Get Dirty, Grow Locally
A community garden plot is a great place to start, but why not share your labor and get to know your neighbors? Volunteer at one of the numerous urban farms that have sprung up around the Bay Area. Willing hands are always needed, especially in the cold, rainy, tomato-less months. And not all the jobs require heavy lifting or complete mobility; I've spend many afternoons poking seeds into flats, transplanting seedlings, and making signs.
Dig, dine, and dance! Sign up for the monthly newsletter from Pie Ranch. The country outpost of Mission Pie, this small farm is located down the coast in Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz. On the 3rd Saturday of each month, the ranch hosts a community workday, followed by a potluck supper and a barn dance with a caller.
A fun outing for families is Marin Organic's Monday afternoon Glean Team. Each week, a different organic farm in Marin lets locals pick through their already-harvested fields for not-quite-as-pretty (but just as delicious) produce. The boxes of fresh, local veggies are distributed directly to schools in Marin. Afterward, gleaners can pick a round for themselves. (You'd be surprised what kids will eat when they've picked it themselves--especially if they've gotten good & muddy in the process.)
Can It, Brine It, Carve It
Would-be urban homesteaders have a lot of choices these days. Longing to swap out the Heinz's for your own homemade ketchup and pickles? Then the folks at Happy Girl Kitchen have a workshop for you. (And for the truly serious among you, there's "Advanced Jam," prerequisite required.)
Charmed by winter's citrus, but afraid of ending up with sticky clementine soup or Meyer-lemon jello blocks? Put yourself in the knowledgeable hands of June Taylor, the British-born queen of marmalades. No one in the Bay Area takes fruit work as seriously (or finds it as fascinating) as Taylor does. At $200 per person, her small, hands-on classes are pricey, but her intelligent, carefully structured how-tos will forever take the guesswork out of your canning.
Prefer salami to jellies? The nose-to-tail classes in butchery and meat preservation at Fatted Calf will expose your sexy inner butcher. Get on their mailing list to sign up for a class; they sell out fast. (Classes are offered in both their Napa and their Hayes Valley locations.)
In Bernal Heights, Avedano's offers monthly "Butchery for Adults" and "Advanced Butchery" classes, as well as classes in trussing, carving, and curing.
...Then Talk About It
What do we talk about when we talk about food? Everything from the eco-sustainability of small-scale meat production to the history of heirloom apples has become food for thought lately. If you're curious as to what the Bay Area's farmers, writers, makers and thinkers are thinking about, check out the calendars at Kitchen Table Talks and 18 Reasons. Both offer an intriguing roster of thought-provoking events, talks, and panel discussions.
At Headlands Center for the Arts, performances, artists' presentations, and gallery talks are often preceded by a communal meal in the old mess hall. Sometimes, however, the meal itself is the event, as local or visiting artists and chefs come together to get inspired by the palette of the windswept, (supposedly) ghost-ridden landscape of the Marin Headlands, using mostly local and mostly organic produce, meats, and fish as their medium. Have more time than money? Volunteers are often needed to help in the kitchen, set up, serve, and clean up.
Elsewhere in Marin, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT), which works to preserve farmland in Marin while educating the public about conservation, is currently accepting volunteers for its two training sessions in January and February. The training will include trips to farmers, ranchers, and dairy farmers in the area.
...And Give Back