Pedaling for Produce

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When Diana Black talks about organic farms, she breaks into a wide grin and her words speed up. As someone who grew up on an organic animal and produce farm (without electricity or running water), fresh meats and produce are the norm for her. But what is unusual is her latest plan to promote them.

On September 1, she’ll embark on a six-week, 700-mile trip up California, stopping at organic farms along the way to work the land. She’ll do all the traveling on her bicycle.

“I’m really excited to meet the farmers and learn about their sustainable methods,” she says.

The whole crazy idea started as innocent curiosity about her favorite brand of frozen organic turkey meat, which comes from Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora, CA. Diana wondered if the family-owned ranch does indeed engage in organic and humane farming practices, as so many ranches claim. So she thought she’d go see the ranch in person. And then she thought she’d ride her bike there. And then she thought she’d stop at an organic farm along the way. And then she couldn’t decide on just one farm. And now you’re starting to understand how Diana thinks, and how her passion for locally grown, organic food outweighs any concerns of practicality.

“People need to be aware of what they’re eating and where it comes from. Just buying organic isn’t enough,” she adds.

While organic produce is now mainstream, many organic farms are huge entities that ship their food across the US, or into the US from foreign countries. Diana thinks that burning large amounts of fossil fuels in transportation is socially irresponsible. Especially when small farms exist all over the country.

Spotted throughout California are small, organic farms. These farms accept volunteers who, in exchange for about four hours of hard labor each day, receive food and housing. Because each farm is different, Diana may find herself staying in a barn, a teepee, or a dorm with kitchen privileges. She anticipates bunking and working with college students and families who are committed to small-scale, organic farming. Diana’s meals could be simple—if a farm is only harvesting spinach, she’ll be getting her fill of vitamin A—or could include bread, several types of produce, and meat.

Diana plans to spend one to four days at each farm, and to ride no more than 70 miles a day between farms. Whole Foods, Luna, and Badger Sunscreen have signed on as sponsors and are donating products to help her on the journey.

She’s concerned about the wind, and how front and back panniers will affect the handling of her bike. But what really scare her are her knees.

“I’m worried about them just giving out on me,” she says.

It’s a valid concern. When she rolls out of the Whole Foods’ parking lot in La Jolla, her bike will weigh between 60 and 70 pounds. After all, she’ll not only need to bring several types of clothing and food and water, but also a tent, sleeping bag, mess kit, and propane.

To prepare, she’s been making plenty of grocery runs on her bicycle, and loading up her panniers any chance she gets. She’s training on an aluminum touring bike lent to her by fellow Tri Club member Trevor Young.

Since early June, Black’s been volunteering twice a week at Roots Farm. She makes the 25-mile trip from her home in La Jolla to the farm just north of the US-Mexico border on bicycle (she’s stopped insuring her car, thereby making two wheels her primary form of transportation). Heading south, it’s a two-hour trip. On the way back, though, when wind, traffic, and fatigue are factored in, it takes three hours.

To learn more about Diana, her upcoming journey, and to follow her progress up the state, check out her blog, The Organic Cyclist.

After finishing at Diestel Ranch and making sure the turkeys are well cared for, she’ll get some much-need recuperation in wine county before heading back to San Diego. But don’t worry; she’ll take the train.