Clean Air, Clean Water, Livable Future

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President Trump will sign an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Act today. This action comes in tow with his undoing of other environmental legislation to minimize air and water pollution.

I haven’t been around as long as Keeling, Carson, Shiva and other environmental activists to feel the defeat and regression from decades of struggle to get climate change seriously discussed and addressed. I can say that it goes against current scientific knowledge and farming, and the future of humanity.

What’s happening today reminds me of a statement I wrote for the National Young Farmers Coalition of why I’m a farmer. Before I became a farmer, I was a climate researcher. I modeled changes over thousands of years and created visuals on the computer. I soon decided to step into the field to witness the earthly impacts no pixel could capture, and what I saw changed everything.

From my NYFC statement:

Freezing arctic winds blurred my vision, obscuring the number on the meter. Up from yesterday. Every day I fought through the cold to log the rate of atmospheric carbon coming from the arctic tundra, which stores 50% of Earth’s carbon. I squinted against the hard wind: 554 ppm — 164 ppm more than the global average, and higher every year. The meter told me the number of particles, but in its predictable climb, year after year, it was also saying that the world in the near future will be a much drier, harsher place. Living at an arctic weather station gives you lots of time to think. I spent mine thinking about how we got to this point. Cities, factories, industrial development, yes, sure. But the main way humans transform our landscape is still through agriculture—the production, the transportation, the storage, and the waste of food, the whole system—that’s still where we impact our world the most. To make the difference I wanted to make, that’s where I needed to be, I realized.

Six years later, I was farming, growing grains. When I lived in cold climes, eating seasonally, I relied on grains to get me through half the year and relished the nuanced differences between wheats — hard red vs. soft spring, etc. As an eater, I appreciated the flavor and color diversity. As a farmer, I value all the benefits grains offer. They provide year-round food and farm income. They can provide a drought tolerant food source, can act as sustenance for animals and seed for future cops, and capture carbon, especially when managed in rotation with animals. Grains are essential, yet they’re hardly found in local foodsheds. We used to grow a great variety of grains, even wheats. Now we buy “All Purpose Flour,” or “Whole Wheat Flour,” the labels eliding the varieties of wheats in the bag, each of which has been chosen for certain qualities like greater starch, longer shelf life. Their effect on health, the agricultural practices that produced them, their impact on the environment—these factors have all been erased. (I won’t get into the political economic history of why we grow the wheat we grow; I’ll just say it’s complicated.)

Knowing all this, I work to grow alternative wheat and grains and to revive old, rare seed stock. These grains are not only ecologically beneficial but also delicious and mesmerizingly beautiful in the field. They also contribute to biodiversity. Growing these rarer grains, and on a small scale, presents many challenges: infrastructure needs (land, equipment, seed), environmental unpredictability (drought, storms, new diseases), and lack of government and community support. The challenges are formidable. But I know I am farming to address the biggest challenge: humans’ relationship to our environment. Producing food and sharing it with others enables me to engage the current food system, ecological management practices, and ultimately the climate, all while working with others to see (and taste!) what’s possible.

As a climate researcher, I read about the environmental changes and impacts of people and ecosystems. As a social justice organizer, I saw how lack of water pollution regulations meant companies could dump toxins in water ways and how young children would cry at their friend’s funeral who passed away because they had played in the water.

As a farmer, I see how the unpredictable weather stresses plants and animals. The drought pushes people to pump from their wells, which increases the salinity of what remains. The springs in the hills dry, so the deer and wildlife go to the lower grounds for water — where the roads are and where the roadkill count increases with the desperation for hydration.

I am trying to farm to capture and not release carbon, prevent water and soil contamination, and grow food in a way that doesn’t compromise our current and future health. I stress about planting with the rains, competing against weeds in a no-till system, and acquiring and raising drought-resistant seeds. I feel like what I’m doing is small, but that my generation is tasked with cleaning up over a century’s worth of industrialization’s waste. These years of foregoing cars only to be hit by one, of living local foodways, and of activism for environmental justice seems like a drop in the bucket compared to what will need to be done. The task just got harder, dirtier, and longer.

PDX Grain Tour

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The week after the Big Party, my partner had to attend a conference in Portland. I went up for the weekend as an attempt at a mini-moon, but I proved myself incapable of thinking about grain. Plus, I met some fun and interesting bakers at the Cascadia Grains Conference in January who are based in Portland: Annie of Seastar Bakery and Tissa of Tabor Bread. Not wanting to miss out on any gems, I consulted with Amy Halloran the Flour Ambassador about who else I should meet. She introduced me to Adrian Hale of Thousand Bites of Bread, who then generously offered to take me on a grain tour. As you might’ve gathered from this blog, I love tours and samples!!!

Our first stop was Seastar Bakery. It’s both cozy and lively, and seemingly with a nook for anyone and everyone. Can you pick out the quirky qualities below? Comic book lamp covers, Brian Froud/Labyrinth-like creatures, and a poster of Bread and Puppet Theater are just a few. You should see what’s in the opposite corner.

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PDX by Me, Adrian, and Annie

Don’t come just for the decor. The bread was delicious and their special is something I still yearn for: dill beet pickle egg sandwich. Look at this beauty!

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Seastar was bustling by 10:30 AM, so we booked it to Tabor Bread. Tabor takes up a corner lot and looks like a stately mountain lodge. Opening the door gives way to warmth, friendly chatter, and a direct view of the turtle oven.

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The turtle belly is lit early in the morning and fed loaves at one time. Rather than doing continuous baking that would create much smoke, they use one firing for the day. The bricks certainly keep the place warm.

To the right of the oven and across a corridor is the large Osti roller stone mill that produces freshly milled flour. Tabor’s principles are simple: whole grain, freshly milled, and naturally leavened. From that simplicity comes a great complexity of artisan effort to work with the dynamic qualities embodied in those three characteristics.

Tissa and the Tabor team do it extremely well. Check out this spread:

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MUST HAVE Morning Mash in the front. Then there’s hard red, soft white, morning bread, einkorn, rye

We surely stuffed ourselves, and I’m glad I got to share it with my sweetheart and new friend, Adrian. Beyond bread, Adrian and I share an affinity for salt, which we both carry around at all times! We swapped salt tins as mementos of our excursion, and I’m glad we had occasion to keep hanging out and discovering shared enthusiasm for many more things. Honestly, this is my favorite part of traveling: meeting new people and delighting in the world together.

20170318_12054820170318_185847Bread bread bread. I took it back to my friend’s place where I was staying. This friend is my oldest buddy — we’ve known each other since kindergarten. She’s the one who introduced me to rainforest conservation when we were in first grade, and she convinced me to help her petition to save the monkeys in third grade. She says I introduced her to the internet. We’ve always shared musings, observations, and ideas, helped each other nurse kernels of ideas into bigger projects and pursuits.

She’s now an artist and professor in Portland, and her love of nature 20170319_145417is glaringly evident in her work. She made this fantastical installation of mushroom stages of growth cast in glass. The figures are haunting like the ghost of life and decay. I’ve only seen photos, which you can find at emilynachison.com. These figurines lingered in her studio.

Ironically, her studio is in an old seed cleaning facility. Few remnants of the company remain except a few hand-painted signs. They’re now seeds for something new.

 

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On an unrelated note, I happened upon the last day of a Magnetic Fields gallery exhibit that featured representations of all 69 Love Songs. O M G. I think I need a new heart.

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Super Bloom

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Growing up in California’s desert led me to be acutely attuned to rain patterns. Rain would come after Thanksgiving, lightly until Christmas. January would be sunny for awhile, and the hillsides became bright green with new growth. Then rains would return and pour into March. June gloom would make a brief visit with a little rain.

This year is the first time in fifteen years that the weather feels like it used to. The hills have brightened and I encounter subtle, familiar smells in the chaparral. The desert has also come to life, and I couldn’t let myself pass up this super bloom. YOLO!

I still regret not going to the Death Valley super bloom in 2005. So this time, avoiding some severe FOMO. And it was very much worth it.

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20170309_151804 Boom boom bloom!

The most salient aspect of the super bloom isn’t the colors or flowers. It’s opening the car door and being smothered with what smells like creamy lotus seeds. Thick and sweet but not saccharine. The desert doesn’t produce sharp, sappy scents. Rather, it produces languid, nuanced, yet rich smells that elicit a gentle intoxication.

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Sniff sniff sniff

I felt thrilled by the sights, smells, and sounds of desert life activated by the rain. I hope we’ll see this rain again in predictable, regular intervals. May these blooms remind us of the beauty that water brings and life it gives. We shouldn’t make water so rare and precious such that life is a surprise when it should be the norm.

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I’m Rich!

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A year ago, I told my partner that I wanted to tell everyone I know that they should anticipate seeing us together for a long time. I said, “When people invite me to something, they should know you’ll be there, too. But they should probably meet you first. Perhaps all at once.” That’s how my partner and I ended up throwing a big party.

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Now that all the planning and partying is done, I can look back at how wonderfully love-filled the event was. And that was really the point: to celebrate all the love between family and friends. We wanted to bring together all the people who made us who we are, to cherish those relationships, and for everyone to meet as we all create a future together.

I feel some reluctance in posting this because it seems self-indulgent, but in the spirit of celebration, I’ll share some highlights.

We stated our commitment to each other in the temple that I grew up going to. My family helped it grow from a small house into a ceremonious, capacious temple. This is where my grandmother taught me how to make delicate rose-shaped dumplings for hundreds of people in the congregation. This is where we’d see family friends — people my parents met while they were in refugee camps. This is where I laid on cool tiles during Santa Ana winds. I go here to see the photo of my grandmother on the altar, and think of all the prayers and philosophies she taught me.

This is where my partner and I promised to support each other for the rest of our lives.

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It’s remarkable to look at a crowd of faces and know every one. To have memories and really your whole life before your eyes. To see Andrea and think of biking through sequoias and diving in waterfalls. To see Uyen and Hanh and remember our Vietnamese dance troupe. To remember all the joys and sorrows you’ve shared that make you, you. And that after all those experiences, two people from different places and histories can come together to find a kindred spirit.

If it’s too much to think about, the reception comes along just in time. Our friends did a stellar job of making a 20170305_133325wonderful evening. I’m saving all the thank yous for the cards I still need to write, but I’ll name a few. David Kaisel of Capay Mills made 20 pie crusts out of his Chiddam Blanc and Edison wheat — grown and milled. My friend Rachel experimented with sweet potato and blackberry fillings for months and ended up flying out with filling she made in New York and transferring them to the pie crusts in California. They were the best pies I’ve ever eaten. I wish I still had some. Mark Stambler of Pagnol Boulanger made 20 loaves of bread with my wheat and everyone was in love with it. My friend’s 7-month-old ate it, and it was the first bread she’d ever eaten. I nearly melted when I heard this!

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Hand-drawn by yours truly

20170403_165432Food food food. How about drinks? Despite good advice, I wanted to provide home-made sodas because I couldn’t live with the idea of serving high fructose corn syrup. Especially when some family members have diabetes — I’d be such a jerk! I came up with some cocktails, and one included the fermented ume juice from the Cal Specialty Produce Cooperative that I work with. Shameless plug for the co-op and its delicious ume juice!

After food and drink, I announced that anyone could come up to sing and kick off the dancing. As I moved off the dance floor and my partner went towards the bathroom, I heard my dad clear his throat. He had cued the music and I instantly grabbed my partner’s hand. “Huh?” was the shocked facial expression of someone who doesn’t feel comfortable dancing and can see what’s coming. “My dad’s singing and we’re right here,” I said as I walked to the dance floor and my dad started to sing “Love Me With All of Your Heart.”

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My dad is a tough act to follow. Only Elvis can try, and that’s what happened. We got a surprise visit from Elvis and experienced a spectacular performance. What isn’t captured in this photo is Elvis outstretching his palm to give this child a high five. There was a pregnant pause, hand open but no movement from the kid. And right as the chorus ends and on the final beat: high-five contact. We all cheered and carried on dancing, laughing, and enjoying the company of people from across seas, across continents, across life’s diversity of experiences. I felt humbled, grateful, and in awe of this richness of family and friendship. I am rich with love.

 

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