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Urban Farming in the DF

18 Dec

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.

Scattered acres

15 Jul

Just flew in from Seattle yesterday. I abandoned the farm to spend six days with my family up north. It was my mom’s un-65th birthday and un-retirement party (her real birthday is june 15; she’s retiring at 66). My sister and I threw her a Bastille day party featuring Sally Jackson cheeses, Salumi salami, bbq-ed oysters, and grilled Toulouse-style sausages. Also, there was a Cajun band. Riana made some yummy quiche with morels and a mind-blowing sour cherry dessert.

But the farm, right, how can I leave that for almost a week? In the end, it all worked out. My friend N came by every day and fed the goats and rabbits and chickens, I left Orla out with Bebe to keep her milked out, and I deeply watered the garden the night before I left.

After six days of absence, I thought upon my return, the goats would come running, the rabbits would clap their hairy paws together, the chickens would cuddle up. Actually, they barely noticed me when I walked through the gate. The only critter on the farm that’s ecstatic I’m back is Kousin the cat, who slept at my side all night.

Having a break made me realize how much work GhostTown Farm actually is. So many animals to care for, weeds to pull, vegetables to water, turds to clean up. But these chores, this care-taking is what gets me up in the morning, sets the rhythm for my day, makes me feel necessary and useful. It’s also nice to realize that I can leave for a few days and it’s not a disaster.

While in Seattle I picked up a copy of Common Grounds magazine, which has a very good article about the urban farming movement. The writer interviewed me, too, but the best idea came from an urban farmer in Chicago named Nance Klehm who described her “farm” as a scattered acre–a combo of rooftop gardens, a backyard, and other people’s backyards. I like this concept.

Taken to the next level, if you add up all the land devoted to urban homesteads, hobby farms like mine, community gardens, and backyard chicken runs, finally add up to many acres. When I say that I’m an urban “farmer”, I’m depending on other urban farmers, too. That its only with them that our backyards and squatted gardens add up to something significant. Scattered, but not insignificant.

Gerlach, Nevada

17 Apr

Bill and I just got back from a quick trip to Gerlach, Nevada. I had been invited to speak about my ‘career’ as a writer for Gerlach High’s career day, and we couldn’t pass that up. It’s a six hour drive to Gerlach from Oakland, and as we drove we contemplated how this kind of spontaneous, semi-unimportant travel just can’t last. When fuel reaches $5 a gallon, a trip like ours would cost over one hundred dollars. We did use a combo of veg oil/biodiesel to get there, but with the price of food skyrocketing, even used veg oil has become a precious commodity. While I do look forward to trips, food, and fuel becoming more and more localized, I do feel nostalgic (already!) for the days when we could just jump in the car and go. I’ll wager the next generation will think us careless and wasteful.
The next generation in Gerlach was delightful, though. About five teens sat at my table to hear about the writing life. The rest of Gerlach High gathered around the National Guard and Marines tables who brought tons of swag to give away. They had posters and baseballs and camo hats. Really crazy. Anyway, my kids were the goth kids who wrote poetry! They were wicked smart and so sweet. I was excited to share my experiences as a writer, and to urge them to continue working on their craft: it will only get better and better.
Not really urban farm related, but I thought it was fun.