Thirty-odd years ago, the Simple Living Workshop made its debut at the Redwood Empire Fairgrounds - a weekend-long event which had its origins at the Ukiah Community Center. Buddy Eller, Cathy Monroe, Neill Bell, Judy Judd, Cathy Brigham and other early founders of the UCC organized the original events at fairgrounds in Ukiah, and after a few years, it was moved to Boonville, sometime in the early ‘80’s.
At that time, driving force for the event was the growing number of back-to-the-landers moving to the county, many of whom were making a first-time transition from urban to rural life - eager readers who gobbled up the Whole Earth Catalog, Rodale Press and the Mother Earth News - early homesteaders hungry to connect with like-minded individuals, hone new skills and yes, have a little fun in the process.
Times have changed, and for the most part, things have gotten a LOT less simple. Yet individuals and families are still attempting to move to the hills, still seeking to learn many of the same skills - growing and processing their own food, building sustainable homes and becoming more directly involved in the stewardship and preservation of their piece of Mother Earth.
The 2016 Not So Simple Living Fair is scheduled for July 29th, 30th and 31st at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville. Event sponsors include the Anderson Valley Foodshed Group, the Cloud Forest Institute, Mendocino County Public Broadcasting and the Toll House at Bell Valley.
The extraordinarily affordable weekend will feature back-to-back workshops and presentations focused on hands-on, practical, sustainable, homesteading skills. This year, over 80 individuals will provide attendees with a wide range of information on numerous topics - and yes, there will still be a little fun in the process. Food, music and kids’ activities round out the schedule, making for a satisfying and enriching weekend.
The all-volunteer committee meets almost year-round. They will begin next year’s planning soon after the conclusion of this event. Coordinators assemble the complex schedule, the vetting of presenters, book the entertainment offerings and puzzle out logistics, with additional groups of volunteers recruited to work all aspects of the three-day event.
The event’s organizing committee consists of a competent and committed “who’s who” of original and next-gen proponents of the Simple Life: Lynda McClure, Jenny Burnstad, Captain Rainbow, Jini Reynolds, Linda MacElwee, Sophia Bates, Rob Goodell, Renee Wilson, Kathy Borst, Carin Bokhof, Steve and Margie Fish, Barbara Lamb, Jade Paget-Seekins, and Beth Riedel.
Last week, the committee gathered at the home of Lynda McClure and Jenny Burnstad for another planning session, discussing the program, logistics and all the little details as the weekend draws nearer. Spread sheets, notepads, fairground maps, dry-erase boards, paper cutters, iPads and laptops accompanied the committee members.
Though the agenda was long, the group forged through the hefty list and potluck dinner, still managing to conclude the meeting in time for farmers to bring in their animals and commuters to head over the hill, just as twilight was setting in. Organizers thoughtfully and often humorously pinned their decisions to the mission of the event, vocalizing an abiding respect for presenters and the public.
Issues ranged from when volunteers should pick up unsold tickets from the local venues to which presenters needed PowerPoint equipment. Making sure the kitchen is spick-and-span following the pancake breakfast, so that the cheese-making workshop can start on time. Checking that public service announcements are being broadcast. Coordinating the finish time of the BBQ’d meat with the start time of the pot-luck. Asking who gets keys to what building. Discussing the challenges of acoustics in various buildings, and clarifying the types of presentations that meet the criteria for the event.
From spell-checking to signage, this is the rather unglamorous world of event planning, and hats off to the stalwart volunteers who take enormous amounts of time out of their busy lives to make things happen. Along with the acquisition of practical skills, coordinators hope the event will also translate into greater localization efforts and deeper community cohesion.
The first Simple Living Workshop was held in 1980. Workshops included sheep shearing, fence building, tarot reading and how to stack a cord of wood. Solar was still so expensive that most people were still trying to figure out how to pay for it. Yurts were on display and the battle over “Class K” housing was the hot-button political issue. Staff camped at Bear Wallow in Philo or bunked down in a big army tent on the grounds. Rod Shippey was a featured speaker, and the event sometimes coincided with the sheepdog trials. A pre-Dreadlocked Rootstock came out of the hills and performed, and a few years later, a sell-out crowd danced to Tommy Tutone, following his hit, “867-5309 Jenny.” After hours, there was a hot tub, and people unabashedly doffed their clothes and took to the waters. Troll and Marilyn “Motherbear” Brandon ran the Random Family Circus children’s area, and at night, Troll, all 5’1” of him, fully tricked out in black leather chaps, vest, serious Concho jewelry, cowboy boots and black hat was the only security the dance needed.
Following the Community Center’s final effort, the Anderson Valley Foodshed Group organized a retrospective event in 2010- rebranding it, appropriately and with just a little tongue in cheek, as the “NOT So Simple Living Fair.”
The daughter of Diane Paget, an early Anderson Valley back-to-the-lander is taking a page out of her mother’s playbook to become an event organizer this year. “My mother remembered the original events, and she helped coordinate Not So Simple for a number of years,” Paget-Seekins notes. “It’s an event she was dedicated to working on.”
Diane Paget moved to Mendocino County in 1970, according to Paget-Seekins. “She grew up in Southern California, went to college in Berkeley and took the Greyhound Bus to Anderson Valley, where she got a job working at Clearwater Ranch.” Paget left for a year to travel and study midwifery in England, returning to Anderson Valley in about 1975. “Judy Nelson’s child was the first baby my mom delivered in California,” says Paget-Seekins.
“One of the things that I notice and find most heartwarming is that the event appeals to people all ages. Kids have a wonderful time, as well as people in their ‘60 and ‘70’s, sharing skills with the next generation. I appreciate friends and neighbors, sharing and teaching what they know,” says Paget-Seekins. One of the things that Diane was passionate about was coordinating the Zero Waste element of the event- something that was a standard practice for the older generation attending family picnics. Today, in our throwaway society, bringing one’s own dishes to an event seems like a foreign concept.
“My mom made and sold bags of dishes that people could take to other potlucks and events. She also coordinated a re-use table - a contest where people diverted items from the waste stream, made other things from those items and showed them off. One thing I remembered with my mom about the early Simple Living events was mothers sitting on the lawn, breastfeeding together,” Paget-Seekins smiles.
Rob Goodell attended the original Simple Living events, and was an early transplant to Anderson Valley. He has been a coordinator and presenter for Not So Simple and this year will offer two workshops- one, a 40-year retrospective on the ongoing experiment at his family’s home, Rancho Kai Pomo. “This will be a holistic look at 'doing it' from scratch as a nuclear family in the hills of Anderson Valley. I will use a display to structure the presentation and will take questions,” says Goodell.
Goodell’s second workshop will be on Passive Solar Energy and Pole House Building.
“Passive solar energy is probably the most important source of alternative energy we have available, and its potential impacts on better living, less energy consumption, and a more sustainable architecture are extremely important. Pole house construction is just one way to feature passive solar architecture and it will be a model for the class.”
For this year’s event, Goodell worked on the presenters’ committee, teaming up with Linda MacElwee, Lynda McClure and Sophia Bates. “Previously, I used to participate with the Permaculture Group and Mark Albert. We’ve been around for a long time- 35 years, doing our thing. It was kind of a narrow focus- botanical, grafting, and seed exchange. Mark was the lead on that. This year, we’re going to have a Garden Tour from the Fair to the community garden. That’s what we have to focus on- what’s possible, what we can do.”
“We live about a half-mile from the fairgrounds,” says Goodell. “I recall going down to the original Simple Living event for several years. It was fabulous- much more creative and full of potential, because we were younger and we had access to land, which is really bothersome to me now. I remember the Japanese folk from Clearlake pounding mochi, and I definitely remember a hot tub,” he smiles.
“These days, we certainly have a little more technology, which works for and against us, depending how you use it. With solar hot water systems, I’ve found that it’s more economical to have more panels, and heat with panels rather than directly from the sun. But we’re the same evolutionary creatures that we were thousands of years ago. What’s changed is the world. Here we are- the same family on the same piece of land, pretty much doing the same thing as when we arrived 40 years ago. Barbara, myself and my two sons have been the team. When I look back- who do I know that is still doing this? Not that many people,” Goodell notes.
“In the early days we were all reading Diet for a Small Planet. There was always an element of New Age connected to the Back-to-the-Land movement. We thought if you ate meat, it was basically ok, but you were supposed to be a vegetarian to get in touch with a higher plane of existence,” he smiles. “We were vegetarians because we couldn’t get ahold of good meat,” he laughs.
Goodell muses on the complexities of cannabis culture that became inexorably entwined with the Back-to-the-Land movement. “It’s been hard to deal with cannabis as income more than as a sacred plant. But it’s human nature. I’ve got nothing critical to say. It’s part of life now, but a lot of interest went into making money on pot rather than how to make money homesteading.”
“A few people like John Schaeffer are an outstanding example of someone who provided “real goods” and found a way to make money doing it. We older folks have to accept the world the way it was and not the way we wanted it to be- to adapt to the reality of getting older. Our idealistic values have probably become more realistic. But I still feel like I want to support younger people with their idealism and great visions, because in their visions are possibilities.”
“I don’t enjoy the Sierra Nevada or the Beer Fest. We don’t go to San Francisco anymore. We honestly don’t go to Santa Rosa or even Ukiah. The pace of life is such that we have it so good at home, why go anywhere? We made a lot of changes when we were young. We were open to many changes. It came out of the Vietnam War for me, because I was an unwitting participant. A that time, I thought, what do we have to lose? Let’s get far away from the Establishment, as far as we could- build a home, grow food, work in community.”
“I’m almost getting something like a religion, and I’m an Atheist, but my values are that nature is always in charge,” Goodell smiles. “It’s been a good day; every day we’ve been here. Other people deserve that. It’s astounding that that opportunity has been shut down so much. I do not have blind faith in capitalism. I don’t think we have a supportable economy or government, and I believe these life skills will become increasingly more important to communities in the future. But for now, we enjoy putting on this event, and we really look forward to it. It’s an ongoing community effort, an uncompromised labor of love,” he concludes.
“Not very many people remember very much about the early Simple Living events,” laughs Sophia Bates. “Now we have another wave- about a generation and a half. The interesting thing is that our presenters are people of different ages- not just young people coming to learn from elders. There are older people coming to learn skills from younger people, folks who made the exodus from urban life and want to be in touch with nature. We hear people saying, ‘I want to have a garden, bees, chickens,’ and now they can find time to do it.”
One thing that Bates addresses as a distinctive difference between early and current homesteading efforts is the challenge of acquiring land. “What’s different now from the first round? How do we address land-based skills when it’s so hard for people to get a land base, compared to how inexpensive land was in the early years? It’s almost impossible for people to afford land. There’s a wave of creative solutions: farm-linkage, how to live on land that isn’t your own, conversations on community and shared land, land trust, easements- these are the plights of the landed and land-less people. Coming from a family farm myself, we are still discussing this whole process. We’re third-generation and we still don’t own our land outright,” Bates explains.
Bates currently helps to manage a 2,000-acre ranch in Yorkville, raising and selling Cinta Senese hogs, sheep, goats, and poultry- specifically breeding and selling Barred Plymouth Rocks chickens. Bates grew up in the county and remembers her parents and friends raising and slaughtering chickens. “It was a big deal. It was unfamiliar territory for them. I was a vegetarian for a long time growing up. I ended up raising 4-H animals. I’d raise an animal for my parents to eat, but, the processing of the animal wasn’t part of their skill set and happened elsewhere. I learned animal processing working from the skinning perspective and while living in Maine, where processing was more integrated into farm life. My parent’s generation still has some disconnect from the meat aspect of where their food comes from. In my generation, there’s a huge hunger for people to be connected to meat. I teach processing classes in other venues, and half the class are vegan and vegetarian, because they don’t have a connection to the meat. They’ve never had the opportunity to make a connection with the whole process,” notes Bates, adding that she has probably “converted” 30 vegetarians to meat consumption, just through witnessing the process and being primed for the experience.
Bates may end up offering a chicken processing course during the weekend, but along with being a major coordinator, she will be teaching an all-day animal processing workshop the Sunday before the event. The locally-grown animals processed will be cooked up and eaten at the Saturday night community potluck. “This is a real workshop. If you come, you process half an animal with another person. We’re feeding the village. This group of people at the workshop will get together to feed this temporary village.”
Bates emphasizes that not only the coordinators but the presenters are an all-volunteer group. “We spend a little money on hospitality for the speakers, who are also taking time out of their busy lives, but this event is truly a labor of love. There’s some sweet quality about an all-volunteer event, but to truly become a sustainable event, how do each of us sustain our own lives so that we can sustain this? Once you turn volunteer positions into paid positions, the quality and the intimacy of everyone coming together changes.”
“Just by its nature, the growth of the event has continued to be slow and steady. We don’t need to push it. It’s awesome as it is.” Bates notes the ambiance of the event- so different from the clamber of a festival or a party. “There’s a quiet focus when you walk around, when workshops are going on. People are really focused. It’s very peaceful,” Bates concludes.
"Never before has the schedule been up at the beginning of July,” smiles Steve Fish, who has been working on producing the schedule and preparing the program handout. “We have so many workshops that the program is going to a larger format this year,” he told the group.
The schedule is broken up into eight separate components- Wild Food, Kids and Everyone, Shelter, Water and Energy, Homesteading Skills, Food, Farming and Gardening, Animal Husbandry and the “Conversation Café” area, which will be set up for more informal discussions about a variety of topics.
Presenters and workshops will be added and finalized right up to the final week of the event, so check the website for the latest information. Just a few of the scheduled topics include Bread-making, Aquaponic Basics, Goat Milking, Basic Forging Practices, Bee Hive Crafting, Farm Tours, Seed Saving, Canning, Livestock Management, Rabbit Raising, Acorn Processing, Composting, Drip Irrigation, Broom and Brush Making, Solar Oven Use, Earthquake Preparedness, Spinning and Fiber Introduction, Berries for the Homestead, Cheese Making, Fermentation, and Fence-Building.
A partial list of presenters include Ali Boeker, Alice Woelfle-Erskine, Andy Balestracci, Anna Birkas, Barbara Goodell, Bill Meyer, Bill Seekins, Bill Taylor, Carol Cox, Carolyn Carleton Browe, Cindy Wilder, Corine Pearce, David Severn, David Skillman, Debbie Baron, Donna d'Terra, Vicky Salcido-Cobb, Georgia Lane, Doug Browe, Ed Nieves, Eleanor Adams, Erika Kesenheimer, Erika McKenzie-Chapter, Familia Mendoza, Frederick Smith, Gary Johnson, Greg Krouse, Jack Davis, Jane Zeni, Jennifer Riddell, Jes Pearce, Jim Boudoures, John Bemesderfer, John Cunnan, Julie Liebenbaum, Kevin Owens, Liz Schroeder, Luke Frey, Maria Gilardin, Mary Pat Palmer, Mike Luparello, Paige Poulos, Patrick Schafer, Rebekah Carson, Renee Wilson, Steven Edholm, Sue Davies, Tim Bates, Tim Bray, Tom Shaver and Wynne Crisman.
Cottage Industry and Food Vendors will be on hand, but Styrofoam plates will not.
“At the Not-So-Simple Living Fair, one of our goals is to generate a minimal amount of trash. Over the last three years, we have ended up with less than two bags of trash at the end of the weekend each year,” notes coordinator Lynda McClure.
“We do this by asking everyone to ‘BYO.’ Bring your own dishes, which includes water bottles. We also have a BYO vendor if you find yourself at the event without dishes. We compost all paper products along with all food waste, and we will have clearly marked cans for compost, recycle and trash, as well as a dish-washing station and filtered water staffed by interns from the Solar Living Center,” McClure notes.
In addition to the on-site food vendors, coordinators encourage hungry guests to frequent the many delightful eateries in downtown Boonville.
On Sunday, visitors will have a rare opportunity to hear the thoughts of three Mendocino County-based powerhouses of agriculture, herbalism and ranching - John Jeavons, Donna d’Terra and Mac Magruder. It will take place from 2:00 to 3:30.
The Keynote topic is, “How Do We Keep On Keepin’ On?”
John Jeavons, Executive Director of the non-profit Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula is the leading researcher, developer, teacher, and consultant for the small-scale, high-yielding, agricultural method known as GROW BIOINTENSIVE® (GB) Sustainable Mini-Farming, and author of the best-seller: How to Grow More Vegetables—and Fruits, Nuts Berries and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible On Less Land Than You Can Imagine.
Jeavons has authored, co-authored or edited more than 200 publications and peer-reviewed papers on the Biointensive approach and related topics. His methods are used in 151 countries by organizations including UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Peace Corps. Jeavons and staff advise students, teachers, farmers, and representatives of private, non-profit and governmental organizations, participating in cross-cultural exchange of agricultural methods.
Jeavon’s comprehensive, sustainable cropping system enables people throughout the world to grow a balanced diet on a small plot of land. Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland said of his work, "The Jeavons approach…would do more to solve the problems of poverty, misery and hunger than anything else we've done."
A political science graduate of Yale University, Jeavons worked for USAID and Stanford before devoting 44 years to the development of Biointensive techniques. He been twice nominated for the World Food Prize, once for the Pew Scholars Award in Conservation and the Environment, and was featured in two PBS documentaries. Jeavons has addressed the World Food Conference at Clemson University and initiated conferences and lectures and teaching programs at UC Davis, Stanford University and universities throughout Mexico. He regularly addresses national, international, and university audiences on the role individuals play in providing solutions to world environment and food challenges.
Donna d’Terra is the founder and director of the Motherland Botanical Sanctuary and Herb School, located in the hills outside of Willits. d’Terra is a lifelong student of the plants and the land, and has been teaching herb classes for the past 30 years, with a focus on local, sustainable and restorative herbalism.
Motherland is a 160-acre botanical sanctuary located 25 minutes northeast of Willits. The beautiful, rugged land contains many habitats which are home to a wide variety of plant, animal and bird life. The cultivated gardens contain over 200 species of herbs. Electricity at Motherland is generated by solar and hydro-power, with other unique features including a wood-fired hot tub, a composting toilet, and a living "willow wall" used for erosion control along the creek.
For the past 20 years, d’Terra has offered a nine-month Herbal Apprentice Class for women. One of her current passions is helping to educate and train the next generation of herb teachers. She is also a storyteller in the Baubo tradition.
Mac Magruder is a fourth-generation manager of the Magruder Ranch (aka Ingel-Haven Ranch) in Potter Valley, where his father raised some cattle and hay, but primarily grew pears. In the mid- ‘70’s, upon completing his graduate program in Ceramic Sculpture at the University of Washington, his father fell ill, and Magruder returned home to run the ranch.
His decided to remove the pears and build the cow/calf operation, relying on the wisdom and generosity of older Potter Valley ranchers, who helped him learn the business. Initially, Magruder was frustrated with the process of raising an animal for a year, sending it to auction and relinquishing all he’d worked for. Rod Shippey, Mendocino County’s visionary farm advisor encouraged him to investigate holistic ranch management, including rotational grazing and low-input, organic pasture production.
Magruder learned to raise food in cooperation with the land, thereby enhancing the health of the consumer, the soil, the landscape, and the animals. Fresh feed, open space, a healthy ecosystem and a low-stress lifestyle increased the wellbeing of animals and the quality and safety of the meat.
For thirty-five years, Magruder has been raising grass-finished beef, and now lamb, on fertile, irrigated pastures and open hill ground- rich with naturally growing legumes and grasses, providing year-round grazing in a holistic, rotational system. Land is grazed and rested for proper plant recovery. Cattle and lambs are fattened on the ranch’s pastures, and harvested when conditions are conducive to proper animal growth. Following processing at the closest USDA slaughterhouse, meat is sold directly to butcher shops, restaurants, markets, and individuals in Northern California.
Magruder and his wife Kate manage the Ranch in partnership with their daughter Grace, her husband Kyle Farmer, and grand-daughter June.
On Friday night, a “Campfire Cabaret” open mic event will take place, coordinated by Anderson Valley’s own Captain Rainbow, starting at dusk. “Bring your top hats, tubas, hula-hoops, feathers, illusions…your glockenspiels, talking llamas, epic ballads, twinkle toes and moon howls,” says Rainbow. The event is free for performers, for those with a weekend pass and just $5 for everyone else. For more information contact Rainbow at (707) 895-3807.
Following the potluck extravaganza on Saturday night, music will begin at 8:00, featuring Pura Vida and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies. Separate tickets for the dance are available at the gate.
Pura Vida is Mendocino County’s original Latin-inspired dance band, who have brought eclectic Latin rhythms to North Coast audiences for over 20 years. In addition to their signature Cuban songs, Pura Vida performs Cumbia, Merengue, Flamenco, Brazilian Bossa and Samba rhythms, interwoven with a sprinkling of Rock, Jazz and Funk. Pura Vida’s spicy Latin music is diverse, energetic and always danceable, bringing “Pure Life” to any celebration. The band features Roberto Gloria, Jorge Gomez, Margi Gomez, Isa Davila, & Lenny Laks.
The fun continues with Self Fulfilling Prophecies. Anticipate a head boppin’, foot stompin’ good time with this power-trio, performing all-original songs. Self Fulfilling Prophecies has something for everyone. With influences ranging from punk, country, rock, reggae, and world beat, they are pure Americana, with some punk and edge thrown in. Their sound is colored with intense emotion, at times leaving the audience in trance-like states. The band has deep roots as second-gen Mendo natives, playing venues in and around Mendocino County for many years. Morgan Stocker (the Stock Rocker) is the vocalist, foot drummer and guitarist; Buckminster West plays wailing guitar, and Bodhi Idarius will not be missed on bass.
The mother of all potlucks takes place every year at Not So Simple, and attendees only need follow a few instructions to avail themselves of the feast.
Wristbands will be issued to fair-goers and members of their party when they drop off potluck item. Wristbands will need to be shown in the food line to ensure that all potluck participants are able to appreciate the bounty of delicious, homemade food.
If you would like to participate in the Saturday Local Food Potluck, please bring a salad, side dish, dessert or drinks to serve 6-8 people, and your own place settings. The Not So Simple Living Fair supplies BBQ’d, locally raised meat, rice and beans. Bringing something from your garden or purchased from the Farmers Market is encouraged, but not essential.
Potluck dishes may be left in June Hall on Saturday. A limited number of coolers are available, so staff asks to help by bringing your own. There is no place to cook or reheat food.
For only a three-hour commitment, volunteers receive free, one-day admission to the event. “Please consider helping us with a variety of tasks, such as working at the entrance gates, setting up or tearing down the stage, cleaning up after the event, helping with the Kids area, kitchen or the Saturday potluck, providing presenter support, or a few other specialized tasks,” says Jade Paget-Seekins, who is coordinating volunteers.
For a 4.5-hour commitment, volunteers are awarded free admission to the entire weekend. Volunteering must be arranged before the event, and all support is very much appreciated. There are also volunteer spots available on Friday, and before and after specific workshops. “We make every effort to accommodate your schedule if there is a workshop you are interested in attending. We are very flexible,” Paget-Seekins smiles. Prime volunteer slots get snatched up early, so don’t hesitate. Contact Jade at (707) 895-3354 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Logistics, Parking & Tickets
Camping is available for fair attendees at $10 per car. Sorry, no dogs allowed. Parking is available at the Fairgrounds lot on Highway 128, along Highway 128, and also in the Fairgrounds parking lot on Lambert Lane. After Friday night, vehicles and campers must enter the Fairgrounds through the back gate on Lambert Lane.
Gates open 3:00 pm Friday and 9:00 AM Saturday and Sunday. Early bird, single-day and weekend tickets are available.
Walk-in entry and ticket purchases are at the Fairgrounds front gate on Highway 128 and at the Fairgrounds back gate on Lambert Lane.
Advance Tickets can be purchased at JD Redhouse in Willits, Ukiah Natural Foods, Boont Berry Farm, Out of this World in Mendocino, Harvest Market in Fort Bragg, and at http://www./event/brownpapertickets.com/event/2544823. Kids 16 and under are free, and note - no credit cards - only cash and checks will be accepted at the gate.