Hope is An Act (A Roundup)


Handmade print by by Luke Thomas of Just Seeds

In its short life, s i r s e e — both the wine and the harvest journal -have led me on a path of discovery. I’m not only facing my own capabilities, but witnessing the fierce prowess of others who are doing related work.

As I wrap production on the journal (now set to release this summer) I feel compelled to share some of the projects I’ve found that best weave together agriculture, wine, art, and/or philanthropy. They inspire me in my own endeavors.

Sample them for yourself. Bon appetit.


Just Seeds 

While its name may suggest an agricultural affiliation, this 20-year-old artists’ cooperative is broadly political in nature, addressing a range of social issues. Check out their free protest graphic downloads or their shop.

Perennial Plate 

Filmmaker, chef, and activist Daniel Klein has put out nearly 200 short films about sustainable food. His project Perennial Plate has won two coveted James Beard awards. In the wake of the recent election and travel ban, he’s now focusing on telling the stories of immigrants. I, for one, cannot wait to see how his latest project unfolds ….

La Cocina

As I’ve explored funding options that might make s i r s e e  sustainable and long-lasting, I stumbled across La Cocina. Working with low-income women, the San Francisco based nonprofit serves as a business incubator for food entrepreneurs. To support La Cocina, consider making a donation or having your next event catered by one of their chefs.

Uphold Wines

If you know Ryme Cellars, then you surely know good wine. Megan Glaab and husband Ryan have produced such distinctive varietals as Vermentino, Aglianico, Carignane. This spring, they launched Uphold Wines to “be greater agents of positive change.” 100% of net profits from the wines go to social causes.

Feast it Forward 

Harnessing the bounty of wine country and paying it forward, this ambitious multimedia lifestyle project brings people together in a spirit of generosity. Find my profile on founder Katie Hamilton Schaffer here.

Wine to Water 

I found this organization five years ago, when I was organizing a multiwinery event that would benefit global water availability. Wine to Water caught my attention not only because it seemed to be doing good work, but because it was based in the little mountain town where I went to college: Boone, North Carolina. Founded by a local bartender who’d spent time doing relief work in Sudan, the project aims to support communities around the globe that need clean water.

Comestible Journal 

I’d long since decided to publish a harvest journal when I realized someone else was already doing it—and doing a damn fine job, too. Writer and artist Anna Brones launched a humble publishing project quickly that evolved into a quarterly production with branded merchandise. As an editor, she has excellent taste—each journal includes essays from such fine journalists as Debbie Weingarten. I’m honored that one of her beautiful papercuts will appear in s i r s e e journal.

Edible Government

Is it possible to save the country by crafting portraits of federal  officials out of food scraps? I dunno–but there’s only one way to find out.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lovingly crafted from nacho chips. You’re welcome.

Female Farmer Project 

It’s a podcast! It’s a photo essay! It’s a coloring book! It’s the story of women in agriculture, curated by the multitalented Audra Mulkern.




s i r s e e | the gift

My winemaking project is evolving!

With stars aligned, the project has won donated labor, equipment, and brand design. This logo is the handiwork of veteran designer Lisa Hobro. She and other folks who’ve put their faith in this experiment are blowing my mind with their generosity.

A sirsee is an unexpected gift, in Southern parlance. (Some of y’all know this, already.) I learned the word from my mother, who often surprised us with tokens of love. While the origin of the word is uncertain, the value of a good sirsee is clear.

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Solstice Means Stillness

Photo by Wibeke Bruland

Nearly a decade ago, I promised myself I’d spend summer solstice in the brightest part of the world. It wasn’t so much a bucket-list thing—not sure I have one of those—but more a kind of calling. At the time, I’d been visiting one of the darker parts of the world: Denmark in December. I’ve since craved light in its most potent form.

When a writing residency took me to Iceland during this year’s summer solstice, then, I relished not only the time to write, but the fulfillment of that promise. (No, neither Iceland nor Denmark are part of the Arctic Circle, where light and dark would be most extreme. But I’m calling it “close enough”.) I’ve just returned from that trip, after a month of soaking up the brightest light I’ve known. Continue reading

To Hell With It. Let’s Do This.

20150826_103915Following instinct leads to joy: I’d nearly forgotten.

On Labor Day, I rose at 4 a.m. to drive to the Sierra Foothills and harvest a half-ton of Grenache fruit. Yep, I set out to make wine. Was this a wild hair, a last-minute venture—or, was it my plan all along? Both.

During my six years in the biz, I’d begun scheming up a business plan for my own little wine brand. Would this be the year I launched the project? I wondered, but had decided to wait. My fussy, perfectionistic streak told me that if every little detail wasn’t in place, I shouldn’t even try. (Pfffft. )

Thankfully, when my friend called with a lead on some grapes, I ignored that demon and went with my instinct, diving headlong into the project.

One nagging worry had been: What if I’m not a great winemaker? What if I f*ck up? I’ve assisted my boss in the creation of wines, including this one, of which I’m proud. I’ve also done plenty of supplemental studies in wine. Yet I’ve not followed any traditional path toward winemaking as a profession. Mine has been a zig-zag route. Continue reading

Getting Over It (à la Snoopy)

schulz.jpg discomfort.jpg

Prior to my winter travels, I surfed out a fairly pitiful period of isolated, suburban existence. (Boo-hoo. See this entry.) I’ve thought a lot, then, about misery and creativity: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Are the two mutually exclusive, or do they actually feed one another?

Years ago, my writer-philosopher friend was at once lost and found when he fell in love with his wife-to-be. “But if I’m happy,” he reasoned, “what will I have to write about?” The two are still married, and my friend is a banker. Did true, utterly fulfilled love kill his creativity?

David Lynch seems to accept no excuses for losing touch with the creative force, countering that, If you’re an artist, you’ve got to know about anger without being restricted by it.”

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Garden of Earthly Delights

“Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.”

–The Buddha

My high school art teacher was a worldly, well-heeled woman who hailed (ironically) from a North Carolina tobacco farm. She wore flashy Fifth Avenue fashions through the halls of our gritty public high school and brought us fine chocolates to sample, just for inspiration. Pinned to her bulletin board—crowded between faded reprints of Bosch, Botticelli, and Van Gogh—was a simple sign in hand-blocked letters: “It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it.” In all her flamboyance, Mrs. P. herself was a living example of this credo.

I remember asking her about this saying one day. I can still see her perfectly outlined, orangey-red lips forming the response: “I don’t care if you paint your toenails or a picture of the Taj Mahal,” she said. “Do it with style. Put yourself into it.”

Mrs. P. marked me forever by letting me know that what mattered most in my work was me. But in my warped little teenage brain, the writing on her wall also became seed of a certain neurosis, one that I still have trouble shaking. It goes like this: I should be able to summon my inner resources and be happy doing anything, anywhere. If I can’t, then I’m a failure.

Hmmm … so maybe that was a little harsh. And bad juju to carry into the working world.

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Escape of the Day: Miranda July

Miranda July

Visit the website of Learning to Love You More (LTLYM), a bizarre and wonderful project launched by artist, filmmaker, and writer Miranda July. Do some of the kooky stuff the site suggests, like (#18) Recreate a poster you had when you were a teenager, (#41) Document your bald spot, or (#1) Make a child’s outfit in an adult size.

Now those are some serious ways to escape.

July is on my brain lately, because I am reading her recently released collection of short stories, No One Belongs Here More Than You. It’s pretty good, but what I really love about this artist is the way that she helps us all see what’s flawed about ourselves, then somehow shows us how to hold that in a beautiful light. I’d almost forgotten about LTLYM, which I think does that best.

Escape of the Day: Off the Map

Off the Map

It took a whole swarm of bees and the sight of a nude gardener to inspire him, but William Gibbs finally bailed on his government job and took up painting in the remote desert of New Mexico. He had no plan, and no way of knowing that his artwork would actually become famous one day. He was just following his gut, which is the best any of us can do.

So who is this wonderboy?

He’s a character in an obscure film called Off the Map, directed by Campbell Scott. If you don’t mind a loosely woven plot, the film is gold. We first meet Gibbs as a young tax collector for the IRS, arriving on the doorstep of a homestead in the most godforsaken land you can imagine. His purpose is to perform an audit on a family living under the government radar, a self-sufficient band of three with stockpiles of food and no desire to join “the real world.” Instead of auditing them, Gibbs finds his inner bohemian and falls off the map. 

See for youself.