Projects Draw Workers and Allies
Tour with Matthew Trumm through the many projects he has fostered in Oroville, and you might feel you are in on a TED Talk in the making, the one he plans. His work in the river town embodies ideas to change the world, ideas both proven and replicable. In just two and a half years, Trumm and a group of likeminded innovators have created a demonstration permaculture garden on his homestead, established a restaurant compost program, built a composting site, and formed a farmers’ market that sells produce from Oroville farmers and also offers farm-to-fork breakfasts from an on-site food truck. They have also set up a nursery that sells plants by container size, given or attended workshops on composting and classes leading to permaculture certification with internships that make the classes more accessible, and offered consultations with Trumm about on many topics.
Oh, and there’s a project new to Trumm: As part of a statewide Water Resources Control Board agency’s Drought Response Outreach Program for Schools (DROPS) grant at Hearthstone School, Trumm will work with K-3 students to help create a water catchment system. The water they collect will irrigate a winter garden and nursery plants they will sell to fund the garden.
A fairly new comer to Butte County, Trumm landed on twelve acres in Berry Creek a decade ago. Reading One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka led him into an understanding of the benefits offered by the design concepts of permaculture, and it set his life on a trajectory he’s followed since. Now a Certified Permaculture Designer and expert in composting, Trumm has taught both methods in Butte and Sacramento counties. Through a USDA grant, he revitalized Berry Creek School’s school garden and brought natural gardening techniques to many in the Berry Creek community. Not three years ago, he moved from Berry Creek—where he still maintains a permaculture demonstration site and nursery—to his third of an acre homestead in downtown Oroville, the town where these new projects are set.
WHERE TO BEGIN
Trumm begins expounding on his work in downtown Oroville by talking about compost. His work in Berry Creek with microbiologist and soil food web researcher Dr. Elaine Ingham in 2015 steeped him in the benefits of compost and compost tea. He poked his head in the kitchens of downtown Oroville restaurants, asking chefs at The Exchange Club, Nori Asian Kitchen, Copa de Oro, Miner’s Alley, Mug Shots, and Pho Noodle House for their food scraps. Trumm says when he picks up the scraps, he sometimes carries along unusual vegetables he’s grown in his homestead garden (like cardoon) or food he’s prepared, which feed conversations and relationships with the young chefs as Trumm loads pails of kitchen scraps into his vehicle.
One such relationship resulted in Trumm’s involvement in the Union Square Farmers’ Market and its resident food truck, now called The Mindful Café. The large space adjacent to Miner’s Alley Brewing Company first hosted a farmers’ market just last year. As owner Steve Vandervort came to know Trumm, he invited him to manage it. This year, Vandervort also gave Trumm dominion over the space where the market sits.
Trumm and his group have transformed that area on the corner of Montgomery and Myers streets. The space now hosts garden areas including thirteen fruit trees, numerous edible and medicinal plants, and berries. Soon a redwood tank will be installed to capture and store rainwater for irrigation. Transformations have occurred to the market itself, too.
In its history, depending on the Saturday, anywhere from five to twenty-two vendors would set up booths, and Trumm was troubled by this variation. He knows shoppers need more consistency in order to add a stop at the market to their regular Saturday schedule, and yet he also believes it makes little sense to expect farmers or their employees to spend several Saturday hours at a farmers’ market booth. Instead, with Trumm’s encouragement, several farmers have formed the Oroville Producers Co-op.
The night before the farmers’ market, these farmers deliver their fruits, vegetables, herbs, and eggs to the garage at Trumm’s homestead. Trumm often videos and posts a rollcall inventory, pointing to and listing all items that will be sold the following day at the market. A single market booth, manned not by a farmer but by a member of Trumm’s group, offers wares from the many co-op farmers. This means farmers can farm on Saturday, and shoppers know exactly what they will find at the market.
THE COMPOST YARD
Look back four paragraphs and you’ll see that we left Trumm with pails of restaurant scraps in his vehicle. They don’t stay there. What Trumm et al. do with these food scraps offers another example of the group’s reach.
Each week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, Trumm or another group member picks up seven to ten five-gallon pails full of restaurant foods scraps. These pails are transported to Dawn and John Wheeler’s empty lot next to their D & J Feed Supply business in Oroville. Thurman’s Tree Service drops a truckload of wood chips every two or so days, dumping it into piles labeled with the name of the source tree. Using the composting method learned from Dr. Ingham, Trumm and/or his compadres layer food scraps and wood chips into long mounds, where microbial action will yield rich compost.
The compost yard and Miner’s Alley Farmers’ Market both exemplify the reach of the network Trumm has developed. Drawn to the network are both those who do its work and those who are allies.
In a recent conversation, Trumm identified eighteen aligned workers, and there are probably more by the time you read this. Tony and Caroline Engro, a couple who relocated to Oroville from Pennsylvania, now manage the farmers’ market.
A young woman named Kirsten Cobb organizes events like the open mic event at the market and Friday night movies and The Mindful Café’s participation in downtown Oroville with events like its annual Salmon Festival. Zack Ellis manages the compost yard and the cacti growing at the homestead. Marcus Geer, often the person manning the Oroville Producers’ Co-op booth at the farmers’ market, oversees the nursery, which also sells from a booth at the farmers’ market.
These young people discovered the projects in various ways. Geer, for example, attended Trumm’s Permaculture Design Course last winter; a new worker at the compost yard met Trumm as he picked up kitchen scraps, asked a question, and now herself picks up the scraps, transports the pails, and dumps them in the yard.
Same with the group’s allies, various, sometimes very casual encounters with Trumm drew them in. The Wheelers’ D & J Feed & Supply has offered discounts for Trumm’s previous grant-funded projects since 2012. Trumm’s involvement with the DROPS grant at Hearthstone School developed when he met Hearthstone principal Nick Catomerisios at a school garden symposium in Sacramento.
Trumm compares these human relationships to the natural land-based relationships fostered by permaculture. The group’s groundwork creates opportunities, people fill niches, and up sprout independent projects that meet individuals’ self interest and also confer a symbiotic influence on the whole.
OUR LITTLE EDEN
Located on a third of an acre, the High Street Homestead urban demonstration site includes Trumm’s house and yard. Like the compost yard, the homestead is a demonstration site. It is also the site for Trumm’s courses and the group’s planning sessions. The front yard is a work in progress; one day it will hold raised-bed gardens where interns can get their hands in the dirt and learn.
On a tour of the backyard permaculture demo garden, a visitor can walk along woodchip–lined paths while admiring the way water from a catchment vessel is sent down the sloping length of the yard along a dozen or more long swales, their mounds lush with plants. The fenced yard also harbors a worm farm, a small greenhouse/nursery, a chicken coop (now repurposed for ducks), and a duck pond.
“Our little Eden,” as Trumm calls it, is well populated with both perennial and annual edible and medicinal plants including thirty-five fruit and nut trees, some planted and some (pecan, pomelo, persimmon) previously established on the property. There’s plenty of produce to sustain the household, with plenty more to sell through Oroville Producers Co-op.
Two stories illustrate the fecundity here especially well. One is about the mulberry trees, which overhang the fence from the neighbor’s yard. Trumm waxes eloquent about the dual spring harvest the trees offer: the berries and also the leaves, which he says can be used to wrap dolmas. On Trumm’s website, a video demonstrates how Trumm spreads a tarp and taps mulberry branches overhanging the fence so the berries fall onto the tarp. He gathers them into two big soup pots each day during high season, leaving plenty more to feed the compost and the ducks.
The second story is about a sort of accidental vegetable garden in one back corner of the yard, what Trumm calls the Victory Garden. One could say the Victory Garden was planted by Trumm’s chickens. The chickens scratched through last year’s garden and two ambient (not active) piles of compost there in the corner yard at season’s end. In doing so, the birds scattered all sorts of seeds and fertilized the soil as well. The result is a jungle of sorghum, squash, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. In fact, it’s no accident, since this kind of food jungle is a predictable product of conscious permaculture design.
Trumm says he’s become more fond of kkeping ducks, rather than chickens, as members of the permaculture community. Like chickens, ducks leave fertilizer and lay delicious eggs, but ducks are a friendlier species. They forage and eat slugs and snails, but they don’t scratch up plants. They also are a delight to watch as they swim in their ponds. The ponds (one permanent and others made of repurposed portable kiddie pools) are part of the fertilizing and watering systems; the portable pools can easily be positioned wherever they are needed.
Among the medicinal plants growing on the swale mounds are plants like rue (an herb whose name calls up Shakespeare), and Spanish tarragon, which Trumm says fetches up to forty dollars per pound. When Bermuda grass made itself known, Trumm confessed that it first made him angry. “Then I remembered a tenet of permaculture, ‘The problem is the solution.’” He uses the chop and drop method so the grass serves as mulch, and he’s also planted early emerging perennials to block its light source.
PERMACULTURE FOR THE PEOPLE
Scratch only lightly on the surface of the subject called permaculture, and you’ll learn that Trumm’s projects demonstrate a basic principle: that gardens should mimic nature such that they sustain and regenerate themselves as they provide a stable food source for farmers and communities. Part of that is the promise of regeneration for all involved, the people who work the garden, the community who participate, and nature itself.
Trumm’s will be some TED talk. He last spoke for this article while traveling to Chico, where he is taking over Canopy Farm from the farmers who previously leased the land on Dayton Road. This could be the first replication of what he has seeded in Oroville. The group and projects in Oroville? He’s not leaving them, and he’s not worried. “These aren’t lazy hippies,” he said. “They’re good workers.” Their work bespeaks personal and community renewal.
Earl Bloor and Candace Byrne were introduced to Edible Communities when Candace googled “sustainability Cape Cod” and the search revealed Edible Cape Cod. After Candace wrote for both Edible Cape Cod and Edible Sacramento and the couple saw first hand how the publications encouraged sustainability in two very different locales, they embarked on their own publication, Edible Shasta-Butte. This new venture, grounded in Edible Communities’ goal to “connect consumers with family farmers, growers, chefs, and food artisans of all kinds,” complements the couple’s long careers in education. It also takes them back to their roots, when Earl grew up next door to his parents’ eatery, The Spot, in Kincardine, Ontario, and Candace’s mom engaged all the kids in baking and wrapping goodies as gifts for every holiday.