News from Jake Mendell: One of our own spreads his love for community, kids, and the environment in northern CA!

A conscious and responsible connection to the land and our food has always been a value appreciated at CGC. We gifted 560 acres of land to the Vermont Land Trust so that it will never be developed and although we don’t have our own farm on site, we try to buy locally whenever possible. Producing our own food has always been one of our long-term goals and we’ve sent a scout to northern California to investigate a community that does successfully produce and educate on sustainable food practices. Here Jake Mendell shares his experiences at Slide Ranch in CA and examines its similarities to CGC:

Hello CGC community!

Jake here. I just wanted to give you all a little insight into what I have been doing for the past couple of months.

After surviving/enjoying the JFK debacle that Russell so eloquently described a few weeks back, and kicking it in Ecuador for three weeks, I found myself in the North Bay of California’s Bay Area. For the past six weeks I have been living on a farm by the name of “Slide Ranch.” Located about 30 minutes north of San Francisco, I have been teaching kids about the impact that their food choices have on their health and the surrounding environment in an attempt to reconnect them to where their food comes from, as it seems a disconnect has formed in today’s urban society.

Slide Ranch is located on a beautiful plot of coastal land in West Marin County on Golden Gate National Recreation Area land. It’s the type of land that people would pay millions for (especially in Marin), but given that it is National Park land, you cannot put a price tag on it. We are allowed access to it given the nature of our mission and what we do here.

So you may be wondering, what do I do out here? Well, my official position title is Teacher in Residence (or TIR for short) and a typical day in the life of a TIR (there are seven of us TIRs in all) is as follows:

Wake up with the sun and complete ranch/garden chore (mine is tending to our compost) and eat breakfast before 8am morning meeting. After hearing how everyone is feeling and any announcements for the day, the ranch and garden staff break off and we have our smaller teacher meeting where we discuss the day’s schedule and work out any kinks before the school group arrives for their day of farm exploration (we are booked solid with school groups all the way up until the summer). As the school group arrives, we finish up any last minute preparation and, after a brief opening circle, split up into groups with each teacher leading their own group of 8-10 kids around the ranch.  

Activities can span a wide variety of chores, but every program includes milking a goat, hanging with the chickens, and exploration of one-acre garden. Additional activities can range from visiting the tide pools to carding and spinning our sheep’s wool into yarn to making cheese. After the program is over for the day, we have a quick debrief followed by a ranch or garden session until 5pm.

At 5pm we will either have time to relax, cook dinner for all of the other residence if it is your cook night, or lead campfire activities if there happens to be an overnight program going on (which there usually is). As you can imagine, this can definitely tire you out, but the wonderful people and delicious food are good sources of nourishment that help to rejuvenate and reenergize.

**Side note – this was pretty funny for me to write because we will often do a little skit at the campfires called “a day in the life” where one of us explains what I just explained…only with someone hiding behind them and pretending to be their arms (an old Big Show favorite).

While their target market and mission are slightly different from CGC, I have noticed quite a few similarities between Slide Ranch and the camp that I grew up at. One, given their non-profit nature, both are always searching for new ways to fundraise to allow for architectural development, among other improvements. It does make finding money easier given the fact that Slide is located in Marin County, one of the most affluent areas in the U.S.

Speaking of architectural development, the buildings here remind me a lot of those back in Starksboro. All of the living quarters here are unique and look nothing like the one next to it. Granted, none are quite as cool as the Butterfly cabin at CGC, but they each still have their own personality, which I like.

And lastly, and possibly most glaring similarity to me is they each possess their own dedicated following that have been coming back for years. It seems like everyone in the Bay Area has a story about Slide (it has been a teaching farm for over 40 years!) and though its community spans a much smaller portion of the world, they talk about their love for the organization the same way that CGC members do, which is really nice to be around again.

Springtime has arrived and though it does not bring the same relief of seeing the grass peek through the melting snow and the smell of boiling maple syrup, it still brings excitement in its own right here at the ranch. For one, springtime means baby-making time! No, I am not expecting, but we now have six lambs, three goat kids (with another doe due soon), a bunch of chicks, and many, many seedlings.  I’m not sure if the powers that be at Slide did this on purpose, but it kind of feels like we are growing up with all of the animals. It almost makes me feel young again ;). What's more, some of the wild flowers have begun to bloom here as well and I have heard that in a month or two, the whole hillside will look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

To summarize, living at Slide ranch thus far has been an incredible experience. Hanging with kids everyday can definitely wear you out (it can also be a blast), but the natural beauty and the wealth of knowledge I have accumulated about sustainable agriculture, animal care, communal living, and west coast culture in general are enough to reenergize when I am running on fumes. I have heard that one of the best ways to learn is to teach and so far it has proven true.

I do miss East Coast friends and family and the CGC community, so if you are in the Bay Area and would like to come out for a visit or to volunteer, please contact me at jmendell27 [at] gmail [dot] com. I would love to show you around!

Love,

Jake “Snake” (My Ranch Name)