Hello from Jello Town, also known as the hospital. I’ve been unwell for a week and am not sure when I’ll be in the clear. No diagnosis yet, just a prescription for a clear liquid diet for the foreseeable future. Send any good recipes my way!
Epicurious published “The Power of Fresh Flour” this week, so I hope those of you who are part of the Sonoma Grain Share, SoCal Flour Share, and Power Flour Shares are feeling pleased with yourselves! Same to you, regular customers a la Grist and Toll or The Bagel Mill (see the Grains page for where you can get my wheat freshly milled)!
I appreciate that they highlight the value of engaging in one’s regional grain economy. Each one is different, and what I like about working with Grist and Toll is that we both endeavor to be up front and transparent as possible. A standard flour bag doesn’t tell you the name of the wheat variety (or varieties), of the chemicals sprayed on the wheat while it was growing, or of the farmers who grew the wheat. It doesn’t tell you its protein number, extensibility to elasticity ratio (important for bread bakers seeking a lofty loaf), falling number (also important for bread making), or moisture content. It also doesn’t tell you if it’s truly whole wheat even it the words “whole wheat” are on the bag. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s less than 50% whole wheat. Grist and Toll and I blog, newsletter broadcast, and chat about what went into the fresh flour you’re eating so you can make the most of it. Having a relationship with people in the regional grain economy means you can ask questions and have a more informed relationship with your food, too. I mean, I may be slow to respond, but you’ll eventually hear from me or find me in a chat box. 🙂
What I’ve appreciated about the past year is the chance to spend more quality time with my parents and learn about their lives. I would be far worse off during the pandemic if I didn’t have my parents to watch the baby while I work and support community needs. I love seeing the bond my kid has with my parents; they all laugh heartily and play joyfully together. And, my parents are infinitely generous when it comes to caring for baby, day or night as needed.
The tradition of care or strength of the care economy in our culture is evident in these daily interactions with my parents, in our community response to COVID, and in accounts of what happened during and following the war that ended 46 years ago on this day. My grandfather made sure to garner enough rice for the large, extended family, and would hand sort through the rations for pebbles and detritus that could break teeth–a tedious job I know too well that any parent wouldn’t have time for when taking care of kids and trying to survive post-war destruction. Neighbors with long-trusted relationships shared food, clothes, childcare, and alerts. Needs were met through each other, not money.
While the pandemic hasn’t been like a war, I learned from my family’s post-wartime experience of a devastated financial economy to apply during the pandemic. After the Fall of Saigon, the new communist government forced everyone to turn in their money, and each family, regardless of what they turned in, of their family’s size, or of any personal factors, received 200 dollars. (My mom told me of the suicides in her neighborhood as a result of this new, instituted poverty.) With limited money, even more services needed to be met through family or other relationships. So, haircuts, dog walks, picking-up food, and other monetized services are things I’m receiving or doing for people to reduce the burden on our already strained budgets.
Even before the pandemic, I grew up seeing how our strong economy of care served us as we eeked out a life in white supremacist USA. Structural racism hindered us from gaining employment, well-paying jobs, job security, job and salary advancement, so we needed to meet our needs with less money. And money can’t buy your doctor’s respect to take your pain seriously, a mechanic’s attention to do a good repair job, or a real estate agent’s care to find you a safe home. That is to say, we’d still be shut out of quality services even if we had money, so we built things ourselves and served each other with deserved respect and care.
It’s in those exchanges that we got to know each other and appreciate each other across differences. And I think this is part of what we’re losing in the US American over-emphasis on the financial economy above all others–care economy, spiritual economy, gift economy: an opportunity to appreciate each other. We are caught in an increasingly financialized world wherein everyday life is commodified (e.g. self-care is about buying skin cremes, houseplants are bought instead of propagated and shared, cooking lessons for millennia-old practices shared for free now cost hundreds of dollars) and the cost of living is skyrocketing (read: rent. The cost of food hasn’t substantially gone up since the 1970s, adjusted for inflation.). Financializing all aspects of life is 1) unevenly accessible, especially in an ableist, patriarchal, white supremacist society and 2) damaging to our resilience and adaptability.
Don’t get me wrong. We still need money, and a better, more equitable distribution of it. (Moreso, wealth, but that’s a different conversation.) But as we see consumer goods get more expensive, pandemics proliferate, and climate change-related disruptions to trade increase, it is worth examining what money can’t buy us and what riches lay in our relationships.
This regional shortage is set within a broader context of lower wheat stores than previous years and high international demand, worsened by shipping delays. As you’ve likely noticed, flour bags don’t label when the wheat was harvested (or milled!), and that’s because knowing that the wheat could be as old as 10 years would turn off customers. We’ve long relied on overproduction to tide us over, but we’ve been tapping into reserves for the past ten years. Floods have lowered Midwestern yields for years, then in winter 2019 the government shutdown disabled farmers from receiving subsidies in time to purchase seed for 2020 plantings. Afterwards, heavy flooding befell those who did plant. Floods also affected China’s grain producing regions, so they increased purchases of US grain. They couldn’t purchase from India because the sudden pandemic shelter orders disabled wheat harvesters in one state from traveling to the wheat producing states.
Though it’s been over a year since I’ve updated this blog, it isn’t for lack of news. This CNN publication of my writing grazes some of what’s transpired.
I began writing this opinion piece in January, then modified it after the attacks on Asian American elders. I revisited it again after more people in my community passed away. And after the Atlanta shootings. And once more after Vilma Kari was attacked. With each submission to and denial from a publication, I thought of Anne Anlin Cheng’s NY Times op-ed that asked the critical question: why does our society only care about us when we’re murdered?
As we say about fighting climate change, or dismantling oppression, yesterday was already too late, but today is better than tomorrow. So, I’m glad this piece is out.
I’ve received lovely congratulatory notes from strangers, authors, former professors, old friends, and colleagues. Many asked what they can do to support Asian American farmers. There are many tangible and political actions we can take that would overwhelm a single blog post, so I recommend signing up for the newsletter of my organization Minnow to stay informed. Minnow is a people of color-led organization dedicated to securing farmland tenure for California’s farmers of color, while respecting indigenous sovereignty and furthering land rematriation. Our work is at the intersection of food, climate change, racial justice, decolonization, economic democracy, and healing. When we examine our wounds together, we can make the right steps to repair.
I’ve been talking with farmers throughout California since our governor announced the shelter-in-place order. This is what I’m hearing:
In San Diego, demand for locally-produced food is higher than current production capacity or farmer abilities to harvest AND plant. They didn’t anticipate this sudden surge in demand and what’s harvested now relies on what was planted months ago. They need help securing skilled farm labor, coordinating aggregation and distribution, and connecting with those who do not have food access (low-income, sick, elder, pregnant, vulnerable populations).
In Central and Northern California, I’m hearing from farmers that they are losing restaurant and institutional (schools, hospitals) accounts and suddenly need to move large volumes to different markets. Some have part-time jobs in restaurants, so they are losing income on two fronts.
As activists have long said, hunger is a distribution problem not a production problem.
Up and down the state people are dealing with lack of childcare during care facility and school closures. Some reported there’s a lack of reliable information about COVID, how to reduce exposure, and what we know about risk. A few who have family members in the food processing sector said the workers are being overworked in facilities, in tight spaces, and with few contagion precautions. Meanwhile, farm workers are working with different crews each day and transported all in one vehicle.
This is some work I’m doing as an immediate response:
- fundraising from philanthropic entities for California black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers to receive direct relief funds paired with financial guidance service; goal of $500k
- Community supported agriculture (CSA) aggregation logistics to link locally-produced food to English limited, low income populations
- fundraising for Infrastructure expansion of regional food storage and zero emission cold storage vehicles
- Advocating for on-farm multi lingual trainers on precautionary measures to limit spread
- organizing bulk purchasing and home delivery for people in my neighborhood and Vietnamese community
…demanding the things we’ve been building and calling for, just accelerated.
Things I’m trying to get ahead of:
- potential farm labor shortage due to illness, continued emphasis on harvest and distro rather than planting
- conservatives furthering anti-immigration/immigrants/Asian sentiments and leveraging that to accelerate deportations or create policies to ban/police/incarcerate POC
- Militarized enforcement shelter in place and disproportionate impact on BIPOC
- arguments for replacing farm labor with AI and robots in the name of sanitation and safety
…by trying to leverage existing coalitions for the policy/political work of retaining immigrants, farmland, and farmers, all with dignity, sick pay, family leave, and expanded health care as a state.
As a Viet-Californian who grew up in the 90s, I’m well aware of how this state deals with a massive number of unemployed people of color: death through incarceration or murder. We need to consider the possibility and likelihood that the pandemic will lend towards racist and sexist anger and violence. The more we can help each other have access to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and health care, the less fear will be stirred into anger.
I’m sure you’re overwhelmed with options of how to be helpful at this time. Regarding farmers, these are the basic things you can do?
- Get food directly to your door and support local jobs by signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture share. Paying up front before the season begins helps farmers plan and plant early on.
- Call your city council members and state assemblymembers to support sick and family leave for essential workers.
It’ll be hard for me to find time to write amidst working, farming, caring for baby and family, and responding to emergencies, so my Instagram account may be a good place to keep updated for now. Take care.
Due to COVID-19 concerns and the state shelter-in-place mandate, Grist and Toll will not be hosting an in-person event and, unfortunately, I won’t be able to hang out with you. If you opted for in-person pick-up, Grist and Toll will directly contact you about your options.
Stay well and be safe!
Hello! I’m reemerging not only as a mother of a new human, but also new crop. I’m excited to announce that you can pre-order my grain as stone-milled, whole grain flour from Grist and Toll! The Chiddam Blanc de Mars still has notes of pecans, honey, and sage, and the Wit Wolkoring exudes a milky, fresh-cut grass aroma. This special pre-order bundle means you can get both wheat in 5 lb quantities each delivered to you or available for pick-up. Afterwards, they will only be available in 2.5 lb packages in store.
Here’s the order information from Grist and Toll:
We are receiving a limited amount of new crop heirloom wheat grown by Farmer Mai in Sonoma County. After a heart breaking loss due to fire and disaster the previous year, we have all been eagerly awaiting this next harvest. A special pre-sale offer is live on our web store now: 5 lbs each, Wit Wolkoring and Chiddam Blanc de Mars. This special set will only be available during the pre-sale period, which is today through March 28, 2020.
- All orders placed Online will be Packed and Shipped the week of March 30th
- If you are local and would like to pick up at the mill, you must order by phone (626) 441-7400. On Friday, April 3, 2020, you can say hello to Mai, taste something delicious made from their wheat, and pick up your pre-ordered flour at Grist & Toll
- First 10 to pre-order also get first dibs to register for our Whole Grain Baguette class coming this fall, which will feature Mai’s wheat!
I’m taking a few months to focus on birth and bonding. Catch you on the flip side!
Much of my work to push our society to value farmers of color centers on the fact that we are integral to nourishing our communities with culturally-relevant food and sustaining biodiversity that benefits all.
In a time when people are searching for solutions to climate change, often looking for ‘innovative’ new answers, I say that we already have the answers. They are held by farmers of color, immigrants, refugees, black farmers, indigenous farmers–those who have long been marginalized, abused, and silenced. We use diverse and thus environmentally-beneficial farming practices rooted in our respective, culturally-informed philosophies. We also use different business models, many premised on the well-being of family and community. These frameworks serve as important alternatives to the American mainstream farming model that has accelerated climate change, health disparities, and income inequality.
I’m grateful to be among a cohort of farmers and advocates who are keeping our cultural knowledge and principles alive while working to address historic inequalities such that our past, a wealth of experience that is part of our collective riches, is appropriately valued.
Read the article here.