dfbillbagofjuiceOr, in a market we stumbled upon a hand-cranked machine that crushed entire pineapples into the most delicious juice ever (then poured into a plastic bag with straw, cost: 50 cents). Almost every street has a line of taco/torta/quesadilla stands, some made with blue corn. The main market–the Merced–hosted 4 city-sized blocks worth of produce, botanicas, and housewares. The mole area alone was awe-inspiring.

dfmole

But I did want to see some urban farming. So I hooked up with the lovely Lily, one of the founders of an urban garden in the Plaza Roma in the middle of the city. One day we were there for a barter fair, where people traded stuff they made or found, I made some cards and got some homeopathic propolis digestion aid.

dfhidroponiaIt was interesting because I noticed that most people (on the street at least) did not eat vegetables besides potatoes, cilantro, onions and tomatoes. I guess if you were an urban farmer, you could grow those things. However, urban farming in DF is much more difficult than in Oakland, I found. One problem is soil. There are horse stables (the police ride horses in some parts of the city) but you need a car to schlep it. Lily said the taxi drivers don’t enjoy a bag of manure in their car either. Also, there is very little open space. The mayor of DF is supposed to be encouraging more urban farming but most of the abadoned lots and buildings are off limits for farming. Stupid rules.

dfboxvegAlso, even building supplies are in short supply. A crate like this one is a rare find. People don’t throw stuff away like in the US, so there’s little scrap wood either. It made me realize how lucky–and rich–our people are in the States.

On our last day there Lily hooked me up with a guy who was helping with the pig farms. I took a long Metro ride (designed by the French, it’s an amazing subway, goes everywhere and only costs ten cents to ride anywhere) out to an area away from the center of town. I knew I was in the right ‘hood when I heard roosters crowing. But, alas, my guy wasn’t there and when I called him I forgot that I didn’t know how to speak Spanish and couldn’t figure out where he was. Big bummer, but I had a plane to catch, so off we went, back to the airport. Only nine days: not enough time to see most of the DF and the pigs.  Guess I’ll have an excuse to go back, hopefully soon.

Reunited

Alas, I’m not reunited with my family this Thanksgiving weekend. My mom is up in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m sure had a great supper at our dear friend Jean Moore’s house. My cousin, aunt, and uncles are vacationing in Australia. My sister is probably hunting pheasants and mushroom in France. Dad is in Wickenberg, AZ. Bill and I went to Max and Nina’s house, and brought a smoked turkey (it was pretty good–tasted like candy coated bacon, a little dry, though).

But, then who in my family is reunited this Thanksgiving? Why, Bebe and Orla with their goat family in Lake County!! Bill and I drove up north on Sunday, the goats in this very folksy home-made cage.

We got lots of honks and whistles driving through Berkeley before we got on the highway. The goats liked being in the back, kind of like dogs. Three hours later, we arrived to the farm where I bought a pregnant Bebe almost a year ago. Bebe let out one bleat of excitment, then played it cool as all the other goats from the farm circled the car and sniffed. Orla and her sister Georgina (now known as Goldy) touched noses. They didn’t seem *that* excited, to see each other. I don’t know what I was expecting. It made me have a deeper love of dogs, who are so willing to love on each other.

But there was love in the air. One reason we had taken the goats up north was for, um, stud service. Wee, getting my girls laid! Leah the goat lady gave me a tour of the available bucks. I selected a black and white spotted La Mancha for Bebe (mini-Manchas!) and a cute, twerpy Nigerian dwarf for Orla. Babies will be popping in mid-April, if all goes well.

Enjoy your reunions!

Teaching turkey

In 2005 I killed my first Thanksgiving turkey.

Since then I’ve killed quite a few more, written articles about it, even took part in a turkey harvesting photo shoot (I’ll never do that again, though I loved the photographer, when he asked me to step to the left just before I cut the turkey’s throat, I realized art and practice sometimes shouldn’t meet…) My experience raising a turkey takes up a whole section of my memoir about urban farming. Turkeys–because they are part of Thanksgiving and our American heritage– make great metaphors.

This year was very special in that I got to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last three years with some students. Did you know there’s an urban agriculture class at Berkeley? Lucky undergrads get to grow their own vegetables, learn about international urban ag, and visit local farms. I gave a lecture/presentation to the class one day and then had them come out for visits over the past two weekends.

The first weekend, my friend J graciously offered us three roosters. The neighbors had complained and she called me out of desperation: “can you kill these roosters?” she asked. I walked her through how to do it herself. She listened patiently and then asked again: “can you kill them?” I forget how hard it is the first time.

So she brought the handsome fellows over and the class, with my help, dispatched them. We used the loper method, which I think is fast and humane. Of course we burned a little incense and said our thanks to the birds. The students were great. None of them had ever killed an animal before (on purpose at least) but most of them ate meat and so they wanted to face it. One of the most curious and best entrail cleaner was a vegan! He wants to become a veterianarian, so this was like a lab for him. Awesome. While I showed the students how to kill, pluck, and clean a rooster, I thought of all the people before me who shared this knowledge with me. It felt great to share in an experience I find very anxiety-producing yet full of life and love at the same time.

J took one plucked and cleaned rooster home and gave me the other two. I braised mine. Delicious in a rooster pot pie made with a wee bit of leftover lard in the pie crusts.

The next weekend, just yesterday in fact, it was time to say goodbye to Archie 2 and Edith. The class came out again (different students this time) to assist. Killing a turkey is a bigger deal than the roosters. They’re big. They’re full of life-force. Their feathers are so large, their bodies are so warm. The males have some special parts like the beard and the snood which add some level of mystery to the birds. I hadn’t realized how fat Archie #2 had gotten. He must have weighed 25 pounds! Edith was much smaller, only a bit bigger than the roosters from the previous weekend.

The students gathered in the garden. I had set up workstations: the plucking table, the cleaning table, the dipping area. We stood near the killing area, which featured a pair of enormous lopers, incense, and a bucket. I retrieved Edith from the backyard first. We burned incense and I described her life, which was going on two years. She never did hatch out any baby turkey poults, and for that I was sad. But she had a good run, enjoyed bossing the chickens and Archie around. But now it was time for her to go. I gave her a kiss, then a student loped her head off. It’s nice to have someone around who didn’t *know* the turkey. We plucked her and cleaned her entrails. Her gizzard was happy and full of rocks and grains. She ate well, that’s for sure.

Next came Archie#2. Enormous. My arms ached carrying him from the backyard to the front. We usually have heritage breeds but Archie looked to be just a Standard White. He had grown so so fast. After some kind words (but not too many, he was heavy!) the Berkeley instructor held the turkey’s feet, I hugged the turkey’s wings, and a student loped the head off. As the life-force drained out of the turkey, I accidentally let go of his wings which caused (I later found out) a horrible jolt to the groin of the instructor. Oops! It’s dangerous out here on GhostTown Farm, I reckon. Sorry N! The plucking and cleaning proceeded as normal. Archie had a gizzard the size of a softball and a crop the size of a football. No wonder the chickens are always hungry competing with that guy!

The students lingered in the garden after all was said and done. It was a sunny late November day. The bees were out, the greens were so bright. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the moment, when things felt so real. I felt a little proud that I could show someone something I knew how to do. That finally, I have some knowledge that can be passed on, remembered, used, and hear stories about where that knowldege led other people once they knew too.

I brined Archie and Edith. I think I’m going to deep-fry Archie. Edith, as her age dictates, will be braised.

Late afternoon addition: Can’t find anyone to deep fry the turkey. So I’m turning to Chef Edwards and he will be smoking the turkeys all day long tomorrow!

Canning tomatoes

My friend W is taking classes to become a Waldorf teacher. It’s an amazing curriculum based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophies about childhood development. For kindergartners, Waldorf teaching emphasizes learning by doing seasonal activities–this teaches the kids that life is a cycle and humans have developed rituals to connect them to the seasons. Children at that age like to feel like there is a plan, that there is a consistent thing going on.

I can’t help but to feel the same way about canning tomatoes. Going on three years now, Bill and I make our pilgrimage to the lovely Blue House Farm, where our friends Ned and Ryan grow the best dry-farmed tomatoes ever. Since the tomatoes aren’t watered during the summer, the flesh is quite sturdy and the fruit taste is concentrated. Once canned, the tomatoes remain whole and, dare I say it? taste better than the fresh fruit. It’s some kind of alchemy, canning.

This year, Bill went to Pescadero solo (I had to work) in October and picked several buckets and boxes of tomatoes. Enough to share with our friends even. And so I began the ritual, once again, of putting up a year’s worth of tomatoes (about 52 jars, one for every week). This year was different in that I used the pressure canner for about half of the jars. My friend W came over and we processed tomatoes late into the night. She even stayed up until 2am and ended up sleeping in our guest room.

Usually I do water bath canning. I sterilize the jars in the oven, then pack as many raw tomatoes into the jar as possible. I top off the jars with leftover jars of already processed tomatoes from the year before, or make a tomato juice by putting a bunch of the less than perfect tomatoes into the blender. Then I add lemon juice to the tomatoes (just to make sure they are acid enough and to retain color), screw on the lids, and process for an hour and a half. Yes, that takes forever. Even with a huge canning cauldron, I can only fit 9 jars.

Enter the pressure canner. Same exact process with the jars, except I don’t *have* to add the lemon juice. The temperature gets to 250 degrees, so any botulism is killed by this high temp. I closed the lid to the pressure canner, let it vent steam for about 10 minutes, then put on the stopper and process for 15 minutes. Then another 15 minutes to let the canner lose pressure. So, effectively, the p.c. cuts the processing time in half. And it gives me peace of mind.

But how do the tomatoes taste? you ask.

Bill and I did a blind taste test and found that…drum roll…the p.c. canned tomatoes taste better, more tomatoe-y, richer, and more perky. Of course the water bath toms are great too. The canned tomatoes are wonderful pantry items to use in soups and stews, pasta sauces, pizza sauce.

But the real show-stealer this year was some slow-roasted tomatoes from our garden. I picked all those pesky cherry tomatoes–the sungolds, the currants, the volunteers–drizzled olive oil over them, then stuck them in a slow oven (230) to cook for a few hours. The result is a candy-sweet, smoky tomato paste. Some people might call it a confit. This I jarred up and canned as well. It works great to add a small jar of the oven-roasted tomatoes to a regular jar of tomatoes to make pasta sauce. As a pizza sauce, these slow-roasted cherry tomatoes are the best thing ever. Next year I plan to roast the dry-farmed tomatoes as well. Every year, the tomato canning process is being perfected. It is wonderful to learn something new while keeping the ritual intact.