New Orleans Ok, you’re right. This is not a normal place to look for lifestyle tips. And, you’re thinking, hey, I was just in California, this will be some hippy-dippy baloney. Well, have it your way, but this was no hippy strategy but a small footprint sustainability system for living well on very limited income, and there was nothing laid back, California dreaming about it, because no small amount of it was not produced by hard work.
I stayed in Los Osos with Al Barrow, who had invited me to the Central Coast to understand and think with he and others about how to deal with a long standing water and sewer issue (see earlier blog). Almost as interesting as all of that was seeing how Al had taken his section 8 rental unit with no yard and made a couple of square feet here and there into virtually a farm plot.
There is no soil this close to Morro Bay and the spit. It’s all sand, so Al had to virtually build soil from compost and dirt garnered here and there. He had built his own version of greenhouses in several spots using discarded shower stall doors found here and there and picked up along the way. He needed to protect his tomatoes and other vegetables from the wind and weather. Around all sides was diatomaceous earth (recognizable as a white fossilized powder) to keep the bugs at bay. The corn in the back was already knee high by the 4th of July, and tassels were coming out. Inside the kitchen were large plastic buckets filled with harvested wheat. Yes, wheat! Al told me about grinding it out by hand to make his own raw oats for his breakfast oatmeal.
I was here to deal with water and it’s hard to talk about sustainability and small plot farming in this part of California without water. Al had rigged up a system on his washing machine outside so that he could recycle the used grey water to keep his garden growing. Pretty amazing stuff: low cost ingenuity.
Nothing in Al’s background would have prepared him for such small scale home-based farming. He had lived here and there throughout the west. Made livings as a Fred Astaire dancer and a lot of other things along a path that included going to Oregon to college and graduating about 40 years old, but what he had obviously learned along the way was how to “make do,” and that turns out to have been an invaluable set of skills and the evidence seemed to be cropping up everywhere around him.