As the hot sun headed towards the ocean yesterday evening, Mike Taylor and his family welcomed me and two friends to his backyard farm. We were greeted at the door by his pretty, cheerful wife Andre and pretty, cheerful daughter Michaela and eventually escorted by Mike into the backyard. There, grapes hung from arbors, rotating crops of corn rose at different heights, and tomatoes vined everywhere: over cages, over children's toys, and over each other.
I wrote about Mike Taylor once before here, but had not yet had the chance to see the source of his incredible produce. But seeing where everything came from, and the incredible use he made of every corner of his garden, exceeded my already high expectations. The quality of food that he brings to the market has to come from somewhere good, that I know, but this, this "mini-farm" of his, is a miracle.
As we wandered through the edible maze, he picked goodies for my friends and me. He placed huge, splitting heirlooms and tiny golden tomatoes in our hands. He gave us zucchini and cucumbers, basil and mint, peppers and more tomatoes. Michaela skittered through the bushes, finding perfect boysenberries and bringing us each one, held in her hands like the most precious of treasures. She brought me a hot pink and purple fuschia, and gingerly placed it in my hands, telling me it was her favorite. I bent down next to her and tenderly caressed the petals, then hung it between my fingers. I told her I always thought that fuschias looked like ballerinas. She looked at me, smiled, and said, "Look at all her ruffles."
Soon, our arms were so overloaded with the Taylor family bounty, that Andre had to rescue us with a canvas grocery bag.
Michaela proudly introduced us to the chickens, cats, and iguana, listing their funny names and endearing attributes. Everyone took turns holding the rabbit. Finally, after exploring the vegetable vines, herbs, and fruit trees Mike grows, we all sat down in a cool, recessed patio that he built as a place to escape the heat. Strawberry plants hung in pots around the edges of the patio's roof, while boysenberry vines created a green wall on the south side. Michaela worked as the waitress for the evening and brought us each a cold beverage, and we began to talk. We talked about books we've read among us, Pollan, Kingsolver, and Salatin. We discussed family, spirituality, and the way spending time so close to our growing food can help us heal, both as individuals and communities. We talked about big questions--how can we help our nation become more responsible with its resources?--and small things we love--mojitos.
Today, as I remember last night, I have been mulling over the overused word sustainability. It is such a buzzword right now, all over the magazines and essays we read, on NPR, and dropping from hipsters' mouths over and over again. Sustainable is cool. I whole-heartedly appreciate the thoughtful way that Mike Taylor raises food, protecting his soil for generations to come. I admire the way he considers water usage, synergistic crop plantings, and seasonality. These are all important practices that I consider "sustainable farming," but when I think about last night, I realize that by buying from Mike Taylor, I'm not only helping to sustain the health of this planet, I'm also sustaining something more intimate: I'm sustaining his family.