Browngirl Going Green

The Antidote to Browngirl’s Eco-Blues: Garden Bounty
July 7, 2010, 2:22 am
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The BP oil spill is still depressing, the City of Oakland is nearing hysteria over the upcoming verdict in the murder of Oscar Grant, and Obama still hasn’t lived up to our expectations. But some things in life are still beautiful: here are some photos of some veggies I’ve been growing in the backyard of my friend T. She grew the zukes, I grew the tomatoes (which are just starting to come in), beets and onions. Yummy and gorgeous!


First Broccoli Harvest
May 21, 2010, 10:41 pm
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I’m about to enjoy tasting the first batch of broccoli from the vegetable beds I’ve been tending in my friend T.’s backyard. They were a short-season variety that I bought at the Temescal Farmer’s Market a couple months ago, and they sprouted up quickly! Here’s a picture from a couple weeks ago of the broccoli bed:

And here’s a picture of the first few huge heads of broccoli that I harvested today from the garden. I think I probably should’ve harvested the largest ones a few days ago, but I didn’t have time to get out there until today. Lesson learned for next time.

As I was working in the garden today—as I’ve mentioned before, the beds are actually in my friend’s garden, and I visit there about once a week or so to weed, water, harvest, plant, etc.—I realized how luxurious it seemed to have the time to do this. When I was working a regular 9 to 5 job, there was no way that I would have had the time or energy to drive even 10 minutes to a friend’s house and work in the garden for an hour after work. It just wouldn’t happen. But now that I’m working more humane hours (about 4 days a week on average, thanks to my burgeoning fundraising consulting business), I usually have at least a couple hours a week to garden.

As I watered in the ‘urban quiet’ (the sound of birds chirping, wind rustling through trees, and cars rushing by a few blocks away on busy thoroughfare) I thought to myself how much I enjoy gardening. And how much my mother, and my cousin in LA, and my aunts and uncles who are all immigrants from the Philippines, love gardening. Regardless of class background or how long they’ve been in this country. Along with love of pork, fried foods, gambling and the Roman Catholic church, love of gardening is one thing immigrant Pinoys seem to share in common.

I remember though, that when I was growing up in the South Bay, and my mother and step-father both worked full-time in San Francisco, we didn’t have a garden. We had a yard yes—a pretty good size one too, that was mostly made up of lawn, some hedges and an olive tree or two that never seemed to make the kind of olives I saw in the store. But my mom, I’m guessing, didn’t have time to garden. And I bet that that was a bummer for her. Now that she’s semi-retired (she only works a couple days a week), she gardens a lot more, and grows lots of flowers as well as some vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes).

I knew I didn’t want to wait until I was semi-retired to grow a garden. Not just because that seemed like a long way away, but because I NEEDED to have a garden. It’s one of the few things that us city-dwellers can access on a regular basis to put us back in touch with nature’s cycles of birth (seeing the tender young leaves of a seedling), growth (watching the seedling turn into a plant and then a vegetable or fruit that you can eat), reproduction (bolting and flowering) and death (watching the leaves of my crops turn yellow or brown and wither away). Watching this cycle and being part of it by taking care of these plants, these living things, has been immensely healing to me. I crave the solitude and quiet productivity of my weekly garden-time. I have grown to need it the way I need time with friends or good food or even sleep.

So I’m thankful—even though it’s taken me a long time to realize it!—that I always had some form of nature around me, in the form of a garden, when I was a child. From helping my Mom and Aunt weed in the front yard to picking Meyer lemons from our small bush to watching my grandpa grow lush and overflowing cherry tomato plants against a fence in his backyard, next to the carport. I must’ve learned something about the soothing, healing power of nature from these suburban oases of green living things, and I’m grateful and glad.

Inspiring: Going Green (and Super-Cool) in Hong Kong
May 14, 2010, 5:20 am
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I get really tired—as I’m sure we all do—of only focusing on all the bad stuff that’s happening in the world, around the environment, politics, etc. So it’s rejuvenating to find inspiring stories like this one.

One of my theories about the future is that people who’ve had to make do with less—poor people of all colors, immigrants/migrants, Third World people—will have a much easier time adapting to the possibly imminent water and food shortages facing people in the ‘developed’ nations of the world. The example that Mr. Chang gives in the video of his household of five-plus people living in a tiny apartment in Hong Kong reminds me of when I went to the Philippines and was stunned (but tried to hide my surprise so I didn’t appear too ignorant or rude) that while my family let me sleep in the same bed with only one other person (my cousin Shirley, who’s about the same age as me), three of my younger cousins shared a space on the floor that was no more than 2 feet by 5 feet long. AND that sleeping ‘space’ they all shared was sandwiched between the bed I slept in and the bathroom. Yes, I said the bathroom.Needless to say, my very First World sensibilities were thoroughly offended.

Now I’m not saying that everyone should be forced to live in tiny studio apartments with ten other people, but we all have to learn how to live with less—and people that are used to having a lot less are at an advantage in that way. They can be more resourceful, more utilitarian, more practical about how to use what they have to meet their needs. And Mr. Chang, in the video, proves this beautifully.

Pig, Beautiful Pig
February 21, 2010, 3:26 am
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Okay, so we didn’t get the ‘whole’ pig, alive and in its natural form. And yes, it was all cut-up and frozen and plastic-vacuum-bag-sealed. But still, this pig was beautiful to me. Not just because I could envision the many meals that my husband, friends and I will enjoy from the pork, but also because I’m amazed at the sheer bounty that one animal can provide to—in this case—six households! And while of course none of us are living exclusively off pork for the next six months, this is definitely enough protein (not to mention fat) to keep us all satisfactorily fed for a good while.

Pigs occupy special place of honor in Filipino culture, as well as Chinese culture (my husband is Chinese) and in the cuisines and cultures of many people from around the world. One of the few non-negotiables that I required for our wedding reception last year was that we have a whole roasted suckling pig (Filipinos call it lechon, and it’s served with the head and skin and everything), which was the big hit on the menu. Really, Filipinos can’t get married without a lechon. It’s a symbol of abundance and our connection to nature as much as a food source at these special celebrations.

Some dishes I’m planning to make are pork adobo, carnitas (although I’m not sure if I have the right cut of pork—shoulder—but I do have about a 2.5 pound roast), chicharron from the strips of fat that we got, and maybe even some lard. I have no idea how to make the last three dishes, but half the fun of doing things in more sustainable, natural ways is learning new skills. And if I can perfect carnitas (by far my favorite Mexican dish), I’ll be able to satisfy my carnitas-cravings with humanely raised pork instead of going without or shutting off my conscience for a meal of taco-truck tacos.

Here are a few pictures from the delivery this morning. Thanks to all the other buyers who went in on this purchase with me for your patience and cooperation. Thanks to Brian, Rose and their kids at Godfrey Family Farms for raising the pig. Thanks to the pig for giving its life so that we could be nourished so heartily and happily. And last but not least, thanks to the Great Creator for this bounty. AMEN!

PORK MEAT. Lots and lots of pork meat.

These are the folks who went in on the pig purchase with me. Most of them are friends of mine from social justice work, and a couple are from the Bay Area Meat CSA. The farmer, Brian Godfrey, is the tall guy in the baseball cap and light blue shirt. That's me in the middle with the purple hoodie, holding a big bag of pork fat.

Onions and Arugula
February 18, 2010, 2:46 am
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I wasn’t planning to plant today, but when I got ti T.’s house to water my onion seedlings (it’s been unseasonably warm these past few days), I was so excited about getting started with my new garden project that I started digging in the dirt. I put in about 20 yellow onion seedlings today, as well as some arugula seeds in between. I’m trying out the biointensive or Biodynamic/French-intensive gardening method, which entails planting seeds/seedlings in a fairly concentrated way in order to save space and more effectively use resources like water and fertilizers, and to help plants naturally fend off pests by companion planting. For example, onions and garlic because of their smell can be very effective at repelling certain unwanted pests.

I don’t actually know if arugula and onions will grow well together, and had planned to grow beets with the onions instead, but I forgot the beet seeds at home and couldn’t wait to plant the arugula. But since I’m growing the arugula from seeds I can always transplant them to another bed later, and plant the beets with the onions like I planned originally.

Some other veggies I’m planning to start growing this season are radishes, a few of different kinds of lettuce and broccoli rabe. I LOVE broccoli rabe, so I hope it grows well for me. I’ve been referring to the bookGolden Gate Gardening, the seminal gardening text if you’re growing veggies in the Bay Area. While it’s not exclusively about organic gardening, it does have a lot of valuable information about how to garden more naturally and minimize using chemical pesticides. I don’t plan on using any chemicals in the garden, but may have to put in some fencing to keep the neighborhood cats away.

Are you gardening at home or in a community garden? What are you planning to grow this year? Would love to hear about your garden and share tips.

The Pig is Coming! And Other News

So we are FINALLY getting our pasture-raised, all-natural-feed pig delivered this Saturday from Godfrey Family Farms. The delay was on the butcher’s end, I guess, since the pig was slaughtered on my birthday (coincidence, but an interesting one) back at the end of December. I organized this purchase, pulling together five other buyers from Oakland and Berkeley via the Bay Area Meat CSA and my personal network of progressive foodie friends, mostly people of color. I’m very excited to cook and taste an animal that I purchased directly from the farmer, whom I will meet on Saturday and whom I’ve spoken to on the phone and communicated with via email. I wrote an earlier post that you can read for more background on our pig. This is all in an effort to eat more sustainably and humanely raised animals, and while I haven’t gone completely 100% sustainable in this regard, I’d say about 90% of the meat I consume now is at least hormone- and antibiotic-free, if not free-range/pasture-raised.

Of course, it’s impossible to know if stores’ labeling practices are completely forthcoming and honest, which is why I’m glad to be meeting the Godfreys on Saturday and taking home some of their pork. I’m hoping to have a little dinner party with a few friends at some point to hopefully turn more people on to buying meat in this way. I have to say, while it was definitely time-consuming and not very convenient, it’s so far been an interesting experiment in farm-to-table shopping, and is something I think more people will need to do more of if we want to have a truly sustainable, green, locavore-based food distribution system.

In other eco-news, through the networking magic of the Internet I’m happy to have connected with another woman of color writer, Dianne Glave, whose blog, entitled Rooted in the Earth is a precursor to her upcoming book, Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage. Obviously, there are lots of connections between what Dianne writes about (much more eloquently than I do, I must add) and what I strive to describe in this blog. I’m excited about Dianne’s book and hope that it signals a wave of environmental non-fiction by people of color in the US that is long overdue.

Lately, I’ve been reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which is fascinating and offers a lot of information to absorb about what the Earth would be like if human beings disappeared from its face completely. The predictions will no doubt surprise you, and make you realize how much energy we expend everyday to maintain our modern civilization. Mr. Weisman is such a skilled writer that you feel as if you’re seeing the landscapes that he writes about, both ancient and modern, before your very eyes.

There’s some really good environmental/scientific non-fiction out there these days that is both highly educational as well as entertaining—two that I read last year that were among my favorite books of the whole year: Farm City by Oakland-based writer and urban farmer Novella Carpenter, and Fruitless Fall by Rowan Jacobsen. I look forward to reading Ms. Glave’s book and adding it to my growing collection.

If you know any other books that you think I or other people who read this blog might like, please share them. I’d love to hear about what you’re reading.

Digging in the Dirt
February 8, 2010, 6:52 pm
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Am about to start gardening in earnest, in a very shareable way: my friend T. is letting me garden in the raised beds behind the house she rents, after I posted this article on my Facebook status recently and said something about how cool it would be to share a veggie garden, and did anyone in Oakland have space to share? I had recently given up gardening in my own backyard—which although spacious, doesn’t get much sunlight, especially in the winter months. In the summer, I can grow some herbs and lettuce there, but not much more. So T. responded via Facebook that yes indeed she had raised beds in her backyard that I was welcome to. We brunched oh-so-sustainably at Brown Sugar Kitchen and talked details, and the deal was sealed.

I bought some yellow onion seedlings the other day which I’m going to plant this week, and have several packets of seeds—broccolini, radishes, lettuce, even okra (although I’m not sure how it’s going to fare in this not-very-hot climate)—that I’m going to sow soon. I’m really excited about the possibilities, and just happy to have the chance to dig in the dirt. Gardening has always been a very meditative, relaxing thing for me, even when it involves harder labor like digging holes in tough clay soil. There’s a way that your body and mind become completely focused on the gardening tasks at hand that is beautifully natural and pleasurable. And plus, it’s always nice to have something healthy to eat at the end of all your efforts!

Will post pictures when things start growing. Wish me luck!