In 2008, The California Endowment came to Crescent City with its Building Healthy Communities Initiative. One of the primary reasons we were chosen was a severe lack of food security and sovereignty, coupled with some of the worst health statistics in the state. We were a sick community, and our lack of a healthy food system seemed to only be making things worse. With the introduction of The California Endowment's generous grants and support, members of our community were given unprecedented resources to organize and enact some amazing work around food, and I'm continuously grateful to TCE for making it possible.
And with all the work that is possible because of TCE's interest in our community, there have been ancillary benefits to our community that go beyond all the great work that we see and do every day and are not as immediately apparent. When the work of BHC was initiated, it was necessary to identify and engage a number of young people to help enact all the work that had been planned and would continuously be carried out over the next ten years. All of a sudden there was a surprising number of young adults in our community doing positive work, both from within the community and from outside. Some were Americorps VISTAs from all over the country, some were homegrown Del Norters who were empowered to take an active role in the improvement of their community, maybe for the first time ever. TCE helped bring people together, and helped steer our collective consciousness and conversation toward healthy food, creativity, and community action.
Before this influx, it may have been difficult for a group of friends to enact an idea about a club focused around fermentation. And a club focused around fermentation that doesn't emphasize drinking alcohol, but instead seeks to emphasize the health benefits of fermentation, culturally, physically, and spiritually?? Let's just say that club may never have gotten legs. However, as it is, that's exactly what happened. Only two months ago, I was eating some fresh-caught local crab with two good friends, Tasha Sparks and Aaron Valley, when the conversation quickly turned toward the homemade mead we were drinking. We were intrigued by a story about where the term "honeymoon" came from and how fermented beverages have played a role in cultural histories. In our own histories, we all had some connection to fermentation. I have been brewing beer since high school in small batches; Tasha worked in an educational kitchen in Berkeley where she learned how to make fermented foods; Aaron started brewing years earlier and became and avid and productive home-brewer in college. We all had experience and appreciated the way fermented foods and beverages bring people together, and fermentation is an almost endless source of new knowledge when it comes to learning about the process. Why not take advantage of this demographic shift toward impassioned 20-somethings and get people together to expand our collective knowledge and production of fermented goods? Next thing we knew, we had the idea to create a club.
After the initial inception of the idea for a club, we spread the word to our friends and people we thought might be interested. It started with a Facebook group which quickly swelled to about 15 members who joined just on the strength of the idea, and possible interest in belonging to a group that would be making its own beer. But from the get-go, alcohol was not the focus of the group, and in talking to more and more people about the idea, conversations became more about the potential for a group like this to experiment and create foods together, foods that might not be readily available in a place like Del Norte. I can't speak for the other founding members, but at those early stages I wondered how far this idea would really go, and whether it would really keep people's interest consistently enough to produce some great food and drink.
I have yet to be anything but impressed by the pure enthusiasm and support the club has gotten. We had our first meeting in mid-January, fairly well-attended by about 15 people, and everyone embraced the idea and was eager to propose ideas for projects and sign up to carry those projects out. At that first meeting, we created a sort of loose structure around how the club would be organized and continue: We would have monthly meetings on the full moon where we would get together in the evening to talk about fermentation, share things we've learned, suggest ideas for projects, talk about methods for fermentation we've used in the past; these would be our "theory" meetings. And at our theory meetings would be the time to propose new projects, and between full moon meetings, the club would break up into smaller groups to carry out those projects and create food and drink; those would be the "practice." Each project would have a project leader who would be responsible for organizing interested club members, finding a location, procuring ingredients, and making sure the project was recorded and reported on the group's website. Whatever was created would be brought to the next full moon meeting to be shared and consumed with the group, if it was ready.
The club hit the ground running with projects. Since that first meeting, we have made 2 homebrewed beers, beet kvass, sourdough, kimchi, ginger champagne, apple cider vinegar, root beer, kefir, and sauerkraut. What's more impressive than the number of goods we've created is the support we've generated. It seems like 80% of my non-work conversations are about Ferment Del Norte (and maybe 5% of the time it comes up at work). It has generated a fantastic article in The Triplicate, 40 members on the Facebook group, and over 1,000 views on our website (fermentdelnorte.com). And it has also generated interest among the people in our community who specifically work in food production and policy. The club counts among its members four local organic farmers and two members of our Community Food Council. As I mentioned, TCE helped make healthy foods a topic in our county-wide conversation amongst all demographics, and Ferment Del Norte is providing a venue for the conversation to continue in a social setting; both are helping instigate positive, creative action.