Based in Portland, Oregon, Harriet Fasenfest gardens, cooks, writes, teaches, and speaks on the issues of food security and justice. Her book, A Householder's Guide to the Universe, was published in fall 2010. She is currently working on a new book and curriculum guide for teaching householding and householding economics.

Revolution with a side of cheese

By
January 26, 2008

It’s always nice to meet folks who help turn your odd obsessions into something less odd and obsessive. And so it is that I thank, and feel an affinity for, the 20 or so curd-inspired folks who showed up at a Portland cheese shop (Foster and Dobbs) recently for a fun evening of DIY cheesemaker talk.

For the most part, we were all starting out at the same place as hopeful novices. With only a smattering of real expertise between us, we discussed who we were, why we were there, and what we hoped to accomplish, both individually and as a group.

Though most of us were clearly at the starting line, we decided to name “Dave” our leader when he spoke of retrofitting a refrigerator by coating the inside with mud and inoculating it with mold spores (thereby rendering it cavelike). It is a plan yet in conception, but our hearts took a leap at the mere notion. Of all those assembled, he appears to have taken it to a higher place of possibilities. Still, we were all on board (cheese board — ouch) to go with him to the promised land. Our next meeting will highlight Dave making mozzarella.

D.I.Y. cheese.

Besides our leader, there were so many lovely characters there that I felt nearly invisible in my eccentricity. There was the rural couple with daughter in tow who brought homemade goat cheese from their newly acquired goats (one nice, one naughty). There was the duo of scientists talking brain neurology and the fecund world of wild cultures. One grew up on a farm and the other has turned her basement into a sausage forest, telling tales of hanging meat, shower curtains, and water misters.

There was the couple from a suburb south of Portland who had just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and who looked more likely to own Foster and Dobbs than to make the cheese it offered. And by that I am suggesting their shoes looked the way shoes unfamiliar with the trek to the compost pile tend to look — clean, sprightly, and in high fashion. Actually, I only looked at his shoes, but I’m sure hers where very clean and stylish as well. I liked that, but then I love shoes. Sad that mine always look like I’m from rural Bulgaria.

There was the barbecue guy who tours in competitions and offered a lead on some raw milk, which was much the topic of the evening — who has access to what and how can we work together as a group to network and support our interest.

There was the guy who was on the board of both the Oregon Sustainable Agricultural Land Trust and a local urban farm (Zenger Farm) who spoke of efforts to move the concept of local food security and preservation forward. After hearing him speak, many of us admitted interest in “urban homesteading,” which delighted me no end. Actually, in full candor I started that conversation (duh), but when asked who was interested, hands flung high in enthusiasm. Of course I might be exaggerating a bit, but I’m going to jump on that email list like a dog on a bone.

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Present were the resident beer brewers, bread bakers, pickle makers, and lovers of the vine who told of previously found glory in the world of yeast and fermentation. Together we found our community. Not quite professional, but not exactly hobbyist, either. Together we were entering a new world of intention. A world we imagined would lead us to an understanding of the wild things around us expressed as both food and the seasoned cycle of nature.

Gratefully, our host has offered her shop for our next meeting on March 19, and, in exchanging emails, we vowed to build this community. In between now and then we will be making cheese and bringing it with us when we next meet. And if any of this sounds enticing to you, and you happen to live in the Portland or Vancouver areas, then come along. Contact Luan Schooler (aka our gracious host and purveyor of all things delicious) at Foster and Dobbs and ask to get on the cheesemaker list.

It matters not where you are at in the process but rather where you are hoping to go. And if can script that direction a bit I might suggest one headed toward economic and environmental stewardship.

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1. by Ellen on Jan 26, 2008 at 9:04 AM PST

Harriet-

Can you give a link to the urban homesteading email list? I’d be very interested in joining it, too.

2. by Fasenfest on Jan 27, 2008 at 1:21 PM PST

Hey Ellen,

Sure, I’d be happy to add you to the list. At this point, I am just collecting e-mail addresses of interested parties. I’m not sure of the confidentiality concerns, but I’ll talk to the hosts of this site to give me your email so I can add you to the list. I’m assuming you live in Portland.

3. by cafemama on Jan 27, 2008 at 3:25 PM PST

Harriet, you’re a woman after my own heart! or maybe, I’m a woman after your own heart, as you seem to be something of a pioneer in urban homesteading. I hope to join you for some cheesemaking in March! I’ve been trying to find local mozzarella with no luck -- making it, therefore, seems so obvious and right.

4. by Fasenfest on Jan 28, 2008 at 7:32 AM PST

Hey cafemama,thanks so much for writing. So good to know you are out there. I imagine there are lots of us out there trying to imagine a different way of living - urban homesteading being just one of the models. It is exciting to imagine the possiblities we might offer by speaking from our collective hearts to the social/economic/political heart of things. Can this become an articulated movement? Hope so. But, if nothing else, it will be a great to offer support to each other for the way of life we’ve chosen. So looking forward to seeing you at the cheese fest.

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