Mendocino Talking: Doug Mosel
by Dave Smith, November 20, 2014
(Since landing in Mendocino County, Doug Mosel has involved himself in several worthwhile community projects: running the successful Measure H campaign against GMOs; co-founding the Agriculture & Ecology Hour on KZYX; and most recently creating the Mendocino Grain Project where he farms, mills and distributes locally-grown grains and flour to CSA members of the project and local stores. —DS)
For all my life I’ve introduced myself as a Nebraska farm boy. It’s deeply ingrained in me (no pun intended)… the core of my being. Although I left the farm to go into the big world and leave that all behind, I think I’ve now come full circle here on the west coast.
After high school, I had wanted to be an aeronautical engineer and had applied for a scholarship to Purdue University, but changed my mind and moved to Washington D.C. where my brother lived. While there I was accepted at VPI, Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg. At the time it was a military school, all strait-laced, spit polished and regimented and I could only stand it for two weeks. So I went back and enrolled at the University of Nebraska… which lasted 3 semesters of figuring out that Physics and engineering didn’t work well for me either.
So back to D.C. where I took a job with the Association of American Railroads starting in the basement. At the time, the railroads were still a very romantic part of this culture. We had really nice linen covered table dining cars. AAR was the legislative and public voice of the railroads. Reams of information, comic books, PR brochures, etc. being shipped out was my job. In a year or so they invited me upstairs to distribute the mail, then after a few months I was invited to become a clerk in the law department before ending up as the Administrative Assistant to the Executive Vice President.
Meanwhile, I had grown up a Lutheran and was active in the local church where I met my wife and we had our first child and soon moved to Chicago in 1967 to study for the Lutheran ministry. I didn’t think I would become a Parish minister, so I was in a program to do Christian education and youth ministry. It was a fine education and I worked in church ministry for 7 years. Then I went through a divorce.
I discovered, during my ministry, that I was pretty good at working with groups. “T-Groups” were popular back then… this is where small groups use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves and others. I was invited to do some work with a couple of corporations and hospitals which evolved into the last big chunk of my professional career heading up a national program developing patient relations and quality improvement consulting and technical training.
I was given a brochure that identified a Deep Ecology school on Whidbey Island that I signed up for and spent nine blissful days there barefoot, eating outside, and sleeping in a tent. It was transforming. It synthesized many threads of my thinking and the direction I wanted to take the rest of my life. It was there that I learned of a 12-day intensive workshop that was led by Johanna Macy which led to my being employed by her in Berkeley, helping setup and run workshops for the next 10 years.
After doing a workshop up here in Ukiah, I realized it was time to move from the city to the country even though I would have to commute to Berkeley. I was passing through on my way to visit my daughter in Oregon and friends told me of a place available in Potter Valley. Cathy Monroe had a place that was perfect for me. After working some with Adam Gaska and Derek Dahlen as they were starting up Mendocino Organics, I was asked by Alan and Els Cooperrider to head up the Measure H campaign. I worked around the county with farmers, farmed some hay in Anderson Valley, and worked with the Anderson Valley Foodshed group (mendocinolocalfoodguide.org) where we realized that grains were not being grown in Mendocino County. Growing and milling grains here at the Mendocino Grain Project has now become my life.
(Doug starts a tour of his operation in Ukiah…)
This device is called a double spiral separator, which is a hundred years old. It separates round seeds from oblong seeds. See these gray seeds? That’s vetch. And this is red fife wheat with the vetch removed. This device concentrates the population of vetch so we have clean wheat without vetch in it. The principle of it is, gravity combined with centrifugal force so as it falls, the grain tends to go straight, the round seeds tend to spin out of these spirals as they’re diverted to a separate location, and the clean grain comes out below.
In addition, we have a small Combine, Seed Cleaner, Gravity Table, Spiral Separator, Ident Separator, and two stone Flour Mills.
The Heirloom grains we process include spelt and landrace wheats (including Red Fife, Sonora, Durum Iraq and others), barley, rye, oats, and lentils (some old varieties and one or two modern).
We clean and process and mill grain for four other counties — Sonoma, Lake, Napa, and Humboldt — as well as Mendocino. I was lucky to be contemporaneous with some other farmers around here who began dabbling in growing grain like we were. All of them have just started doing so in the last 5 years. We established ourselves with the capacity to clean grain and harvest grain with our little combine, which encouraged them to grow more. Somehow, out of the local food movement, grain-growing began to rise at the same time. We’re kind of riding the grain wave.
We distribute mainly through our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to grain-share members. Local bakers have started to get wind of this. All of the grain we have grown this year is now spoken for… that’s nearly 30,000 pounds, and that’s in spite of the drought. And by the time we are done, we will have cleaned around 60,000 pounds for ourselves and other farmers. We also sell flour and cereal to a couple of places in Sonoma County. Scott Cratty at Westside Renaissance Market in Ukiah carries the full line of our products. Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op carries Sonora flour and rye flour.
We grow for Mendocino County at Nelson vineyards on around 50 acres where we are entering our 6th season. Right after I got our John Deere combine, I got a call from a stranger who had heard we had a combine and asked if we could help harvest his crop at Nelson’s. He was another Nebraska farm boy… a reformed agricultural crop duster who converted to being an organic farmer. John became my best friend here and a strong ally to this project.
The Grain project has now grown to the point that it is more than one, sometimes two of us, can do alone. We’re right on the edge of stepping up to a scale that makes this a real economic enterprise or giving it up as a fun project while it lasted. This has been, without a doubt my most rewarding project.
What I’ve learned over my life, and why I do what I do, is because everything is connected. There is an undeniable and fundamental interconnectedness among all living things including the planet. Our lives are inextricably woven with the lives of the ravens and the migrating geese and microbial life in the soil… the nutrients in the food… the quality of the air… the lifeblood of the water… the survival of the redwoods.
Appreciating the cycle of our lives together is to first begin with gratitude… then to honor our pain… and then continue going forward.
It is such a gift to be consciously aware in this life… in this world. To know it. There have been times when I have been out on a tractor in the field where I just kind of stopped and looked and I can’t help but cry with gratitude for the beauty of it… and the fact that you and I and other creatures can know life. That we can know this world is such a rare gift. We could have been bacteria… we could have been mold. But to be human, with the eyes and the heart and the senses to take it all in is a huge gift. And selfishly it’s why I don’t want to die… I don’t want to leave this world. It is just incredible to know it and to be connected with it. And yet I know that one day I will join friends who seem to be falling away now more frequently. So the idea of saying thank you… of beginning with gratitude for all that we’ve been given.
And then to recognize that we also share in the brokenness… that the destruction of this magnificent home in which we also participate… if we pay attention at all… can’t help but tear at our hearts… can’t help but let us recognize that there is pain. And the pain may be in the personal loss of a loved one… and it may be in the melting of the ice caps… or the damming of another valley for water to ship south… or to say farming comes before salmon, let’s just take more water… the grief and the outrage at the state of things, and at the stupidity of us otherwise brilliant human beings. I’ve come to understand through the loss of most of my own direct family, and through the work of sitting with dying patients and their families after… and through the work with Joanna Macy, that we don’t have to avoid that pain. It’s not going to kill us. Our hearts can hold it. In fact, it’s actually healing to allow ourselves to enter into the deep sorrow… the deepest grief… and it can all be held in the human heart. We are supported in that not just by other humans, but we’re supported in that by this web of life, this interconnectedness that is our deep ecology.
And then seeing with new eyes… reflecting back and saying it doesn’t kill me to feel the pain. In fact, it helps my heart open more to appreciation and joy, and to more fully participating, and to more solidly being here… being more deeply engaged with life. Being more willing to go on with my life and my work even when things look so bleak. Humans are beautiful beings but the world would survive quite nicely without us… and it might be in better shape. And what hurts me most is to think that all the destruction we have done is irrevocable. Even if we could stop CO2 emissions tomorrow… we cannot go back. There is no way I can have a no-carbon footprint life. If I stop, if I die now, my impact cannot go away. So I’m not real hopeful… but I have to keep going. We have to keep going. The best way we can honor life with a capital L is to keep acting on its behalf.
Every life form has its own beauty… its own individual expression. These beautiful old varieties of grain. In each case it’s elegant. And I can think of no better way to keep going than by honoring something that’s been with us for 10,000 years.
(Coming Up: Spencer Brewer — Composer, Pianist, Performer, Impresario, Concert in the Park, Acoustic Cafe; Pinky Kushner — Neuroscientist, Sierra Club.)