I've had the same conversation twice this week. First with my mother on the phone and then with the Muse over dinner; over a hot bowl of kale and potato soup.

First we talked about voting with our forks, the usual conversation I have with either of them, but then both times, the conversation wound it's way to the idea of how we have other choices too, choices to vote with our purse. Not buying something new but in places where we're already spending money and where a different choice might exist.

I thought the Muse was going to hit the table with her fist as we went on about it. She got that let's make change kind of a look. And then cleaned her bowl of soup with the last bite of bread. First things first - food and then change.

Mom didn't hit her fist on anything, not that I could hear anyway, but I could tell, she had her fist in the air with that let's-do-it-gesture too.

This is what I did. This is for my Mom and the Muse.

I applied for and received a SALMON NATION Visa card. It has a big red jumping, I swear it's smiling, salmon on the front and bigger blocked letters spelling out SALMON NATION.

It's not a huge change, it took all of five minutes to print, fill out and fax back the application, but really, those are the changes that work best for me. Five minute changes. My best changes have all been small but that's why they last. I hardly notice them.

A percentage of income from the SALMON NATION Visa card goes to Ecotrust to help grow a SALMON NATION. And honestly, I don't know the due diligence of that equation, but I'd rather have even a penny go to SALMON NATION and support communities working together to improve watersheds than have the same penny go to a Bank of something. Plus it feels good to pull the bright red salmon from my purse and hand it over.

As good as kale and potato soup.

Indian Valley Campus Organic Farm

So many years ago, more than I want to tell you, I took a class on an organic farm, at the Santa Rosa Jr. College. Bob Cannard was the teacher. I ran into him again last year at Bioneers, he was talking about farming, the same common sense, use what you have philosophy of the last time I'd seen him. Except everything he said was new again, as exciting as the first time I'd heard him. He talks a lot about dirt, taking care of the dirt, where the dirt comes from, how important the dirt is. He's teaching again, or maybe still, I haven't followed him closely. He teaches interns at Green String Farm in Petaluma; a wide expanse of a farm with rolling hills of vineyards as a back drop, a real old wood barn, chickens and a farm stand open year round. It's worth seeking out.

Last week I found myself at another organic school farm, this one younger, on the campus of College of Marin at Indian Valley. The student tended rows of turnips, lettuces, beets, and kale reached from the open space land that cradles the entire campus to a soccer field that caters to joggers, bike riders and dog walkers, not a person with a ball to be seen. And the first thing the farmer did when he walked through the gate, you already know, he picked up a handful of dirt and brought it to his nose. He seemed to relax then, the feel of dirt on his hands, the difference between the classroom and the garden. He reached for a calendula, handed it to the first person beside him, another and another, I had one too. Orange and yellow calendulas, no two the same and I never knew they could grow in such variety.

He with the dirt on his hands was Steve Quirt, the planner and teacher on the farm, our tour guide for the visit. He's another farmer, like Bob Cannard, who knows the importance of dirt. And Wendy Johnson, also a teacher at the farm, we didn't have her pleasure but it's impossible to know about the farm and not know about Wendy. She was there in the impossibly silver artichoke plants and the fava beans, magenta blossoms. Deep, saturated magenta. She's the same Wendy Johnson of Green Gulch Farm, and the author of Gardening at the Dragon's Gate, a big green book I've entered through a hundred different gates or often while beating back the weeds looking for a damn gate.

The farm at Indian Valley has a farm stand of sorts too but the hours appear random. It's either open or it's closed. A shaded roof and plywood tables. If there's class I suppose, and vegetables to be picked, enough to actually sell, it seems they sell them. How perfectly wonderful for the neighborhoods nearby, the communities of people on foot, what a bit of magic to bring home a bag of peas or a pair of artichokes from so close to home. From school. It's their secret garden. (Don't tell anyone you read it here.)

And while they're there, neighbors meeting again or for the first time, at the cyclone gate near the metal sink with a hose running in it, I hope someone invites them to pick up a handful of the dirt, bring it to their nose and, yes, take a smell of it. Maybe you will too, if you find yourself the next time at a farm, letting the dirt fall slowly, in dusty drifts through the text books of your hands, appreciating it for everything we eat.

Office Building Composting

A co-worker stood at my office door Monday afternoon, "What do I do with these," he asked, an empty cup of yogurt in one hand, crumpled paper napkins in the other. I tapped the cup to be sure it was plastic, resisted disposing of them for him.

The entire office was lost after lunch though. We were in our first day of mandated composting and there were twice as many waste baskets in the kitchen than there had been on Friday; all courtesy of the building management. The new waste baskets were adhered with bumper sticker instructions and there were laminated and illustrated instructions to guide us too, but it was still confusing.

The morning had been a breeze. "Coffee cups go in the compost bin," I told everyone, "lids in the landfill." I got a funny look. "The garbage," I clarified. "Lids in the garbage." We were off to a good and caffeinated start.

Then there was a cereal box that landed in the compost. I took it out and put it in the recycle. An hour later it was back in the compost. I left it but took out a biodegradable spoon and washed it for reuse.

I thought I was five shades of chartreuse buying biodegradable utensils for the office but in the world of composting and recycling they are relegated to the garbage. They don't breakdown in compost and they aren't recyclable either.

"The plastic cup goes in recycling," I told my co-worker. He was licking his biodegradable spoon. "That you can reuse." He looked skeptical. "And the napkins, in the compost."

"This is confusing," he said walking away.

Another co-worker, the one I'd pegged the least likely to compost, told me about his Grandmother's system. He told me about guarding the bucket of food scraps until it was full so he could carry it to the pigs. "I loved it," he said. And then he tossed his coffee grounds in the compost like a pro.

A few more days and everyone on our floor will be a pro too. And the people in the other 25 floors in the building will be pros and our families and friends and people we talk to on the street will become compost pros.

I sent the building management a thank you note. And then I went to see if there any more utensils in the garbage to pull out.

I've got to come up with a better utensil solution.

Marin Sanitary Service Tour

Saturday I toured Marin Sanitary Services and hid behind my camera with tears. I'm blaming it on the acacia in bloom, but honestly, it was the tour leader.

The tour was probably standard with the huge exception that ours was led by the Chairman of the Board, Joe Garbarino. Joe is 77, retired and he wore white tennis shoes.

We started in the area where plastic, paper, cans and bottles are sorted. "This stuff gets in the ocean," Joe said pointing to plastic bags, "and oh the trouble it causes. If only you could see it." He gestured like he was tossing stale bread to the seagulls. "At least in the landfill," he added, "it stays there and doesn't get in the water."

We walked to the next warehouse with a pit the length of one side. "This is what goes to the landfill. It's what's left when everything recyclable comes out." There were a couple of couches, some mattresses.

Someone near me said, "You really can't reuse a mattress. Can you?" No one replied. We were scowling at the pit of future landfill.

Next door was the warehouse where cars and trucks drive in to unload. Undeterred, Joe stopped in the middle of the floor and told us about using oil based paints that are brought in. Cars and trucks drove around us. "I have it dumped in the bottom of the dumpsters. We just keep painting and repainting them." He waved at a wall of color patched dumpsters. "The dumpsters aren't going anywhere and it keeps it out of the landfill." Joe was my newest eco hero. I took a few pictures.

Half way through the tour we passed bails of old carpet padding. "A woman picks that up." Joe pointed. "I don't know what she does with it." He paused considering the possibilities. "I'll have to ask her."

At the furthest warehouse, this one open ended, Joe bent down and picked up a couple pieces of metal. "This one," he said, waving a license plate in the air. "It's worth .16 cents a pound. This one," he held up a piece of what may have been a bed frame, "it's worth .09 cents a pound." And then he tossed them into separate bins. If we hadn't been there he would have continued sorting. Instead we kept going.

"We smash cars here and over here we can shred a tree." Then, and this got me too, Joe pointed to what was left of an old oak tree. "This one came down this week in Glenwood." We all stopped and considered the sawed pieces of tree. I considered how Joe knew about the tree. And then I hid behind the camera until the tears passed.

At the furthest yard where old appliances are gathered for scrap metal, Joe pointed out a three story wall poured entirely from left over cement. And then he showed us a hill of compost made from food waste. He scooped up a double handful and encouraged us, "Smell it," he said smiling. "It smells good." He extended his arms and he was right; the compost smelled good.

And for some reason that still makes me cry.

I'll never think of garbage the same again.

Local on Our Table - March

Farmers' Market
French Breakfast Radishes
Green Garlic
Little Gems
Mixed Greens
Rainbow Chard
Red Kuri Squash
Ruby Red Grapefruit
Spring Onions
Sweet Potatoes
Yukon Gold Potatoes

Back Deck Harvest

From The Freezer/Pantry
Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Gleaned and Gifted
(From Someone Else's Yard)
Aracuna Eggs