This story begins where so many sustainability nonprofit stories have before it— in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods. Like any good Bren student, I’ve remembered to bring a reusable container from home. This time, however, I didn’t have much choice— I’m here to buy seven pounds of raw honey.
The honey will be used to make mead (a sparkling honey wine) at our upcoming Brews & Fermentation workshop, the first of six sustainable lifestyle classes I have organized as part of my summer internship with the Homegrown Program at Daily Acts, an environmental nonprofit based out of Petaluma, California. Other workshops will include Natural Soap Making, Natural Dye, and Canning & Preservation.
Daily Acts is centered around the idea of “ripples,” or neighbors inspiring neighbors, creating a chain reaction of positive environmental change within the community. A small but dedicated team of employees works locally, with the help of donations, grants, and city contracts, to set this action in motion. On the ground, this means helping people grow their own food, installing water-wise landscaping, irrigation, and drainage, and conducting educational outreach around waste and energy use. The events I’ve planned are intended to get people engaged by teaching fun, new ways to use and share food from the garden. Perhaps equally important, are the houses and yards where these events are hosted. They serve as first-rate examples of sustainable living and give participants direct exposure to environmental “next steps,” like laundry-to-landscape greywater systems or zero-waste lifestyles, which have the potential to feel unattainable and a little nebulous.
My goal with the Brews & Fermentation workshop was to demystify the process of fermentation— to get people thinking about ways to grow and make some of the products they would otherwise buy at the store, thereby reducing food waste and transportation while supporting healthy eating habits, local industry, and organic production. The morning of the workshop, we packed 25 participants into a kitchen, where the honey was divided into two batches— for a strawberry and a mulberry mead. After many more questions than I had anticipated, all fielded by our wonderful series instructors, I could see people begin to settle into the idea that fermentation (be it making your own mead, kombucha, or sauerkraut) is not as intimidating as it seems, but rather a simple addition to one’s regular routine.
Some days, my more pessimistic side reminds me that this July was the hottest month on record. And what was I doing about it? Making a beverage primarily remembered for its role in Norse mythology, thank you very much. Yet while it’s true that making a batch of mead or two isn’t going to solve climate change, I’ve found that it does get people excited about making and growing their own food. By the end of the summer, the same people attending my workshops were requesting rainwater tanks and greywater systems, even offering up their own homes for future events. When it comes to self-subsistence, everybody has to start somewhere, and for a lot of people, it’s right here, with the Homegrown Program.
As summer wraps up, I am anxious to return to my garden in Santa Barbara and create some of my own homegrown projects. I look forward to putting my new horticultural knowledge to the test and bringing the homesteading skills I’ve learned back to a community of like-minded graduate students. With any luck, I’ll be able to spread a few ripples of my own.
Lindsay Martien is a 2017 MESM student specializing in Conservation Planning with a focus in Strategic Environmental Communication and Media. She spent the summer interning with nonprofit Daily Acts in Petaluma, CA.