To Love a Garden: Sara McCamant Interview by Willi Paul, Community Relations Consultant
To Love a Garden: Sara McCamant Interview by Willi Paul, Community Relations Consultant

Growing up in a yard full of wild and wooly plants got the dirt into Sara's blood and love of plants into her heart. After finishing college studying political theory she decided to get grounded in more real things by working on a farm in Santa Cruz. Four years of harvesting lettuce and weeding long rows got her thinking about the beauty of the garden. She moved to Mendocino County and spent the next 7 years running an educational garden at Shenoa Retreat Center. From there she moved to Emerald Earth, an intentional community in the hills above Boonville. There she mixed permaculture and intensive food production to grow food for the community.

She has worked closely with many chefs and specializes in gardens that are connected to a kitchen. For three years she ran the gardens at the Boonville Hotel and currently she works at Lynmar Estate, a winery in Sebastopol. She hosted a farming and gardening radio show on Mendocino Public Radio for over 8 years. Most of her gardening has been in public, educational food gardens.

Strongly committed to the Local Food Movement, she has actively worked with many organizations promoting good food and farming. She helped start the West County Community Seed Bank here in Sonoma county and is involved with Transition Sebastopol and iGROW Sonoma.

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Can you mediate while working the garden?

I assume you mean meditate. I love this Rumi Quote: "Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." so yes my gardening is a meditation and is one of hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground, which I take to mean to worship. Now what is meditation is another question, I can find a meditative state when I work in the garden that keeps me completely in the present and also keeps me in relationship with and with deep awareness of all that is around me. I am not always in that state though, usually I am busy thinking about all the details of what I need to do and then something will give me a little reminder to notice and be present.

What's your favorite vegetable? Why?

Well that changes by the season, right at this moment my favorite plant is a crimson flowering fava bean, it is absolutely beautiful, it will be food, it feeds the soil by fixing nitrogen, and it is rare and on the Renewing America's Food Tradition's list (RAFT). The thing I love to grow and eat the most is probably winter squash. It sustains me through the winter. But then again kale (Red Russian) feeds me year round, is chock full of nutrients, is beautiful, and takes so little work and puts out so much food.

What are most important common values throughout the organizations that you work with?

I work with several organizations: West County Community Seed Bank, Transition Sebastopol, and iGROW- all of these promote sustainablity through community, health and local food. They all have different focuses but the common theme is gardens, food and local resilience.

How do you define localization?

Localization is the process of creating a community that can sustain itself mostly from local resources. It is a process not a final state. It includes inventory and evaluation of where we are now, and the support and creation of systems and enterprises that bring things closer to home. There are many areas to look at food, energy, health, culture, education, and transportation are some.

What stands out when you think about vision?

I love Daily Acts- and the vision that what we do every day and sometimes the little steps can make the change we need. We cannot be part time activists to create a better world, we have to live it and breath it and it has to be part of our every moment. I feel like Daily Acts vision is based in that. I also like that it is about creation not just resistance.

How do you balance time online with time offline? How often do you write your blog with Wendy?

I am a mostly an off line person, I work as a gardener so I leave in the morning and am unplugged all day. I usually don't even work with my cell phone. Most of the organizing of the 350 Garden Challenge is on line and with email communications so these last few months have found me more online than I ever have been. I really don't think being on the computer for more than an hour or two is healthy. I feel much better after a day with my hands in the dirt than when I am at a keyboard all day. I write a blog for iGROW about once a month, Wendy and I switch off every two weeks.

How many different types of gardens do you expect to see created for the 350 Garden Challenge? Does a "window sill crop" count?!

I think there might be as many different gardens as there are people- everyone adds their own personal touch to their garden. But we are talking about a wide range from wine barrel or container plantings, raised bed annual vegetables, sheet mulching a whole lawn and installing perennial fruits and vegetables, drought tolerant plantings, gray water gardens, and urban farms. This is an event with soft edges about what is included we want everyone to feel empowered and excited about what they want to bring to the table whether it is a pot of herbs on their apartment balcony or someone taking out 600 sq feet of lawn for a permaculture food forest. The main guidelines are food and /or water wise.

What do think Transition Sebastopol's 'building community resilience" means? Can you give us an example?

I really was drawn to the word resilience in the Transition work. It means that a community can survive and thrive through major change, that the changes that might come like economic melt downs and maybe peak oil will not destroy the community's ability to exist and be healthy. An example would be creating a local food system so that if there were an earthquake, and the supermarkets collapsed, there would still be ways to get food to our communities. I think of it as the ability to bend and adjust and not snap and break with whatever comes our way. I actually am not attracted to this work from a survivalist place and don't put that much energy into peak oil theories because I think community resilience is important no matter what happens, moving toward a sustainable community is good no matter what the future holds.

Are there good and bad seeds at the West County Community Seed Bank events? How can you tell if a seed has been genetically altered?

What we ask for is only open pollinated seeds that means no hybrids and no genetically engineered. It is becoming more difficult to grow corn that does not have some GE crossings but if you start with clean seed not much GE corn is grown here in Sonoma you probably can keep it clean.

We have a protocol for seed offered at the seed bank- it needs to come from healthy open pollinated plants, it needs to come from a large enough population that you keep a good genetic mix, we want as much information about where and when it was grown, and you needed to grow it in isolation so it did not cross (if it crosses). Of course if you know nothing about seed saving than all of these things need some explanation. Which is why we have seed saving classes to teach people about how to grow good seed.

The Seed Bank is a barter deal right? How do you see bartering working in other ways for your community in the future?

It actually isn't a barter deal, it is free. We offer everything for free, the seeds, the classes, sometimes we offer things like the materials to make seed cleaning screens at cost. We see it as modeling a different economic system based on abundance and sharing. If you have ever saved seeds you know that you end up with more than you would ever need for your own garden, it only makes sense to share them with your neighbors and friends and hope they will save something different and share them with you.

We offer the seed, and the information and hope you will go home and save some seeds of that or something different and bring it back to the seed bank.

I think bartering or alternative exchange systems are part of a healthy, resilient local economy. There have been some kinks in some the systems that have been created but I think there have been many lessons learned and a few successful models- I think we should give it a try again whether it is a local dollar system or bartering. And move away from the US dollar cash economy.

Connections -

Sara McCamant

Saramc at emeraldearth dot org

Photo Credit: Target="blank">crimson flowering fava bean