Stalled by a pandemic, West Marin producers turn to trading foodstuffs

By Leilani Marie Labong : sfchronicle – excerpt

To the city folk who sojourn there, West Marin is an agrarian idyll. The generous, rolling landscape provides great grazing for roaming livestock. A reliable marine layer keeps grass lush and crops nourished and dewy. The cool, plankton-rich intertidal terroir gives the oysters a distinctive flavor profile, sweet and pleasantly briny. Sense of place, on the half shell.

The pandemic has not diminished the geographical advantages that make the milk creamier, the beef butterier and the seafood sweeter. But for the past two months, shelter-in-place mandates have cleaved this prolific, food-producing pocket from most of its consumers. Meanwhile, the Bay Area’s larders brim with Big Food commodities, not the artisanal, decidedly unshelf-stable foods grown and produced in West Marin. How does an agricultural community — where distances between neighboring farms measure tens of miles, rather than tens of feet — stay resilient and productive without a large swath of its market?

One answer has been something of a throwback: barter and trade. In tiny farm and seaside towns like Tomales, Marshall and Valley Ford, residents have turned to an informal, cashless society to keep one another fed and nourished. They say that the advantages of trading essentials, like foodstuffs, labor and space, are intimate and profound. “A strengthening comes when people do things for each other without cash,” says Denise Brown, coordinator of the Tomales Food Pantry. “There is a bonding.”…(more)


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