Living the Local Food Life: Urban & Rural Points of View

publication date: Mar 11, 2010
author/source: Doniga Markegard and Susan Osofsky
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Living the Local Food Life: Urban & Rural Points of View

By Doniga Markegard and Susan Osofsky
Rotating Cattle
Originally printed in issue # 75 of the Permaculture Activist

Making the time and committing to create beneficial relationships with your food and its
journey to your plate is not an easy feat.  Localization, or keeping the economics of your food choices local, is key to a regenerated Earth.  Getting to the point where localization is functioning well with beneficial relationships from all species working fluently together is a complex process requiring a lot of relationship building, community involvement and action.  We will share our journeys of how we have made the move to a localized economy within the San Francisco Bay Area which provides farmers right livelihoods, enables low-income families to enjoy the luxury of eating local, organic food, creates carbon sinks, brings back threatened and endangered species, utilizes available land from small backyards to vast public rangelands and out into the wilderness, and does all this within our foodshed. Doniga Markegard writes from the rural perspective while Susan Osofsky writes from the urban perspective.

The Rural Perspective

Our ancestors knew localization.  They knew how to build relationships with the land, the species and the resources that ensured their survival.  They knew how to take care of the acorn crop one year for it to return in surplus the next.   My adoptive Lakota father, Gilbert Walking Bull, was raised in this way.  Growing up in a refugee camp on the outskirts of the Pine Ridge Reservation, where a band of Lakotas fled the missionary schools to continue practicing their tradition, Gilbert was raised by many elders in his community.  He told me stories about how his grandmother would ask him to fetch her an herb.  She would tell him a very complex story of how to get this herb.  She would say, "follow the line of pine trees down the river. When you get to the pine tree with the crooked branch pointing north, turn towards the rising sun and follow this over two ridges until you get to the prairie dog town. You will then go down into the valley where you will find the herb. 
Gilbert had stories about everything they used from tools, to hides, rope and berries.  He had a deep relationship Gilbert Walking Bullwith his place, his foodshed. This direct connection to where our food comes from and our relationship with place is something that most of us were not brought up with.  We have gone so far from this indigenous connection to food that a common response from people when asked where their food comes from is the grocery store.   We must create these connections again-we have no choice, our quality of life and survival depends on it. 

The relationship with place that connects us with our foodshed can be strengthened by nurturing the rural-urban connection between people and nature.

The Urban Perspective

Living in a suburban environment in the San Francisco Bay Area provides access to an abundance of local food from backyard gardens, local markets, CSA's, local orchards, farmers' markets, and the rural areas that lie beyond the suburbs.

My journey to eat local food started out innocuously enough.  We have a huge backyard garden, belong to a CSA, and regularly shop at the farmers' market.   The majority of our fresh fruits and veggies are local.

My explosion onto the local food scene, however, came as a result of producing Conexions' Green Fork 100-Mile Thanksgiving Celebration event for the past three years.   Green Fork decided to join the 100-Mile Diet ( request to create a 100-Mile Thanksgiving, so we produced an event which inspired participants to prepare their own holiday feasts using local food.[1] Preparing for this event year after year propelled me into the depths of the local food scene that extends beyond basic fruits & vegetables.

I scoured a number of items from our local farmers' markets and Country Sun, our local market that sells locally grown and produced food, for hard-to-find food that I needed to round out our dinner.  I found an abundance of ingredients-rice, beans (cranberry, black, cannellini, etc.), field corn (for grinding into polenta), walnuts, almonds, flour, wheat berries, honey, tofu, cheese, jam, olive oil, vinegar, grass-fed beef, lamb, and pork, turkey, salmon, butter, milk, buttermilk, eggs, juice, mushrooms, seaweed, and wine.

The underlying theme to digging deeper into local food is relationship-relationship to place and relationship to person. Farmers have food.  Urban areas have people.  The two are primed to work together.

Our house is a local distribution spot for Two Small Farms CSA, so over the years, we've had opportunity to create strong relationships with the two families of farmers who run the CSA as well as their office staff and drivers.  Our relationship goes far beyond the CSA program. When we're in need of food, we contact our farmers.  When they're in need of people to eat their food, they contact us.  This is all about sharing the surplus. Not only do these farmers share surplus produce through donations and reduced pricing for community events, they have other innovative offerings.

Mariquita Farm in Hollister, CA, has two programs that do this: the Mystery Box and the Buying Club.

A Mystery Box [2] is like a CSA box but different. "Mystery Boxes," says Mariquita Farm's Julia Wiley, "are guerilla vegetable deliveries, not a CSA.... More like a taco truck-meets-the farmers' market. No pre-payment, no credit cards. You give me your cell phone number as collateral that you'll show up, I give you mine so you can find me/contact me that night."  

A Mystery Box contains the vegetables that are harvested for Mariquita Farm's San Francisco restaurant route deliveries.   It's a mystery to the customers as to what they'll receive although they do get information with the box.  The distribution location varies for each delivery.  Every other week or so Julia decides which restaurant is the delivery spot, and that's where people come.

The Buying Club [3] is a service for the convenience of people who want to can, pickle, juice, dry, or otherwise process bulk quantities of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits whenever the harvest permits.  From the farmers' point of view, the buying club allows farmers to sell produce locally to an appreciative audience when there's an overabundance of a particular crop to harvest.  People on the email list do not need to be CSA subscribers and are asked to forward the email to people that they know.

The Buying Club works on pre-orders and cash payment.   The Palo Alto runs are located at our house and being the fanatic CSA hosts that we are, we thoroughly enjoy helping Julia unload the truck and walk people to their cars with 20 lb boxes of tomatoes, strawberries, apples, or pumpkins.  In return, we get our produce delivered straight to the house!

Getting surplus to those in need
Fruit Pick

The larger San Francisco Bay Area through to Monterey has such a variety of climates that we can grow fruit year-round.  Citrus is harvested January - June; stone fruit from May - August; apples and pears August - October; and persimmons November - December. 

The hungry in many communities do not have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Most food closets stock food that's easily stored and distributed.  Some of the processed food like bakery items (bread, cakes, cookies) are perishable but don't need refrigeration.   Because of the cost and effort involved in distributing fresh produce, food that is extremely perishable and/or requires refrigeration makes up a very small portion of food that's distributed to the hungry and low income families.

Village Harvest [4], a non-profit organization located in San Jose, CA harvests surplus fruit in urban and rural areas and then distributes it to local food agencies to feed the hungry. Village Harvest orchestrates the web of producers (homeowners and orchard-owners), agencies who feed the hungry, and volunteers who harvest the produce which make the program run.   In 2009, its best year yet, Village Harvest harvested and distributed over 149,000 lbs of fruit.  Since its inception in 2000, Village Harvest has harvested over 2 million servings of nutritious fresh fruit for the community.  Often, the fruit travels only 5 - 15 miles from tree to person.   Volunteers who help harvest the fruit also share in the abundance by taking home the culls, which I do quite frequently as a volunteer leader.    We often end up with our own fruit "emergencies" caused by having to juice, dehydrate, process and/or distribute to friends and neighbors 200 lbs of fruit before it ends up in our compost. We've loaned out our juicer to the neighborhood and have taught others how to make applesauce.  I'm constantly building relationships and strengthening my web of fellow locavores who will take 20 lb boxes of fruit from me without blinking.

The foodshed is not defined with hard & fast boundaries.  Rather, consider your foodshed an opportunity to learn about your relationship with food and to observe and adjust the way you think about buying and eating food.

Taking up the challenge to eat from your local foodshed is not an "all or nothing" proposition. It's about making conscious choices about the food you eat.  Start wherever you are on the spectrum of eating locally, then shift towards the direction of making more mindful food choices as your awareness grows.

The Rural Perspective

family photoThe San Francisco Peninsula is unique, in that the Santa Cruz Mountains create a geographical divide between the urban and the rural.  Many of the urban people travel through this small mountain range to enjoy the outdoors, bike, surf or go to a local farm stand. You can develop a deep relationship with the land your food comes from by exploring and understanding nature.

The small coastal town I live in consists of a general store and a post office, and most of the time you know every truck parked in front of the general store and recognize about 9 out of 10 people you pass on the road.  It is a farming community.  My family and I make up part of the 0.73% of the agriculture market in our county as cattle ranchers.  About 91.34% of our county's agriculture market is in nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, and sod [5], things that require a lot of external inputs and are mostly exported. Cattle ranching is on the decline and holding on by a thread. 

When I first met my husband, Erik Markegard, a 6th-generation cattle rancher, I toured around the few thousand acres he managed in cattle.  I lived on a neighboring property, where the cattle had been fenced off since the land was divided.  As I walked around I mused at the diversity of species on his cattle ranch.  Huge flocks of quail sprung from the bushes, bobcats hunted in the meadow along with several species of birds of prey.  On the ranch where we currently live, we have a large population of the endangered California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii) in a stock-water pond that Erik built when he first took over management.  After my initial observations, I committed to finding out why the wildlife responded so well to cattle being managed by a cattle rancher who had a deep connection to his place and the animals. 

frog pond
red-legged frog pond

So, what happens when permaculture meets cattle ranching?  Mutually beneficial relationships build.  If the abundance of wildlife, including the threatened and endangered species, did not convince me enough, my study of holistic management did. [6] Holistic management is a system similar to permaculture in that it works with natural processes to repair damaged lands.  By employing holistic management on our rangelands, we mimic the patterns of movement that is modeled after the habits of native grazing herds.  These native herds traveled in tight groups and had predators to keep them moving so as never to overgraze, but to graze in a pattern which speeds up the productivity of perennial grasses, keeps diverse grasslands open and encourages seed germination.  Recent research indicates the productivity of grassland managed with appropriate timing and herd movement can sequester carbon at a rate that has the potential to stop global warming in 15 years or less by utilizing the productivity of grassland ecosystems as the highest contributor to carbon sequestration [7].  This type of management on our grassland ecosystem ultimately builds soil.  A 0.5 percent increase in soil organic matter on 75 percent of the world's rangelands, which is roughly 11.25 billion acres, would sequester 150 gigatons of atmospheric carbon, which would result in the solution to the climate change crisis we are facing. [8] As a species we need to shift from carbon-releasing agriculture to carbon-sequestering agriculture. 

I have been on an ambitious journey to manage more rangeland with cattle as my primary contribution to the local food movement.  Erik and I started Markegard Family Grass-Fed [9], providing the community with locally born, raised and processed meat.  We manage over 3,000 acres of grasslands and sell to over 100 families in the area as well as local restaurants.  The rural-urban local food connection is a function of supply and demand.  If the demand for grass-fed beef versus beef finished in CAFO's [10] goes up, there would be no choice for the producer (supplier) but to shift in their practice to raise pasture-based animals which require management that regenerates the land in order to provide the tasty, tender product the consumer demands. 

Living in a rural area, we have access to zone 5 wild areas to provide some of our most nutritious food.  On a fall day, my family will take a short hike from a developing permaculture site we have in the Santa Cruz Mountains and come back with a significant native plant harvest, which we incorporate into our diet.  These foods include tanbark oak acorns (Lithocarpus densiflorus), manzanita berries (Arctostaphylos tomentosa) evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum), golden chinquapins (Chrysolepis chrysophylla), yerba santa (Eriodictyon glutinosum), toyon berries (Heteromeles arbutifolia) and Pacific madrone berries (Arbutus menziesii). There is such an abundance of medicinal and useful plants available in zone 5 wilderness that it is too large to list here. Incorporating this area into your foodshed will give you an incredibly rich nutrient addition to your local food along with helping you to connect with the story of your place.

madrone berries chinquapins

                        Pacific Madrone Berries                                                  Harvesting Chinquapins

We are committed to connecting local food with as many people as possible and reaching out to the farmers and ranchers who are out managing the land and bringing the product to the customer-we would not have a local food economy without these connections.  Farmers need dedicated people in the community, not only to eat the food, but to spread the word to the people in power, such as the large private land owners, land trusts, state parks and county officials to support the localization of agriculture in your community. 

To find out more about Doniga and Susan's permaculture journey as well as content from several other permaculture professionals from around the world, visit, the new community collaborative dedicated to personalized mentoring in permaculture.

Side Bars:


At first glance, a pretty easy definition of foodshed is the area in which your food is grown and processed where area can specified as a distance in miles (e.g., a 50-mile radius), the distance one can bike or hike in 1 - 3 days, or even the same boundaries as one's watershed-the geographic area in which water falls and drains out.

Ways to support the transition to localization:

1.     Help to create local processing plants, so the food does not have to be shipped or trucked somewhere to be processed.

2.     Educate land trusts, public lands, and private land owners on the benefits of ranching and farming, providing good science to back up claims. 

3.     Work with local Natural Resource Conservation Service and Resource Conservation Districts to promote policy change that encourages rather than restricts regenerative farming practices.

4.     Encourage industrial farms in your area to make the switch to a more ecological and local means of production that will not only be more economical for them in the long run but will also provide them with healthier land that requires less inputs to maintain.

5.     Organize buying clubs for your farmers and ranchers to help them get their bulk food out to people.

6.     Start a community meat locker powered on renewable energy, where people can freeze large quantities of meat or other bulk items that will last the entire year. 

7.     Educate local restaurants and markets on the advantages of buying local food and connect them with the farmers growing the food.

8.     Encourage the success of farmers markets in your area.


[1] Recipes from the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Celebration available at

[2] Information about Mariquita Farm Mystery Boxes:

[3] Information about Mariquita Farm Buying Club:

[4] Information about Village Harvest:

[5] Agriculture in San Mateo County.

[6] Savory, Allan Holistic Management A new Framework for Decision Making Holistic Management is a term coined by Allan Savory.  Holistic Management is a revolutionary approach to decision making and management that considers humans, their economics, and the environment as inseparable. 

[7] Savory, Allan and Peck, Christopher.  Moving the World Toward Sustainability. Green Money Journal.

[8] Rales, Matthew.  An Inconvenient Cow. Wise Traditions Journal

[9] Information on Markegard Family Grass-Fed:

[10]Definition of CAFO - ^"Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS)/Factory Farming", Library of Michigan Bibliography.


Doniga Markegard
is founder of and director of Peninsula Permaculture.  Doniga's home is on a cattle ranch in San Gregorio, where she and her family raise organic, grass-fed cattle and lamb for the community.  She also owns and operates a permaculture design business, Designs by Doniga.  Doniga has a BA in Sustainable Community Development from Prescott College, Arizona.  Doniga is currently pursuing a MS in Eco Social Regeneration from Gaia University. 


Susan Osofsky
is a suburban permaculturalist.  As the co-director of Conexions' Green Fork project, she inspires and educates the community to grow, buy, cook, and eat seasonal, local, organic food'.  As a staff member of Conexions' Peninsula Permaculture project, she teaches Permaculture Design Courses and is a mentor for Earth Action Mentor, a community collaborative dedicated to furthering permaculture principles and practices. Susan also leads teams to harvest backyard fruit trees and small orchards with Village Harvest. Susan has an immense passion for learning, communicating and sharing Earth's wisdom.