Category Archives: urban life

We All Live in the Ghetto Now

Yes, it’s all doom and gloom out there. Since we Americans live in an economy, not so much of a culture, it often feels like our entire way of life is crumbling as the stock market crashes and banks struggle.
People point out that I don’t need to worry because I have a garden and farm animals. It’s true that I recently started selling my eggs ($5/dozen) and sometimes sell a rabbit or two. That money goes toward buying things I can’t make, like parmasean cheese, beef, bananas, and french bread (thank you French guys at Oakland Farmer’s Market!) But of course, I’m not immune to the trials of the economy, as I watch friends lose their jobs and their homes, I realize how fragile our society is.
Last weekend I went to a Long Now event and saw doomsday-er Dmitri Orlov speak about what happened when the Soviet Union fell. The winners were the ones who could adjust and adapt quickly. Orlov lists the most important things for people to worry about during collapse: food, shelter, transportation, security. I was surprised that all of the descriptions of food post-collapse involved growing your own food, allowing animal husbandry in cities, even planting wheat on college campuses (after their endowments become worthless). If Orlov had spoken even two months earlier, I’m sure there would have been a lot of eye-rolling in the audience. People were on the edges of their seats. Including me, I found myself slapping my forehead about the wheat growing in Memorial Glade. Genius! Timing, for doomsday predictors, is everything.
Funny thing, though, here in the ghetto where everyone is poor, no one is grumbling about the economic crisis. It made me realize that for as long as this crisis goes on, we’re all going to be living in the ghetto. We’re going to have to forage, scrimp. Many of us may chose to do things that are considered illegal (selling drugs, selling rabbit meat). We’ll start sharing living space with our friends and families. We’ll spend more time chatting on the corners (no jobs to go to). And, I predict more and more people will arm themselves.
For awhile, I was sort of gleeful about the downturn, but lately I’ve recognized that it’s fun to choose to do all these self-sufficiency things, maybe it won’t be so if it’s forced on us.

P.S. Farm Tour Saturday, March 7. 10am

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.

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!

Sick hippie

Been sick all week with a head cold which turned into fever with chills. I’ve had to stay in bed and the farm has been neglected. The goat shed needs mucking out, the garden watered, the rabbit cages are begging for a cleaning, the buffet of yummy greens that go to all the animals has been halted and boring processed feed will have to do. The worst thing is my sinuses are so plugged up, I can’t smell anything. Hence, I can’t taste anything. Is this a life worth living? Amid these frustrating developments on a sweat-inducing break from the bed to check my email, I learned that I had been crowned Best Hippie 2008 by the East Bay’s locally owned free weekly.
You guys!!
A few years ago, maybe even a year ago, I would have scoffed at the word ‘hippie’ being used to describe me. Hippies! that’s my parents! I would say. I don’t listen to the Dead, I listen to the Dead Boys. But, if you think about it, I *have* been milking goats, making cheese and planting chard–all tell-tale signs of hippiedom. So I’ve learned to live with the moniker, and wonder why there isn’t a better word to describe my urban homesteading tendencies in a way that doesn’t reek of patcholi or come wrapped in tie-dye. Anyone got a better term?

While we contemplate that, a sauerkraut instructional.

Get some nice heads, tight ones. Half the cabbages, then chop into thin strips. Add the cabbage to a large bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt. A TB of salt per cup of cabbage is the rule of thumb. Once sprinkled with salt, pound the cabbage so that it starts to release some water. I use a pestle from a mortar and pestle that my roommate left behind. Add this point you can add caraway or coriander seeds. Once the cabbage strips look a bit wilted, pack them tightly into a large jar. Pack them tightly into the jar using your fist to press down all the cabbage. Weigh down with a bag filled with water or a rock, or as pictured, a glass bottle of water. This isn’t shown, but you should also drape a cheesecloth or piece of fabric to keep out flies and such. After an hour or so, the cabbage should be submerged under its own juices. Let sit 2-3 days on the counter. Taste after a few days and see if you like it, when tastes right, remove the weight, and put the jar in the fridge to enjoy. Happy lacto-fermenting! As a sidenote, I make a jar of this a week for the goats. It’s good for their bowels’ flora, as it is for ours.

My rides

There’s probably nothing more uncool than driving a car. It makes me sweaty, in a bad way. It turns me into a robot. I can’t admire other drivers’ footwear or fashion. I’m not enjoying the sun, the breeze, the hellos from other people on bikes or on foot. Nope, there I am, a big dumb-ass steering a big machine around the city.

This weekend we had blow out party for my friend Willow. She’s going on a sabbatical. I roasted three pigger loins all day long in an low oven after marinating them with various rubs and brines. Then we hung up some decorations, and wheeled out the juice making shopping cart. That’s right. A shopping cart that makes juice (sorry, no photo). In Caracas, Venezuela I first encountered this miracle machine. It involves filling a shopping cart with oranges, then mounting a juicer where the toddler would normally sit while you shopped for lentils. And a place to cut the oranges (and grapefruits). When you want juice, you reach into the cart, cut an orange, then squeeze. It’s totally mobile, and if these hit on, will provide the greater Oakland area with plenty of Vitamin C. Can’t you imagine a fleet of shopping carts filled with citrus, not aluminum cans? But first I had to get the oranges. Which meant driving (I thought) to the Friday farmer’s market. I circled a five block radius for 20 minutes. I got sweaty. I even wanted to yell. I felt competitive and I think I even cut someone off. Just for some oranges! In the time it took me to find a parking space I could have ridden there and back on my bike at least two times, which would have been enough to get the six bags of oranges (3 bags per trip is what I think the bike can handle). So back to my car=uncool principle.

And yet, Orla needs some alfalfa. And it comes in big bales. Big American bales (please notice the coloring on this bale.) That’s why, just like the country song, I love my truck. It gets around 35 miles per gallon and can haul at least four bales (I haven’t tried stacking them yet–fear of unleashing hay onto the highway). It’s rusty and white and matches our other car (across the street from this). I drive for the goats, because I love them. But I’m wondering how many bales I could fit into that shopping cart….