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Mendocino Talking: Terry d’Selkie

(Terry started out in Utah, became a teacher, then moved to California and then to Mendocino County where she has been involved in school gardens, harvesting seaweed, and other community projects…)

I grew up in Layton, Utah and my parents didn’t become good Mormons until after I got married and had left home. They would send us to church as kids, my three younger sisters and I. When I was a teen, I started rebelling. My friends would meet me at the door of the church and we would go out joyriding. Because I was so rebellious my parents thought they had done something wrong and looked to the church to help correct that. I remember being pretty much rebellious all the time as a teenager, except in school. Just like all the other churches, the LDS consider themselves the one true church. Probably my biggest problem with them is equal rights. Women just have no say in church authority and are not treated equally. And it certainly wasn’t a fun thing for me. 

I remember 1969, when I was 10, I realized I wasn’t old enough to be a hippie, and I really wanted to be a hippie. I had an aunt who was 5 years older than me and she dressed in these really cool clothes, and I always wanted to have a headband with flowers in it. I loved the Beatles and I really wanted to move to California because that’s where the hippies were. This was one of many premonitions that came to pass later.

Around this time, we had a mama dog, Bristle who had just had puppies and we had to go around the neighborhood to find homes for them. The last one went to a family who decided they were going to keep it outside in a doghouse on a chain. Every day I walked past this dog and I felt so sorry for him and didn’t think that was the way you treated a being that you loved. Snow, ice, cold, and he was out there. One day when I walked by their house I noticed he wasn’t there any more so I knocked on the door and they said that he had gotten distemper and they had to put him to sleep. I just knew there was injustice in all of that. I was so distraught. So I had to do something to let them know that I knew they had killed that dog. They lived on a main road with lots of traffic, so I lipsticked on their garage “PUPPY KILLERS”. Of course they knew it was me, and I probably had to clean it off, but I realized that was so powerful… and that was my first moment of activism.

I got married when I was 16 and had my daughter Tiffiny when I was 17. I continued going to school because I really loved school. It was easy, and I excelled in it. I had known since I was little that I would become a teacher. I graduated from high school with high honors, but didn’t go to college right away. I got divorced my senior year in high school, so life was fast. From 16 to 18 I had already had all these big life experiences 

Then I got a full scholarship to Weber State University in Ogden and got my degree in Education with a minor in Spanish. I got my first job teaching at an elementary school in Layton where the Principal and some of the teachers I had in my own elementary school were working. I felt I had come full circle in Utah.

California Beckons

I taught there for two years and became involved in the teachers union… but California was calling very strongly and I just had to come here. So I applied and got a contract to teach in Citrus Heights near Sacramento. As I got there I knew that I wasn’t close enough to the ocean. So I moved again after a year to San Jose. For the next 8 years I taught at Anderson Village Elementary. We did “project-based” learning so that everything I did with the kids was very real life. Both teachers and students really loved it. For instance, in 1990, during the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, we set up some garden plots for the students in the community garden nearby. We planted a tree on campus. We started recycling school-wide. We set up a token-based economy. There were a lot of projects around self-esteem. We did meditation and yoga. At the same time I got my Masters in Person-Centered Education. I remember taking my own children to every event and special group that came to the San Jose area. We lived a culturally rich life.

After moving to Santa Cruz, some friends and I decided to start a community up here in Mendocino County out in Comptche on Philbrick Mill Road. The place we moved to was originally the Chrysler Ranch. I was going to be an artist and live on the land and we wanted to start a community where everyone puts in their share. I was pretty naive… I did my share, but nobody else did theirs and I soon ran out of money. But I was here to stay. I still live off the grid, in the Redwoods on Orr Springs Road, near Montgomery Woods. I feel fortunate to live in this place in space at this time in “herstory”.

Saving The Redwoods

I got involved in saving the redwoods. I attended Judi Bari’s very last rally up in Humboldt… Julia Butterfly was about to go up in the tree the next year. I was really inspired… and I did save some redwoods. But just because you save some once doesn’t mean they will stay saved forever. When you fight that hard you shouldn’t have to keep fighting for the rest of those trees lives. 

I remember one time our absentee neighbors were logging and they put this blue line around a big redwood right on the road I drive to get home. I had saved all these ribbons from gifts over the years and I pinned them all around that tree and spray painted a big red heart with an arrow through it over the blue line. I wrote “love” in the middle of the heart. Other neighbors then started pinning little notes on it so they wouldn’t be able to cut it. And they didn’t cut it. It still stands.

Another time, Sherry Glaser, an actress friend of mine, and I wanted to save this tree next to Big River and Daugherty Creek and she said that if we just went into Campbell Timber Company, talked to them, and started crying, we might be able to save that tree. So we went in there and started talking to them and Sherry started crying and this guy said “Okay, okay, we won’t cut that tree.” It still stands as well.

School Gardens

I was working part-time for the Ukiah school system and learned how to write grants, so in 1998 I wrote my first grant for school gardens… $10,000 to install gardens at 10 schools. And we got the grant. Then I wrote a bigger grant so that every school in Ukiah could have a cooking cart that could be rolled around to the classrooms to do cooking and nutrition classes. I already knew there was a real big need because most people learned to cook from boxes of “Hamburger Helper” or ate at McDonald’s, and nobody knew how to cook anymore. I thought it was really important that students learned where their food came from and how to prepare it. We got that big grant. Following that, I found out that there was federal money to do gardening and nutrition education. We got that contract and did it for a year in Ukiah’s schools. After realizing the benefit of that contract for the Ukiah school district, I went around to the Superintendents of every qualifying school district in the county and helped them to get money to either start or maintain gardens for their schools. That federal grant lasted for 13 years and the same thing happened all over the state in other school districts. It was called “Network for a Healthy California”. Teachers and schools were instrumental in it becoming a big program, bringing in lots of money from USDA into our schools. We had $800,000 a year coming into our county for our school garden program, which we call Garden Enhanced Nutrition Education.

Then right when the USDA came out with new rules that stated their support for school garden nutrition programs, our state of California decided to redirect the money and took the majority of it out of schools. They had decided that our program wasn’t helping with the obesity epidemic, took the money and gave it to the public health system for their Obesity Prevention Plan. So all school districts in the state lost their contracts 2 years ago. 

We have worked really hard selling school gardens to the community. Our biggest fear was that the neglected gardens would just be plowed under. We worked with Miles Gordon at NCO and the Gardens Project, Tim Thornhill from Parducci, and Julie Golden at Heart Arrow Ranch to get volunteers to maintain the gardens. With the Ukiah school district classified union and the School Board, we were able to reinstate the workers at the Ukiah school gardens. Ft. Bragg has a teacher assigned to their gardens and they have been saved. Willits hasn’t been able to keep its gardens going. The school garden in Laytonville is still there but it needs help and care. Anderson Valley and Arena Elementary both still have their gardens.

Local Food

I am also a founding member of the Mendocino County Food Policy Council, which has been in existence for about 3 years. The Food Policy Council, which is a grassroots organization, is a group of people serving as a think tank for building our local food system. I helped write the Food Action Plan, a roadmap to building our local food system. I love anything to do with food… and children. North Coast Opportunities, in collaboration with three school districts, are going to be starting a new grant called “Farm to Cool” which is to help make eating lunch at middle school cool. We will be introducing the kids to the farmers who grow the food and bring their food into the cafeteria for students and their parents to taste and taking the kids out on farm field trips. The students will start their own marketing campaign, making school food cool. Some of the garden specialists and I are writing and receiving garden grants so we can rebuild the infrastructure of the Ukiah school gardens. We are so lucky to live in a community that supports school gardens.

During this time, I was earning my Administrative Credential, because I thought I wanted to become a Principal, and even though I no longer want to be in that position, the coursework helped me become better equipped to work in the school system and advocate for children’s health. I currently serve as secretary of the Ukiah Teachers Association. I have always been a union person and appreciate being able to help keep our union strong for our members. I also love our Co-op in Ukiah and have been a board member for over 10 years. I remember the first board meeting I attended when we helped to start the elimination of GMO’s from the store shelves at the Co-op by calling out SoBe, a drink that used to be sold at the Co-op. Those were exciting times in the Co-op. I would love to see the Co-op continue to thrive, and to bring more organic and more local foods to our community through their doors, wherever those doors are in the future.

Seaweed Harvesting

Around the same time I started writing grants for school gardens in 1998, two of my neighbors, John and Elinor Lewallen who had a seaweed company, Mendocino Sea Vegetables, would ask neighbors to help them from time to time harvesting, packaging or drying… so I learned a little bit about the process. And then I learned that Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetable Company was for sale, so three of us went in on buying it and it is still going strong, since 1981 []. All of the seaweed harvesters had a gentlepersons agreement that if you had been harvesting as a company, each company had their own harvesting spots and the other companies would find other places to harvest. Since Ocean Harvest was the first seaweed harvesting company in Mendocino County (founded by Victor Marin), it had a lot of easy harvesting places along the coast. Nothing is really easy when you’re harvesting seaweed, but we don’t need to use kayaks or walk two miles to get somewhere or haul ourselves up on ropes.

I love being in the ocean. I want to swim in every sea in the world before I leave this plane. I like being able to harvest the seaweed frond tips, put those bags on my back, bring it in, dry it, package it, and be able to sell it to people later on. I still think this is just an amazing way for right livelihood. I wish more people liked seaweed… it’s a hard sell. I like teaching about the seaweed too. I sell by mail order and have wholesale accounts at the co-op, a couple of co-ops in Oregon and Washington, as well as several restaurants and many friends.

From what I understand, the Pomo Indians would go on their yearly treks to the coast and back and harvest the nori right off the rocks, then ate it, fried it for food or traded it. I like to give back to the tribal community by offering my seaweed to the elders. Most of the elders ask me if it has been “rinsed.” I tell them that we only rinse the nori in the ocean. Some of them don’t like it rinsed because they like the crunchy stuff in it… the sand and the small crustaceans. 

Since May of 2011 we have had our seaweed tested twice a year for anything that might come from Fukushima and there has not been any radiation detected. We care very much about selling safe food. We also care about our own health in the ocean. If we ever find radiation in our samples, we won’t be getting into the ocean to harvest. We also test every other year for heavy metals… arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, and none have turned up.

Herbs and Family

I studied under Donna d’Terra to become an herbal apprentice, or Yerba Woman. There have been many women who have chosen this path in our community and we are so very lucky and full of rich herbal information and traditions because of Donna and others who share that medicine. My herbal studies led me to distill herbs, with the help of my friends Jack and Tamar, of Greenway Distillers and American Craft Whiskey. I love the alchemy, seeing an herb change into a hydrosol or oil and being able to use those herbs for healing. It’s magic.

Besides being a teacher, activist, seaweed harvester and an herbalist, I am a family person. I love my family. I especially love my son Clint, my daughter Tiffiny and my three grandsons. I feel that everything I do in life is because I’m inspired by them, and it’s a good feeling. In my spare time, which isn’t much these days, I love singing with the Raging Grannies, being with my friends, learning Spanish (again), reading a good book, gardening in my little garden, and helping to make the world a little better where I live, every day. 


(Coming Up: Ron Epstein, Professor, Community Advocate, City of Ten Thousand Buddhas; Janie Sheppard, Lawyer, Community Advocate. Mendocino Talking Archives available at

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