Food in the time of Coronavirus

We grew huge amounts of delicious food here for 4 years without incident, but the now-vacant lot needs a security camera to police it…

I stood in the middle of the field with my hoe in my hand, the hot afternoon sun searing down on me. My clothes clung to my sweaty, itchy body. My back groaned as I straightened upright. Half the row to go. Next to it, another row that desperately needed weeding, and another after that. After a year spent mostly away from my farm, the transition back to it threatened to swallow me. Like several other memorable times over the previous sixteen years, I stood surrounded by the plants I am working so hard to cultivate and began to cry. Out of exhaustion, probably, but mostly from the profound desperation that accompanies this small farm livelihood. A list of tasks far greater than the number of hours in a day. Work that is never done. On land I don’t own, will never own, will never build equity in.

Of course, it isn’t the same world I left a year ago. A global pandemic has swept over the planet, smashing things we thought were unbreakable. The local food movement has long criticized the vulnerability and unsustainability of the globalized industrial food system. I have routinely been a part of that chorus, often citing the sobering statistic calculated by Crossroads Resource Center for the Treasure Valley—“We have 3 days of food in the grocery store!”—in my public classes and lectures.[1] Still, I was as shocked as anyone to see empty grocery store shelves for weeks on end for the first time in my life. It turns out that what local food systems advocates have been saying all along is true—we are woefully unprepared to feed ourselves. And COVID has just ripped off the band-aid and shined a massive spotlight on the gaping wound that is the industrial food system, a wound continuously carved since the inception of this country, inflicted by the twin evils of capitalist greed and racist policies.  

In Idaho, we are seeing industrial food processing plants shutting down left and right as COVID outbreaks spread like wildfire among workers crammed into the factories in dangerous conditions. Or worse, we see leaders ordering them to not shut down, forcing their “essential” workers to keep working despite their increased risk, their bodies sacrificed to keep the cheap food flowing onto grocery store shelves. A high percentage of people working in food processing jobs in Idaho identify as Latinx or Hispanic.[2] As of July 2nd, Latinx people, while only 13% of the state’s population, account for more than 50% of COVID-19 cases in 5 of 8 counties in the Magic Valley, and 35% of cases with confirmed race or ethnicity overall.[3]

Since this country’s inception, its agriculture has relied on the labor of exploited people. From the chattel slavery that built the agricultural empires of Eastern and Southern landowners to the waves of migrants who risk perilous border crossings each year to labor in fields all across the country for substandard wages, we have consistently been willing to accept that certain people will be sacrificed to provide cheap food for the masses and fat profits for the owner class. During the centuries-long process of colonization, Indigenous granaries were ransacked and people forced off their lands in a genocidal march from one shore to the other, and communally-managed lands were seized and sold to European settlers. The Homestead Act of 1862 ultimately passed over 270 million acres of land in the West—nearly 10% of the entire land mass of the United States—to settlers in 160-acre parcels for little more than a filing fee.[4] More than 1.6 million white families, both citizens and immigrants, were able to become landowners through this act, building the foundation for their future amassing of wealth. The number of adult descendants of Homestead Act recipients living in the year 2000 was over 46 million people.[5] Nearly a quarter of the adult US population can trace their legacy of wealth and property ownership back to this one government program.

For years, we’ve been looking at the local food movement and wondering why it is so very white. Recently, it occurred to me—it’s so white because we white folks are the ones who have the privilege to be poor enough to do it. I have family and friends who have enough to offer a safety net for me should I ever need it, and I live in a community of people who have excess which easily gets sloughed off to folks like me even while we make poverty wages on paper. The thrift stores near me are packed with nice, useful stuff at cheap prices. Because of my relative proximity to wealth, I can afford to have spent the last sixteen years of my life toiling away on a series of plots I don’t own, throwing every ounce of my passion, creativity, and energy into an enterprise which will leave me no legacy to pass on, no retirement to speak of, no safety net of my own. But I don’t have to support anyone besides myself, and I have support if I ever need it.

My story is not unique. I know dozens of small farmers around the state of Idaho, and most of them are in the same boat as me. Especially in the Treasure Valley, where land is exorbitantly priced amid Boise’s “fastest growing city in the country” claim to fame, most of the folks who operate small farm businesses do not own the land they farm. Instead, they jump around from plot to plot trying to find a way to put down roots. When they have kids, or they need to support a family member, or they just end up getting burnt out, they end up quitting farming so they can get a job that can actually pay a living wage.

I turned in a slow circle in the field, taking in the rows of flowering seed crops buzzing with pollinators and rows of vegetables threatening to be overtaken by weeds, all of it indescribably beautiful and abundant. “I don’t think I want to do this anymore,” I said out loud. “I think I’m done.” With that, my tears turned to sobs. Shaking, I left the row I’d been hoeing half done, put my hoe back in the tool shed, and slowly walked away, my eyes blurry through the tears. I couldn’t make sense of what that meant. This thing I’d been doing since I was 25 years old was my main source of purpose and identity. I didn’t know who I would be without it. What would I do instead? I felt selfish, to consider walking away from it. Would I be selling out? Claiming my educated, white privilege and going to get a good-paying job with cushy benefits and no back-breaking work? Eating off the backs of others instead? Would anyone else take over stewardship of the many seed crops I’ve been growing and saving for years?

Later that evening, my sadness turned to into rage. The more I thought about it, the angier I became. The feelings I’m having are systemic feelings, borne out of a series of specific policies that have created the food system we have today. I’m not a failure because I’m considering walking away from this livelihood, I’m an inevitable casualty of this legacy, as is everyone else who grows our food. I’m not being selfish, I’m finally—finally—getting real about why this hasn’t worked and will never work, at least on a systemic level. 

Visiòn 2C, a chapter of the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils, is currently organizing a program to get food to farmworkers. Yes, you read that right. Many of the people who work in Idaho fields to produce the cheap food on our tables do not have access to fresh foods themselves. Our state’s industrial farms are food deserts, as are industrial farms all across the country. And the workers who work them often lack access to transportation to get to grocery stores, so they are stranded in the monocropped deserts where they work. So in an ultimate irony, the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils is turning to local small farmers to help, forging partnerships to get fresh food to the folks who are putting their bodies on the line to keep the industrial farm machine going.

As the pandemic sweeps through the Midwest, some massive corn and soybean farmers are looking around their own food desert farms and trying to figure out how to plant something that could actually feed their communities. In May, Civil Eats published an article about a growing number of industrial farmers who are mixing a bunch of different vegetable seeds into a planter and seeding the mix over a few acres of their 10,000 acre farms, figuring the public can come harvest what they want when it’s ready[6] (Miller, 2020). Some are calling this method Chaos Gardening, while some refer to it as Milpa Gardening, which honors the milpa cropping systems of small-scale Latin American farms, where farmers plant several to over a dozen varieties of food crops and flowers together in a field.

One challenge the large farms attempting to plant milpa gardens face is the commodity crop subsidy system that pays farmers to plant their acreage in certain crops but not others. Acres planted into a milpa are not eligible for crop insurance and subsidy payments like the rest of their acreage, which is a deterrent. 

NAFTA policies, among others, have impoverished Latin American subsistence corn farmers by undercutting them with cheap US corn imports subsidized with our taxpayer dollars, driving them north to seek work.[7] Now, these same policies are working against the US farmers who have historically benefitted from them when they attempt to grow food for their own communities, using a method perfected over centuries by none other than Latin American farmers themselves.

When one shines the light into the dark corners of this wound, the question surfaces yet again: What are the people of this nation willing to accept to secure cheap food? Farmworkers deemed “essential,” many of whom are also called “illegal” who lack basic rights and access to the very food they work so hard to produce? Small farmers who themselves don’t make a living wage trying to secure access to food for farmworkers on industrial farms? Massive industrial farmers who will rely on volunteer labor to harvest food from their milpa gardens and donate it to foodbanks? Farms run on the labor of incarcerated people? No matter which way we look at it, the fact remains: we do not pay the true cost of food in this country.

It isn’t a mystery how we got here, and it isn’t a mystery what our policymakers and power-holders would need to do to make a functioning healthy food system that sustains the people who grow our food. It isn’t business-as-usual convenient, but it also isn’t magic. The pandemic has shown us that funding and resources for many things that seemed out of reach mere months ago are actually accessible when policymakers act in the best interest of their constituents.

I’m not sure where I want to go from here, but I know that my work has to shift to address these structural issues, if not for me, for those young farmers who come after me.

[1] Meter, Ken. (2010). Greater Treasure Valley Farm and Food Economy. Crossroads Research Center.

[2]Idaho at a Glance: Hispanics: Labor Force and Economy. (2010). ; Idaho Department of Labor (2014). Food processing Industry of Idaho.

[3] Foy, Nicole, and Taros, Megan. (July 3, 2020). “We’ve always been essential: Latinos fill jobs keeping Idaho afloat in a pandemic. The Idaho Statesman.

[4] Bradsher, Greg. (2012). How the West was Settled: The 150-year-old Homestead Act Lured Americans Looking for New Life and Opportunities. US National Archives.

[5] Merritt, Keri Leigh. (March 11, 2016). “Land and the Roots of African American Poverty.” Aeon.

[6] Miller, Daphne. (May 12, 2020). “Most Farmers in the Great Plains Don’t Grow Fruits and Vegetables. The Pandemic is Changing That.” Civil Eats.

[7] Seals, Alan, & Zietz, Joachim. (2009). The decline in maize prices, biodiversity, and subsistence farming in Mexico. American Economist53(2).

Cultivation Through the Wilderness

This story feels impossible to write. It’s mid-April and we’re neck deep in a mandatory shelter-in-place order given by the governor. We’re two months away from the summer solstice, and who knows what the world will look like by then. Some of my loved ones may be dead. I may be, too. Of course, this has always been the case. It’s just not usually at the forefront of our collective mind. Now, how can we imagine our present, let alone what’s to come?

Further, this is the year I took a sabbatical from farming and moved to the mountain mecca of McCall to attend the University of Idaho’s McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS). As I write, it’s twenty degrees outside and there is still over a foot of snow on the ground. Summer is utterly unfathomable.

There are many reasons why I came here. An accident the summer before my 40th birthday left me without the use of one hand during the bulk of the farm’s harvest season, highlighting the precariousness of my farm model. My future lease is uncertain on the land I farm, and Boise’s breakneck growth makes me sure I will never be able to pay for a piece of farmland with the money I can make by farming it. It felt like a good time to reassess.

But there was another reason, too. After fifteen years of cultivating every square inch of my relationship to the natural world by building a livelihood and identity through working the land, I wanted an opportunity to explore wildness. To be in a place where plants grow where they are without intensive human intervention. A place where it is not my job to protect prey from predator. Could I feel satisfied by being a passive observer of the natural world rather than an active, cultivating participant?

So I loaded up sacks of squashes and buckets of potatoes and headed to the frosty middle of the state. There’s no way I could have guessed—none of us could have—that the year I left my farm would be the year of a global pandemic that throws into stark light the importance of having a robust regional food system. While I sit in this mountain quarantine, the folks at Snake River Seed Co-op and the woman running the farm in my absence are scrambling like mad to get seeds and garden starts to local people who are desperately trying to take a portion of their food security into their own hands. My winter stores are almost gone and for the first time in well over a decade I’m buying the bulk of my food from the grocery store, just like almost everyone else. No greenhouse full of plant babies popping up with a promise to feed me in the coming months. No fields of sprouting garlic or asparagus peeking up through the mulch. When the snow melts here, CSAs in the valley will be in full swing. Some people will actually be sick of greens.

And I know this sounds crazy, but I don’t actually miss farming right now. For weeks, I’ve been swirling around in a mass of guilt and confusion about this fact.My goal to reacquaint myself with wilder places has been easy to achieve in this place surrounded by wild lands. Nearly 70% of the land in Idaho is held in the public domain, mostly as wild lands managed by federal or state agencies. This includes the largest designated wilderness area in the lower 48 states—the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, which is separated by single lane roads from the Selway-Bitterroot and Gospel Hump Wildernesses, each impressive in their own right.

The first time I realized how unique Idaho was in this regard was on a spring trip with some friends as an 18-year-old. The eight of us who were living together in a rented house packed ourselves into two dumpy sedans and, armed with walkie talkies, headed off to explore California. The year was 1998. Our first destination was the redwoods. The plan: Drive all day and when we arrived, simply pull off the road, throw up some tents, and wake up in that majestic forest the next morning.

With the sun setting, we couldn’t find anywhere even remotely near the redwoods to camp, at least for free. The small swath of forest land limited camping to improved—as in, pay—spots, at a whopping $20 per space, per night. As broke teenagers, we had not budgeted money for lodging on our trip, and this first night was a wake-up call. Where was all the National Forest land, where you could camp wherever you wanted? The redwoods were entirely surrounded by private land with “No Camping” signs posted everywhere.

We ended up sleeping sitting up in the cars, parked in front of some houses in a suburban neighborhood—much to the dismay of the occupants as they left for work the next morning.

Over the years, I would travel to many other parts of the country with even less public land than California, and I pieced together how the land in Idaho shaped my upbringing. Growing up, I didn’t want for land. Our family had a little house and a little yard. We played rec soccer at the city park, and on summer weekends we often went camping in the mountains. It was normal to drive into the woods, pitch a tent, build a fire. I didn’t understand the concept of public versus private land. It was just the city and the forest.

As I got into farming, my relationship to land changed completely. Farming requires access to ground, and unlike much of the ranching in the state, virtually all the farming here is done on privately owned land. In the desert, that land also needs to include access to irrigation water. Irrigated land isn’t cheap and it isn’t getting cheaper as Idaho’s population swells. Boise, Idaho, the city where I farm, was the “hottest real estate market in the country” in every quarter of 2019 according to the Federal Housing and Finance Agency.[1] A recent study by Boise State University found that Ada County has lost over 100,000 acres of farmland to development since 1969, and will lose over half of its remaining farmland—roughly 200,000 more acres—by 2100, if current growth rates continue.[2]

So I’m walking the fence line between Idaho’s two defining identities—the cultivated and the wild. Potatoes and the Frank Church. Agriculture and Wilderness. I’ve heard agriculture, logging, and mining interests say that wilderness is an elitist concept, a privilege afforded to the lucky few recreationalists who can access it. I would argue that it is actually more accessible to us as Idahoans than privately-owned farmland. As long as I have a car or someone willing to drive me there, I can drive to a wild place and walk into it with my two feet. Technically, I own it by birthright, as do all citizens of the United States. This is true even as the ability to secure long-term access to a piece of farmland has eluded me.

So I take advantage of my birthright. Almost every day, I go to my favorite nearby outdoor place—Bear Basin, a swath of land in the Payette National Forest near my house that’s crisscrossed by Nordic ski trails in winter and hiking trails in summer. On my daily outings, I take specific trails so I can visit certain trees, rocks, and vistas. I say hello to the foxes and snowshoe hares as I pass the tracks that lead to their forest dens. The ski season is ending and I’m making an effort to go on every trail one last time, to say good bye to the friends along them until next winter. When the snow melts and the hiking trails re-emerge, I’ll get to say hello to friends I left when the snow started falling last autumn. I’ll get to see them leaf out, flower, and make seeds.

Through this sustained contact, I’ve grown into a deep and satisfying relationship with this place, which makes me realize that my initial question of whether I can be satisfied as a passive observer of the natural world missed the mark. Observation is participation. In fact, farm life is so busy that I don’t have as much opportunity to observe when I’m farming. And there’s the irony of modern society—we’re so busy “participating” that we often forget to stop and look around. As Wendell Berry says, “We have never known what we are doing because we have never known what we are undoing.”

While some folks crave a constant influx of new experiences and adventures, I’ve realized that it’s familiarity with a place that nourishes me. Whether the land I farm in the valley or the land I visit every day here in the mountains, both bring me the similar satisfaction of being in the continued company of a diversity of species, of watching them grow and change, and having them bear witness to my growth as well.

Out the window, I watch the sun glitter off the snow blanketing the lake as I struggle to put these thoughts into words. Suddenly, it dawns on me: this agonizing over wild versus cultivated land has never actually been about land. It’s always been about people, and my right relationship to them. There is no question that I can find intrigue and wonder in the natural world. But work is a decidedly human construct. And when we talk about finding satisfaction in the span of a human life, we’re voicing a need to be useful, if not only to other humans, at least in relationship to them on behalf of other species. After all, it is humans who are accelerating climate change, humans who are bulldozing wild places for industrial agriculture and clearcutting forests for our mansions. If we love the land, we must engage with humanity to protect it.

For many reasons we family farmers have armored ourselves in the self-righteous story that the hard work we do is crucial, perhaps the most crucial work that humans do. But this pandemic has taught us so much about how many human endeavors are “essential” to our society. The world needs wild and cultivated land. It needs farmers and nurses, delivery drivers and retail clerks, all working together. This is perhaps the greatest comfort to me during this incomprehensible time. With so much at stake, it’s obvious how much there is to care for. The particulars aren’t important—relationships can be formed and care can be enacted in lands both cultivated and wild, in big cities and tiny towns. The earth has shrunk. Individuals can only be healthy through the health of the collective.  It’s not about me, but it is.

“Wild” land in Idaho hasn’t been wild, at least in the romantic, humans-haven’t-altered-it sense, for millennia. Long before my European ancestors arrived here, much of it had been shaped to a large degree by the interactions of Native people with it, people who have burned and tended it, eaten from its sustenance, organized rituals and societies around the principle of caring for it on behalf of the generations to come. European-descended ranchers brought cattle and sheep to Idaho and today the Bureau of Land Management authorizes livestock grazing through permits to private ranchers on over 11,500,000 acres of public land in Idaho.

My understanding of land use isn’t universal. It is a direct outcome of a life lived in this particular state, with its particular policies that have allocated the land contained herein to particular uses. One could argue we’re discussing apples and oranges here—the inherent purposes for wild and agricultural lands are different. But in the end, it is all land, and for better or worse we humans are constantly making decisions about how to interact with it.

In his seminal permaculture book Gaia’s Garden, Toby Hemenway notes that every square inch of land we can use to produce food, timber, and fiber in a city is one less square inch of wild land that needs to be destroyed to provide for our needs. Indeed, human activities in the United States have stretched our footprint across 24 million acres of wild lands between 2001 and 2017, according to a study by the Center for American Progress.[3] Every 30 seconds, the equivalent of a football field of wild lands are lost to human-serving activities like agriculture.  

There has been much talk of what our world will look like in the wake of this pandemic. As I write, efforts are underway to roll back many of the environmental protections of the past in the name of “getting America back to work.” The wild lands that make Idaho what it is will come increasingly under threat as more people move here, with evermore insatiable desires.

COVID is shining a spotlight on the inhumanity and vulnerability of this out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach to feeding ourselves. Industrial poultry processing and slaughterhouse workers are being forced to work without adequate protective gear to make sure we keep the supply of cheap meat coming. We’ve got farmers digging massive pits with enormous tractors to bury truckloads of zucchinis and onions that they can’t sell because their vertically-rigid wholesale supply chains have been disrupted. At our tiny seed co-op, we are in the same boat as the rest of our seed industry peers—what we thought would be a 4- to 5-year supply of seeds has gone out the door in one season. It will take us years to regrow our inventory, which means the ripple effects will likely play out for years in the food system.

We can use this opportunity to be proactive in enacting policies that will preserve the agricultural lands in and near our metropolitan areas for agriculture, and work to entice willing and able regenerative farmers onto this land so that it can provide for our needs, or we can go down the other path, the one that leads to more subdivisions and strip malls, with wild lands being bulldozed around the world for our consumption.

So Idaho’s two identities aren’t as disconnected as they initially seem, and looking closely at them further blurs the line between passive observer and active participant. Observing the wild has much to teach us about how best to participate in its cultivation. And a person who drinks a cup of coffee that came from a place where a rainforest was burned and turned into a coffee plantation is an active participant, whether they’re hiking a trail in the wilderness, driving a tractor, or sitting in an office in a city. The earth has shrunk. Individuals can only be healthy through the health of the collective.  It’s not about me, but it is.

[1] Federal Housing and Finance Agency press release, 2/25/2020.

[2] Narducci, Jenna, et al. (2017). Projecting Urban Expansion in the Treasure Valley to 2100. Boise State University MILES program.

[3] Theobald, David M., et al. (2019). Loss and fragmentation of natural lands in the conterminous U.S. from 2001-2017. Center for American Progress.

Li’l New Decade Letter

Dear Earthly Delights Farm Friends,

Greetings from the frosty north! I hope this finds you warm and cozy, with a belly full of good food. I wanted to share a little update on my progress as well as about the farm. I’m currently in my last week of winter break from school, starchily working my way through the fall CSA share. The biggest breakthrough for me on the winter eating front this year is this Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai, shared by CSAer Anna. It’s So. Stinking. DELICIOUS!

Kendra and I are hard at work making crop lists for the season, planning our garden-in-a-box and fall CSA offerings as well as our Snake River Seed Co-op seed crops. It’s looking to be a yummy year! We’re going to offer the same farm options as last year (Garden-in-a-box, Fall CSA, and Happy Homesteader) to keep it manageable for Kendra as she does the opposite of what she did last year. After working alongside me until August, she commenced kicking ass and finishing the season out by herself as I headed off to school. Now, she’ll be starting the season alone, and I’ll be joining her when I graduate this August! Signups are now open for all our offerings, so please consider joining us this year!

I am very grateful to Kendra and to all of you for this opportunity to step away from the farm for a season and ponder my next move. I know once February hits and I’m not seeding in the greenhouse for the first time in 16 years I’ll feel quite discombobulated and sad, but this adventure is totally worth it. Last semester I took a bunch of place-based education classes and explored the research proving the many benefits that come from learning about and from the land that sustains us. I’ve had the opportunity to explore several models for incorporating educational offerings into an organization, and have spent far too many hours leading 5th and 6th graders on science and educational outings in Ponderosa Park (ahem, not exactly my cup of tea).

 This coming semester the classes I’m most excited about are winter ecology and science communication. In winter ecology, we learn about how animals and plants survive the winter. In science communication, we get to explore what has for many years been my passion: how to fuse storytelling and art to help folks connect with scientific concepts and fall in love with the world around them. We’ll also have the opportunity to help the city of McCall develop a Climate Action Plan.

Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways I’m getting from MOSS is the confidence to see that the work we’ve been doing all these years has real value, and this on-the-ground experience is respected institutionally, which presents exciting opportunities for us as a group of like-minded individuals to influence Boise’s growth and development in ways that provide meaningful contact with the natural world we are wholly dependent on.

I realize this may sound abstract, and you may be shouting while reading this, “Casey, get on with it! When are you going to offer a full-season CSA and/or internship program again?!” I hear you. It is also unsettling for me not to know yet exactly where all this is heading. But I’m certain it is the right next step. So please hang in there with us. Incorporate the Garden-in-a-box and/or Fall CSA into your lives if you can, and I’ll see you when I return this fall!

Happy New Year!


Times They Are A-Changin

A Letter to our 2018 CSA Members

Dear CSAers,
Thank you for another wonderful season. Some highlights for me included Lucky Tiger tomatoes, farm fishing, and much more. Though I have enjoyed the bounty and good company, it would be dishonest to not also say that this has been a very difficult season for me. Obviously my thumb injury and surgery didn’t help, but it’s more than that. I have done a CSA every year for 14 years and an internship for 10 years, and I am burnt out. While I love my job, I’ve been yearning to take a summer off to unchain myself from the intense commitment that is farming. To take a vacation perhaps. To go camping.

Also, and this gets touchier, I am turning 40 next year. I started this farm when I was 24 years old. And while I feel pride at having co-created this thriving, beautiful entity from very humble beginnings while so many other small farms have sprouted and died around me, this thing has been a scrappy labor of love from the start to the present. While some things have improved over those scrappy beginnings (potable water, a composting toilet, and a longer lease on a piece of land, to name a few), so much of it has continued in the model of a 24-year-old. As I enter the portion of my life where I’m supposed to be earning to save for retirement, et cetera, I need to get a plan together that takes into account my 40-year-old reality. I don’t own this land and I don’t have a lease here that would carry me through to retirement age. The cost of land is unfathomable to pay for on the wages you can make farming it. And though I  feel like I live like a queen, the reality is that financially I’m not in an awesome space for a middle-aged person.

What does all this mean for you? Well, after a season of agonizing self-reflection and general gnar, I’ve made some hard decisions. Though I would welcome simply taking a summer off to pursue other passions like writing a book, backpacking, and perhaps a bit of travel, I have decided to take another route. The University of Idaho offers a Masters of Natural Resources degree in Science Communication and Environmental Education at the McCall Outdoor Science School, and I’ve been accepted as a student! It’s only one year long, the program curriculum is right up my alley, and it’s in a place I would love to live in for a year.

My hope is that it will open doors for me both economically and in terms of job satisfaction. I can’t say for sure what it will bring–there are a lot of unknowns, of course. One possibility is to come back to Boise and start a farm school with a CSA component. You know, there’s nothing like having their degree to get the higher education system to get on board with working with you. But honestly I can’t say what will happen when I’m done.

From a practical perspective, I have decided that next year I will be able to offer what I’m calling a Fall CSA, focusing on storage crops that you can throw into a closet or pantry and keep for a couple months into the winter. This will free me up in the summer from the extremely time-consuming process of succession planting and weekly harvesting for CSA, and instead will allow me to do the work of growing your food on a less rigid timeline that relies on less outside help. If you want to be a member, you will sign up as you would for the normal CSA, and I will grow a selection of storage crops for you, things like carrots, onions, potatoes, and garlic. Though the details are still getting fleshed out, it will likely include a single pickup in the fall of larger quantities of storage crops along with directions on how best to store them, and possibly a single spring crop pickup sometime mid-June. This would allow you to join another CSA (Egads!) or visit the Farmer’s Market for your every-week bounty, and get an extended fall season of fresh veggies from Earthly Delights.

The other new offering this year will be the Garden-in-a-Box, which is a gardening CSA share of sorts, with a selection of farm-grown seeds and vegetable starts that you can use to plant your own spring and summer garden, along with directions for planting everything square-foot gardening style to maximize your harvest.

This is an emotional letter for me to write. This little labor of love has given me a decade and a half of purpose and meaning in my life. With the help of so many hands and backs and wallets and hungry mouths we’ve managed to build something akin to an alternative economy right smack dab in the middle of the mainstream, dog-eat-dog one. It’s surely somewhat socialist in nature, in that everyone shares equally in the bounty and the workers control the production and call the shots. But it’s also more magical than that–a system of interconnected positive feedback loops that manage to accelerate the abundance of everyone involved, even in the face of what teeters on poverty on paper. Seeds are abundant, produce is abundant. We’ve been able to offer high-level “free” education to dozens of people over the years, and the farm has stayed afloat because of the financial pledge y’all make at the beginning of the season, before you’ve seen a single vegetable, that you will pay regardless of what you get in return. In a season like this where we were literally short-handed, this advance payment has really helped out. We’ve collectively learned to grow what can grow here, and to eat what can grow here, organizing our diets around this seasonal fare. And we’ve built the seed system to support it, so we can continue to grow these foods we’ve come to love well into the future. We are a living, breathing example of what a local food system looks like.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this system relies on some level of sacrifice on my part. Through all the creative financing and unpaid labor, the farm nets less than $20,000 a year, which makes for a pretty tight budget. All the work I’ve done for the last 14 years has been on farmland I don’t own, that I’m not gaining equity in. Where are the models, the subsidies, the mentors we can look to for a way to actually pay farmers a living wage and provide land equity for those who work it? This farm has hung on through a combination of my privilege and tenacity, where so many others who lack one or the other have gone under. These are big questions we must answer to create a truly sustainable food system.

But I digress. Thank you deeply for your role in this farm. Please stick with me next year if you can abide the switch, because I WANT to feed you! It will be very hard to say good bye to seeing y’all every week in the summer, at least for a couple of years.

With massive love,

My World in a Grain of Corn


Mi ego viene en olas

Miedo y duda

Confianza y comodidad

Washing over one another.

Cuando estoy con Usted,

Madre Maíz,

no tengo demaciada duda.

En esta manera está como mi madre,



Sus olas de calma me limpia,

Lap at my adolescent discomfort

Help me feel comfortable in my skin.

But now that you’ve returned to the ground for the season

I’m lost again.

No wonder the wise ones who have walked with you forever braid you and hang you as a beloved in their homes.

I hold your babies dear while the waves crash.


Olas de duda:

Is it OK for me to be doing this?

Am I “allowed” to grow the corn?

Should I be giving it to other white people who will grow more?

Does it want to be grown on a larger scale?

Is it OK that some of it will go to a white-owned upscale taquería?


Olas de confianza:

Crecer el maíz es entender más cómo vivir.

Su sabiduría es una guía, y estoy escuchando.

Estoy escuchando.

I asked your permission

And you gave it


You see that I am a child.

I moved too fast at some points,

Forgot to ask at others

But I am listening



The olas swirl together around me,

Duda y confianza

It is OK.

It is OK to try.
I will devote my life to learning your lessons,

Madre Maíz

Organize around you

Sow your seeds each spring

Care for you each summer

Ask your permission to harvest each fall

Eat from your gracious sustenance each winter

And it is OK if I do not learn all I need to know to earn your trust

As a keeper of the corn

And your sacred pact with humanity.

One lifetime is not a long time

Compared with millennia.

You do not owe me anything.

I am grateful for all you have given to me and to the família humana

In a few short years you have touched my life in ways too deep to speak.

Thank you for your permission to try.




At no other time have I connected myself so thoroughly to the fact that I am an immigrant as in growing this corn. I could put a pinpoint on the place I am native to, literally living more than 30 of my years on the same street, in the same town. And yet I’m an immigrant in it, my own lines broken by adoption and immigration to the point that I don’t know from where I came. I am a relative newcomer to a continent where people who look like me rained devastation on people who were here, those who co-created the corn, with an army of smallpox and greed. In a civilization built on corn but ignorant of it, and ignorant of the provenance of most of the basics of survival, do I belong or not? But if not here, then where? And if here, then what? Through this lens, the most logical thing to do is to grow the corn, to learn how to grow it and how to eat it and to incorporate it into my life in ever-greater ways. And to share what I am learning with others who yearn for the nourishment, connection, and insight she provides, while holding the truth of imperialism and the intersections of privilege and power, class and race in the forefront of my mind.




She is stunning,

An architectural masterpiece

Stately gorgeous

Leaves spiraling in perfect symmetry to

Soak up the sun


Or what we would like to be


Her womb like an outstretched hand

Closed tightly to protect

Her sacred jewels

Sturdy cob cradling them safe

Sheathed in soft leaves

While they ripen

Yes pollen you can enter

But only one grain at a time

And she keeps the gate

She is generous

Babies ringing her hand in

Spiral rows of stunning sustenance

She gifts them to humanity

Gave up her ability to survive on her own in a sacred pact

We live by her generosity.




The intersectionality of food is on my mind. As a white woman in Idaho growing Indian corns partly to see a rainbow of tortillas made by a Mexican-American chef in a white-owned upscale taquería, how can it not? I am not interested in usurping or appropriating anyone’s culture. I just want to eat good tortillas. I also want to learn to grow some staple grains on my farm and incorporate them into my diet. Corn has proven to me, like it has for so many other civilizations, that it is the best choice for small-scale hand cultivation, harvest, and processing. It grows tall while reaching for the sun so it can out-compete weeds. It can be grown, as it has co-evolved with humans for millennia, in a milpa, a combination of crops who work together to create a more ecological form of agriculture that has kept certain pieces of land in Mesoamerica in continuous production for centuries.

                The problems with modern-day agriculture abound, and as with anything, it’s good to be able to name the problems. With regard to intersectionality, this country is built on the backs and sweat of poor people. Poor people throughout this continent have been considered useful in the building of empires of roads and farms and buildings for the rich, before and after the arrival of my white ancestors. Not in all cultures is this true, but certainly in many and certainly in the one that became dominant after my white ancestors took the reins in this country.

In modern times we’ve taken one of the sacred foods of the people who co-created it and turned it into vast industrial monocultures sprayed with chemicals and fertilizers and processed to feed the industrial machine of diet sodas and cheap hamburgers. And we subsidize it with our tax money. So when NAFTA went into effect, the US could sell our cheap, subsidized corn to Mexico cheaper than Mexican farmers could, which drove them out of business and send them scrambling north, like moths to the flame, into the belly of the beast that destroyed their communities.

And in the succubus sponge of capitalism, the rich slurp up all the wealth and the ground is drying out on the bottom. So poor people are turning against each other, blaming Mexicans for taking our jobs, telling immigrants to get out. It sucks that there aren’t more Latino farmers in our area. It sucks that I am able to own my own farm, if not the land I farm on, while most farmhands and migrant farmworkers are Latinos.

So you want to grow the corn, White Girl? You want to sell it to a white-owned taquería? Yes, because they’re willing to pay farmers a living wage to grow food. Because they want local farmers to exist and they want to eat and serve what can be grown here. Is that a privilege? Yes. Is it also true that people expect food to be cheap? Yes. Even moreso that ethnic food should be cheap? Yes. I remember reading this great article by a Vietnamese chef who was complaining that she wanted to have an upscale Vietnamese restaurant but folks complained that it was “too expensive for Vietnamese food.” It is fucked up that white folks can open Mexican restaurants with fancy Mescal bars and get away with charging a price for a meal that allows them to actually afford to pay local farmers to grow food on a smaller, more sustainable scale while forces of segregation make that less plausible for a Latino restaurateur, not to mention that that model doesn’t speak to everyone.

In a related question, Who wants this corn? Partly I want to give it to them because they asked. They love it–both the corn and the agriculture–enough to ask for it. When we talk about cultural appropriation in food, I’d say 99% of people have the same response: Who cares? Who cares about corn, or tortillas, or agriculture, really? People all fired up about injustice slurp down sodas and coffee…Taco Bell or McDonalds? Is there really a difference? We all live and die by an oppressive system. So for me, growing the corn and seeing it made into tortillas in my own community is an act of liberation, a hopeful sustenance, a prayer for a more sane and sensible world founded on things that matter: environmental health and sustainability, an equitable distribution of wealth and power, and an honoring of the producers in a society.




If we mistreat her, she will kill us

Marching her into monoculture rows like soldiers

Decimated farmland

Poisoned oceans

Obese humans dying of heart disease

She offers a welcome and a warning

What we do to her, we do to ourselves.

In Celebration of Tasty Tomatoes

In honor of the forthcoming 5th annual Heirloom Tomato Tasting, held Thursday, September 15th from 5-8pm at Edwards Greenhouse in Boise, I am posting my humbled and buoyant reflections from the first annual event, which we held in our little backyard farm at Cymry and Daniel’s place…

Hope to see you next Thursday to stuff ourselves with the bounty of our local farmers and gardeners!! In Tomatoey Solidarity, xo Casey

It is often difficult as individuals to confront the overwhelming global problems, the big ones we feel too little and powerless to do anything about. But at the first annual Heirloom Tomato Tasting and Salsa Contest at Earthly Delights Farm in Boise, the mood was anything but grim. Dozens of people gathered together in the crisp sun of a late summer evening to celebrate something that’s been quietly slipping away for generations—agricultural biodiversity. In this case, an astounding variety of tomatoes.

While a grocery store might have one or two kinds of tired-tasting tomatoes even at the height of tomato season, area gardeners and farmers arrived in cars and on bicycles, schlepping boxes, bags, and napkins of homegrown precious cargo, plucked straight from the soil hours before. Fat, dripping pink Brandywines and speckled, gooey gold and red Hillbillies took their place at the tables alongside tart Green Zebras and striking black-and-orange Indigo Rose. Tiny Red Currants and picture-perfect Cherokee Purples lined up next to dusty-lush Black Cherries, all of them splaying their flesh for the delighted tasters in a smorgasbord of juices and smells and flavors dancing wildly on tongues as we grasped, many for the first time, the sheer and simple pleasure of tasting an abundance of unadulterated, homegrown tomatoes. Of tasting a mind-boggling diversity of any common vegetable, really.

Varieties kept coming, brought by the hands that have lovingly tended them. The bell-pepper-like Striped Stuffing, with thick walls and hardly any juice, gorgeous red skin streaked with orange. The almost grotesque-looking Green Sausage, mimicking its namesake in a green and yellow, bulbous tube. Perhaps most exciting were the Idaho heirlooms—varieties kept alive by Idahoans for generations, brought with their ancestors through countless epic journeys, the seeds carefully planted out and saved year after year by descendants and neighbors, creating a living, edible, local history of sorts. The Rockin’ R Ranch Roma tomato, stewarded by the Edwards Greenhouse family. The Payette tomato, a wonderful, stout little determinate plant with early maturing fruits.

Over 100 varieties of tomatoes found their way to our tiny urban farm that day, each the result of a line of careful gardeners who have cared for its seeds over generations. A remarkable feat by any calculation, but considering that 94% of the vegetable varieties available at the turn of the century have been lost, it becomes almost radical. As small seed companies continue to be bought out by large corporations, our agricultural biodiversity shrinks proportionally. Our public plant breeding programs give way to breeding for industrial farming—for long-distance transportation, not taste. For chemical agriculture and a steady supply of synthetic fertilizers, not for resilience and organic systems. For the ability to genetically modify.

If we want to develop secure local food systems, we must begin with locally-adapted seeds, since seeds are the headwaters of agriculture. No seeds, no food. The larger the diversity of seeds we have, the better chance we have of producing food on our ever-unpredictable and changing earth. The Irish potato famine that caused the massive starvation and emigration of an entire people tragically demonstrates what happens when we rely too heavily on one variety that succumbs to disease or climactic pressures like drought. By keeping biodiversity alive, we increase the chances that some of our crops will make it through a pest or disease infestation, a long summer drought or a harsh winter, even while some fall victim. And by doing it locally, we’re developing varieties that love our climate and soils, that will work here even when seeds brought from other places fail.

It turns out, little farmers and home gardeners are not powerless after all. In fact, we’re quite the opposite. Small farmers and gardeners doing what they love to do are the solution to the huge, intertwined problems of loss of biodiversity, corporate-contolled agribusiness, and global climate crisis. As writer Michael Pollan says, “Food is one of those rare arenas where the ethical choice is also the one most likely to make you groan with pleasure.” By growing out and saving seeds off our favorite garden plants, we not only enjoy the personal empowerment, the abundance, and the increased self-reliance of the work, we actually help the entire world.

That’s not what was in the forefront of the minds of the tomato tasters that day, though. It didn’t need to be. In freeing ourselves from the “tyranny of the tasteless tomato,” in writer Guy Hand’s words, we succeeded in some small part in making that broken system totally irrelevant. Our eyes, tongues, and bellies stood witness to a breathtaking array of delicious food, grown by our neighbors and friends, in a simple evening of great pleasure and abundance.

Thank you to all who participated, and to all who participate every day by growing good food and saving seeds. What a grand life!

Vote-shaming and the Grand Electoral College Sham

After yet another friend sharing on social media a vote-shaming post aimed at making us feel like we don’t care about Muslims or black/brown people if we don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, I feel compelled to weigh in on the Presidential election. Specifically where we as progressive Idahoans–hell, even Idaho Democrats–fit into it. While we don’t literally have a two-party system as many folks claim, we do in fact have an electoral college system.

For those who have forgotten some of high school government class, here’s a quickrefresher: The people don’t directly elect a President in this country. Instead, each state is awarded a number of electors based on how many Congresspeople they have. Idaho has four electors. Whichever party wins the popular vote in each state sends their party electors to vote on behalf of the people of that state. So while in the last election roughly 1/3 of Idahoans voted for Democrats or other parties, all four of our electoral college votes went to the Republican ticket. For all intents and purposes, Idaho’s electoral college votes always go to the Republicans. 1964 was the last time that Idaho voted for a Democrat for President.

So if you are not planning on voting for Trump for President in Idaho in 2016, your vote literally will not count regardless of who you vote for. If we don’t like that fact, there are things we could do about it, like working to abolish the electoral college and replace it with a popular vote election or, even better, instant runoff voting so we never have to worry about “throwing our vote away” by voting for a 3rd party candidate of our choice! Publicly financed elections, campaign finance reform and open debates would of course help create a true democracy too…

This post is a long way of expressing this plea: Idahoans, please, please, PLEASE stop trying to guilt-trip me into voting for Hillary Clinton! Your vote for her won’t “count” any more than mine would. The bright side to Idaho politics in an electoral college system is that we can freely vote for the candidate who best reflects our values without any unintended consequences as a result of our vote. So instead of going down the rabbit hole of outrage about all this vote-shaming by scared, well-meaning friends, I’ll instead share why I will be voting for Jill Stein in November:

I fell in love with the Green Party’s 10 Key Values when someone handed me a flyer outside the Moxie Java where I worked in 2000 and from that point on I have voted Green in all Presidential elections. To me, they create a breathtaking tapestry of all I hold dear and they hint at the policies that would make the US a country I am truly proud to call home.

I’ve been impressed with Dr. Jill Stein’s platform and actions in both the 2012 election cycle and this one. Check out her “Power to the People” platform! (taken from her campaign website). While I agree that many of the specific action items in her plan would be difficult to implement immediately, they provide a map to where I would LOVE to see our country go moving forward!

I’ll let the Greens and Jill Stein have the last words here. Onward and upward, intrepid Idahhoans!

Love, Casey

The Green Party’s 10 Key Values–the national Green Party website goes into more detail on the specific philosophies behind these!

1. Grassroots Democracy                        

2. Social Justice and Equal Opportunity

3. Ecological Wisdom

4. Non-Violence

5. Decentralization

6. Community-Based Economics

7. Feminism and Gender Equity

8. Respect for Diversity

9. Personal and Global Responsibility

10. Future Focus and Sustainability

Key points of Jill Stein’s Power to the People Plan (taken from her website):

A Green New Deal:

Create millions of jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, and conservation.

Jobs as a Right:

Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.

End Poverty:

Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.

Health Care as a Right:

Establish an improved “Medicare For All” single-payer public health insurance program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings.

Education as a Right:

Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude. Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.

A Just Economy:

Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage. Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve. Reject gentrification as a model of economic development. Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses. Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes. Create democratically run public banks and utilities. Replace corporate trade agreements with fair trade agreements.

Protect Mother Earth:

Lead on a global treaty to halt climate change. End destructive energy extraction: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, and uranium mines. Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe. Protect the rights of future generations.

Racial Justice Now:

End police brutality and mass incarceration. Create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to understand and eliminate the legacy of slavery that lives on as pervasive racism in the economy, education, housing and health. Ensure that communities control their police rather than police controlling our communities, by establishing police review boards and full time investigators to look in to all cases of death in police custody. Demilitarize the police.

Freedom and Equality:

Expand women’s rights, protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination, defend indigenous rights and lands, and create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants. Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem.

Justice for All:

Restore our Constitutional rights, terminate unconstitutional surveillance and unwarranted spying, end persecution of government and media whistleblowers, close Guantanamo, abolish secret kill lists, and repeal indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Peace and Human Rights:

Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights. End the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire. Stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament.

Empower the People:

Abolish corporate personhood. Protect voters’ rights by establishing a constitutional right to vote.  Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy: public campaign financing, ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and open debates.


Hubba Hubba–the Scrumptious Food Culture of CSAs


photo by CSA member Catie Eyer

While I normally reserve CSA-oriented rants for waxing poetic about the economic security the model brings to our small farm, today my thoughts are on the more abstract concept of food culture and how CSAs do a great service to creating them.

Our collective lack of a “food culture” is a woe articulated by food-focused philosophers from Michael Pollan to Wendell Berry to Barbara Kingsolver. In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver describes “culture” this way: “Humans don’t do everything we crave to do–that is arguably what makes us human. We’re genetically predisposed toward certain behaviors that we’ve collectively decided are unhelpful: adultery and racism are possible examples. With reasonable success, we mitigate those impulses through civil codes, religious rituals, maternal warnings–the whole bag of tricks we call culture. Food cultures concentrate a population’s collective wisdom about the plants and animals that grow in a place, and the complex ways of rendering them tasty. These are the mores of survival, good health, and control of excess. Living without such a culture would seem dangerous. And here we are, sure enough in trouble…”

I’ll spare us the rest, where she delves into our national obesity epidemic, diet-related health problems, and fad diets that constitute a culture of “anti-eating.” We’ve heard it all before, lived it all before. But as we open our annual farm education curriculum with this article, each year I see the CSA as becoming more solidly anchored at the center of a food culture for our committed members.

CSA members!

CSA pickups at our farm have become what I envisioned them being when we started 11 years ago–a place of camaraderie and intrigue, where folks from different walks of life find common ground around food produced a few hundred feet from where they’re standing, harvested a few hours before they arrive. Each week, folks come to the pickup after a day of working (or not), dressed in business suits or swimsuits, with kids in tow or beers in tow (or sometimes both). They stay for a few minutes or an hour, sitting in the shade on lawn chairs or the coolers that hold their week’s goodies, and chat about everything from what they ate for dinner last week to the death of a loved one. And when it’s time to get their goodies and head for home, they hold out their bags like trick-or-treaters and ooh and ahh appropriately as I pull each item out of the coolers and dole it out between them. Together we celebrate the miracles of seeds making indescribably beautiful sustenance with each enormous bouquet of brightly colored chard or enticingly plump early turnips, and we count our blessings that we’re able to eat so well, through the good-natured work of passionate humans attempting to conduct the orchestra of the natural world into something tasty.

Now there’s a man who loves chard–AND growing food!

This connection–grateful eaters communing with humble farmers–makes for a powerful shift in grocerystore mentality, where everything needs to look perfect in order to be given a place of honor in someone’s belly. We share it all with our members, from the voluptuous brandywines that can barely make it from the field to the pickup spot without bruising to the tiny bunches of pathetic beets that just didn’t seem to grow this year.

“It’s ok,” the members smile, taking them gingerly. “They’ll be great in a stirfry.”

It’s common knowledge that I didn’t know beans about food when I first joined a CSA years ago, and I had a painful go of learning how to cook and eat the things in my share , most of which I’d never seen before and was thoroughly terrified (and actually disgusted) to eat. Kale, mustard greens, chard–all of it scared the crap out of me, and it was intimidating to ask for guidance on how to cook it. When I see that deer in headlights look on a new member’s face as I’m handing them a gigantic bouquet of collard greens, a more seasoned member will step in.

One of my favorite members Jane always stuck her head in the bag of CSA basil to inhale it with a euphoric sigh.

“I love those in soups!”

Another will join in, “I scramble them with my eggs in the morning, with a little French Tarragon.”

You can literally see the new member’s face relax as they realize they’re supported in this frankly huge new endeavor.

And it is truly huge, for so many reasons. Committing to bringing 18 weeks of vastly more vegetables than you’re used to cramming into your diet into your kitchen and into your belly, especially when many are unfamiliar and most need to be prepared in some way is a serious undertaking.

Over seasons, it becomes huge in other ways. A CSA teaches us what can be produced in our valley every week over many months of time. It also teaches us what isn’t available in every week, or in some cases (like avocados) ever. But instead of that being a letdown, the progression of CSA crops becomes an exciting journey, and each one brings with its arrival the promise of specific meals that families come to look forward to.

When the first green beans arrive in the shares, members squeal about green bean tacos, a phenomenon largely unknown in the mainstream food culture but an almost cultish part of our CSA food culture. (You simply MUST try them if in green bean season if you haven’t already–loads of cumin is the secret). Sage butter, kale salad with soba noodles, and Casey’s Tasty Leek and Ground Cherry pizza are all CSA member favorites, and each year a new member brings another epic dish into the fold. Last year it was caponata from Amanda, the year before, curried pickles from Kailie. The kids move through their delighted season from turnips to peas to ground cherries to watermelons–all the sweetest treats in the shares, and they eat them all like candy during the pickup.

Marian and Ned Eyer have been patiently posing for a photo with their CSA share each week for 5 years!

“She never eats vegetables!” a parent will say as his kid is chomping down on a lemon cucumber straight from the cooler.

And if that isn’t the cornerstone of a food culture–elders teaching healthy and yummy eating habits to the next generation–what is? “These are the mores of survival,” Kingsolver says, “good health, and control of excess. Living without them would seem dangerous.” But living with them is supremely delicious; a delectable, satisfying, season-by-season adventure.

TED TALK: Seeds and the Abundant Economy

Miss Boise Carolyn Pace emceeing the event. She did a great job!

Last week I attended the inaugural TEDxBoise event. In the interest of full disclosure I had applied to be a speaker and was not chosen as one of the nine talks presented. So, you might say I had a little ego wrapped up in my curiosity to see what the selection committee thought Boiseans should hear. Many of the talks were moving, all of them mentally stimulating. And I also was surprised to realize that outside my little foodie circles, food is still a marginalized topic of conversation even though without it, most of the things the other presenters spoke about wouldn’t have existed. In fact, through all nine talks, food only came up twice, both in quite negative contexts where either food or the farmers who grow it were trivialized and/or insulted.

Again, I fully acknowledge that my own ego is wrapped up in what was presented and what was not, but I truly believe those two statements, made by TED presenters, warrant my unveiling of my own “Idea Worth Sharing”, the TED talk I would have liked to stand up and give that night, with a renewed interest in reclaiming the intellectual, social, cultural, and economic validity of food as a crucial topic of conversation.

Starting, of course, with the seeds:

Seeds and the Abundant Economy

I will start with an admission: I am totally, completely, head-over-heels in love with seeds. The poet in me loves their infinite metaphorical possibilities. The farmer in me loves their abundant yields and promise of self-sufficiency. The child scientist in me loves their pollinators and their awe-inspiring adaptability. The sensual woman in me loves their sex and their allure. The intellectual in me loves their complexity. The changemaker in me loves their possibility for creating a more just and sustainable world.

Mayan Maize God

The reason you should care about seeds is simple–without them, there is no food. There is also no culture, because culture springs up around agriculture, which springs up around seeds. From carrots in Afghanistan to corn in Central America, cultures of people have simultaneously bred foods from seeds and have been bred by the seeds they sow. The Mayan people believe they are descended from corn, that they are Of Corn, which is a literal reality as they helped to make corn what it is–selecting it over hundreds of years from Teosinte, corn’s wild ancestor. It feeds them daily, making them who they are.

And without going too deep into the dire details, seeds are quite threatened in our modern day society. Small seed companies are being bought up every day by larger mega-businesses. In fact, over 50% of our seeds are

Seed industry consolidation chart

owned by three companies, and the top 10 largest seed companies own over 75% of our seeds. Patents and GMO technology criminalizes seed saving, making farmers dependent on these large companies who force them to buy new seeds each year instead of saving their own. An Indian farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes due to the crushing debt that has accompanied the spread of conventional agriculture and patented or GMO seeds. As a result, our agro-biodiversity–the number of different varieties of our food crops, is plummeting. Over 90% of the varieties that were in circulation in 1900 are now unavailable.

I am one of those unfortunate people ( like many of you I’m sure) who desperately wants to make the world better, who hears the dire stats and yearns to help somehow. I think I latched onto seeds so zealously because, unlike many of the other huge, big problems–climate change, resource depletion and pollution, global inequity–by growing seeds, I can, with my own small garden, have a significant impact on creating the solution. Seeds have throughout human history been largely in the hands of small farmers and gardeners and even today, though the agribusiness giants and chemical companies are trying to control them, most of our agricultural biodiversity still resides in the hands of small farmers and gardeners.

As one of my mentors Bill McDorman says, “You’re not going to defeat the world’s largest corporations politically, because that’s what they are and what they have.” Even as we speak, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Monsanto and their cronies in Washington, DC, are trying to shove a bill through that will pre-empt individual states’ rights to pass laws that require GMO foods be labeled. I don’t feel like I, a Green Party member living in Idaho, has the ability to affect change on our national governmental level, and in the issue of labeling GMO foods, I’m not even sure I’d want to.

However, as a small seed farmer, I have immense power to affect change. The “problem” of ownership over seeds and loss of agro-biodiversity due to increasing corporate control over our seed supply is totally solvable by individual communities. We truly can make a broken system irrelevant, simply by planting and tending seeds. And in so doing, we fix a lot more than just a broken agricultural system.

We also add intrigue and empowerment to our lives and offer a blueprint toward a responsive, earth-based economy based on abundance, not scarcity.

 Here’s where, in honor of Bill, I would ask you to pull out the seed I handed you on the way in. I would have you look at it, feel it, turn it over in your palm like the treasure it is. And I’d say, “Who can hold up a million seeds?” You’d look around, confused, and then I’d hold up my seed and say, “I can!” Because inside that seed is the potential to create a million more of itself.

See, a seed is by its very nature generous. In just one season, one seed will make a

Look at all those freaking SEEDS!

hundred or a thousand seeds. That means that by planting and tending one seed to full maturity, I’ve made a hundred or a thousand fold return on my investment! As farmer Elliot Coleman said, “At 1,000 to one, you can’t get a better return than a tomato.” And this is real, tangible wealth! I can eat it and it will nourish me and keep me alive!

Each of these seeds has the will to live, to plant itself into the earth and root itself down and GROW. This simple miracle occurred in nearly every bite of food we eat. And as a person who grows seeds, I have the intense, sometimes overwhelming, pleasure that comes with that mind-blowing abundance. Around my house and my farm, seeds are everywhere, tucked inside lines of jars, drying on plates on every available flat surface, ripening by the thousands in the field. They’re alive, breathing, waiting (some more patiently than others) for the chance to spring forth and make tons more seeds!

Fermenting rainbow of tomato seeds!

Peeking in at the ripening blue corn!










Seed “trash!”

This photo shows the small beds outside my greenhouse door. I swept out the greenhouse after finishing seed cleaning last fall out the door, and this is what happened! Wild abundance, springing up from what was essentially trash on the floor!







Our monetary economy is kept artificially scarce so it remains valuable. The way money enters into our system is through an entity (like a bank, or the FED) loaning it into existence. But when a bank loans you $10,000, they’re loaning you the $10,000 but telling you you’ll have to pay it back with interest. So really, over the life of the loan, say you’ll pay back something like $11,000. Well, that extra $1000 was never created in the first place! Using this system, it is impossible for everyone who has borrowed money to pay back all their loans with interest, because there literally doesn’t exist enough money for everyone to fulfill their obligation! This means, for someone to get enough money to pay back her loan, someone else has to default. When a loan officer looks at your credit score to determine whether you’re a reliable borrower, what they’re really examining is how good you are at going out and competing with your neighbors to bring back a larger share of this scarce resource.

This is why in most major religious texts including the Bible and the Quran, usury (interest) is forbidden. “America’s Most Outspoken Banking Expert” Ben Gisin estimates that right now there are ten people competing for enough money for six!

Which brings me back to seeds, thank goodness. The idea of seeds as currency shifts us into an economy of sharing, not hoarding. Whereas in the monetary economy there exists more debt than there is virtual “money” to pay it off, with seeds each successive generation yields 100x more than its parent!

One of the problems with the US dollar is that we’re trying to use it as a means of exchange (exchanging it for something else we need, like food or clothes or shelter or cable TV) as well as a store of wealth for the future. This puts the dollar squarely in competition with itself, since spending and saving are opposite actions.

In tough economic times, such as in Depression-era Germany, various governments

Demurrage currency from Worgl

have instituted what’s called demurrage currencies. These are currencies that have an expiration date. Each month the owner of that bill must purchase and apply a stamp to it for it to be valid during that month. The idea with them is that people will be encouraged to spend them quickly, not hoard them, which stimulates economic activity and puts people back to work.

Seeds have a built-in perishability which, when coupled with their rampantly abundant nature, encourages wild, unfettered sharing of them between individuals. In essence, greater economic activity. Unlike our industrial economy, though, there are not adverse affects to the rampant growth of seeds. At the core of our capitalist economy is the pretense of endless economic growth as a necessity. The worst thing that could come of excessive amounts of seeds is a bigger compost pile!

As far as seeds’ ability to tend to the other half of the dollar’s dual mission–a store of wealth for the future–which would you rather have to provide for your needs in an uncertain future? A dollar? Or a seed?

” Whoever controls the seeds controls the culture”–have you heard that saying? I for one would prefer to have the future of our culture residing in the loving hands of small scale farmers and home gardeners who farm without chemicals, with more concern for the seed itself than the bottom line.


Look how RICH I am!

And this is the real reason I love what I do. With my little life, I can plant my seeds every year, adapting them to my garden, to our city, to our bioregion. The seeds learn the ways of the West, of Idaho, of the Snake River plain, of Boise, of Hill Road, of my field. Each year they spring boldly to life, facing an ever-changing world, an ever-changing climate with different diseases, different weather events, different challenges.

By saving the ones who thrive in each successive season, I’m helping to adapt these treasures to the world I will inhabit if I’m lucky enough to become an old lady. With my own little life I’m helping to preserve and prepare something that will feed my loved ones years from now. That is a true store of wealth for the future, a real retirement plan that isn’t subject to the volatility and the trickery of the stock market.

I may not be able to take down Monsanto, or even get selected to give a TED talk. But I can plant a seed, and so can you. Growing food–even a tomato in a pot on the balcony of an apartment–brings immense satisfaction and connection to something that’s often overlooked in our increasingly urban population. Yet without it, we wouldn’t be here to build buildings or write symphonies or make crazy robots that can drive our cars for us or whatever. Food is Of Us, and we are Of It. By planting and saving our seeds, we reconnect ourselves to this 10,000 year old ritual. We learn about who we are and where we belong and what we should be doing. And in addition to all that, it’s a riotously good time!

Thank you.


The Neighborhood NARC

When I finally got around to the stack of unopened mail that’s been piling up on the counter today, I uncovered not one, but two letters of warning from city code enforcement saying that one of my neighbors had called the cops on us and that our property was in violation of being a “public nuisance.” We were ordered to remove all “rubbish, garbage, litter, furniture, electronics, recyclables, piles of dead or overgrown vegetation, automotive parts, building materials, etc.” from the property within 7 days or face legal action.

junk photoIf you’ve ever visited my neighborhood, you might find this surprising, given that just about every house on both sides of the street near us has what I might call a festive, perpetual yard sale of projects, junk, and inbred scrappy dogs yapping through chain link fences. My first reaction wasn’t indignation (that came later). It was hurt. I felt sad thinking that one of my neighbors had broken what I thought was the neighborhood code—deal with your own shit, stay out of other peoples’ business, and if you have something to say, talk to the person instead of tattling on them. I’ve for years worked for people on landscaping jobs who live in a relentless prison of subdivision covenants and whitewashed Pleasantville-ites that limit what they can do and plant in their own yards, and I’ve always appreciated my neighborhood’s live-and-let-live vibe. This came as a real blow.

The aftertaste of neighborliness still lingers on the country’s palate, even as it’s retreated into its two-car-garage, flat-screen-TV isolation. It’s been so suddenly lost that we can still remember, if only subconsciously, what it was like to chat on front porches, borrow a cup of sugar, pitch in around harvest time. The idea that we’ve lost, in only a generation or so, the ability to talk with our neighbors about something that ‘s bothering us is paramount to tragedy. If we can’t find common ground with the person next door, how are we ever going to get along in an increasingly globalized world? Do we really want to turn over our own autonomy to the powers that be and eschew the nuance of individual interaction for cookie-cutter regulations?

I headed outside to survey the contents of my front yard through the eyes of the betrayer.

The evil, trashy wonderland in full effect

The evil, trashy wonderland in full effect

Alongside a frankly paradisical masterpiece of blooming flowers, seed crops, and vegetables was a small pile of items in the driveway that I could only guess were the source of the complaint. Two 5 gallon buckets, some poly pipe for doing irrigation repairs, equipment for Brent’s biodiesel making project, the wooden sides for the back of my truck, some used greenhouse plastic, and the folded legs from two sets of pop up canopies whose tops had bit the dust in the weather.

This is where I started to get angry. We live in a country whose sole purpose seems to be to convince us to buy and consume more stuff. We’re told we need it to “create jobs”, for survival as well as social standing, and we line up in droves to get the next new ticket to success and happiness. Once we get it home, though, we’re not supposed to let it clutter up our precious yards, which should be nothing but sterile monocultures of chem-lawns and meatballed shrubs corralled by concrete edging.

And heaven forbid we are one of those souls who can’t stand to see potentially useful items sent to the dump. Almost every item in my driveway was the castoff of someone else’s failed plans, and instead of throwing it into the cesspool of rotting trash threatening to slide down onto the city and leach into the groundwater, I opted to bring it home, to a piece of land I’ve been paying for, and store it until it finds another useful purpose.

I’m not a hoarder, per se, nor a prepper who thinks the end times are coming and we’d better stockpile every last item we can before the trucks stop running. But I will say that I don’t have the religious faith in “The Store” that I’ve observed in many of my fellow Americans. It doesn’t deserve my worship, for two reasons. One, because an economy dollar-tree-store-random-jpegbased on sucking fossil fuels from the earth and turning it into cheap crap that’s designed to break down and be thrown in the dump within 6 months of manufacture doesn’t seem like it has the kind of sea legs on it that entice me to throw myself onto the boat. And two, the crap in the store is there because of the exploitation of resources, natural and human, and has created infinitely more waste and devastation in its processing than I could ever hope to stockpile in my driveway. Besides, I find it insulting that, in order to be “good neighbors and citizens” we should dutifully throw away everything the second it falls out of use for a moment, and then return to “The Almighty Store” like good little boys and girls and buy a new one.

I come from a long line of resourceful men and women who’ve taken the castoffs of society and with their own hands given them a second beautiful, functional life. My Grandpa and my Dad can build a building from the ground up with reclaimed materials. Brent can repair anything and is willing to make whatever he can’t repair. The self-sufficient bootstrapper holds a place of honor in our culture, but heaven forbid he store his materials in his yard for awhile before getting down to it.

At the bottom of all of it, I think, is a fear of wildness. We want everyone to have the manicured lawn, the concrete curbing, because it lulls us into a false sense of security in a terrifying world. Boisterous gardens, scrappy dogs, and piles of crap in neighbors’ driveways remind us that we don’t control everything around us. And it’s not just a one-way street. I shudder when I see a flag-waving neighbor spraying Roundup or polishing his gigantic new car, fearing for what will become of my beloved planet with this insanity all around me. But the point is that we find common ground when we talk to each other, and from those genuine points of connection, we can navigate the trickier differences in opinion. Isolation won’t keep us safe, it will keep us isolated and afraid, especially when we live in fear that our neighbors are spying and calling the cops on us!

So throw open the doors and invite the neighbors inside. We’re better together than apart. And for Pete’s sake, Talk To Me before calling the cops!