By Jessy Gill, CFJC Intern
Sitting on the green at the Eat Real festival with a cover of Gillian Welch playing on stage, a view of the bay carrying the outgoing sailboats, and delicious organic food being passed out in my midst, I felt a touch of home. I came to the west coast two days after graduating from St. Lawrence University and found myself in Santa Maria, CA. When I told a friend from Santa Barbara where I was headed, her face scrunched up in disgust and asked, “Why?” She immediately retracted her face and rephrased the question, but her initial reaction had already made its impact. Santa Maria has a population of 86,931 and growing, but I could not find a city-center. The city consists of two main strips, bordered by rows of commercial shopping, separated by one large strawberry field and bordered by fields of leafy greens. I never could tell where one man’s land ended and another’s began. I spent the summer in Santa Maria, a place where agriculture is the main employment in a grueling, underappreciated, and dangerous line of work. The sun beats on one’s back while muscles are used to extremes they were never intended, and toxins are sprayed onto our food that cause the farmers to evacuate for several days.
I had never lived around industrial agriculture before, I grew up in Upstate New York, went to school even further upstate, and interned on an organic farm in Vermont. I was always around home grown food. I hadn’t truly realized others weren’t until this summer. I had always known about the disparity between growing styles, but finding organic local food had never been such a task. I was only able to find one natural food store in the whole city, Lassen’s (a chain market). There simply were no mom and pop stores or restaurants. I became used to seeing the large fields and the intensive machinery of Santa Maria. The view even became desirable after driving up and down the commercial strips day after day.
The Bay Area ideal of agriculture differs greatly from that city a few hours south of here, and the Eat Real festival was the first tangible evidence I came across that showed me that I was in the right place. In the Bay Area especially, agriculture and food are consciously being looked at in different terms than what our national food system supports; an ancient view of growing as a way of life, and a progressive view of it as a human right. The Eat Real festival was a wonderful congregation of Oaklanders who are ready for change.
I felt a bit of Vermont at the festival last weekend, a mecca for the granola kids of the East, all of whom I left behind. I felt at peace to have those with similar outlooks in my midst and it reminded me that small efforts and festivals are happening all across the country in every state, but not in every city. And we can only hope that this will change just as quickly as going organic has become a fad. However we also hope the movement will remain and not vanish like our long lost bell bottom.