Institutional knowledge & the trouble with Brussels Sprouts

Lorien, Anya and Elaine, walking through the streets of San Francisco. Photo by Lily.

The farm girls are traveling. Last week Lorien, Lily, Nina, Anya and I all dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am and headed North, making San Francisco our destination. Lorien and I both have sisters who live in The City, hers biological and mine of the heart. The girls were wicked excited and the days flew by with so much activity and fun we all fell into bed and had no trouble dropping off to sleep. 


 The Living Roof at the California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park.

On Thursday, Lorien and Nina headed back to the farm and my girls and I headed South to visit a friend in San Jose and then reversed tracks to head deeper into the Northern world of California, settling into the quaint town of Grass Valley for the rest of the week. We're here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada's, taking it slow and easy and eating too much good food, made mostly by my lovely mother-in-law.


It's a huge change of pace. In San Francisco we walked everywhere and were on the go 90% of our waking hours. Here I look out the porch and see acres of trees and meadow and there's nowhere to go, really. We hang out in town at the coffee shop and sip steamers while riding the wifi, poking about online and feeling like sedentary folk. It's odd and I need to find some trails soon, so I don't go crazy with stillness.

Swinging at their Grandma's house in Grass Valley where the weather is unseasonably warm.

Last night Heidi (my mother-in-law) and I started talking gardens. She has raised beds here and has spent countless hours trucking in soil and amendments. The ground is solid, void of nutrients and acidic with pines. She feels like it's a constant struggle to get anything to grow at all. And she spent many years in Denmark where growing seasons are vastly different.  

"We planted Brussels Sprouts last Spring," she tells me.
"But those are a winter crop." I protest.
"Not in Denmark." She sighs, "We got hundreds of little sprouts but none of them grew up and made it to harvest." She tosses her hands up. "I just don't know how to work this soil!"
"Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing either." I assure her, "I only know about Brussels Sprouts because I have a Farmer Bill at our local nursery and I wanted to plant them."
"I need a Farmer Bill."

We all do, really. Having a local expert, someone who knows your region and can tell you, "I wouldn't try to plant those seeds just yet" is priceless. It's that institutional knowledge, so to speak, that I feel like so many of us are lacking. Seeking out and finding that resource, it's valuable beyond belief. And most places have a spot for just such a thing. In San Diego, where the our tiny farm is, we have City Farmers Nursery where the infamous Farmer Bill dispenses advice and humor by the handful. There are also local University resources such as the Seeds@City Urban Farm Program, which boasts a one-acre organic farm in the heart of downtown a and Sustainable Urban Agriculture program. We also have an outstanding Water Conservation Garden which showcases water-wise landscaping that is lush, beautiful and attainable in challenging climates. And those are only some of the resources available in town.

What about where you live? What kind of resources make your heart swoon? How do you find the people that help you connect to the dirt in a meaningful way?


Anya finding Oak Galls, the fascinating biology of wasp and Oak, about which she learned when we took classes at Mission Trails Regional Park.