During the U.S. civil war, southern women massed and conducted armed raids on military warehouses and supply depots because there was no food in the civilian economy. The women weren’t the farmers their men had been, and production failed to meet the need. In her book, Confederate Reckoning, Stephanie McCurry recounts the consequences:
In the spring of 1863, in a wave of food riots, soldiers' wives impressed the possibilities of their politics on a shocked nation . . . The riots were spectacular, and numerous. Mobs of women, numbering from a dozen to three hundred and more, armed with revolvers, pistols, repeaters, bowie knives, and hatchets, carried out at least twelve violent attacks . . . on stores, government warehouses, army convoys, railroad depots, saltworks, and granaries. The attacks occurred in broad daylight . . . in the space of one month, between the middle of March and the middle of April 1863.
In The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island, Kathleen Alcalá raises the spectre of mass deprivation, not in a horror story but in an engagingly written primer on sustainability, self-reliance, and farm to fork practicality.
Readers won’t be fooled by her focus on her home on Bainbridge Island in Washington State. Every city is an island, and not metaphorically. The geography of Bainbridge Island, however, makes the drama of being cut off highly graphic. As history developed, Alcalá’s island underwent savage alterations.
The ugly history of U.S. racism plays an important role on her island. From the nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth, indigenous rights were abolished and Indians were moved off their land and outsiders bought in. Thereafter, Pinay and Pinoy workers, and Japanese farmers, developed the nutrient-poor island soil to raise cash crops as well as local provender. When WWII came, the U.S. government sent Japanese farmers to concentration camps. The island’s farming resource—the knowledge and labor--became severely strained.
Alcalá recounts inspiring stories of friends and decent people working the land, protecting family farms, but also the heartache of families losing their holdings for taxes and other unpaid bills that built up during the owners’ incarceration.
She tells also the story of the imprisoned farmers using their knowledge to raise food for the camps, developing to a point that surpluses could be sold into the local economy to provide the prisoners with goods they couldn’t grow or make for themselves.
When the Japanese returned from the camps, the kids had lost their taste for the land and many switched to mercantile careers. Housing was booming and families sold off the farms to housing developers.
The island’s history offers a cautionary tale. With the technology boom that swept Seattle, rich people moved to the island, not only building deluxe homes but buying up the land. Some, with a liberal sensibility, began recovering some of the agricultural richness that once characterized the place. But in the process of booming the region’s economy, parts of the sound became so polluted that the EPA declared them superfund sites, with the likelihood the fish and water will never again be safe to eat.
The author weaves the stories of these tragedies with affirmations for a culture that has taken root in the space. Indigenous gente, long-term settlers, recent arrivals come together with mutual understanding of direction and technology to restore, recover, renew a semblance of a sustainable, self-aware culture. The point is not lost on places outside of Bainbridge.
Readers across the country--in Los Angeles, or Plano, or Yuppers--will have to rely upon local resources should all Hell break loose. The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island can be a model for disparate communities not because we all live on islands but because we all need to eat, because we’re all reliant upon systems largely out of our control, but in the control of the gangs of four:
Four companies control most of the beef industry. Four companies control most of the chicken industry. Four other companies control most of the pork industry. Four companies control over half of the world’s seed distribution worldwide. Monsanto controls almost all the GMO crops, and that means 85% of United States corn acreage and 91% of the nation’s soybeans. Big agriculture’s dominant lobby mechanisms in Washington DC pose poor prospect for change. The small farmer doesn’t have lobbyists. Farm workers don’t have lobbyists.
What if everything goes to Hell? Will you take up arms like those southern women? Will Second Amendment knuckleheads be there to stop you?
Kathleen Alcalá’s story emphasizes the importance of maintaining your own backyard gardens, of supporting seed banks that provide good local seed that isn’t patented by some profit-gouging entity. Right now is the time for identifying urban farms to get your fresh eggs, meat, and fruit. The farmer’s market won’t answer everyone’s needs, but in times of crisis, your first concern will be meeting your own needs.
Alcalá wraps up her narrative with a dystopic vision. What if you live on an island and the bridge to the mainland collapses and the only ferry boat sinks? Power goes out, the people best suitable to farming are stuck in Seattle, do you have the farming and foraging knowledge to sustain community? She writes:
You will scour the beaches for clams, and start eyeing that squirrel in the yard in a new light. The neighbor’s dogs will cease to be a problem because the neighbors will have eaten them.
You will try to defend your hundred-foot Douglas firs, but eventually the neighbors will prevail, and the trees will be cut down for heating and cooking. . . . you and your neighbors will form a co-op … in order to distribute food and other necessities.
Readers will find The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island not a call to arms but a subtle alarm for communities to find ways to eat local, to begin educating schoolchildren to understand plants and learn to raise food, to preserve local habitats that sustain everyone and all carbon-based life. An extra bonus comes at the end of the book, in the extensive notes for each chapter, with links and references alluded or noted in the narrative.
Without pounding you on the head to make its point, The Deepest Roots should inspire readers to expend elbow grease in working la tierra and seeking community with like-minded gente for healthier living. And if the zombie apocalypse arrives, you'll be prepared.
Ask your local independent bookseller to order copies of The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island for you and loved ones, or order directly from the publisher here.
Holiday Joys & Sharing
Sergio Flores at Ma Art Studio
Renowned painter Yolanda Gonzalez hosts holiday sales in her studio on an industrial side street in Alhambra, California, half a mile south of COSTCO. In a two-stop move, buy Flores' silver and mineral sculpture, a Yolanda Gonzalez painting or ceramic, or something from one of the handful of artists displaying their locally crafted wares, then buy your groceries and sundries at Costco.
Sunday December 11th
12 Noon To 5pm
Ma Art Studio
800 S Palm Ave #1 #2
Alhambra, Ca 91803
Tía Chucha Winterlandia
Click here for link
If you cannot get to Sylmar for Tía Chucha's invigorating and inspiring event, click here to donate to Tía Chucha's end-of-year campaign.
Books and Arte in Frogtown
Holiday Neighborhood Market on Saturday, Dec. 17th in Los Angeles' Elysian Valley, or Frogtown as local gente have always called it. This includes Ron Arias, whose collection The Wetback and Other Stories features this riverside enclave. Arias will be at the sale with The Wetback.
35% Discount from Arte Público Press
Click here to visit Arte Público Press
Give to Gemini Ink to Support Literacy and Writing in San Antonio