Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Abundantly Green

March 3, 2011

Tags: local food, sustainability, Bainbridge Island, Washington, food, agriculture, Helen and Scott Nearing, Sweetlife Farm, Holt Ranch, CSA, Abundantly Green

I continued my questions by driving out to see my friends Marilyn Holt and Cliff Wind, who inherited a farm from Marilyn’s father. About four years ago Holt Ranch became a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture farm, which means that individual families pay at the beginning of each season to receive a share of produce. Under the name “Abundantly Green,” Holt Ranch begins its CSA season on June 1, and continues through September. This model has grown increasingly popular across the country over the last twenty years. The advantage to farmers is that they receive cash up front. Consumers receive fresh, locally grown produce, forming a relationship with a specific farm and its products. The beef, which is organic but not certified, in order to save on cost, is already gone for the season.

I asked the hypothetical question that sent me on this quest: If there was a food emergency, and I showed up and wanted to work for food, what would they have me do?

“We can all do something,” Marilyn said. “Weed. I would expect you to learn how to field dress.” This means, to slaughter an animal and divide the meat into its appropriate parts for consumption. Basic gardening, she said: loosening the soil, harvesting vegetables, seed saving. Marilyn, it turns out, cannot touch the ground: she is allergic to mold, as well as much of the produce that they grow, such as legumes. She described putting a bean into her mouth before having to spit it out as her throat began to swell.

We pulled on our mud boots and went outside in the drizzle. I was the only one using an umbrella. Cliff, a thin man with a long, graying ponytail, held up a stray kohlrabi from the previous season and, with a wizard’s flourish, did a little presentation on this root vegetable. I saw what a great math and science teacher he would have made. He told us the best way to eat it is steamed, mashed, and served like mashed potatoes. I’ve been to potlucks with Cliff and Marilyn, and Cliff is the one who dares exotic fruits and vegetables.

We walked up a rise to the site of the original farmhouse. The stumps of old filbert trees mark the spot, which looks south across open land to dark forest beyond, and is flanked on the east by firs and pines. It’s a beautiful setting, and I wondered what it had looked like to Marilyn’s great-grandfather when he first laid eyes on it.

I asked Cliff and Marilyn how they envision their farm in 30 years. Will it still be a farm? “I hope so,” said Marilyn. “Yes, I see it as still being a farm.” Marilyn has faith that, as long as people know how to work the land, there will be sustainable agriculture. On Bainbridge, there is a man who grows wine grapes and talks a lot about terroir, a French term for the characteristics of a specific piece of land. Cliff and Marilyn have invested in the terroir of Holt Ranch, and believe that specific knowledge can and will be passed on to others.
With Cowichan Elder Hyamiciate, Della (Rice) Sylvester at the The Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ Indigenous Foods and Ecological Knowledge Symposium

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Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
Fiction
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
Booklist
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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