The Yield

Woman-identified farming conference cooks up a world of good

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"Food transcends any demographic," says Caitlin Hachmyer

In Sebastopol last weekend, a large gathering of women farmers from around the Bay Area gathered to talk food and farming under the heading “Foundations and the Future.” During a daylong event featuring ritual, stories, art—and a fabulous lunch of farm-fresh foods—the point was made: if there’s any hope for humanity, it lies in the embrace of healthful food.

For the past 20 or so years, young people in Sonoma and Marin have been drawn to farming, despite the financial risks and formidable hurdles—especially the access to land. Many of the new farmers in the region are women, and some of them showed up for the event. “Farming is something we can do to contribute,” said Megan Mendenhall, marketing director of the #NoRegrets Initiative in Pacines, near Santa Cruz. “And it’s a way to shape the future.”

The conference, held at the Permaculture Skills Center, is the brainchild of Sebastopol native Caitlin Hachmyer, 34, who has run her Red H Farm for almost a decade. (See our profile on Hachmyer in the Sept. 6, 2017, “Spotlight on Sebastopol” issue.)

“Women worldwide grow over half the food, yet in lots of academic and professional settings the spokesmen are the men,” Hachmyer says. “In this political moment, it’s really clear that people whose voices have been silenced are not going to remain silent. Food transcends any demographic.”

And the food served at the conference was exceptional, if not transcendent. Seven local farms provided the ingredients for a build-your-own taco lunch catered by A Good Life and served outdoors. Attendees enjoyed warm corn tortillas, brown rice pilaf, black beans, seasoned chicken, two salads and a variety of cheeses; the fixings were purchased from Bi-Rite Farm in Sonoma, Beet Generation in Sebastopol, Tierra Vegetables in Santa Rosa, and elsewhere.

Lunch was served, a conch was blown, and a panel of women farmers each told a story of how the magic of making things grow had become part of their lives. Judith Ysrael changed to a plant-based diet with her husband and nine children, she reported, but they were daunted by the prices at their local health food store. They started to grow food in their backyard in Southwood Park in Sacramento. Now they run an organization, Project GOOD, that teaches youth to “cultivate the land, themselves and their community.”

Panelist and Bay Area native Kelly Carlisle came out of the corporate world and reported to the 140 attendees (which included a smattering of men) how thrilled she was when a lemon tree she bought at a nursery produced two lemons. It was a Harry Potter moment, she said, which led her to grow pounds of vegetables in her backyard.

But at first she was afraid to eat the vegetables she’d grown, Carlisle said to laughs—because they didn’t have a label.

Now she’s a Master Gardener and runs an urban-farm project for youth in Alameda.

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