Composting 101

Composting 101

by Tamara McFarland, Cooperation Humboldt

Many people feel intimidated by composting, or put off after a bad experience. But it’s truly not complicated, and once you experience the magic of turning waste into precious garden gold, you’ll be hooked.

Your composting setup can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. For a household with outdoor space, we recommend a simple upright plastic style bin similar (see photo below at right). It’s important that it have a locking lid, and you’ll want to lay 1/2” hardware cloth down underneath to prevent critters from invading your bin. Apartment dwellers might consider one of many styles of indoor composters, including but not limited to worm composters.

What should you put in your compost? At its most basic level, you need to add materials that are rich in both nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen rich materials include food scraps (no meat, bones, or grease though), grass clippings, green hedge trimmings, coffee grounds, and seaweed. Carbon rich materials include paper, cardboard, dried leaves, sawdust, wood chips, aged hay/straw, egg cartons, paper towels, and tissues (used is fine).

For most households, this means keeping a small covered container in the kitchen – either on the countertop or, if you prefer, in the freezer – in which to store food scraps between visits to the compost. Then, each time you add these (or any other nitrogen rich materials) to your pile, be sure to add an equal or slightly greater amount of carbon rich material on top. (Covering those scraps with newspaper, sawdust, etc. will also help prevent fruit fly problems.)

Additional tips for success –

  • Compost likes to stay moist, but not soggy. You want it to be about as wet as a damp kitchen sponge. This means, at least during dry weather, that you will need to add water periodically.
  • If you want your compost to break down quickly, chop everything that goes in into small pieces. (Not required, but speeds the process.)
  • You’ll also get a faster conversion to usable compost if you turn your pile regularly. There are specially made tools for this purpose, though I’ve found that a pitchfork works just as well. Again, turning is optional, depending on whether you’re in a hurry to use your finished compost.
  • If your space and budget allows, it’s worth considering setting up two bins side-by-side so you can rotate between the two, giving each several months to break down while you fill the other. (You’ll still want to water and turn the resting pile/bin.)
  • Compost is finished and ready to use when it looks like dark, crumbly topsoil, it has a pleasant, earthy odor. and the original organic materials are mostly no longer recognizable.

Building Soil

Building Soil

by Matt Drummond, North Coast Community Garden Collaborative

Many gardeners make the tragic mistake of neglecting their soil year after year. Often this results from planting veggies season after season without adding amendments (manure, compost, organic fertilizers, mulch) or from not allowing garden beds to rest between plantings. Over time this will result in low harvests, more pests, and an increased need for expensive chemical fertilizers that only provide fleeting boosts to your plants. Building rich, fluffy, and healthy soil is the key to garden success and it really isn’t that hard. Understanding the basics of soil science and soil maintenance will give you the tools you need to start building dreamy soil at home.


Soil is a mix of sand, silt, clay, water and air. Soil is categorized into sand, clay, silt, and loam types based on the dominating size of the particles within a soil. The presence of these is controlled by the geology of your region or watershed. For example, the Eel River floodplain is composed of a silty soil due to movement of silt onto the banks during flooding.

The main soil types and the benefits and limitations of each are as follows:

  • Sandy Soil (25% sand or more) – Benefits: great drainage, light, easy to work, warms quickly in the spring. Limitations: low water and nutrient retention.
  • Clay Soil (25% clay or more) – Benefits: high in nutrients, holds water. Limitations: poor drainage, may crack in summer.
  • Silt Soil – (80% silt or more) Benefits: light, high moisture and nutrient retention, high fertility. Limitations: easily eroded or washed away by rain.
  • Loam Soil (composed of sand, clay and silt, providing the benefits of each) – Benefits: fertile, easy to work with, great drainage. Limitations: needs additional organic matter (compost, manure, etc.) for continued fertility.

Most healthy garden soils are composed of sandy loam or clay loam. Much of Humboldt County is composed of loamy soil due to thousands of years of sand, clay and silt deposition from waterways and the accumulation of organic matter from plants and animals. These soils are extremely fertile and will produce bountiful gardens only if you give back to the soil.


Gardening isn’t all about harvesting. It’s about a deep relationship with the soil that supports us all. Here are a few simple practices to build soil fertility year after year.

  • Cover Crops – planting cover crops protects the soil from erosion, brings atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, and provides beneficial bulky organic matter for soils when cut down.
  • Compost – adding a layer of compost to your beds provides organic materials, trace minerals, and food for beneficial bacteria, fungi, and insects.
  • Chop and Drop – chop down dead or bolting plants, allowing them to be returned to the soil. Leave the roots in the ground and they will also break down and nourish the soil.
  • Mulch – adding thick layers of mulch (manure, grass, leaves) in the fall protects top soil from heavy winter rains, keeps down weeds, and provides organic matter as it breaks down.
  • Be creative! – compost tea, cardboard, cat hair, grass clippings, and animal bedding (straw, shavings) can all be used in your garden, and all are available locally for free. Talk to your friends, neighbors, and local farmers to find soil-building supplies in your neighborhood. Shifting your focus toward soil health will give you a closer relationship with your garden, neighborhood, and environment.

Know Your Place

Know Your Place

Before you plant your first seed, get to know your land.

by Tamara McFarland, Cooperation Humboldt

Humboldt and Del Norte Counties are replete with life-sustaining natural resources. We have everything we need to survive right here, and the more we learn how to meet our most basic needs as close to home as possible, the more resilient our community becomes.

When it comes to techniques and best practices for growing food, some things are universal, but many details depend on the characteristics of your bioregion and specific garden site.

To set yourself up for gardening success, take the time to learn about the place where you’ll be growing food. Get curious!

  • Who are the historical inhabitants of the place you call home? (Find out at What do they eat?
  • What is the highest summertime temperature and the lowest wintertime temperature at your site? Is it windy? Where is the sun? The shade? Where does water sit after a hard rain?
  • Is your soil mostly clay, or mostly sand? What has your site been used for in past years?
  • Talk to experienced gardeners. What are their favorite things to grow in this region? What are some of their hard-earned lessons learned?

It may seem daunting at first, but the more information you gather ahead of time, the more effective you’ll be once you touch trowel to soil. We’ve assembled some simple place-based information to support you in the following pages.

Within the rural expanse of Humboldt County, climactic and other conditions vary. Our USDA Plant Hardiness Zones range from 8b inland, where annual extreme minimum temperatures average 15-20 degrees (F) and summer high temperatures can reach the low 100’s, to 9b on the coast, with an annual extreme minimum temperatures average of 25-30 degrees (F) and where a 75 degree summer day constitutes ‘extreme heat.’

Wherever you’re gardening, it’s critical to know your Zone as well as the average dates of the last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall. This helps determine what to grow and when to plant.

Within each zone, microclimates also exist. A microclimate is a set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in the surrounding areas; this may refer to areas as small as a few square feet (for example a garden bed or a cave) or as large as many square miles. These may be caused by proximity to water, surrounding surfaces, slope, and more. Becoming familiar with your microclimates is critical to your success. There are many ways to use microclimates to your advantage, either by matching existing conditions to a particular plant’s needs, or by making changes to your environment to create a microclimate. By planting a citrus tree along a south facing wall or fence to provide heat, you’re working with microclimates.

Learning to better understand and appropriately relate to the natural world that surrounds you is a lifelong process, and always worth the effort.

Why Grow Your Own?

Why Grow Your Own?

Gardening is one of the most powerful tools for personal & societal change at our disposal.

by Tamara McFarland, Cooperation Humboldt

Food holds the power to heal or harm; to connect or divide; to restore or exploit. Every time we take a bite, we’re registering one tiny vote for the world we want to live in.

For many among us, decisions about what to feed ourselves and our families are outside of our independent control. If you live in a food desert, it’s tremendously difficult to gain regular access to nutritious foods. If you work three jobs to pay rent, you’re going to have a hard time finding time to cook from scratch. If you don’t have access to land, you’re facing a challenge to growing a garden.

To truly empower individuals and communities to meet their own needs, we must think – and work – both big and small.

Gardening – either at home or in a community setting – is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. And as a bonus, it’s fun – and rewarding! Here are some of the reasons why growing one’s own food even matters.


If you’re careful about how you approach it, gardening can save you a lot of money. There are also plenty of ways to waste money while gardening, and the information to follow in this magazine is intended to prevent that.

Produce can be pricey, especially fruits and veggies that are grown organically. By growing some of your own, you can enjoy high quality foods in season for just pennies on the dollar.

The health benefits of a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables can also reduce your medical expenses by promoting good health.


Regular consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to fight disease and maintain positive health. By bringing more of these foods into your diet, your garden empowers your family to live longer, healthier lives with less reliance on medical interventions.

Time spent outdoors engaged in gentle exercise like gardening is good for both your physical and mental health. Studies have shown gardening to reduce stress and improve mood, with a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.


Disasters come in many forms, from earthquakes to the loss of a job. No matter what shock you face, you’ll be better prepared if you’re growing some of your own food.

We are isolated behind the Redwood Curtain, and our ability to connect with (or rely on) the outside world can change quickly due to earthquakes, landslides, wildfires, and more. As we face long term climate crisis, these kinds of disruptive events are forecast to become more frequent, and we are well served to become better prepared, both at the individual and community level.


Growing food close to home has a number of benefits for our natural world.
By refraining from using harmful chemicals, you protect yourself and all your helpers, including humans, birds, bees, and butterflies from the toxic effects of pesticides.

Through responsible soil practices, you can improve your soil and sequester carbon. (Learn more.)

By reducing – or ideally eliminating – your reliance on meats from factory farms, you help to protect the health of our watersheds by preventing toxic runoff that is an inevitable byproduct of large-scale conventional animal farming.

Food grown close to home helps prevent global warming because it requires less fossil fuels to transport, generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

And since the produce you harvest at (or near) home requires no plastic packaging, you’re keeping our oceans cleaner and our landfills less impacted.


Most gardeners find that their hobby nurtures human connection.
Gardening provides an opportunity for those with children to engage in a wholesome (non-screen-based) joint activity that grows skills and builds relationships.

Beyond your own household, gardening is likely to connect you with neighbors, friends, and family as you share your harvest, swap seeds, and turn to one another for advice. You’re likely to make new friends as you plug into our wonderful local community of gardeners.


Gardening moves us closer to a world where everyone has what they need, and no one goes without.

It reduces our reliance on large corporations, supports our regional economy, strengthens local networks, and builds a growing cadre of residents who possess the skills needed to care for one another in good times and bad.

A community-scale shift to a local food system will not only benefit the natural world tremendously; it will also improve our individual health and our communal wellbeing as we learn to rely on one another and to collectively grow the skills we need to thrive.

Building Wiyot Plaza

Building Wiyot Plaza: From Dream to Reality

Native American Studies Students & Faculty Creating Food Sovereignty Lab and Cultural Workspace at HSU.

by Cody Henrikson, Evie Ferreira, Carrie Tully, Amanda McDonald, and Cutcha Risling Baldy, Ph.D.

Students, Fall 2019 NAS 331: Indigenous Cultural Resource Management Practices course / photo credit: Dr. Cutcha Risling-Baldy

On a clear night in December 2019, our class left the Native American Forum at Humboldt State University (HSU) after closing the community stakeholder meeting with copious notes and full imaginations. We were ready to launch our Food Sovereignty Lab (FSL) project. To center Indigenous voices, the first hour of that meeting was set aside for Indigenous peoples, with the second bringing together diverse community voices, organizations, and researchers to help inform the direction of this lab. Thus, the story of the FSL is one of respect for Native leadership, student creativity, ambition, and perseverance.

In the Fall of 2019, the students of Native American Studies (NAS) 331: Indigenous Natural Resource Management Practices, taught by Dr. Cutcha Risling Baldy, designed this project to have lasting intergenerational impacts for our community. This course centers Indigenous knowledges and provides opportunities to learn from Native communities and leaders while helping students (re)learn the history of this land. Our history is difficult for some to internalize; facing the truth is necessary and unsettling. Yet this is what our education should lead us to: to be honest, forthright, compassionate, and to make positive social change.

We would like to call attention to how this informs us of survivance, and refer to Eve Tuck’s work on desire research – “[s]urvivance is a key component to a framework of desire…Gerald Vizenor’s…concept of survivance is distinct from survival: it is ‘moving beyond our basic survival in the face of overwhelming cultural genocide to create spaces of synthesis and renewal.’”

One of the focal points of our class was to address the issues affecting our student body and community. We agreed that Indigenous students experience a lack of representation at HSU. This is problematic because it leads to inaccessibility for Native American students to continue their cultural practices. Therefore, we feel the obligation to address the critical need for a unified Indigenous campus, appropriate representation, and cultural spaces. We selected the following research questions to guide us:

  • What does Indigenous representation look like on a college campus, and what representations do we currently have here at HSU?
  • What relationships does the community and HSU have with our Indigenous communities?
  • How can we uplift and support these representations and relationships?

The first part of our research was to canvass the campus for existing Indigenous representations. Students also conducted interviews with Indigenous faculty, staff, and students to learn what they imagine an Indigenized campus to look like. As a result of our participatory research, data collection and analysis, we proposed the Food Sovereignty Lab.

The FSL will serve to support the resurgence of Indigenous food systems informed by traditional, ecological, and cultural knowledges. As a community-facing project, this lab is being designed for the community as a whole to achieve food sovereignty in Humboldt County and for our local tribes and tribal peoples. Our work is aimed at building best practices for Food Sovereignty in our region that respect tribal protocols, center Indigenous knowledge, and empower Native community resilience and resurgence.

Mural by Jessica Slayton, located in the Native American Forum Lobby (HSU)

In the Spring of 2019 students took our research to the CSU Student Research Competition and were recognized with a 2nd place award in the Graduate-Level Behavioral Sciences category, gaining statewide recognition for our work.

Despite the hard work of students, the initial request for space on campus to develop the lab was denied, effectively blocking the project from moving forward. But students mobilized to secure over one hundred letters of support and organized an appeal to the University Senate where we were finally granted the space needed to pursue our goal.

The Food Sovereignty Lab Steering Committee is led by a majority of Native faculty, staff, community leaders, and students. The Steering Committee navigates fundraising, design, implementation, and eventually curriculum development for the lab.

This project requires us to center and amplify Indigenous leadership, knowledge, and land stewardship. In doing so, the FSL can serve as a call to action and regenerate “moral ecology” (Risling Baldy, 2013) and respectful patterns. This is in line with our goal of increasing visibility for Indigenous students, community members, and cultures in the public sphere with an emphasis on higher-learning institutions such as this Indigenous Food Sovereignty Lab.


For Everyone Who Wants to be Here in a Good Way.

Indigenous practitioners, activists, scholars, and community leaders have shaped the vision of the FSL. We acknowledge the traditional roles of dreamers in many Indigenous cultures. As Indigenous peoples we often dream of better futures for ourselves and our communities, and the FSL is the physical manifestation of our collective dreams.

This space will provide a cultural center for Indigenous studies and will strengthen current programs at HSU. The interior of the lab will include a commercial kitchen and space for basketry, art, regalia, and cultural practices. The exterior will feature a salmon cooking pit, a Native plant and food garden including interpretive signage of Native plants, and basketry designs throughout the pathways and gardens.

Our vision for the FSL is to unify our students, faculty, local tribes, and communities; to center and support Tribal sovereignty, natural resource management and preservation practices; and to provide students with culturally appropriate education in Indigenous natural resource management that respects Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination and serves our community.

We understand that when plants and ecosystems are tended to, culturally appropriate foods become that much more available for the next generation. Indigenous and non-Indignous social change agents continue to push back at those socio-ecological impacts which altered Indigenous food systems. Our lab will uplift the education and practice, and make clear the desired action needed to replicate healthy ecocultural relations.

The Native American Studies Food Sovereignty Lab will:

  • Develop curriculum, internships, research opportunities, workshops, and programs.
  • Provide space that supports Tribal communities in ongoing revitalization of basket weaving and regalia making.
  • Strengthen the bonds between our local community, Indigenous Nations, and students at HSU.
  • Integrate the values of ecological sustainability, bio-cultural sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, interconnectedness of life, and community involvement in efforts to develop reverence for food sovereignty.


As we move forward developing the FSL, we are envisioning the activities this space will support.

In light of COVID-19 we have sought alternative ways to engage with food sovereignty through a virtual format. In November of 2020 we launched our ‘Food Sovereignty Speaker Series’ to engage and excite the community on the development of the FSL. The five-session series explores issues related to Indigenous food sovereignty, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, community health, and Indigenous cultural practices, and can be viewed on Youtube at @hsunas.

This spring we are hosting a film series highlighting Indigenous Food Sovereignty to promote awareness about access to traditional foods and the impacts colonization has had on Indigenous food systems.

We would like to give a special thank you to our partners – without them this project would not be possible; together our dream is stronger.


Remodeling 2021; Opening 2022

As we prepare for the implementation of this cutting edge lab at HSU, we are moving forward with the guidance and support of community members, scholars and organizations that can help us to develop informed, decolonized, leading approaches to food sovereignty. With support from HSU Sponsored Programs Foundation and University Advancement we will break ground on this project and begin the remodel in Fall 2021 with an anticipated opening date of Fall 2022.

From the beginning this student envisioned and designed project has been a labor of love and dedication and we look forward to our work supporting the next seven generations and beyond. The FSL will serve as more than just a space for student education; it will give our entire community an opportunity to experience the vibrancy and modern existence of Indigenous Peoples and cultures in our area. This permanent collaborative space will nurture proactive conversations regarding food sovereignty and security, and inspire active participation in writing policy to reform our food systems.

Support the Food Sovereignty Lab & Cultural Workspace


or mail a check made out to ‘HSU Advancement Foundation’ with ‘NAS Trust A6608’ in the memo line –
Gift Processing Center
SBS 285
Humboldt State University
1 Harpst Street
Arcata, CA 95521

Subscribe to our Youtube: @hsunas
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Industrial Agriculture’s COVID Connection

Industrial Agriculture’s COVID Connection

by Tamara McFarland, Cooperation Humboldt

Industrial agriculture refers to the large-scale, intensive production of crops and animals, often involving chemical fertilizers and pesticides on crops or the routine, harmful use of antibiotics in animals (even when the animals are not sick).

This system is decimating our environment and having devastating effects on human health, especially in communities of color. These impacts are deeply connected – what we do to our environment, we do to ourselves.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus many flaws in our system, including the way that Big Ag and Big Food have been destroying our environment and our health for decades.

Put simply, the current model of food production is not compatible with long-term human habitation of this planet.

  • Industrial farming is directly responsible for destroying waterways and fisheries, creating oceanic dead zones, killing the Great Barrier Reef, the loss of native prairies and grasslands (which are essential habitats for birds), and the near-extinction of the pollinators we depend on for food production.
  • Food production results in emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other planet-warming gases through land clearing and deforestation, digestion by cattle and other livestock, and the production and use of fertilizers. Overall emissions are equivalent to about 30% of total global emissions.
  • Large-scale farming has depleted our soils through improper land use and the application of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and antibiotics. Without healthy soil, we cannot grow nutritious food. In this country, topsoil is currently being eroded 10 times faster than it can be replenished.

A decentralized, locally-focused food supply is more stable than one that relies on transporting food over long distances. Regionally based systems make us more resilient in the face of future pandemics and other disruptions. When supply chains are stressed – whether due to a pandemic, earthquake, or other disaster – the importance of local food production becomes crystal clear.

Get to know – and support – your local farmers and other food producers. Grow some of your own food. Share knowledge and food with your neighbors. Your health and the health of your community rely on it.

Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl

Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl

(Food for the People)

by Taylor Thompson | photographs by Louisa McCovey

Traditional style salmon cooking on redwood sticks / photo credit: Louisa McCovey

Yurok People have maintained existence on the Lower Klamath River and villages along the Pacific Coast since Noohl Hee-Kon (time immemorial). The Yurok Tribe is the largest federally recognized Indian Tribe in California, with over 6,290 members. Yurok people continue to reside in villages and communities throughout their Ancestral Territory, including parts of both Del Norte and Humboldt counties, and extending far beyond the current boundaries of the Yurok Indian Reservation.

The coastal edge of Yurok Ancestral Territory spans from the Little River drainage basin at its southern border, including Trinidad and Orick, to Damnation Creek in the north. The inland territory extends along the Klamath River through the Bluff Creek drainage basin, includes a portion of the Trinity River, and sections of the Redwood National and State Park and the Six Rivers National Forest.

Today the Yurok Indian Reservation consists of lands one mile on each side of the lower 46 miles of the Klamath River from just above the confluence of the Trinity River at Weitchpec to the mouth of the river as it flows into the Pacific Ocean, encompassing over 55,000 acres.

Yurok People are known as great fishermen, eelers, hunters, basket weavers, canoe makers, storytellers, singers, dancers, healers, and strong medicine people. Yurok People have always relied upon a multitude of subsistence food offerings from the Klamath River, Pacific Coast, and inland areas. Some examples include ney-puy (salmon), kaa-ka (sturgeon), kwor-ror (candlefish), pee-ee (mussels), chey-gel’ (seaweed), woo-mehl (acorns), puuek (deer), mey-weehl (elk), ley-chehl (berries), and wey-yok-seep (teas).

Since the arrival of European Americans, Yurok traditional food systems have suffered. The effects of attempted genocide, global climate change, supplanted agricultural systems, outlawing of traditional land management practices, overfishing by non-indigenous settlers, mismanagement of the natural world, damming of waterways, and many other issues are having real effects on the ability of Yurok people to access their traditional foods. The USDA has declared the Yurok Indian Reservation a food desert, where many people have to drive over an hour to reach the nearest supermarket. Those without a vehicle or someone to do their grocery shopping for them are reliant on the often-unpredictable local public transportation system for these trips that can take a whole day for a round-trip.

As one of many approaches to restore access to traditional foods and address the rampant food insecurity within the Reservation, the Yurok Tribe created the Food Sovereignty Division, a subsection of the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program. Although the Food Sovereignty Division had been in development for a while, the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent exposure of the fragility of food systems further illustrated the need for a centralized food program within the Tribe. Officially founded in August of 2020, the Food Sovereignty Division has established its overarching goal to achieve food sovereignty for the Yurok Tribe. For this goal, food sovereignty means that tribal members have their food needs, both in a nutritional and cultural sense, met at levels to thrive without relying on external food systems.

To restore the Yurok Tribe to total food sovereignty, the Food Sovereignty Division is working toward creating a holistic food system through the development of food villages, called Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl (Food for the People), throughout the Reservation and eventually Ancestral Territory. Fully actualized, each Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl will include a building modeled after traditional Yurok houses that will provide the local community and Food Sovereignty employees with space for teaching and learning preservation, processing, and cooking techniques for traditional and farmed foods. They will have garden spaces, greenhouses, and structures for outdoor instruction that will allow for community members to learn about food production on-site. The Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl will incorporate regenerative agriculture, sustainability, renewable energy, and traditional Yurok land management practices such as cultural burning.

Although there is much more work to do to create the initial three Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl within the Reservation, the project has received significant backing from the community, the Yurok Tribal Council, and outside funders to begin development.

The Yurok Tribe recently purchased property adjacent to the elementary school in Klamath that will be the site for the Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl for that community. Outside funding has been obtained for some staff time and to begin creating its food production space; the garden component will be called ‘O goo-hehl (garden).

Although current partnerships with other groups focused on community food programs will help develop the food production components of all three planned sites, there is a need for additional partnerships, as the goal of total food sovereignty will require significant food production, processing, and distribution efforts.

Beyond establishing and expanding the food production on the three Nue-ne-pueh Mehl Kee Tey-nem’mo-nee ‘Oohl sites, the Food Sovereignty Division is working to obtain funding for the creation of the traditionally-styled centralized buildings. The buildings will allow for the expansion of our current Farm to School educational capacity and provide space for Yurok people to learn traditional and contemporary food production, preservation, processing, cooking, and will help to foster the passing of traditional, generational knowledge that will increase the Tribe’s capacity to self-sustain.

Traditionally prepared acorn soup; basket and spoon made by Deborah McConnell / photo credit: Louisa McCovey

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Taylor Thompson (they/them) Food Sovereignty Division Manager of the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program.
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Photographer Louisa McCovey (she/her) is the Director of the Yurok Tribe Environmental Program.
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Uprooting Racism: Seeding Sovereignty

Uprooting Racism: Seeding Sovereignty

Our food system is built on stolen land and exploited labor. Here’s what we can do to fix it.

by Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm; reprinted with permission from Soul Fire Farm and Food Solutions New England

Photo credit: Soul Fire Farm

Racism is built into the DNA of the United States’ food system. It began with the genocidal theft of land from First Nations people, and continued with the kidnapping of my ancestors from the shores of West Africa. Under the brutality of the whip and the devastation of broken families, enslaved Africans cultivated the tobacco and cotton that made America wealthy.

But the story doesn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation. Later came convict leasing, a form of legalized slavery that kept many Southern black people on plantations—in some places until the late 1920s. Just a few decades later, Congress created the migrant guest-worker program, which imported agriculturalists from Mexico and other countries to labor in the fields for low wages.

All of this history combines to produce the racism I see today in my work as a farmer and activist for food justice. Farm management is among the whitest professions, while farm labor is predominantly brown and exploited. Meanwhile, people of color tend to suffer from diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, and to live in “food apartheid” neighborhoods — high-poverty areas flooded with fast food and corner stores, but lacking healthy food options. While some writers refer to these areas as “food deserts,” I prefer the term “food apartheid” because this is a human-created system of segregation, not a natural ecosystem.

Our food system needs a redesign if it’s to feed us without perpetuating racism and oppression.

Just as our ancestral mothers braided seeds of rice and okra into their hair before boarding slave ships, believing in a future of harvest in the face of brutality, so must we maintain courage and hope in these terrifying times.

As we work toward a racially just food system, abandoning the “colonizer” mentality that first created the problems is crucial. The communities at the frontlines of food justice are composed of black, Latinx, and indigenous people, refugees and immigrants, and people criminalized by the penal system. We need to listen before we speak and follow the lead of those directly affected by the issues. Here are three things BIPOC (Black-Indigenous-People-of-Color) farmers are asking us to do.

FORESIGHT by Naima Penniman / prints and other merchandise available at


Over ¾ of our food is grown by workers who were foreign born, predominantly Latinx or Hispanic. Yet, only 3% of farms have Latinx or Hispanic managers. Farmworkers are excluded from many protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) such as collective bargaining rights, overtime limits, child labor restrictions, and workers compensation insurance. Many farmworkers receive wages based on “piece-rate,” e.g. 85 cents per 90 pound box of oranges. This practice results in ⅓ of farmworkers earning below minimum wage. Large corporations now control 50% of the food production in this country and push to keep farm labor cheap to maximize profits.

What can we do? Support the Fairness for Farmworkers Act of 2019. The people who feed our families deserve full protection under NLRA and FLSA, including a living wage, safe housing and transportation, breaks, overtime pay, workers comp and unemployment insurance, protection from pesticide exposure, and the right to collectively bargain.


European colonizers seized 1.5 billion acres of land from Native Americans and the United Nations says that the U.S. should give it back. African Americans are also victim to land grabbing. In 1920, 14% of all land owning U.S. farmers were black and today less than 2% of farms are controlled by black people, a loss of over 14 million acres. In 1982, the US Commission on Civil Rights determined that discrimination from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was the primary reason black farmers were dispossessed from our land. The growing disparities between white and black people in land ownership in this country mirror the widening wealth gap, which has increased from 8:1 in 2010 to 13:1 in 2013. Ralph Paige of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives put it simply, “Land is the only real wealth in this country and if we don’t own any we’ll be out of the picture.”

What can we do? Contribute to the BIPOC-led land trust work of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, Southeastern African American Farmers’ Organic Network, and the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust. Support BIPOC farmers in your area by purchasing their products and offering to volunteer your time.


About 50 million Americans are food insecure, with half of those individuals living in food deserts, where it’s difficult or impossible to access affordable, healthy food. This trend is not race neutral. White neighborhoods have an average of four times as many supermarkets as predominantly black communities. This lack of access to life-giving food has dire consequences for our communities. The incidence of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease are on the rise in all populations, but the greatest increases have occurred among people of color, especially black and indigenous people. These illnesses are fueled by diets high in unhealthy fats, cholesterol, and refined sugars, and low in fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes. In our communities children are being raised on processed foods, and now over one-third of children are overweight or obese, a fourfold increase over the past 30 years. This puts the next generation at risk for lifelong chronic health conditions, including several types of cancer.

What can we do? Healthy food is a basic human right, not a privilege to be reserved for the wealthy. To honor this right, we need to resist any and all attempts to eviscerate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

For a complete list of action steps toward a just and equitable food system, check out Soul Fire Farm’s platform. Also consider joining Food Solutions New England’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge.

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Leah Penniman is a farmer, educator, soil steward, and food justice activist. She is the co-director and program manager of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, New York, and the author of Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land.
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These Gardens are Blueprints
by Naima Penniman © 2019

Every patch of earth
unencumbered by concrete
where soil and atmosphere meet
a portal to presence
a terrain of remembrance
a vote for survival in an unpromised future

These gardens are blueprints

Of interdependent destiny
intergenerational memory
saving seeds for food as remedy

Reclaiming our great great grandmothers’ recipes
our ancestral technologies
Afro-indigenous agro-ecology
dirt under fingernails, no shame or apology

in a time of manicured hands
and monocropped lands
devalued labor and overpriced brands

We understand
our food is grown in faraway places under neoslavery
shipped thousands of miles by underslept drivers
prepared by dignified immigrants diminished on night shifts
supper delivered to your doorstep
from a swipe of your fingerprints
stripped of virtue and nutrients

And who’s gonna stop this?!

We haven’t forgotten
Our shelves are still stocked with processed products
toxic food made for profit
to keep us lethargic
too tired to riot
rise up or take office
filled up on fillers and starches
diet related illnesses
the number one killer
of black and brown bodies

My people know what it’s like to eat
and still be starving

So we turning hardship into harvest
lawns and school yards into gardens
homegrown bounty in our palms
we come from soil and stardust

And so we conjure

Giving props to hood magicians
who grow provisions for our kitchens
we smuggle spinach into prisons
transform the places that we live in

trade psychosis for symbiosis
and stay focused

Sprout sunflowers that tower on neighborhood blocks
harvest raindrops on rooftops to water our crops
propagate plant medicine for the metropolis
guarding our plots
cause our gardens are not for profit or loss

Cross pollinate the promise
Fam, we got this!

Take a deep breath, restore calmness
with lemon balm bounty in our palms
Hot peppers in our pockets
black eyed peas spiraling up
Lenape blue-corn stalks
with buttercup squash carpets

Three sisters symbiotic
talking stories of solidarity on native territory
migratory monarchs transcend borders
morning glories ascend fences
pay attention to the lessons
mother nature keeps expressing
how to multiply our blessings

for justice and sustenance
amid glaring-disparity

Every seed saved will set us free

in an age of opulence and scarcity
Every seed saved will set us free

in a time of intensifying violence and climate calamity
Every seed saved will set us free

Hold on tight
to the source
we have all that we need

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Naima Penniman (all pronouns) is a co-founder and steward of WILDSEED Community Farm & Healing Village, arts activator and performer through Climbing PoeTree, Program Director and food-sovereignty educator at Soul Fire Farm, and healing practitioner at Harriet’s Apothecary. Naima cultivates collaborations that elevate the healing of our earth, our bodies, our communities, lineages and descendants.
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Labor & Workers in the Food System

Labor & Workers in the Food System

Sustainable food must be produced in a way that takes not only the environment and consumers into account, but also the people who grow, harvest and process it.

Reprinted with permission; condensed from a longer article on

Current methods of production of crops like corn and soybeans rely heavily on machinery. But for raising and processing fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry, the agriculture industry still relies primarily on human labor. Farm and food workers are mainly an immigrant workforce, many of whom are undocumented. They are often poorly paid and work in harsh or dangerous conditions. This is just the latest chapter in a long history: the US was built on exploitative agricultural labor that dates back to slavery. Today, however, some of the most successful worker-organizing strategies are emerging from the fields, as farm and food workers fight for their rights and dignity.


The struggles of today’s food and farmworkers are not new. Since the earliest US history, agricultural workers have been a disenfranchised group, often brought against their will and denied the right to vote once in the US. A brief examination of a history of US farm labor shows that it is inseparable from a history of state-sponsored racism.

In the 1600s, indentured servants were brought from England to work as field laborers in exchange for their passage to the so-called New World. When farm labor demand began to outstrip the supply of willing servants, land owners expanded the African slave trade, developing an economy reliant on the labor of enslaved people kidnapped from Africa. The practice continued legally for 200 years, enriching businesses in both North and South, until the end of the Civil War.

Following the prohibition of slavery, the white power structure passed the Jim Crow laws of the 1890s, institutionalizing discrimination and ensuring that cruel treatment of African-Americans would continue for decades to come. Many former slaves and their descendants continued working in the fields sharecropping, often in conditions not notably better than enslavement.

Meanwhile, farming was becoming big business and the US turned to workers from China, Japan and the Philippines to meet the demand for labor — until the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act led growers to increasingly turn to labor from Mexico.


As agriculture became more industrialized, related sectors like food processing did as well. The horrors of the rapidly-expanding meatpacking industry were revealed in Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle, and subsequent public outcry and union organizing brought about food safety laws and greatly improved worker conditions in meatpacking plants.

During the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, many white farmers were forced to sell or abandon their farms and become migrant workers. With these white farmers now in need of work, a half million Mexican-Americans were deported or pressured to leave. A package of important labor laws protecting worker rights also passed in this period, but they excluded farmworkers and domestic laborers. Not coincidentally, these jobs were most commonly held by African-Americans and immigrants.

A series of temporary guest worker programs began in the 1940s. The most well-known of these, the Bracero program, recruited workers from Mexico. It was eventually ended due to widespread worker abuses and wage theft. Organizing by the United Farm Workers (UFW) contributed to the program’s end. Founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the UFW united Filipino and Mexico workers in a movement that brought national attention to the struggles of workers in California fields – and built models still used by farmworker organizers today.


Today, immigrants produce the majority of our food, from farms to processing plants to restaurants and grocery stores. Wages are low, conditions are often harsh or dangerous, and immigrants not legally allowed to work in the US are often afraid to report abuses for fear of deportation.

As of 2014, 80% of US farmworkers were Hispanic, which included 68% born in Mexico and 27% born in the US. The foreign-born farmworkers interviewed had been in the US an average of 18 years, and 53% were authorized to work. Farmworkers’ median annual farm incomes in the previous year were just over $17,000.

The 47% of farmworkers who are undocumented and not authorized to work — and the many similar workers in meatpacking plants and elsewhere across the food chain — face struggles. While most federal and state labor laws, including those regarding wages and safety training, protect all workers equally, regardless of immigration status, many undocumented workers either do not know these rights or are afraid to assert them.

Even in an environment of increasingly hardline immigration enforcement, the produce industry is worried about labor shortages — and so it is investing heavily in automation. Robots that can plant, weed and even harvest delicate fruits and vegetables are already working in some fields and facilities, and rapid technological innovation means they will likely become much more common in coming years.


Whether in vegetable fields or meatpacking plants, farm and food workers face hard, often dangerous working conditions.


Planting and harvesting crops involves repetitive motions, often being stooped or bent for many hours, lifting heavy buckets of produce and operating machinery that can lead to injuries. The work is performed outdoors in hot weather, often without shade or adequate water.
Breaks are infrequent. Sometimes workers are punished for taking a bathroom break, and the common method of paying workers by the piece penalizes those who do take breaks, because they’ll make less money. Workers often face nausea, dizziness, heat exhaustion, dehydration and heat stroke, which is the leading cause of farmworker death.

Farmworkers are also regularly exposed to toxic chemicals from applying pesticides or herbicides (often done without adequate protection), from handling produce that has been recently sprayed, or, in some instances, from being directly in the path of a pesticide application. And many female farmworkers are sexually harassed and abused by their supervisors or other workers. Wage theft is also standard practice.


Conditions at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms, are no better. Gases from manure pits including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane fill the air, along with dust and irritants known as endotoxins.

One quarter of CAFO workers experience chronic bronchitis and nearly three quarters suffer from acute bronchitis during the year. Chronic exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause brain damage and heart problems, and even at low levels can be deadly. Regular inhalation of particulate matter such as dust can cause both respiratory and heart problems, while high levels of ammonia can cause asphyxiation.


For several decades of the mid-20th century, meatpacking jobs were some of the best paid in the manufacturing sector and lifted a diverse workforce into the middle class. Today, however, jobs in meat and poultry processing plants are some of the most dangerous and poorly compensated.

Workers kill, eviscerate and cut up thousands of animals every day, working in conditions that are humid, slippery, loud, hot or below freezing. Respiratory problems, skin infections and falls are common.

Work is determined by the speed of the processing line. Breaks are discouraged or denied, even for the bathroom.

On the fast-moving line, workers make the same cutting, pulling or hanging motions thousands of times a day; these repetitive motions cause crippling musculoskeletal injuries. Workers also wield sharp knives and work with fast-moving heavy machinery.


Throughout US history, agricultural and food workers have been some of the most exploited workers in the country. But they have also done some of the most powerful organizing. In the 1960s, United Farm Workers held large-scale strikes at the peak of the grape harvest to force higher wages from large farmers and formed a union to negotiate with growers over the long term. In meatpacking plants, unions such as the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the United Packinghouse Workers of America won better conditions, transforming those jobs for several decades into a secure path to the middle class.

In the last decade, at a time when union membership is at an all-time low and the labor movement has suffered many legislative and cultural defeats, some of the best worker organizing momentum continues to come from the fields and restaurant floors. When the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), a group of immigrant tomato-pickers in Immokalee, Florida, had no luck getting the big tomato growers they worked for to meet demands for pay increases, CIW turned to the consumer instead. They enlisted student and faith organizations, demanding that the fast food companies that bought from those growers pay just a penny more per pound of tomatoes to give the workers a living wage.

This strategy has had remarkable success: after years of pressure, most major fast food companies and many supermarket chains have signed CIW’s Fair Food Agreement, pledging to buy tomatoes and certain other produce only from growers who meet labor standards.

Meanwhile, fast food workers across the US have led the campaign for a higher minimum wage in the Fight for 15. In just a few years, an hourly wage that in 2012 was too high to be called minimum – $15 per hour – was passed into law in states and cities around the country.


We recommend purchasing food whenever possible from local family-owned farms, which are generally better stewards of the land and water than large industrial farms. Labor, however, has all too often been overlooked by those interested in sustainable food and agriculture, so it is not a given that small-scale local farms necessarily have better labor standards than large industrialized farms.

Recent research has documented abuse, low wages, isolation and poor living conditions of workers even on some farms that sell at farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture programs, and farm-to-table restaurants. Those interested in sustainable food and agriculture must be as concerned about the people all along the food chain as we are about what goes into or onto the food.

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Please visit for the full length version of this article including references.
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What You Can Do

For many years, the only label that addressed farm labor was the “fair trade” stamp — but it applied only to foreign products. Fortunately, in the last few years, more labor certification programs for US products have been developed for consumers who want to support not just good environmental practices, but also the rights and livelihoods of the people along the food chain.

  • Food Justice Certification standards go beyond USDA organic certification to also guarantee just working conditions for workers and fair pricing for farmers.
  • Look for fast food restaurants and grocery stores that are part of the Fair Food Program, which guarantees fair treatment and wages for the farmworkers in their supply chain.
  • RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment) is a group of 300 restaurant owners who practice “high road” employment practices, (living wage, benefits, environmental sustainability).
  • A growing number of cities are part of the Good Food Purchasing Program, which shifts institutional food purchases to a model that supports worker health, environmental sustainability, local economies, nutrition and animal welfare.

Unfortunately, most food does not come with a label attesting to a farm’s labor practices. To support farm and food workers in more ways than with your purchasing power, check out the National Farm Worker Ministry, Coalition of Immokalee Workers or CATA (The Farmworker Support Committee). Many farmworker support organizations work locally; find out if there is a group in your state that you can support by volunteering, donating or advocating for policy change.




What is a FoodPrint?

Whether it’s a salad, a hamburger or your morning egg sandwich, your meal has an impact on the environment and on the welfare of animals, food/farm workers and on public health.

Your “foodprint” is the result of everything it takes to get your food from the farm to your plate. Many of those processes are invisible to consumers.

Industrial food production — including animal products like beef, pork, chicken and eggs and also crops — takes a tremendous toll on our soil, air and water, as well as on the workers and the surrounding communities.
Learn more about what a foodprint is and why you should care about yours at

Meeting Needs & Shifting Culture

Meeting Needs & Shifting Culture

At Cooperation Humboldt, we believe that access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food is a fundamental human right.

by Tamara McFarland, Cooperation Humboldt

At Cooperation Humboldt, we believe that access to nutritious and culturally appropriate food is a basic human right, and must not be denied to anyone regardless of income level.

We’re working to return this region to a regenerative and life-sustaining food forest capable of supporting every resident with the food that they need for a healthy and active life.

Our Food Sovereignty projects have been developed through a strategic process of exploring goals, strategies, and tactics. We’ve carefully evaluated what services already exist in our community and focused on creating new and innovative projects. Our work meets tangible needs while empowering residents with new tools and skills and strengthening community connections.

We aim to address hunger not through charity but rather by providing folks with the information and materials they need to meet more of their own needs – and the needs of their communities – while reducing (and ultimately eliminating) reliance on the highly destructive industrialized/globalized food system.


Our first food project focused on establishing Little Free Pantries as neighborhood hubs for resource sharing and relationship building. We’ve installed 25 Pantries in the greater Humboldt Bay area. They operate similarly to the more well-known Little Free Libraries – anyone can donate nonperishable food or personal care items, and anyone can take what they need, 24 hours a day. These little blue boxes have been embraced wholeheartedly by community members, with each receiving daily use.


Our volunteers have also helped to convert about 20 front lawns into productive gardens featuring food plants as well as natives and pollinator plants. Like our Pantries, these lawn conversions are aimed at shifting the way food is viewed in communities – as an asset that we can collectively grow and share, rather than just a commodity to be bought and sold.


For the past three years, we’ve offered free fruit trees to community members and organizations willing to make the fruit available to anyone who wants some. We expect to complete planting our 230th fruit tree by April 2021.


In Spring 2020, as the pandemic struck, we realized the need to get food resources to those who needed them the most. This led to the launch of our Mini Gardens project, and within six months we had delivered and installed 260 complete small garden setups to low-income residents. This not only provides food in the short term – it also empowers participants to grow more of their own food well into the future.


In partnership with Centro del Pueblo, Open Door Community Health Centers, and the Arcata Presbyterian Church, Cooperation Humboldt is now managing the community garden on the corner of 11th and F Streets in Arcata. The garden is filled with edible perennials, annuals, herbs and native plants, all cultivated as a sanctuary and community resource for underserved residents. We strive to create a space of learning, empowerment, nutrition, and regeneration.


We provide educational resources relating to growing food including videos, in-person workshops and garden tours, printed materials, and more.


The magazine you’re reading now has recently become part of Cooperation Humboldt’s Food Sovereignty program. When a new publisher was needed, we stepped forward because we knew what an important resource this Guide is for our local community, and we saw great potential for increasing its value even further. We hope you enjoy what you learn here, and we invite you to connect with us to create a community where food is understood to be a human right.

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Tamara McFarland (she/her) is a lifelong resident of Wiyot territory and a mother to two kids. She serves as Board Treasurer and Food Team Anchor for Cooperation Humboldt.
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