Category Archives: Farmers Markets

Twenty-Seven Minutes of Inspiration: “The Kings of Flint”

In the 1970s, Flint, Michigan was the richest city per capita in the United States. Now, it is the poorest. The population has declined 40% while violent crime has increased inversely. Buildings are boarded up. People are in despair.

In the heyday of General Motors, one of the thousands of factory workers was Jacky King. Unhappy on the assembly line, Jacky and his wife Dora decided to open their own karate studio, King Karate, and to begin working with the youth in their community. They soon realized that if they wanted to teach self-defense, there was something even more important than karate: farming.

“I may never need to kick and punch somebody, but I’m always going to need to eat,” Dora says. The Kings founded the Youth Karate Club and Harvesting Earth Farm, and now mentor young people with the gardening, harvesting, and selling of fresh vegetables and fruit in Flint.

Before land can be farmed, it must be reclaimed, a process that–after up to forty years of dumping–may take years in itself. Having already reclaimed the land they own, the Kings now look for abandoned land to begin reclaiming and farming. In the half-deserted city of Flint, trashed houses and lots are easy to come by. “You going to tell me that I can’t have chickens, but I can have a drug house? A house of ill-repute? I’ll see you in court,” Jacky says. He predicts that Flint will be the #1 hub for urban farming within the next ten years.

The days of getting forty acres and a mule may be gone, Jacky says. He tells his students to “take four tenths of an acre–and a bike.”

Flint has long felt abandoned by the automobile industry, but lately Ford returned to deliver to Harvesting Earth Farm a check for $50,000. With that money the Kings will install geothermal power into the hoophouse, increasing their growing season by two months. The farm has also relied on support from the Ruth Mott Foundation. The Kings hope that by 2014 they won’t need to accept grant support. “You can make a living selling vegetables,” he says. “And it’s legal!”

“Poverty sucks the life out of people,” Dora King explains. “The sense of hope is the one inoculation we have against poverty.”

The Kings of Flint screens Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at Wild and Scenic in Nevada City, California.


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Filed under Community, Education, Farmers Markets, Farming, Sustainability, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival

New Co-Op Deep in Abbey Country

Twenty years ago, my parents moved from the Sierra–near where I still call home–to a town called Sierra Vista in southeastern Arizona, near the Mexican border. For two decades I’ve visited–first them– and then just Mom after my dad crossed over.  This last year, since Mom was sick, I visited more often, and found myself driving great distances just to get to a farmer’s market or to a health food store. (The foodie revolution came later to Abbey Country than it did to Cali.) See my previous post “One Farmer’s Market in One Little Town” []  to look at the now thriving weekly farmer’s market in Sierra Vista.  It was at an informational table there that I met the handful of dedicated volunteers trying to get a co-op up and running.  The two nearest co-ops at that time were Tucson and Bisbee.  Tucson is 150 miles round trip, Bisbee is only sixty, and so I’d go to Bisbee to get my mom her soy yogurt and other healthy foods she needed to recover.  Recover she did, and is now zipping around months after her 90th birthday.   On this most recent trip to visit her, we were excited to see that the dream of that dedicated handful of foodies had become a reality. Good food is now ten minutes away from my mom–seven days a week.  We were both more than impressed by the inventory, spaciousness, and downright good vibe of Cochise County’s only alternative to a corporate market, the only outlet for truly healthy groceries, and the only place to find fair trade coffee and tea.  Three cheers for the Sierra Vista Food-Co-op.  Here are some photos of my now-favorite store in Abbey Country.

96 South Carmichael Avenue, adjacent to the vacant lot where the Farmer's Market is held Thursday mornings, and right next door to the Peacock, a Vietnamese restaurant

The bulk section, featuring several kinds of oats, beans, rice, nuts, and much more.

The Sierra Vista Food Co-op's inventory is impressive. It often takes co-ops five to ten years to get to this point.

There were few fresh vegetables available at the Farmer's Market (just a month before the rainy season here in the high desert). But now folks in town have access to organic, recognizable produce in Sierra Vista.

Woot! Soy yogurt for Mom without a 60 mile drive!

Yippee!!! Kombucha for CC!


Filed under Abbey Country, Community, Farmers Markets, Sustainability

Two Towns, Two Books…Two Countries?

February 6, 2011

Downtown Portland, Oregon

This last week, traveling in one day from Sierra Vista, Arizona to Portland, Oregon was a bit like stepping from Edward Abbey’s Good News into Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia.  On each count  this is an exaggeration–many more grays exist than either novelist anticipated.  But there are a few eerie similarities between the two towns and the two novels that I love.

Abbey writes in Good News that the U.S. government has collapsed, martial law imposed, and the military junta headquartered  in southern Arizona. Sierra Vista is home to Fort Huachuca, an army post rich in history, most notably the history of the Buffalo Soldier. Today, it is the leading government intelligence center west of the Mississippi.

Sierra Vista is also the historic site of the first MacDonald’s drive thru in the world. The drive thru was created because at that time the soldiers were not allowed to enter any business establishment off post. Soldiers are often seen in restaurants today, and I watched some enjoying local, sustainable food at the Thursday Farmer’s Market on Wilcox Blvd.  But back in the day, this was all they had off post:

The original MacDonald's drive thru. This building was torn down in 1999 to make way for a modern home of the Big Mac.

In downtown Portland, even the fast food is slow. My son and I enjoyed pastured beef burgers and Yukon Gold fries here:

Violettas in downtown Portland offers "slow fast food".

diagram of a Violetta burger

Like so many cafes and burger joints downtown, alcohol flows freely.  It is also common to wander through subtle clouds of cannabis smoke on the streets. Like the Ecotopians in Callenbach’s novel, downtown Portlanders seem to have successfully divorced themselves from the puritanical conditioning of their ancestors. As in Ecopotia, women also seem more comfortable with themselves, only a small fraction wearing make-up or hair spray. Boots yes, heels no.

In Sierra Vista, I had to go to the farmer’s market to get food that was local or sustainably grown.  I only know two people who live in that town who are willing to pay more in order to buy this kind of food.   In downtown Portland, despite the busy Whole Paycheck, most cafes are local or regional and offer organic or beyond organic selections. The words local and sustainable are commonplace on everything from menus to the Tri-Met street cars. Here’s the window of the cafe where I had breakfast one morning.

The Morning Star Cafe, where the eggs are from chickens that were never in cages.

In Abbey’s Good News, there is no gasoline to fuel cars, just a little left for the occasional motorcycle and reserved for the soldiers imposing martial law.  Horses are the primary mode of transportation for the common citizen. In Sierra Vista the private automobile or the taxi are the only options. There are a few bicycle lanes, but it’s rare to see someone commuting that way. Unlike Ecotopia, there are cars in downtown Portland, but the city is hostile to them, almost preferring the bicycle. Tri-Met is free in the downtown area, and there are even special bicycle hangers on the streetcars.

In Good News, just about every citizen who can find one carries a side arm. And just weeks after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona’s governor said there was no need to strengthen the state’s gun laws to allow for background checks. For many, global warning is either a joke or a lefty conspiracy theory. But reality is much more textured than even the best novel. There are shades of Ecotopia in Abbey Country, and plenty of pernicious corporate shysterhood happening in what is the epicenter of Callenbach’s fantasy. For example, Fort Huachuca has begun a water conservation program in its schools and is investigating wind turbines as an alternative to fossil fuel.  Meanwhile, outside of Portland, the great Columbia is being choked with toxins from the vessels that have been abandoned there. It’s widely accepted that nuclear waste has contaminated the river.

Still, there are enough parallels to make me flash on the idea that I’d gone from one country into another, and to remember that in the past month I’ve seen both left-wing and right-wing pundits call for some sort of west coast secession from the U.S.  Is our nation simply too big, or are we its people hopelessly  intolerant of one another?  Will it be possible for those living in such different reaiities to agree on one way of moving forward?

It is the blacks and the whites of life that intrigue us, polarize us, at times frighten us. It is reflecting on them that allows us to glimpse the grays that lie between, and it is those  grays that can give us hope, that can bring us together.  Since I come from northern California, Portland’s Ecotopian nature feels more like home to me. Yet despite the eerie Good Newsishness of Arizona, I cherish the big sky of Abbey Country and  the mountains sculpted by a different architect. It feels like a different country, but it’s still  a country I love.

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Filed under Abbey Country, Essays, Farmers Markets, Sustainability

One Farmer’s Market in One Little Town

Sierra Vista, Arizona

January 27, 2011

My first morning in town, I visited the farmer’s market.  My main reason for going was that I wanted to find some decent food to eat. I also wanted to show you all what a mid-winter farmer’s market in the high desert looks like.  When my parents first moved here over twenty years ago there was no local food movement here. Look at it now.

In the two hours I visited the Sierra Vista Farmer’s Market, the line at Grammy’s was a constant. The potatoes, broccoli, and peppers were sold out before I left. I purchased those as well as green beans, spinach, and blood oranges.

Bell peppers from Grammy’s, a produce and pasta booth operated by George and Sue Wykoff and family from Cochise, Arizona.

from Grammy’s in Cochise, Arizona

Don Smythe named his egg operation Coyote Corner Eggs because his place in McNeal, Arizona, backs up to 3,500 acres of open land, which is coyote habitat. His chickens lay about 60 eggs a day. Don has been bringing his eggs to the Sierra Vista Farmer’s Market for three years now. I bought a dozen jumbo eggs for $3.50.


Arizona honey; mesquite blossom, desert wildflower, and various catci.

Allegria Hayes and Lyle Ford started Awaken Organics last fall in the neighboring town Sonoita. Once they get their commercial kitchen certification, they will add raw chocolate, nuts and nougats to their product list.

Gabe Sochor says he only needs about four hours sleep a night. The rest of the time he is baking—often inventing new bread recipes—or selling or donating his bread. The Bisbee resident works three farmers markets a week, and he supplies to regional restaurants. His labor is fueled by his passion for charity. Since the beginning of the year, he’s donated over a hundred loaves of bread to the St. Vincent de Paul food bank. Since Gabe is comfortable “on his retirement checks” he also gives all his profits to one of two charities, the Order of St. Francis or St. Vincent de Paul. I watched as he gave a cinnamon-raisin pull apart to a woman for her two little children, who were hungry. Somebody should make a movie about this guy. I bought a gluten free loaf of hominy and rice bread for $6.

A young mom buys her family some pastured meat from SanYsidro Farm. I learned that Nathan and Jackie Watkins provide tours of the farm, and I’m putting that on my list. San Ysidro Farm seems to be a Polyface South. Watkins even looks a little like Salatin, both in appearance and countenance. Their ruminants are fed on grass, not grain, and their pigs have plenty of room to run and rut. San Ysidro Farm doesn’t use hormones or antibiotics. They also sell free range chicken and eggs. I came home with a pound of bacon, two skinless, boneless chicken breasts, and some pork chops that Mom cooked up in creole casserole and onion and bell pepper from Grammy’s.

Sierra Vista Farmer’s Market patrons socialize as they eat their lunch. Steamed tamales or burgers are available for purchase. Fort Huachuca is less than a mile away, and the market attracts quite a few soldiers. I had a pork tamale with chile verde sauce on the side. I brought two more tamales home to eat with Mom.

There were over twenty booths at the Sierra Vista Farmer’s Market; I’ve only profiled a fraction.  There was also a soap booth, a salsa booth, two citrus booths, and even a knife sharpener. Some vendors preferred to stay out of the limelight and ducked my camera.  The word “organic” was not omnipresent as it is at Cali farmer’s markets, and the vendors were often too busy for me to ask them. To tell you the truth, I didn’t care much, because the food was beautiful and just looking at it made me glad I was going to eat it.  The only “organic” things I’ve bought this week in Sierra Vista are some butter and half and half, highly processed and available at Fry’s Supermarket.  Ironically, I did not find the these in the small, refrigerated health food section, which was instead full of Silk and other soy products.  Although raw milk is legal in Arizona, Nathan and others have told me that I won’t find it for sale in Southern Arizona–not even at the co-op in Bisbee.  When I return in April the Sierra Vista Food Co-op will just be having its grand opening.  Maybe I’ll do better with real dairy products after that.



Filed under Abbey Country, Farmers Markets, Farming