Monday, September 6, 2010

Prescott, AZ

We started by taking a LONG drive down California, partly along our beautiful coast and then cut over to head into Arizona to Chino Valley and then down some serious backroads, to meet up with Randall, Leenie, Arlo and Zeno, and stay at their homey and wonderful geodesic dome house visit with their chickens, donkey, horses, goats, pot-bellied pig, home veggie garden and check out and learn about the amazing desert landscape around their home. We met Randall through our friend Page, only to realize he was also very close with our friend Pancho and was hosting Pancho during his recent ahimsa/non-violence activism against SB 1070 in Arizona. It certainly is a small world.

Leenie made us a delicious breakfast and we had great company for conversation while we ate.

Then we went on a tour of the land around their home and met a slew of amazing animals, and I was especially taken with more pallet architecture in the chicken coop that Randall had built over a dilapidated frame that was pre-existing on his property.

We checked out their home veggie garden and brainstormed ways to defeat the invasive grasses that keep coming back to choke their tomato plants. And I loved their mini orchard, it's the kind-of orchard I dream of having one day, a couple trees of a bunch of different kinds and varieties of fruits and nuts. We also saw their manure pile under which they had recently buried a horse that had passed away to compost. A whole horse! Amazing!

We followed Randall and family to the Prescott farmers market where got a bunch of beautiful local produce, some vegan tamales, and a sweet tomato chipotle jam (I can't resist buying other people's canned goods). We were hoping to get in touch with a project in Prescott called Karma Farm, a decentralized, volunteer run gardening project that enables gardens and composting around town, and hosts a free farmstand once a week. Here's their statement:

Food is the bridge that connects folks to their bio region. We all eat and live together and Karma Farm offers the space for forging new relationships with your neighbors and local flora and fauna. Karma Farm is composed of different types of community contributions from tools and seeds to compost, land, and labor. Volunteers collectively work to manage garden plots around town and promote a culture of autonomy, solidarity, and mutual aid. Both the Catalyst and Karma Farm are arms stretching out from the same being, so lets embrace this being in it's totality and collectively work for autonomy, solidarity, and mutual aid.

Randall pointed us in the direction of a woman involved in the Catalyst InfoShop, the community space affiliated with Karma Farm, who drew us a map of how to get there. When we got to the shop, it was closed, but an incredibly nice woman named Aurora saw us lurking outside and not only let us in, but took us on a tour of some of the different Karma Farm sites around town, and then let us make coffee in their community kitchen and use their internet before we headed out on our way.

We started our tour by leaving the infoshop and heading to a nearby cellar to see their seed and herb drying area. This space seemed to define the nature of the project, a little accessible space, a little inventive creativity, some makeshift supplies, some dedicated volunteer investment, and they had created an amazing decentralized network of different parts of the farm.

We moved on from there to a dry garden that KF had set up at a nearby school, and then the school had mostly taken over. I'm not especially familiar with dry farming, and although I've been learning more about it, it still admittedly baffles me sometimes. But there we were, in the middle of the desert, looking at bright red peppers that hadn't been watered.

From here we went to see the goats, tucked on a small hill next to an art gallery. A volunteer walks the goats twice a day and I assume will do the milking once they start producing milk. Aurora said they're still working out what to do with the milk, but it seems that they're leaning towards making cheese.

We then moved to what I thought was the most amazing part of the project, the compost area. Off to the side of the road, next to an empty lot, they had set up a multi bin system for community composting, where people could drop off their food waste, cover it with straw, and a volunteer came by and turned the active pile once a week. Prescott, like most cities in the US, doesn't have municipal compost like we do in SF, so creating a space for people to dump their food waste without having to maintain their own compost pile is a beautiful way to both divert unnecessary landfill waste (and greenhouse gasses), build community around an action that anyone can take part in, and feed the gardens the project supports. The structures were simple, made from pallets, and had colorful signs describing what could be composted, how to do it, and where to put it.

Our last stop was a home garden with crazy tomatillos, tomatoes and peppers, all the hot weather veggies that I'm so jealous of (although we have been having a really good run with little tomatoes under the hot house at the Free Farm).

We headed back to the Infoshop, and I added "start a community library" to the long list of ideas and projects that I keep tucked away in the back of my brain. This trip has really engaged a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about in working with Produce to the People, it’s magnified some questions, alleviated (although not necessarily answered) others, and is starting to tie things together in a more concrete, more cohesive way. Coming into our second year of programming, after having focused on and sorted through some of the initial program structure in our first year, I am now sitting with a lot of questions.

This leg of our journey was definitely a lesson in community. From meeting Randall through Free Farm friends and having him and his beautiful family welcome us into their home (even though we arrived way past everyone's bedtime!) to having a hand-drawn map to the Infoshop, to having Aurora give us the grand tour when they weren't even open that day, to the ways that the Karma farm and the Catalyst Infoshop are tying their community together by creating a network of small, simple actions.

Thanks Arizona. While I definitely do not agree with your legislation as of late, it's good for me to remember that there are great factions of people that governing bodies do not speak for, and can not quiet. Small revolutions by actual people are making huge differences. Keep it up!

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