Farming Over the Edge

Fawning over the Gentle Miwok

By Steve Quirt

 

A reader of this newspaper commented that I drone on and on, in a sentimental cloud of naive admiration, about the “gentle Miwok” that die at age 37… The reader is correct in his criticism, and I thank him for pointing this out—I may have failed to get my point across clearly so let me explain with a minimum of droning on and on.

It’s not about the Miwok and other California Native American cultures specifically—it’s about their deeply rooted, productive and balanced culture of feeding themselves and keeping their environment clean. There are powerful lessons embedded in their extinct practices. Today, we are operating at the extreme opposite position in all aspects of this and it is a global condition.

 

“You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture, you can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything. (It’s one of the keys to war, too, because large-scale agriculture is dependent on control of global land, oil, minerals and water.)” Mark Bittman NYT January 20, 2015

 

There is something happening here, but you don’t know what is, Do you Mr. Jones? (to quote Bob Dylan). Who controls what you eat? You could argue that most of our time is linked to efforts to secure food. Like the hunter gatherers, most folks work to “put food on the table”, or to “make ends meet”, or to “pay the bills.” This is where the majority of people are today—working all the time to just eat. The newest scary data says that 80 (eighty) people control 46% of the “wealth” of the world, which makes it harder for the rest of us to “buy” our food. Not everyone lives a Marin County lifestyle. The point Mark Bittman makes is that everything happening today, especially on the global scale, is founded on a harmful, or even suicidal system of greedy overproduction and control of our food by industrial finance moguls. How far from the around a planet does food need to travel to be eaten? These are burning issues, and it is getting harder and harder to ignore them.

 

I was once a graphic designer with a busy, successful studio. Sometimes we would get snarled up with a design project that wasn’t working. The more we tinkered with the design, trying to salvage it to justify the time already invested, the worse it got, the uglier it became. When this happened, we had a strategy of trashing the wasted hours of work, sacrificing conference and studio time to the design gods, and start over with the simplest design possible. Why work with broken tools and dirty windows? It always worked. The old had to be replaced with something new, clean, functional. The system that we live under today doesn’t work, and if you argue that it does, you haven’t done your research—or you are not living in the same world as billions of your brothers and sisters. We have a right to be concerned. We need to start with a new, fresh, morally upright design that feeds “need”, instead of serving “greed”. Sound idealist and frothy? Just try it.

 

To bring healthy, innocent (yes, this sounds dreamy and idealist) food from land to mouth in a practical fashion in an environmentally sound way is nearly impossible today. There is no economic gain in operating like this—the forces of greed and control make feeding mouths without the profit incentive impossible to do without confrontation with the entrenched, self-centered Establishment. Ask small farmers, those who have managed to survive, about their scramble to keep going off of something beside idealism and the desire to live a meaningful lifestyle. To play you need to pay.

Where are we headed when people are economically, politically and culturally cut off from the ability feed themselves on a local level? A few lucky ones from privileged backgrounds are able to do this, but visit a local food bank and talk to some of those folks. There are way more souls in line than souls doing fine, and this is the new reality.

The perennial, boring question remains, “What are we going to do about this?” This is worth a good long, think. How do we mesh this most basic of activities, from earth to plate, with the crazy world that we create and sustain? Is it even worth the time to consider? I mean really consider? The evidence is piling up, day by day. Watching polar ice caps melt into the oceans may be interesting to see on the science channel, and it’s fun to explore carbon credit trading, but the soft focus and the intellectual distance of these abstract efforts mask the deeper pain and fear of what we are doing to the planet and ourselves. This won’t last. Here is the question I ask myself about every action I perform, 24-7:

Does this act support my inner understanding of truth and fairness?

If it doesn’t, what am I going do about it?

If I resist, truly resist down to the roots of my belief, am I willing to act?

Most poignantly, am I willing to pay the price to stand up for my deepest conviction?

This kind of focused analysis automatically casts us into the deeper meanings of our choices. I think the Buddha would approve of this kind of introspection, this sharpened attention on what we are really doing with each action. Actions build on themselves and launch more actions thus perpetuating both thinking and action. Once again we hear the Buddha say,

 

1. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a selfish thought, pain follows him, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the carriage.

 

2. All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a selfless thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.

 

That is a pretty good argument for the power to change, for the power to act effectively to help change our collective direction. Think about it, and I promise, no more Miwok sentimentalism.

 

A letter to my community

GirlsPortlandMy granddaughters Luna and Ariana who will soon

As owner and sole proprietor of the West Marin Citizen I am in negotiations over a sale of the paper to Tess Elliott and David Briggs of the Point Reyes Light Publishing Company (the sale will not involve the Marin Media Institute). We were hoping to have a bit more time to hash out the details before announcing this plan to our community, but a former editor of the Point Reyes Light and the WM Citizen, jumped the gun with a “blog-post” sent out via mass emails and posting on social networks, expressing his dismay over the sale. He disconnected himself from the Citizen in November 2010, when he resigned and has no insight into that paper’s finances or structure.

The three of us believe that West Marin can only support a single viable weekly newspaper—and we know we are not alone in that belief. Advertisers are stretched thin and readers and contributors are often uncomfortably stuck in the middle. Meanwhile our staffs and pay have dwindled. Our vision is that the Light will incorporate the community coverage and the voices that have made the Citizen so valuable and so beloved. We are approaching this sale in the spirit of a merger. We need all of you to help make that happen.

 

I will be leaving California in a few months, joining my family in Portland, Oregon. My son and his family and my daughter and her family have relocated to Portland with their small daughters, my granddaughters, due to the high cost of housing in the Bay Area.

 

I joined the Citizen in the summer of 2007 when Joel Hack started the paper during a period of dissatisfaction with the new owner of the Pt Reyes Light. The Citizen fulfilled a need in the community for grass-roots local news.

The two papers helped define what readers were looking for in a local paper and I feel it’s time to bow out and allow the Pt Reyes Light, with the support of the community, begin a new era in West Marin journalism.

. I trust that you all will encourage and support Tess and David, and continue the “community conversations” via letters, opinion, and stories about local people doing local things.

This is a bitter-sweet moment for me and the many Citizen supporters and contributors, but it does not mean the spirit of the Citizen will disappear. I hope all of you will sustain your passion and dedication to community and help Tess and David incorporate this energy into the “new” Light.

There are too many people I want to thank, too many to name but I do want to mention how grateful I am for all the hugs, phone calls and messages of support for my difficult decision this past week. Most important is my gratitude to David Bunnett and Joel Hack for convincing me that I could take on the role of publisher in 2011, among my many other responsibilities.

I will still be publishing the Coast Guide twice a year which will bring me to West Marin now and then to bother business owners for advertising. You are not rid of me yet!

The Citizen will cease publishing after April 30th.  Subscriptions will be honored by the Point Reyes Light.

At this time we continue to accept your stories and photos and letters and calendar entries as usual. We welcome your thoughts and memories of the nearly eight WM Citizen years!

With great affection, Linda Petersen

 

Cultural Potholes

By Donna Sheehan and Paul Reffell

Sometimes you just have to take the leap. It’s better to jump into cold water than wade in slowly. It’s better to rip off the BandAid than to slowly pull every hair. Better to leave a harmful situation.

 

We get all worked up about change. We get scared of unseen developments, of life’s uncertainties, of death. We want to be sure of our footing. We want time to be able to form expectations. We feel safe with the status quo. But that belies our adaptive nature – the quality that has made our species so successful.

 

A skydiver doesn’t exit the plane a little at a time. It’s a leap. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been careful preparation for jumping into thin air.

 

A sailing vessel would never leave port if captain and crew were not ready to face unknown dangers. They stock the boat, stop leaks, repair sails, check the rigging, but they set sail not truly knowing what’s in store. That’s why logbook entries used to be written “sailing towards” not “sailing to” the destination, just in case they had to divert.

 

Prepare for heavy weather, for transformation, for change. Then sail for your destination, aware of your ability to take what comes.

 

 

 

 

A few comments from community on the sale:

 

Linda Petersen and Tess Elliott and the Point Reyes Light and the West Marin Citizen -wishing you peace and wisdom and space and support from your community as you work together right now on a new future for all. I honor your efforts! Robin Carpenter

 

I support Linda’s decision to sell to the Point Reyes Light. I support the concept of one newspaper and I know that this community can work together to support one newspaper. It is time. Linda put a lot of thought into this and did not make this decision lightly. Linda and Tess are planning to come on KWMR and talk more about the process at a future date. Stay tuned. Amanda Eichstaedt

 

hi Tess and Linda …..

 

`just a short word praising each of you for such polite and  ethical behaviour.

 

`i look forward to the merger of    journalistic philosophies. We will all be the better for it.

 

JeanettePontacq

 

 

A Brief History of Tule Elk on the Point Reyes Peninsula

TuleElk_CharlesPost_HighRes
By Charles Post

Tule elk, a modern totem of wilderness, have long played a role in the ecological-societal interface of California. The historical relevance of the tule elk (Cervus elaphus nannodes), a subspecies of elk found only in California, dawned on the fateful summer day of 1576 when Sir Francis Drake and his weathered crew landed at what is now Point Reyes – that arc of land that juts well into the rich, cold waters of the North Pacific – and first caught a glimpse of this stoic, and remarkably abundant grazer, as described in a journal entry: “The inland we found to be far different from the shoare, a goodly country and fruitful soil, stored with many blessings fit for the use of man: infinite was the company of very large and fat Deer (tule elk), which we saw by thousands as we supposed in herd” (1). The notion that these wild and fertile lands were fit for the righteous and pre-ordained use of man set a tone that proved to propagate cascading deleterious effects on the ecosystems of North America.

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 and the preceding flood of people fixated on the prospect of prosperity marked the start of the end for tule elk. The years of ensuing optimistic hysteria, and unprecedented growth were a time of uncertainly for the tule elk and the vast sea of grasslands they long inhabited. With the dramatic growth and insatiable appetite for land and game, the heavy hand of man quickly deteriorated the tule elk’s resiliency, setting the stage for a century of precipitous population declines, followed by years of conservation, habitat restoration and episodic reintroductions in an attempt to salvage a species nearly lost. After the years of neglect and shortsightedness that almost resulted in another human propagated extinction, tule elk are making a comeback. Yes, there is a happy ending here, but it’s prudent to contextualize this change of fortune, and consider the evolutionary, environmental and natural history that has shaped and molded the way we coexist with tule elk, North America’s smallest elk and rarest elk species.
When talking about an animal’s taxonomic classification, we can’t forget Carl Linnaeus. Surely, everyone remembers Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, the man who crafted the foundation of biological naming and binomial nomenclature, right? Well, just as a refresher, based on the Linnaean model of classification, plants and animals are generally grouped into kingdom, phylum, classes, order, family, genus and species. This taxonomic classification system is intended to contextualize an organism’s relatedness relative to a near or distant relative. Tule elk are certainly in the Animalia kingdom, but more specifically are members of the family Cervidae and genus Cervus. The family Cervidae is comprised of a group of grazing animals that first appeared in Eurasia between the Miocene and beginning of the Pliocene period between 23 and 5.3 million years ago. While, the genus Cervu, describes deer that originated from the Asian continent roughly 10,000 years ago, who eventually outgrew their natal habitat, and subsequently traveled across Beringia, a land bridge that connected the North American and Asian continents, facilitating widespread Southern migrations to California and beyond (1). Over the course of time, evolution and adaptation eventually shaped and drove speciation, resulting in three distinct species of elk left to occupy present day California: nelsoni, roosevelti and nannodes (1).
The nelsoni, or Rocky Mountain elk, had a sub-population whose range extended West from the Mount Shasta region to the coastal ranges of Northern California and Southern Oregon. Two specimens, excavated in Shasta County and Siskiyou County and dated to the Pleistocene period, an epoch that occurred between 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, support the apparent deviation of the nelsoni from their home range in the Rocky Mountains (1). These populations of elk that dominated the moist, redwood and fog laden coastal mountains of northern California came to form the roosevelti, or Roosevelt elk, while more southern elk populations well adapted to the dry Central Valley became known as the nannodes, or tule elk, whose statewide population is believed to have neared 500,000 individuals at one time (1).

But at the very moment when John Sutter first gazed upon those luminous, golden nuggets in the American River, the future of tule elk would change forever. By 1849 news of the Gold Rush was plastered across every newspaper from Taos to Louisville and St. Paul to Boston. Seemingly overnight San Francisco became a boomtown with a population that grew from roughly 1,000 residents to upwards of 25,000 residents by 1850. 49ers, as they were to be known, were heading west in search of fortune beyond their wildest dreams.

Yet, with many mouths to feed came a precipitous demand for sustenance, and fortunately for those marching westward, by 1849 California was still a wild, largely untapped resource as illustrated by an excerpt from a hunter’s journal, “the herds of grazing animals in the Central Valley rivaled those of bison of the great-plains or the antelope of South Africa” (3). It wasn’t long before these resources were discovered and exploited at an alarming rate. Hunting and trapping parties, such as those lead by the Hudson Bay Company, recorded detailed accounts of these hunts. The journal of John Work noted that a single hunting party took 568 elk, 165 deer, 25 bear and 98 antelope from California over a nine-month period (1). As if to compound the increasingly bleak fate for California’s wildlife during the years that followed the gold rush, new urban hubs were sprouting up like summer poppies; Stockton and Sacramento soon joined the ranks as thriving hubs in the midst of California’s gold fever, both of which required manpower and an abundance of natural resources to grow.

By 1855, just over three hundred years following Sir Francis Drake’s historic account of an endless sea of tule elk grazing the Point Reyes headlands, common knowledge suggested that tule elk had been hunted to the point of extinction (1). Who’s to say if regret described the sentiments of anyone involved in their slaughter and blind harvest, but we can be sure that in 1874 a California rancher named Henry Miller had foresight, which proved enough to save tule elk from extinction. On that fateful day, he discovered a small herd of fewer than 30 tule elk in an isolated thicket on his Bakersfield, California ranch. With help from state and local agencies a conservation and reestablishment effort ensued. Between 1904 and 1934 transplant efforts were made in an effort to reestablish elk populations in California. By the 1970’s, extended efforts began to produce progressive success as elk numbers in California rebounded to nearly eight hundred individuals. Due to sustained efforts tule elk had made a significant comeback by the 1990s, with the statewide population nearing three thousand individuals. Today, twenty-two elk populations exist in California. The Elk Creek herd is the furthest North, inhabiting coastal rangelands of Mendocino County, and southern most population is the La Panza herd, which grazes the coastal rangelands of Southern San Louis Obispo County. The largest of these herds, and the only population found within a National Park unit, is located in Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Today, after reintroduction in 1978, it is estimated that close to 600 tule elk roam freely in at least three distinct herds within the fruitful lands of Point Reyes National Seashore, the largest of which can be found in the Tomales Point Elk Preseve.

Evidently, tule elk are making a comeback thanks in large part to extensive management and reintroduction efforts. Time will tell whether these stoic grazers continue to flourish as environmental conditions change, and human development continues to encroach on remaining habitats. But for now, it is safe to say, tule elk, a symbol of wilderness and resilience, are alive and well in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Citations
• McCullough, D. M. California University Publications in Zoology (University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969), pp. 1-191.
• Maloney, A. M. Fur brigade to the Bonaventura; John Work’s California expedition, 1832-1833 (California Historical Society, San Francisco, California, 1945), pp. 112.
• Newberry, J.S. Report upon the mammals. Reports of explorations and surveys, to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. 1857, U.S. War Dept. Vol. 6, pt.4, No.2:35-72.

Farming over the Edge:Little Wing Farm makes light footprints

 

By Steve Quirt

Anybody who has small-farmed for an actual living, and not a hobby, understands the amount of endurance and pure sweat this requires. For very little profit: think Silicon Valley largess versus what a few acres of small farm operation will reward its stewards. To be blunt, don’t go into small farming if you want to make a lot of money (yes there are always rare exceptions), go into tech or stock trading. So why do small farmers do it?

There are all the media stereotypes about Joe Small Farmer and a kind of Whole Foods imagined farmer with his overalls and old tractor. Maybe there are a few of those fellows lingering about, but most of them you will never see because they are too busy farming and surviving. So what draws individuals to the lifestyle?

I find the small farming niche of agriculture fascinating. This is where the most diverse and interesting stories are to be told. Often I find adventurers and innovators—dedicated and passionately motivated men and women—who continue the sacred task of producing food with care and personal attention, often at brutally imbalanced odds.

[subhead] Little Wing Farm

 

Good small farms have a healthy vibrancy about them that you can almost taste. Small farms reflect the personality of the farmer, like Little Wing Farm, tucked into the back-end of the old Saint Anthony’s Farm site near Bloomfield—coastal, wet, cool and diverse. Molly Myerson is the farmer. She partners with Christian Ciazzo in Point Reyes Station and supplies Stellina Restaurant with fresh, local organic produce from the farm.

 

For the last twoyears Molly has spent the major portion of her life building up this little farm that is becoming more integrated and interesting each day. The current burst of energy is coming with the addition of more quail eggs, which Molly will hatch into chicks. She is building her flock up to provide quail eggs to restaurants in the City, along with Stellina. Molly is approaching expert status on quail.

 

In addition to the quail egg enterprise Molly is boosting her fresh strawberry production with the addition of 1000 feet of new raised beds at the top of the Ranch next to the Farm Stand. She and her helper, Sara Sternberg, put in the beds with a rototiller and a lot of hand digging.

The old architectural signage from St. Anthony’s now shelters the Farm Stand which offers fresh seasonal veggies with a self serve and pay system. This increasingly popular roadside honor system business model works well and allows the farmer to be away.

[subhead] A Little Help from your Friends

 

One morning I stopped by Little Wing Farm and watched Molly and Sara doing the work of three laborers. These girls were grinding it out and sweating. I stopped by the next day and they were still at it. I calculate that it will take a full week of two person labor (I emphasize the word, “labor”) to finish these beds. There is technology available that do the beds, lay the drips and install plastic mulch all in one pass. Usually, the small scale of Little Wing Farm makes that scale of tractor work economically impossible, but Molly and Sara have borrowed a tractor that lays the plastic mulch from a neighboring farmer.

 

“Michael Collins is going to lend us his tractor that lays the drip and plastic mulch once we finish making and shaping the beds by hand. Small farmers, especially new ones, are aided greatly by the generosity and experience of older more established farmers who share equipment and knowledge.” Molly told me.

She has been able to sell most of what she grows to the nearby San Francisco restaurant culture and her partnership with Stellina is a strong one, so her sales are getting healthier. She is growing the farm slowly and steadily. Her main concerns now are getting the work done and her worker, Sara, has been a big part of the plan. Two is always better than one from the overworked small growers point of view.

Finding a place to farm is hard to do around here. You need tillable land, water, fencing, outbuildings for working storage and a packing area. Creative working arrangements are needed to get the work done and there are workers like Sara who are perfect fit in a place like Little Wing. Molly is lucky to have her friend on-board as labor is always a big issue for small farms.

Regulatory restrictions, insurance issues, and lingering cultural prejudices make living on farm expensive in the Bay Area, and is one of the issues that needs to be addressed practically. The exact nature of how these micro-farms work is completely out-of-sync with regulations and laws designed for and by big Ag.

 

Farms like Little Wing look idyllic from the road, but big insecurities come with the vision; land leases can be broken or not renewed on a whim, labor is always a concern and comes with huge regulatory blandishments, markets can change abruptly and there is almost universally no reserve capital to suffer setbacks. No health insurance. A bad year will wipe you out.

I asked both Sara and Molly why they put up with all this. Here are their replies.

Molly Myerson: “Of course I have intellectual reasons why I choose to farm but what keeps me coming back day after day is something more fundamental. It’s about the actual joy I receive from tending this land, watching things grow and ripen under my hand. The partnership with plants and animals to create food has a deeply satisfying feedback loop. I guess I need the relationship with the land, quail, and the farm. It feels real. And I like the direct reward. I work to grow food to support myself, and that fells good. It feels right. That’s what I care about.”

Sara Sternberg: “For me, it’s about reconciliation. I have deep beliefs, and this kind of work fulfills what I believe in. I have been able to reconcile my beliefs with the way I live.”

 

 

West Marin Sheriff’s Report

 

 

Monday March 2

Bolinas 3:20 p.m. Landlord reported that a woman who had been given a notice to quit their property was back at the house. Deputies confirmed that judge had given tenant till 3/20 to make her move.

Point Reyes Station 7:36 p.m. Woman called to update deputies on report she had filed the previous week regarding some fraudulent charges.

Forest Knolls 9:17 p.m. Dad had knee surgery in December and had asked his adult son to move in to help with day-to-day activities. Dad states that he tried to leave the house to go to an AA meeting and his son refused to let him go. Dad given information on how to evict son from his home.

Bolinas 11:54 p.m. Woman called to complain about a neighbor running her washing machine at night.

 

Tuesday March 3

Stinson Beach 7:07 a.m. Two separate reports came in regarding a subject who was intoxicated and stumbling around the area.

Point Reyes Station 8:36 a.m. Reporting party stated that a man had come into their store and threatened their life. Subject states they believe man might have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Subject given advice on how to obtain a restraining order.

 

Wednesday March 4

 

Thursday March 5

Bolinas 7:59 p.m. Reporting party stated that there was a couple sleeping in a camper near their home. They would like them moved along.

Bolinas 10:06 a.m. Reporting party stated that there were three people living in a camper and cooking something over a propane stove and they were concerned about a potential fire risk. Deputy encountered three people making coffee over a contained flame. Coffee drinkers had stopped to enjoy the scenery and were not camping in area.

Bolinas 4:37 p.m. Man called to report that his houseguest had been drinking heavily and he was concerned she may get physical with him. Man wanted a deputy to mediate the situation before it got out of hand.

 

Friday March 6

Marshall 2:34 p.m. Reporting party states that someone stole insurance paperwork from their home.

Point Reyes Station 3:25 p.m. Local proprietor reported that a man owes them $180 and is refusing to pay. Deputies stated they would call man and advise him to pay his bill.

 

Saturday March 7

Bolinas 11:01 a.m. A woman called to report that a group of men in their 20’s had been yelling inappropriate things at her. She went on to say that this has been an ongoing issue for the past 15-20 years. She reported that the group of men were in the laundromat with her but didn’t say anything to her directly but that she felt intimidated nonetheless.

Bolinas 11:36 a.m. Deputies reported that after investigating earlier report of unpaid bill, they confirmed that suspect had fraudulently used account of local company on five separate occasions and ran up a bill for $180. A report for petty theft was subsequently filed.

Inverness 1:21 p.m. A concerned reader stated that there were many cars parked illegally around the boat launch. They alleged that they had read in this very same publication that this was no longer going to be allowed.

Bolinas 3:56 p.m. Multiple reports came in regarding potential parking violations in town.

Bolinas 7:32 p.m. Man called to report that they were becoming increasingly concerned about their neighbors erratic behavior.

Nicasio 10:06 p.m. Man called to report that he had found a IPad on the side of the road and wanted to know what to do with it.

 

Sunday March 8

Bolinas 11:32 a.m. A man and woman were reportedly in a physical altercation. Deputies were unable to locate dueling couple.

Bolinas 3:18 p.m. Reporting party stated that an older, apparently mentally unstable, woman was throwing small rocks at passers by.

 

 

Jack Mason Museum, Inverness

Starting on March 7, 2015 the Jack Mason Museum of West Marin History, located in the Inverness Public Library, will have an exhibit of botanical art by Dr. Linda Ann Vorobik., a well-known botanist and botanical artist. She is affiliated with the University and Jepson Herbaria, University of California, Berkeley and has illustrated many scholarly botanical books. She was editor of Fremontia, the Journal of the California Native Plant Society from 2000-2006. The exhibit includes pen and ink drawings, watercolors, and some hand-painted silks of birds and flowers. She says that this space is one of her favorite places to exhibit. Copies of the art will be on sale with a portion of the purchase going to support the Museum. There will be an Open House on Sunday March 8 from 1 – 4 p.m. and also an Open House on the last day of the exhibit, Sunday May 31, again from 1 – 4 p.m. The exhibit is open any time the Inverness Library is open. For more information, see her beautiful website at www.VorobikBotanicalArt.com.

Farming over the Edge

Agriculture: Place, people and agronomy

By Steve Quirt

Today, Marin is know as a progressive and well off place with a knack for being ahead of the curve on most things. The Prince of Wales came here and enjoyed the organic farms and lifestyle that we have nurtured. Today, we make award winning cheese and support a premier organic milk industry. Our vegetable farms are organic. All this and more has occurred in last fifteen years as Marin agriculture emerged from a period of dairy closings, generational succession fears and changing population patterns to a Renaissance of agricultural relevance. We have the right attitude about agriculture here, even as we squabble. And as “consumers” we are interested in local, healthy organic food and support those who grow it. How did we get here? Why Marin? Is this part of our own “sense of place”? How are we connected to our past and those who farmed and harvested before us? How do we compare, here, today, with the first people, the Miwok, in knowing our sense of place and how to get our sustenance from the land without harm? How did the first European settlers use this place? What was their sense of place? Today, what is our “sense of place”, especially in regards to agriculture?
Place

Place provides a home and the resources needed to sustain life for plants animals and people. Place is community. Place is home. Place contains history, the known and the unknown, the tracks and stories of those who came before, the possibilities and expectations for the future, the energy for the challenges of today. People inhabit and are a product of place, at some level.

Before the Europeans arrived here in California, the first people were rooted in their sense of place, were coauthors of their place, and were inseparable from their place—their sustenance, agronomy and culture were rooted in place. They were one with it. I like to use this as a base line to look at the history of our agriculture: a people in relative balance with their place.

Native American Horticulture

17,000 – 12,000 years ago: anthropologists like to use these dates to mark the migrations from north east Asia. But who knows how long ago and how far away the early travelers came? Conventional history says that the Coast Miwok were the first people to inhabit Marin, but it is likely that different peoples have lived and eaten here. The settling of pre-history California may have been strung out over the centuries. Migrations and explorations by historically “early” humans found Marin a land filled with rich and abundant resources, and made it their “place”.

Humans have been here in Marin growing, harvesting and managing the landscape for a long time. Here is what M. Kat Anderson says in her book “Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources”,

California Indians protected and tended favored plant species and habitats, harvested plant and animal products at carefully worked out frequencies and intensities, and practiced an array of horticultural techniques. Through coppicing, pruning, harrowing, sowing, weeding, burning, digging, thinning and selective harvesting, they encouraged desired characteristics of individual plants, increased populations of useful plants, and altered the structures and compositions of plant communities. Regular burning of many types of vegetation across the state created better habitat for game, eliminated brush, minimized the potential for catastrophic fires, and encouraged a diversity of food crops. These harvest and management practices, on the whole, allowed for sustainable harvest of plants over centuries and possibly thousands of years. In other words, California Indians were able to harvest the food and basketry and construction materials they needed each year while conserving—and sometimes increasing—the plant populations from which they came.

That is a pretty good definition of sustainability. California Indians were able to harvest the food and basketry and construction materials they needed each year while conserving—and sometimes increasing—the plant populations from which they came.

A study of California Indigenous people tells us that they lived a lifestyle well balanced with the plants, animals and human neighbors with which they shared the earth. Kat Anderson reminds us in her book that things weren’t always so well balanced and that large animal extinction probably occurred and it took a few thousand years to get a sustainable food system going that actually improved the landscape. It is interesting to note that these people had a different concept of land ownership, food supplies and getting along than we have today. For instance, a dispute over who harvests or doesn’t harvest oysters from Drakes Estero would be solved by local discussion and need, rather than an arcane, unknowable source located on the other side of a continent.

Centuries of intimate relationship with place endowed the indigenous people with a respect and earth-partnership that began to fade with the influx of Spanish settlers whose linear systems of ownership and economic measurement were so foreign to the first peoples. The beginnings of the native population degradation came with the military-like installation of the Spanish Missions, transforming the garden-like landscapes of California into Rancheros and Haciendas. The Missions were modeled after the Roman Empire outposts that dotted the Old World like beads on an Imperialistic necklace, with full garrisons of Spanish troops. The missionaries and soldiers quickly the native cultures, thus greatly demising the Indians long cultivated sense of place.

It took the Spanish a few hundred years to change the natural gardens of the Native Peoples into cleanly divided parcels on maps with all the baggage of ownership and protection. The caretakers of the land were slowly colonized and removed from their centuries old systems of natural management, and a more European styled form of agriculture began to emerge.

Despite its primitive nature, mission agriculture flourished. In 1821, California’s harvest peaked 120,000 bushels of wheat; by 1834, livestock totaled 400,000 head. With achievements in stock raising, grain growing, and irrigated orchards and gardens, the missions demonstrated a wide range of agricultural possibilities. – Seeds of Change: the Beginnings of California Agriculture David Zuckermann

Change comes

The invaders brought with them their European Old World models of agriculture—cattle, grain, irrigation, rows and mono cropping, personal ownership and wealth. This more aggressive and intense use of the land opened up a fertility paradise to the early Spanish agriculturists, who mined the seemingly endless natural wealth easily, never suspecting that the bounties they enjoyed were directly linked to centuries of careful labor and nurturing by the people they were enslaving.

In 1835 the Spanish government shut down its mission system and auctioned off the lands it had usurped to settlers; meaning rich, elite individuals and loyal military personnel who wanted the resources to develop business ventures like cattle and grain. Hides, tallow and wheat were shipped from San Francisco and there was a brisk trade with the East Coast. The shipping culture brought with it even more modernizations that began to put pressure on the native peoples and their landscape. The seeds of modern California agriculture were being sown, and the new was rapidly altering the sense of place. Marin was no exception. By the time of California Statehood, the local Miwok had become Vaqueros herding Spanish cattle to the Sierra Gold mines to feed the burgeoning population of immigrating miners and fortune hunters.

The Gold Rush had arrived.

Published November 2014

Next: The history of Marin Agriculture: Butter, milk and family farming

 

Farming Over the Edge

European-style agriculture settles in

By Steve Quirt

European-style agriculture is a system of production that combines domesticated animals, grains, tillage and irrigation. Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, all with Old World ancestry, were imported to a new, cultured landscape along with the accompanying Old World grains: wheat, oats, and barley – the grains were grown as fodder for livestock. The first plows to break up the Tomales hillsides did so to plant oats and barley to empower the same draught horses to plow again to plant potatoes. This rotation could be done without irrigation and fertilization due to the rich topsoil and seasonal rainfall patterns.

By the turn of the century, the county was spotted with small, 50-cow dairies and creameries processing fresh milk into butter that was shipped to the exploding market of San Francisco.

Certainly, the market existed. Demand in the rapidly growing city was so great that the inferior butter from South America and the East Coast was still being imported. But this product was no comparison to the Point Reyes standards. As one contemporary journalist reported, “…the grass growing in the fields on Monday is the butter on the city tables on Sunday.” – Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office

 

Marin grasslands were being used to provide a specialized foodstuff to an expanding consumer base. Welcome to specialty marketing!
 Early sustainability

 

The Marshall brothers were the first to begin ranching and dairying in Marin, and the operation is still going strong today, run by Gary Thornton and his daughter Marissa. Gary showed me the old machinery boneyard once, with the cast-iron frames and weathered oak parts, explaining that “in the old days” they grew barley, lots of barley, for feed. They had a combine, thrasher and bundler, and everything needed to be self-sufficient in feed production.

In the early days of Marin agriculture, agriculturists could support as many head of cattle or sheep as they could feed from the land. Seasonal dry land grazing required that the operators put up hay, silage or grain for the months when there was no rain and dwindling forage. There was little to none of the practice of importing feed that is common today. Herd sizes then were much smaller than today and the rich grasslands provided most of what they needed to thrive with a minimum of imported feed.

The dairies of yesterday were seasonal: that means that the cows were milked about 10 months of the year, then everyone took two months off, sort of, until the calves were all born in February and milk production began again with the new season’s forage. They called it single-milking herd management, and this allowed them to synchronize the nutritional needs of the herd with seasonal pasture growth, thus maximizing available on-farm feed, synchronizing calving, and managing the herd as a singular unit.

Seasonal dairying is easier on the land, the cows, and the dairymen than the modern style of year-round production that often involves milking two, or sometimes three times a day year round. High-volume production dairies like the big ones in the Central Valley milk 5,000 cows or more a few times a day to “maximize” production. The largest dairy herds in the U.S. approach 15,000 cows. These conditions don’t exist in Marin where average herd sizes are about 400 cows.

 

SUBHEAD: The ‘Green Revolution’

 

Chemical fertilizer changed everything. Now you could squeeze production out of the land and you didn’t need animals to supply fertility. Manures became a liability, rather than a necessary resource. The rapidly developing science of pesticide and herbicide applications eliminated the need for careful management practices of crops like alfalfa. All the farmer had to do was pay and spray. And be forever at the mercy of the chemical suppliers.

 

****FORMATTING NOTE: Indent and italicize next paragraph

 

The Green Revolution refers to a series of research, and development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1960s, that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the ‘Father of the Green Revolution’ credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers. – Wikipedia

 

Suddenly worldwide production of industrial-styled farming took off and the whole nature of agriculture entered a new stage – hyper-production fueled by petroleum and extraction. The great feeding of the masses had begun. Cheap, petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides drove imported feed costs down, allowing ranchers to contain more and more cows in one location. The hay trucks came, and the increasingly confined dairy herds grew in size. No longer did producers need to link production to the capacity of the land. The dairy herds became too big to live off the land. The current economies of production demanded larger herd sizes just to stay in business and keep up with mega-dairies developing in the Central Valley.

The new agriculture no longer depended on place. It depended on petroleum. It became cheaper to import feed than to grow it.

By 1970, Agriculture in Marin was pretty much dairy, beef and sheep. Things were sleepy and the status quo was a monotonous cloud over farming. It was then that the seeds of change were sown. A new population of agriculturists was forming – the organic, local, diversified and experimental guys were arriving, and a revival was in the works. Pioneers and explorers were incubating. Albert Straus was just off to college to learn about organic production. Warren Weber was getting ready to bring draught-horse organic farming to Bolinas. Sue Conley was cooking at Che Pannisse, and David Evans was in High School.
ENDING SUBHEAD: Next: Back to Eden

 

 

Farming Over the Edge
MAINHEAD: European-style agriculture settles in
By Steve Quirt
European-style agriculture is a system of production that combines domesticated animals, grains, tillage and irrigation. Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, all with Old World ancestry, were imported to a new, cultured landscape along with the accompanying Old World grains: wheat, oats, and barley – the grains were grown as fodder for livestock. The first plows to break up the Tomales hillsides did so to plant oats and barley to empower the same draught horses to plow again to plant potatoes. This rotation could be done without irrigation and fertilization due to the rich topsoil and seasonal rainfall patterns.
By the turn of the century, the county was spotted with small, 50-cow dairies and creameries processing fresh milk into butter that was shipped to the exploding market of San Francisco.

****FORMATTING NOTE: Indent and italicize next paragraph
Certainly, the market existed. Demand in the rapidly growing city was so great that the inferior butter from South America and the East Coast was still being imported. But this product was no comparison to the Point Reyes standards. As one contemporary journalist reported, “…the grass growing in the fields on Monday is the butter on the city tables on Sunday.” – Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office

Marin grasslands were being used to provide a specialized foodstuff to an expanding consumer base. Welcome to specialty marketing!
SUBHEAD: Early sustainability

The Marshall brothers were the first to begin ranching and dairying in Marin, and the operation is still going strong today, run by Gary Thornton and his daughter Marissa. Gary showed me the old machinery boneyard once, with the cast-iron frames and weathered oak parts, explaining that “in the old days” they grew barley, lots of barley, for feed. They had a combine, thrasher and bundler, and everything needed to be self-sufficient in feed production.
In the early days of Marin agriculture, agriculturists could support as many head of cattle or sheep as they could feed from the land. Seasonal dry land grazing required that the operators put up hay, silage or grain for the months when there was no rain and dwindling forage. There was little to none of the practice of importing feed that is common today. Herd sizes then were much smaller than today and the rich grasslands provided most of what they needed to thrive with a minimum of imported feed.
The dairies of yesterday were seasonal: that means that the cows were milked about 10 months of the year, then everyone took two months off, sort of, until the calves were all born in February and milk production began again with the new season’s forage. They called it single-milking herd management, and this allowed them to synchronize the nutritional needs of the herd with seasonal pasture growth, thus maximizing available on-farm feed, synchronizing calving, and managing the herd as a singular unit.
Seasonal dairying is easier on the land, the cows, and the dairymen than the modern style of year-round production that often involves milking two, or sometimes three times a day year round. High-volume production dairies like the big ones in the Central Valley milk 5,000 cows or more a few times a day to “maximize” production. The largest dairy herds in the U.S. approach 15,000 cows. These conditions don’t exist in Marin where average herd sizes are about 400 cows.

SUBHEAD: The ‘Green Revolution’

Chemical fertilizer changed everything. Now you could squeeze production out of the land and you didn’t need animals to supply fertility. Manures became a liability, rather than a necessary resource. The rapidly developing science of pesticide and herbicide applications eliminated the need for careful management practices of crops like alfalfa. All the farmer had to do was pay and spray. And be forever at the mercy of the chemical suppliers.

****FORMATTING NOTE: Indent and italicize next paragraph

The Green Revolution refers to a series of research, and development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1960s, that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s. The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the ‘Father of the Green Revolution’ credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers. – Wikipedia

Suddenly worldwide production of industrial-styled farming took off and the whole nature of agriculture entered a new stage – hyper-production fueled by petroleum and extraction. The great feeding of the masses had begun. Cheap, petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides drove imported feed costs down, allowing ranchers to contain more and more cows in one location. The hay trucks came, and the increasingly confined dairy herds grew in size. No longer did producers need to link production to the capacity of the land. The dairy herds became too big to live off the land. The current economies of production demanded larger herd sizes just to stay in business and keep up with mega-dairies developing in the Central Valley.
The new agriculture no longer depended on place. It depended on petroleum. It became cheaper to import feed than to grow it.
By 1970, Agriculture in Marin was pretty much dairy, beef and sheep. Things were sleepy and the status quo was a monotonous cloud over farming. It was then that the seeds of change were sown. A new population of agriculturists was forming – the organic, local, diversified and experimental guys were arriving, and a revival was in the works. Pioneers and explorers were incubating. Albert Straus was just off to college to learn about organic production. Warren Weber was getting ready to bring draught-horse organic farming to Bolinas. Sue Conley was cooking at Che Pannisse, and David Evans was in High School.
Next: Back to Eden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Marin Sheriff’s Logs

Monday February 16

Woodacre 12:50 a.m. A neighbor reported that the dog next door was barking excessively.

Woodacre 3:28 a.m. Couple called to report that they heard suspicious noises outside their home. They went outside to investigate and heard two unknown persons, dressed in camouflage, talking about cats. Couple then reports that two kittens were thrown into their house via a window. Deputy at the scene of the alleged cat flinging stated that both individuals he found at the home appeared to have been drinking. No merit to any crimes relating to cats or any other domestic pet.

Woodacre 5:23 a.m. Couple reported that the trespassers involved in earlier incident with the cats are back and have now broken into their home and are eating bread. Deputy had this to say, in regards to advice, stop chasing unknown individuals with your machete, turn off the lights and go to sleep.

Tuesday February 17

Tomales 5:53 p.m. 3-4 calves were reported loose near the bridge.

Wednesday February 18

Inverness 6:00 a.m. Reporting party stated that a company comes by their home at 6:30 a.m. every day to empty the porta potty. Resident would like to file a complaint regarding the noise.

Marshall 10:40 a.m. Ranger reported seeing two suspicions individuals operating a rubber raft near the channel marker around Tomales Bay. Deputies subsequently arrested a man on three outstanding warrants.

Forest Knolls 2:50 a.m. A woman finished filing a complaint against a man who had been harassing her. Complaint filed and information regarding a restraining order forwarded to the woman.

Woodacre 4:37 p.m. A woman was contacted by deputies to relay advice about obtaining a restraining order.

Thursday February 19

Point Reyes 2:24 a.m. Person turned in ammunition to be destroyed.

Bolinas 11:20 a.m. Reporting party stated that someone broke into their home.

Friday February 20

Nicasio 10:02 p.m. Husband called deputies to report that his wife had hit a fence with her vehicle. Husband wanted deputies to contact homeowner and give them their information.

Saturday February 21

Bolinas 10:20 a.m. Reporting person would like to speak with a deputy about a temporary restraining order they have in place against a local woman. They also stated that they had changed the locks at their home to keep another unwanted subject from coming in uninvited.

Bolinas 12:32 p.m. A verbal altercation was reported between two women. Women were separated and tenant was allowed to re-enter her resident.

Sunday February 22

Bolinas 11:30 a.m. Woman reported that another woman was at her house changing the locks. When she confronted unknown locksmith, the other woman shoved her. Woman described as having short grey hair and was wearing a pink sweatshirt.

Bolinas 1:04 p.m. Liquor, specifically whiskey, was stolen from a home.

Dillon Beach 2:31 p.m. Reporting party stated that seven underage juveniles were drinking alcohol and making trouble with other guests. When they were asked to leave, they became verbally abusive.

Tomales 2:41 p.m. A truck was reportedly involved in an accident which crushed its cab.

Inverness 3:25 p.m. Man would like a civil standby as he serves his daughter-in-law eviction papers.