I’ve got a glass bowl in my cupboard with a handful of obsidian arrow points I’ve found over the years on the different farms I’ve worked on. No surprise there; the native Californians who made the Central Coast their home before the Spanish invasion chose to make their villages on sunny, well-drained and well-watered flats of ground that late arriving farmers valued too. The farm I worked on in Bolinas in Marin County was a vast midden with charcoal-black soil from the centuries of cook fire. We’d plow the field and the soil would sparkle from all the chips of abalone shells that had been smashed open by the Miwok to make dinner. When we were on our hands and knees harvesting lettuce we’d see splinters of baked deer bones left behind from the people breaking them open to suck out the marrow. One day I cut a lettuce and my knife stuck into the soil. When I went to clean the mud off the tip, I found a small, perfectly formed arrow head for shooting birds stuck to my blade.
Here on my home farm in Watsonville I’ve got a number of stone pestles we’ve uncovered in our farming activities. The pestles are invariably chipped and broken by the rototillers but I keep them anyway. Sometime the people who work for me smile at my antics. “Why keep an old, broken mano,” they ask, “when you can buy a new molcajete y mano at La Princesa Market?” On the one hand, they’re right; these Ohlone acorn pestles are just old stones. But this area’s past means something to me, maybe especially because my family hasn’t been here (or anywhere) for long.
We came here at the end of the 19th Century; my Grandma’s family from Denmark and my Great Grandfather’s family from Farmersville down in the San Joaquin Valley— one hundred years and change. That makes me an “old-timer” in a certain sense maybe, compared to the people who’ve just moved here, but I don’t feel like we’re well rooted. I’d like us to be. I’ve tried to get my two children to the tops of all the mountains in the area like Fremont ’s Peak, Jack’s Peak, and Mount Carmel so that they can see the whole area from above and recognize all the landmarks. I quiz my kids when we’re driving. “What river did we just cross?” I’ll ask. “What valley are we in?” Graydon and Lena get bored with my game, but I don’t care. They’ll probably have to move away someday to find work, and I want them to have a feel for what they’re moving away from.
I was thinking about what it means to be rooted to a place- and to be uprooted- the other day after Jose showed me some photos from his family’s farm in Oaxaca . Jose has worked with me since 1995, first on Riverside Farms where I was one of four partners, then at Happy Boy Farms where I was half of the partnership, and finally here at Mariquita Farm, so he and I go way back. I hear Jose talking with his brother about going home to Oaxaca to visit their parents, but they haven’t been back in twelve years. I’ll miss them when they go. I depend on them a lot. I hear people talk about farm labor as though it’s “unskilled,” but it’s not. Jose’s family farms cacao, just like they have “since God,” but just because I don’t grow chocolate doesn’t mean Jose didn’t come to without an invaluable skill set. There are plenty of simple tasks on a farm, for sure, but there are also many jobs that require an eye, an understanding, an attitude, and a touch that can only come from long experience.
The photos from the family farm that Jose shared with me were jarring. His father wrote to say he’d been walking around on their land after a heavy rainstorm and he found a vent in a low hill that was gushing out muddy water. Mixed in with the mud were lots of ceramic pot shards. He suspected there might be a cave in the hill, so when the water went down he dug around. One of Jose’s brothers took pictures of what their father found and sent them via email. Jose was excited. I get excited finding an arrowhead that someone else’s ancestors chipped from obsidian, so just imagine how it must feel to find statuary carved by your own ancestors. It makes me think that when it comes to being grounded in our region, after a couple of hundred years in California, we farmers are only scratching the surface. How do you think that we modern Californians will choose to farm or live if we put down deep roots? What would California be like once we were here long enough to move past our contemporary struggle with tolerating our diversity and developed a deep running, collective identification with this land that sustains us?
copyright 2009 Andy Griffin
Photo Credits: the two of statues from Oaxaca were taken by Jose’s father at their cacao ranch in Oaxaca and emailed to us; the photo of the molcajete and tomatillos was taken by Andy Griffin.
Ladybug Truck Deliveries: I may do a few of these during the winter: carrots, apples, oranges/citrus, whatever we have for you in bulk, or what our fruit-growing friends might have! Sign up for occasional notices about these deliveries. (the sign ups are to the left on that page)
** What happened in October!? it’s true: we’ve been busy farming bees and just didn’t post anything in October. Sorry about that! We’ll try to get back on our every-other week schedule this winter. Thanks for your patience.