Monday, July 20, 2009

Introduction

Shall I start at the beginning? It seems the appropriate thing to do. Growing up, I ate a pretty Standard American Diet (SAD) until my family was involved in a bad car accident in 1976 that put Mom in bed for a couple years. Dad, who was raised on a ranch in New Mexico, taught me how to shop for food. He took me around the store, snapping bottoms off spinach and asparagus because he didn't want to pay for stems, telling me he wouldn't buy fruit with pits because he didn't want to pay for the pits, wouldn't buy food in boxes because he didn't want to pay for the boxes, didn't want to buy canned food unless I shook the can to make sure it wasn't full of water... by the time we were done shopping, I was terribly embarrassed, but I had a cart full of fresh and frozen vegetables, meat and cheese. It is odd to think that a car accident can improve the family's health, but it most certainly did. I learned to cook, and incidentally, so did Mom when she got better... in fact, her bread is consistantly better than any bread I've had in stores, and I wish she could supply some for Localvore, but she lives too far away.

I experimented with various diets as a teenager and college kid... I was always convinced I was fat and sick. I tried macrobiotics, which made me very skinny and seemed to solve stomach issues I'd had for years, but I remained exhausted. I tried the typical ovo-lacto cooked food vegetarian diet and the stomach aches with random bouts of unexplained vomiting came back. Plus, when I was pregnant, I really, really craved red meat. I would stand in front of the meat counter at the grocery, practically drooling. When I was pregnant with my third child I also worked a night job and sometimes ordered meat sandwiches for "lunch." One of these gave me food poisoning and I lost the child a few weeks later.

I'd miscarried before, but this one was especially awful. In addition to the emotional trauma, I hemorrhaged and months of hormones didn't stop it. I ended up with two blood transfusions and daily b-12 shots. My daughter, then 4 years old, helpfully told people I used needles. Since I had shaved my head in a moment of anguish, and since I had become very white, I am sure they thought the worst. Once I had regained my emotional and physical health, nearly a year later, I began to research food poisoning.

Turns out, it is incredibly common. And the government does little to help protect us from it. Recalls of bad beef are voluntary, not mandatory. The USDA inspects less than 1/2 of 1% of all slaughtered meats and leaves it up to the meat processor to inspect the rest. Needless to say, in an environment where animals are run through at warp speed and hamburger is processed 16,000 pounds at a time (all that is ground on a shift), employees seldom find and report issues.

My own illness may have been caused by bad meat, or by the sub shop not cleaning off the meat slicer. Meat slicers sit on a counter at room temperature all day. Have you ever seen anyone remove the blade and clean it, even in a high-end grocery store or deli, before the end of the day? I haven't. I'm pretty sure I lost a baby due to lazy or poorly-taught employees.

The more I read, the more determined I got that my family would never be at the mercy of food processors again. I bought a little farm and stocked it with chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, ducks, bees and a steer. I grew a garden. I read some more. It seemed at first a no-brainer that selling excess food would help me pay the feed and seed bill, but I found out that the government saddles the small farmer with more regulation than multi-national corporations. So I joined Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, a farm rights group, as soon as Joel Salatin became President. I thought with Joel at the helm, we'd see some action. I became Secretary of the group and served nearly four years before moving across country.

While with VICFA, I participated in several demonstrations, lobbied the Virginia General Assembly and Congress, wrote letters and emails to legislators, helped with the newsletter, went to court in support of farmers who had been wronged, tasted some of the best food anywhere and enjoyed comeraderie I have to admit I've missed since moving. During this time, I also joined the Weston A. Price Foundation and continued to learn more about traditional foodways.

Dad died, leaving Mom alone in Oregon, so I renovated my house as fast as I could, sold or gave away nearly all my livestock and belongings, put my house on the market and drove across country in April of 2007. My brother drove the pickup that had the great pyranees (Lacuna), a cage with three muscovy ducks and another cage with a cat in it. I drove the truck with three pygora goats in a pen fitted to the pickup bed. I also pulled a 4x8 trailer piled with people and animal food, tents and clothes. I swear we had to pull over two or three times in every single state to replace tarps and bungee cords.

We took Rte 40, the southernmost route, specifically to be in the warmest possible temperatures. At night we'd stop and camp near the animals. I was very nervous about animal health, and left two of my favorite angoras behind because I was afraid they wouldn't make the trip. But the pygoras settled in quickly and Aeroplane, my favorite, stood near the back of the pen and watched cars go by. She seemed thoroughly amused by the whole trip. We stopped three or more times a day for gas, potty and food breaks. We walked Lacuna, checked the tarps, watered the animals, stretched and got back in to drive some more. Police stopped us twice to check under our tarps for illegal aliens. At the Hoover Dam, one of the policemen leaned on the goat pen and lost a little hair to Aeroplane, who just had to taste it.

It took us every bit of seven days to get from Virginia to Oregon. It took 18 months to sell the Virginia house - at a loss. My nerves piled quite a bit of weight on me (used to be nerves made me lose weight, but not since I hit 40!), which I lost by eating a high raw diet (more on this in future posts).

The trip was actually very interesting, but I'm going to fast forward. VICFA set up a national non-profit farm rights group, NICFA, which serves as the umbrella over individual states rights groups. There was not one in Oregon. So I organized one. I was somewhat intimidated by the prospect, since I work waaay too many hours off farm as it is (night job and day job!), but there wasn't exactly a long list of volunteers. The Vice President is Sharlyn Homola, a horsewoman from Umpqua with a huge charming smile, who trolls the internet looking for NAIS news on a regular basis. Our membership is tiny and it is financially difficult for me to keep writing, publishing and mailing newsletters. We also have not had any of the fundraising dinners I had hoped for, or gone to the Oregon General Assembly yet. Enter Patrick Donaldson from Portland, a man who has contacts and energy and promises to help recruit members and help.

I worked in automotive for 14 years and was downsized. So I took my twenty nine cent savings and opened a farmers market/health food store. Ok, so I had some help financially from Donnie Murray, an old flame from Virginia who believed in me even when the banks would not. Essentially, Donnie bought refrigerators and freezers for me. I rounded up some new and used furniture, stained and painted it to match, and found a few farmers who wanted to sell on consignment. I bought some coffee, tea, cheese, bulk food, herbs and spices from Oregon companies that sell primarily organic food. And once the Oregon Department of Agriculture inspected the store, I opened the door on June 16th.

Prices are very good. I am the only employee and do not see the need to mark items up 50% like a lot of health food stores do. When I weigh quick profit versus repeat customers, repeat customers win every time.

That said, it has definitely been a challenge. I need a cash infusion from somewhere to purchase more food, pay the electric and phone bills, etc... and it is somewhat nerve wracking. Customers come in and tell me they hope I won't go out of business like the last health food store in Sutherlin did. I reply that I am too stubborn to fail.

And I am.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Susanna said...

OMG, your dad must have grown up in the Great Depression! My grandma is like that. But you are right, your grocery cart was full of good stuff when you left out all the hamburger helper and jello and tang and other garbage we grew up with.

July 22, 2009 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Susanna said...

I feel the need to help you not fail because you were really kind to stop what you were working on to talk to me about someone special in my life who had a weight issue. I learned a lot from you for him and for myself. I am sad to see I am your first follower. But you just started! I'll spread the word! Anyone anywhere near Sutherlin should definitely go to the store (it's next to Sutherlin Drugs) and check it out. They have fruit and veggies fresh from farmers every day of the week so you don't have to drag your butt out of bed to get to Saturday market. The coffee is very good, organic and cheap. They have good price on things like rice, nuts and spices, better than the stores near me (I live closer to Eugene, in Cottage Grove). But mostly, they are good people. Larisa has a good heart and her man is very funny.

July 22, 2009 at 5:11 PM  
Blogger Larisa from Localvore Fresh Oregon Foods, LLC said...

Wow! Thank you!

July 25, 2009 at 1:29 AM  

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