Discovering Permaculture in San Diego…

This past weekend was a strange mix fun, education and awkwardness. It started Thursday when I arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego for a national conference of retail grocer cooperatives. You can surely imagine the irony of hundreds of old hippy co-operators invading the Hard Rock Hotel in Sunny San Diego. With out a doubt, the irony would only became more pronounced as the weekend progressed.

There are few things in this world that I find more fascinating than a less-than-subtile reminder that I live in a bubble of my own making. Exposer to the “hard rock” lifestyle, as prescribed by the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego being no exception. I’ll get to more of that in a minute…



A Hard Rock Checkin
I arrived in San Diego with high expectations. This would be my third year to attend a CCMA conference and the last time I would attend under my current board term. At the end of August, I will turn over my seat on the Wheatsville board of directors in preparation for my highly anticipated journey Down-under!
CCMA has proven in the past to be an “experiment in sleep deprivation”… quoted directly from Wheatsville’s own General Manager, Dan Gillotte. For three event-filled days it’s learn, listen, eat, drink, party, prattle, rinse and repeat. 
The conference always kicks off with a series of pre-arranged tours of the host city and all that it has to offer (or at least a decent cross section). Last year, I visited several farms throughout southern Indiana, ending up at a winery for wine and cheese tastings… yum! The year before that, I had an (unplanned) 32 hour tour of the DFW airport (the details of which I’d rather not go into) that resulted in me missing the (planned) tours of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
So you can imagine my anticipation of this event when I found a tour that included a permaculture farm in the Souther San Diego valley!
“Perfect!” I thought, assuming that this would be a great opportunity for me to get my feet wet before immersing myself in the permaculture travel blog that awaits me. Well, as you can probably tell from my lead-in… that is not exactly how things turn out.
Arriving with high aspirations, check-in at the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel gives me a small taste of what’s ahead. My room is not ready?… Wait. What do you mean my room is not ready? Oh, you need a credit card to charge the room to, even though it’s already been paid for?… right. No, I do not have $850 dollars just hanging out on my debit card, sorry. No, I don’t think I’d like to have a $850 dollar hold on my card for a room that isn’t even ready yet, thanks. Can the strange blocky dude with the generic tribal armband tattoo hold my bag while I wait for my room?… yea, I guess. 
Whew, thank goodness that’s over with… now, on to the tour! Wait… not enough busses? Didn’t we register in advance? Bummer, I really had my heart set on visiting a permaculture farm. I guess it’s on to the Historical San Diego tour?… still not enough room, right!
It appears that all the busses have left the station… except for one — “Hello public transit!” San Diego’s finest! Get your gear together friends… it’s time for an adventure!
See the farm!… A battle cry of sorts. Tour number five, a motley crew of co-opers, blazes on into the great unknown!
The Adventures of Tour Number Five

Well, so far, my plans were not exactly working out as I had hoped. But, I had to check my baggage at the door (yea, that guy with the tight tee-shirt took ’em, remember?) and count my blessings. At least I was with a group of great people who shared my passion for co-ops and sustainable agriculture!
In the midst of our exploration of San Diego’s public transportation system, I lifted my head from the cacophony of co-operative conversation and immediately realized — I’m still in my bubble!
The stoic faces of San Diego’s hapless stared back at me. What a strange disruption to their afternoon commute we must have been. It was obvious that an examination of co-operative governance styles was not on their list of things they hoped to be exposed to on that fateful day. 
The swaying palm trees of Southern Cali

The public transport system had taken us as far as it could. Only our feet would deliver us now.
By this point we had completely embraced the idea of making Tour Number Five one to remember! There was plenty of sight seeing opportunities along the way and our lack of tour guild lent itself to uninhibited discovery. 
On our final leg of the tour before finally reaching Wind Willow Farm, we stumbled upon an expansive community garden in the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park. The community garden was host to many interesting sights. It was there that we discovered what can only be described as one of San Diego’s great hidden treasures, guarantied not to be found in any tourist guide… Behold! San Diego’s most unusual palm tree!!
Ok, ya got me… the picture on the left is NOT of a palm tree. This is, however,  one of the oldest brassica I’ve ever seen! In Central Texas, we have to mulch deep to weather brassica like this through our brutal summer, and sometimes all the mulch in the world isn’t sufficient. This little dinosaur needed nothing more than the uninterrupted beauty of Souther California’s climate and a cool coastal breeze to survive through several seasons and result in the canopy of leafy green goodness you see here.
Wind Willow Farm, finally.

At long last, as the official tour bus pulled away, our destination was in sight… Wind Willow Farm and Education Center was just around the next bend (the one that tour bus just pulled around. yea, that one!) 
Well, we probably should have called ahead. Thankfully, these were possibly some of the most hospitable farmers one could find in the Tijuana Valley. 
Mel Lions, a man with an obvious passion for his work greeted us. “did the bus leave without you?” he questioned. “No, we’re the unplugged tour… we didn’t want to be constrained to the guided tours and decided to explore the real San Diego. We took the public transit system.”
“Well, in that case, I think you all deserve a tour!”
To be continued…

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