I’ve never seen myself as much of a cook. I avoided domestication as much as I could, preferring the feral existence of foraging at delis and ordering Chinese take-out. Barnabe Farms has changed that.
Doing My Part For Real Change
When I joined Barnabe Farms the spring of ’94 it was mostly a political act. In my studies of sustainability, I learned how important it is to use local resources as much as possible. I tried my hand at gardening last year, but I have no more of a hand for that than any other domestic chores. Barnabe Farms, in essence does my gardening for me.
The peak of Mount Barnabe overlooks the bucolic San Geronimo Valley, on the western end of Marin County just north of San Francisco. It offers expansive views of Tomales Bay, Mt. Tamalpais, and even Mt. Diablo in the East Bay. Nestled just below the summit is an earthy house tucked into a grove of trees. Lying beside the house, in neatly packed plots are rows and rows of vegetables, the bounty of Barnabe Farms.
Barnabe Farms is the brainchild of Diane Matthew, who has been gardening in the Valley since 1973. She has always maintained a fairly large garden, but then she learned about CSA as a way of bringing back local family farms. Inspired, she structured her farm to be a CSA, growing a wide variety of vegetables and planting fruit trees as well. This past year, Barnabe Farms distributed fresh vegetables for its member families at a local community center on a weekly basis.
Each family owns a share of the year’s crop for a set price. In the beginning, this was pretty meager fare, some greens, lots of onions and garlic, salad mix, potatoes. It wasn’t long before I was loading up my tiny refrigerator with raspberries and strawberries, green beans, peas, squash, and peppers of all varieties, an abundance of tomatoes, eggplant, not to mention basil, thyme, and a few species I can’t even identify.
It would be stupid to continue picking up deli food when I had a full fridge at home, so I began my journey of learning how to use these new additions in my life. Each week we picked up recipes to go with the vegies and I started paying attention and picking up the few remaining ingredients. The next thing I knew I was pulling out scrumptious casseroles from the oven and feasting like a queen in my own kitchen. Soon I started experimenting, just throwing together whatever I had and making up new dishes of my own.
Joining the CSA is about 30 percent cheaper than store-bought organic vegetables, but Diane tells us that is only one of the reasons to sign up. "It help’s bring back the local family farms which are practically extinct," she explains. While large agribusiness has certainly helped to reduce the cost of food (30 percent in the last 30 years), this doesn’t reflect the real costs of highly mechanized, non-sustainable agriculture like the energy cost of long distance transport, the pollution from pesticides and herbicides, and the loss of topsoil. Moreover, people want fresh, organically gown vegetables. Fresh produce tastes better and is more nutritious."
Connection to Place
There is nothing quite like eating food that is fresh picked that day. The flavor is sharp, present, full bodied. It explodes on the taste buds, awakens the cells of the body. The nutritional value cannot be compared. Every day food sits on the shelf, rides in the trucks, it is losing its value. Even with cold storage, you can’t replace the vital nutrients that start to fade the moment a plant is picked. To sit on the knee of Mt. Barnabe, knowing that tonight’s dinner was grown up at the top of the same mountain, I feel a strong connection to the place that I live.
I’ve noticed that my food bill is going down. With all these farm fresh vegetables, I only need a few staples and some protein sources to supplement my diet. I’m eating cheaper and better, all because of one political act to support a local grower. Barnabe Farms has changed the way I eat, changed my attitude about cooking. It has gone from a chore to a daily ritual, a sacrament to the nurturing earth.
Wendi Kallins is a local columnist for the Point Reyes Light. She is actively involved in sustainability issues in her community of San Geronimo Valley, CA.