CONNECTION & DIVERSITY FROM A LAND PERSPECTIVE, CHEETAH TCHUDI of TURKEYTAIL FARM
It’s the height of summer farmers markets as community hubs, and this week we're in conversation with Cheetah Tchudi co-founder with his wife Sami and his parents, Susan and Steve Tchudi, of Turkeytail Farm, a small diversified organic family farm serving the community of Butte County California.
Cheetah is also the founder and Program Director of Butte Remediation, providing support to home and property owners by testing soils for contamination, targeting the contaminants with fungi capable of remediating those toxins, and measuring success with follow-up fungal tissue and soil sampling. Cheetah, passionate about mushrooms and fungal life, devised this kind of bioremediation support for his region following the devastation of the Campfire of 2018, which burned much of his farm and farm buildings.
Cheetah joins Cultivating Place for a conversation about the importance of small family farms supporting their communities, and connection and diversity as strength from a land perspective.
All photos courtesy of Turkeytail Farm, all rights reserved.
for more gallery images, please scroll to bottom of post
CONNECTION AND DIVERSITY FROM A LAND PERSPECTIVE
CHEETAH TCHUDI of TURKEYTAIL FARM & BUTTE REMEDIATION
(below is a lightly edited transcript of this week's conversation)
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: This is Cultivating Place, I'm Jennifer Jewell. Cheetah Tchudi is co-founder with his wife Sammi, and his parents, Susan and Steven Tchudi, of TurkeyTail Farm, a small, diversified, organic family-farm serving the community of Butte County, California. Cheetah is also the founder and program director of Butte Remediation, an organization providing support to home and property owners by testing soils for contamination, targeting any contaminants with fungi capable of remediating those toxins, and measuring success of remediation with follow-up fungal tissue and soil sampling.
Cheetah joins Cultivating Place today to speak more about the life and the importance of small family farms serving their local communities, and about connection and diversity as strength from a landscape perspective. Cheetah, welcome to the program. I am so pleased to be speaking with you.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: Thank you so very much for having me. This is a real treat.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: When I ask the question: What is a distilled kind of organizing principle for you in your relationship with plants and or growing right now - because I know your growing not only includes plants, but animals and soil - what would a distilled mission for you in relationship to these other beings right now in our world, Cheetah, what would that be?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: We launched the farm with a very seemingly straightforward mission of growing high quality and affordable food for our community and farming within the image of nature. And so by that, I mean, circling the energy around the farm, using nature's own pathways to achieve our farm goals while trying to minimize our impact on the environment. I always shy away from using the term 'sustainability' because I feel like it offers a lot of ambiguity. And so for us, setting the goal of farming within the image of nature allows us some broad guidelines, but something that we can always return to in terms of determining how we work and what we want to be doing with the land.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: How did you come to farming or agriculture or Cheetah?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: My love for agriculture and farming came originally from just a love and fascination for nature. Originally, I got my start engaging with the natural world working for the Nevada Conservation Corps and initially doing habitat restoration. From there I kind of fell into a position working at an arboretum. And that's where seeing diversity and structure and the way life engages with itself outside of human control really drew me in to agriculture and working with plants.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: At this point, what all is included in your work?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: At present, the diversified farm is a 40-acre property of oak savanna and open pasture. We raise lamb, pork, ducks for eggs, mushrooms and value-added products, as well as cut flowers. Really at the crux, and the main principle driving the farm, is that diversity is strength. And by having this diversity all on one site, we're able to cycle nutrients around the property.
Our goal is to never use anything once: when we bring feed on to the property for the animals, it becomes a source of fertility for the pasture. The byproducts of the mushroom cultivation program, this kind of spent straw material, becomes feed and bedding for the pigs. And when the pigs are done with it, it becomes the source of fertility for the garden. And inevitably, when the garden starts to grow weeds, we pull the weeds and we feed them back to the sheep, which in turn fertilize the pasture again. So by diversifying and adding all these levels of structure, we're able to maximize our inputs to the farm.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Take us back a little bit to where you were born and raised, which you started us on in very bullet point terms of what steps led you to being where you are now, but take us back a little further, because your whole family is involved in this in many ways. Where were you born and raised and who were the people and places and plants that grew Cheetah into a person for whom this would become your life and your work and your calling?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm Originally I was not raised in an agricultural environment at all. I was raised in the suburbs of Reno, Nevada. And it was only through happenstance that the Nevada Conservation Corps was putting out a call for employees. Initially it was just kind of grunt trail work, removing invasive species, building habitat for native critters. As part of my work there, I landed this internship at our local arboretum. And that's where my first mentor, Linda, instilled me with this love of the natural world. She took the time to show me the individual aspects of the arboretum, the individual plants, but also the way they played together. One of my jobs was mapping the entire arboretum and getting this landscape perspective of the different zones, the different types of environments that we'd create for these plants to cultivate them successfully in the harsh Nevada summers.
Upon graduating high school, I thought for sure I was going to be a conservation ecologist and so went to college thinking conservation was going to be my path. I started studying that and began working at an organic farm as kind of a side-job just so I could afford really nice food and realized agriculture was a place that I could not only have this interaction with the natural world, and opportunity to work towards conservation, but also have a degree of artistic flair. Engaging in a way that, you know, you make this amazing food, and you make these beautiful things happen, but you can still protect the environment around you. Once I started on this path of agriculture, another set of strong women took me on working at ranches. And a professor, Martha Rose Meyer, who was a huge driver in me coming to the world of mycology, she was very much engaged with mycorrhizal fungi, which gardeners will know are those underground mycelial networks that support the plants that we foster our own cells. And then from there, it just spiraled into mushroom cultivation and my own farming and entrepreneurial endeavors from there, and I never looked back.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: What was the name of the arboretum that you worked at in Nevada?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: A park called Rancho San Rafael (https://www.tmparksfoundation.org/parks/rancho-san-rafael-regional-park). It had everything - ranging from kind of your typical ornamentals to xeriscapes, dryland stuff - and really galvanized my love of plants right there.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: And gave you this great overview it sounds like in terms of plant relationships and ecosystem community kinds of views into how you put plants together and care for them.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: Yeah, it's where I first really engaged with plants on a a cultivation level, but then also and still this kind of microcosm macrocosm perspective that continues to carry me through, you know, this landscape perspective and seeing how things can work together, but then also having attention to the individual unit, the individual plant. The individual tree, the flower, and what relationship they hold to one another.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: And so you find this new love or different lens on this same topic through engagement with agriculture and specifically the mycorrhizal relationships that pull it all together in in a thousand different ways. Take us on the journey that leads you to Northern California and the founding of Turkey Tail Farm, because not only did you not look back, but you you brought a lot of people with you.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm Yes. I was farming in Washington, graduated from college and had a couple successful grants that I was working off of there at the time. My folks had reached retirement and were kind of figuring out where exactly they wanted to move next. Seeing my work there, and in particular a couple of pieces I had written about Connection to land and how for a Western European white man, basically my only potential heritage is my most direct family. And the meaningfulness of that and wanting to connect with that moving forward, we got this idea of a family property here and so we looked all over California and this property here in Butte County just kind of kept coming up in the search and we kept returning to it. And there's this beautiful hundreds of years old oaks, these beautiful lichens cresting over the rocks, these symbiotic fungal/algal organisms that coat every surface of the land here and we’re seated just above the West Branch River, this beautiful body of water. And so again and again, we kept returning to it and we saw a lot of promise in this community. My parents were very active in the activist community, and continue to be, and were able to find engagement really early on here. And so the property really kind of just kept coming back to us. So we decided to settle here. And at the time it was completely undeveloped. There was a power line running across it and a well and nothing else. It was truly this blank slate, a truly wild piece of land with all the bears and mountain lions and deer that come with it.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: And rattlesnakes…(laughing)
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm:….and quite a few rattlesnakes. Yeah. Both of my dogs have been bitten.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Yeah, I'm familiar with all of those things, so. ….What year was this, Cheetah, that you decided to relocate here and create the family farm and then take us into those early years of TurkeyTail farm and and how it has evolved over time?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: We purchased the property in 2008 and called it TurkeyTail Farm after the turkey tail mushrooms that grow around here. You'll see them as these tiny little shell mushrooms that have kind of these brown and yellow, sometimes blue stripes across them. And also it's the mushroom that I first cultivated on my path as a mushroom farmer. We gave it a name and set about establishing power and water and really carving it out from bare land. So initially built enough fencing that we could contain a few animals. Ran a generator to get water out of the well so that we could pour concrete for foundations. I worked odd jobs for many, many years to sponsor the construction of the barn and all the support, greenhouses and equipment that it takes to have a diversified farm. And through this I work for Chico State University and another local farm for seven years and really refined my skills as a gardener. Meanwhile, working as a mushroom farmer and livestock farmer on the side. And so really it was brick by brick, stick by stick. I milled some lumber myself. I would salvage old barns and bring used material back to the ranch to build with. And through this incremental process, we were able to build a functioning farm over time and managed to do it debt free, which was nice.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Nice is an understatement. It was by very hard work and strategy and sacrifice that you did all of this debt free and well done you on that.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: It was, you know, a time honored process with many hands and a lot, again, of strategy and determination.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: So tell us a little bit more. You've talked about the livestock - maybe you want to start there, talk about the different faces that the farm currently has? You have a CSA for meat, but you also have the mushroom farming. And I believe your wife Sammi has a flower and herb CSA as well?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So yeah, again, diversity is at the core of the farm and diversity is where we draw our strength. We raise lamb for meat, pork for pork, pork products. We have a duck egg flock. So we have 80 ducks that we keep exclusively for eggs. We used to raise chicken, but not since the Camp Fire, we are back up with the mushrooms, and with our subscription program, our CSA, and we provide produce as well to several local restaurants and we have an ever expanding repertoire there in the garden, we do value-added products, and these run from herbs, herb salt, sage sticks. And then my wife also distills these aromatic compounds called hydrosols. For this, what we're doing was we're taking fresh plant matter from the garden. We put it in this laboratory grade still. We drive steam through it and in the end we end up with essential oils and hydrosol, which is the water fraction of the plant extracts. So we have products that range from aromatherapy treatments, skin treatments and even what we call our bliss mix, which is a cocktail mixer or mocktail mixer as well. So there's definitely this division of labor where my folks and my wife are more in the garden these days, except when she needs heavy equipment used. And I'm the mushroom pig guy, basically, and we all team up on everything in between.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Right. Do you do your own butchering and processing of meat or does that go off site?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: All that has to go off site per the USDA. So, you know, our meat sales are exclusively to our CSA customers. It's a very kind of small boutique thing. So we're able to work with some really high quality butchers that we really respect. But it's a challenge. You know, there's the disappearance of the small-scale butcher, you know, across the nation. And so, you know, it's a difficult trade. And the pandemic has hit them just as hard as anybody else in terms of having good labor and supply chain.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: There's a couple of things I want to circle back to, but the first one is the idea of the farm kind of being couched in this beautiful landscape that is the Northern California landscape and, you know, of the oak woodlands and the very specific plant palette that lives within those oaks. What elevation are you? Do you have valley blue and black or do you have valley and Blue Oak? What's your diversity there?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So we mostly have the live oaks and blue oaks around here. I have seen some interesting valley oak live oak hybrids up here because we're learning now there's this awesome hybridization of all these oaks potentially. And unfortunately, most of our black oaks went the way of the dodo along with the campfire. It's this really beautiful open oak savanna. And so we're not socked in with a lot of understory brush. And as a result, it's handled fire really well in the past. We were blown away to see the recovery of these trees in the wake of such devastation.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: This is Cultivating Place. Cheetah Tchudi is co-founder with his wife and his parents of TurkeyTail Farm, a small, diversified, organic family farm providing high quality and lovingly tended livestock, flowers, medicinals, and mushroom cultivation in the open oak woodlands of Butte County, California. TurkeyTail Farm is looking to promote appropriate technology, ecological farming, and energy wise food production. Their goal is to become a model of practical and profitable, ecologically conscious agriculture in California's North State. They have lessons on small farming no matter where you live. We'll be right back with Cheetah after a quick break. Stay with us.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: I'm Jennifer Jewell. This is Cultivating Place. We're back now to our conversation with Cheetah Tchudi, co-founder of TurkeyTail Farm, a small, diversified, organic family farm. Cheetah joins me today to speak more about the life and the importance of small family farms serving their local communities, and about connection and diversity as strength from a landscape perspective as we come back. Cheetah shares more about how the farm is trying to work with and in the image of nature, including preparing for fire and restoring blue and live oak woodland. He also shares more about how the farm and the land fared during and after the Camp Fire of 2018 and then the pandemic. These stories hold lessons for all growers in challenging times.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: TurkeyTail Farm is not your typical farm land. Much of Butte County, we have laser leveled fields and these extensive orchards up here were this kind of rolling hillsides and diverse species, a high predator pressure. It's this kind of wild land that wouldn't fit into the normal agricultural model. And so to take the normal agricultural perspective of subjugation of nature and inserting our own dynamic, our own paradigm would never work here. And we work the way we do in order to make things easier for ourselves and buy in inherently. It it promotes natural cycles. We we don't drive the predators out. We use electric fences to protect our livestock. The high quality forage that we grow as a result of our intensive rotational grazing bring in hordes of deer that come across the property at night. And so. By doing so, by farming this image of nature, we are not only promoting our own well-being and the quality of our food, but also the well-being of the environment around us. So maybe just a little background on the Camp Fire itself.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Yeah, I think that would be really interesting to to people, not only for the value of that, but just for how, you know, as you say in the camp, fire altered. The face of the land. But it also maybe brought out some lessons in in resilience on. On how you work with the land as well.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So prior to the Camp Fire, we’ve always used fire as a means of stewarding the land again, returning those natural cycles, kind of getting this ladder material that presents the true risk of high intensity fires. And we'd been through several forest fires before. I think Camp Fire was my third evacuation from the farm. And so on November 8th of 2018, when we got the evacuation order, it was kind of old hat. I was pretty comfortable with the day we loaded up all the livestock that we could and turned loose everything that we couldn't load up and leaving the farm. My thought was, I'll be back in a day or two and we'll get back to work. It looked like more of an inconvenience than a catastrophe for us, and so are Camp Fire Day. While so many people were faced with such a traumatic event of the tunnel of fire cars asphyxiating in the road. We had a relatively leisurely morning as we prepared to leave. Little did we realize that the fire would turn back on us within a couple of days. And while the forests itself is designed to cope with these type of fire events, while the oaks bark is designed to burn, our homes were not. And so all my work since I was 26 years old was basically leveled within a day or two. Thankfully my parents house made it. And our egg commissioner, our local egg commissioner was able to get us a special permit for agricultural producers only so that we could return to our property and save the animals we had to leave behind. And so while most people were locked out of their properties for 26 days or so, I was able to return home on basically the fifth day of the fire while it's still actively burning and roundup and rescue the animals that I was unable to evacuate at the time. And from there, it was a very long journey. Six months without power or proper running water, living right next to the ash and debris of our hand-built home, strictly by virtue of the fact is we couldn't go anywhere else because we had 100 animals. We had some farmer friends that were happy to accommodate us in the short term during evacuation with our our sheep and our ducks. But upon returning home, that we had no option but to continue to work the land. And it rebounded beautifully. We had one of the best pastor years in memory. All that fire had liberated a ton of nutrient. We had high oats in our pasture and once we were able to get everybody home and get back to functionality, you know, the livestock performed beautifully. You know, the problem is not nature. The problem is the structures that we put on it. And so my path moving forward was to restore functionality to the property. And even though my greenhouses had burned the fungus living inside the greenhouses, it actually survived. And so I was able to get back to mushroom farming right away using quite literally rainwater and firewood to cultivate these mushrooms. And so it was a solid two years before the farm started to resemble itself again and again. I feel that's where our diversity was, perhaps our strength, because it allowed us the flexibility to move a little more nimbly than other farmers might be able to, because we had this diversified enterprise. There was always one thing that was being successful, even in the face of everything being destroyed. An example of that being we had this tremendous pasture year and so our sheep performed beautifully and the pigs were happy as ever, despite the fact that the garden couldn't happen because we had no running water. So. Well, it's a lot of little pieces to put together on the ranch. It is the thing that in the end probably saved our business as well.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: And who now take us to the mushroom farming? Because, one, I would just love to hear about its structure and its diversity and the response you've and reception you've had to the mushroom farming in our region. But then I'd also like you to chat more with us about the broader kind of lessons and, you know, mycoremediation. You started to play with even more and to look at even more Post-Fire?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So fungi are my greatest passion. Most definitely. They rule the world. They are the drivers, ecology and the agents that make our garden run. When we talk about fungi, most people think about mushrooms, the toadstool we see as the above ground part of the fungus. But underground, there's this great network of roots mycelium growing under the ground. And fungi are the drivers of everything that happens in our garden. So we mentioned those mycorrhizal fungi, those symbiotic fungi that work in association with the roots of plants. But then we also have acidic fungi. The very leaves are colonized with these symbiotic organisms that will either fight off pests or. Promote growth in certain ways under duress. We have the parasitic fungi, the powdery mildew on our squash plants that are also an engine of change and drives the ecology of our garden. And, of course, we have the sacrifice. So these are the fungi that eat dead things. And so those are the mushrooms that I work with mostly in mushroom cultivation. Basically as a mushroom farmer. What I'm doing is I am a chef for mushrooms. I make sure that the woodchips and the straw are just to their liking so that when they dig in and eat, they're going to produce the most beautiful mushrooms that they can in the bills. Productive yields. So when I learned about fungi. It kind of changed the way I saw the natural world. When I look at an individual plant, I don't just see a plant. I personally see a shimmering mosaic of different fungi working in tandem, working against each other. And it creates a greater whole than just the vascular plant we see, you know, from a young age where we're taught about plants and we say, oh, yes, photosynthesis. Here these plants are making energy from the sun. But when we exclude fungi from the equation, it's it's a very much oversimplified version of what a plant is. We can't really know a plant without knowing its fungal symbionts, I feel like.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: I'm Jennifer Jewell. This is Cultivating Place. We're back now to our conversation with Cheetah Tchudi, co-founder of TurkeyTail Farm, a small, diversified, organic family farm in interior northern California. We'll be right back with Cheetah after a quick break. To learn more about his endeavor known as Butte remediation and its use of mycology and miko remediation in the wake of devastating fire. Stay with us. I'm Jennifer Jewel. This is cultivating place. We're back now to our conversation with Cheetah Judy of Turkey Tail Farm, a small, organic, diversified family farm in northern California. Cheetah is also the founder and program director of Butte Remediation, established in 2018 in response to the camp fire that ravaged Northern California. Butte Remediation provides support to home and property owners by testing soils for contamination, targeting the contaminants with fungi capable of remediating toxins and measuring success of the remediation with follow up fungal tissue and soil sampling. On the most basic level, this program contributes to understanding the scope and types of contaminants generated by urban firestorms and provides open-source medical remediation techniques that can be employed to mitigate fallout from future fires.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: Knowing that fungi are kind of the drivers of everything around me, it's really pressed me to continue to study more over time, and eventually that's kind of a roundabout way that I came back to fungal remediation. I first came to study fungi through bioremediation, so I learned about this experiment that Paul Stamets was doing where he was breaking down motor oil using fungi. So basically what's happening is lignin, which is the wood is comprised of cellulose and lignin and lignin is this really irregular molecule with these really tough benzene rings in them. And what we're doing in bioremediation, or at least in this circumstance, is we're using those same fungal enzymes that are capable of breaking down lignin to break down the molecules in motor oil. When my farm burned down and I saw the kind of devastation around me and in my community, it brought me right back to fungal bioremediation. So there's kind of two ways fungi can be used to help clean soils. One is what we call the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other persistent organic pollutants. That's a mouthful, I know. But basically when things burn, we get these hydrocarbons. Pretty much anything charred is a potential source of carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. And again, we can use these same enzymes that are functional in breaking down wood to break down these these molecules into their simple forms of carbon and hydrogen, where they're no longer a risk to health and human safety and the hydrologic cycle. The other way that fungi can be used in bioremediation, especially under fire conditions, is the uptake and hyper accumulation of heavy metals. So for example, when your home burns, there's a release of. Things like arsenic and mercury and lead and all these other compounds that can get into our biology and the biology of the natural world and create major problems, all sorts of dysfunction and cancers and things of this sort. Fungi are capable of taking up some of these heavy metals and immobilizing them, holding onto them long enough that we can come and take them away and keep them from slipping into our rivers and creeks where they're almost impossible to extract.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: So, you know, on the one hand, you're cultivating these incredibly fabulous and, you know, desired high-end culinary mushrooms for people. But then you see this other, or you remember or you revisit/return to this other capacity of this entire kingdom that you are taken with. How do you put that into action after the Camp Fire? And what are your takeaways from that?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So initially struck me when I returned home on this special ag permit. Again, the forest is still smoldering around me, but I take a look at the burned cars and appliances and all the things that we left behind that were then incinerated. And immediately have concern over the implications for my organic farm. Directly after the fire event, we were going to see some pretty heavy rainstorms and I knew I needed to do something to minimize the spread of these contaminants. And while my mushroom humidity house is the grow houses that I grow, my mushrooms in had completely burned, the fungus inside them were still alive. So I took these living, growing funguses, and I made a little trench downhill from these burned appliances and vehicles. And knowing what I knew. I installed this kind of biological barrier, a way that when this sediment bonded with, all these contaminants start to slide downhill. There's some sort of buffer, some sort of way to minimize the spread of contamination. Moving forward, I saw many of my neighbors were not getting support from FEMA and the California Office of Emergency Services because they were deemed ineligible. So I wrote a series of grants to try and go out to the community and first and foremost, collect soil samples to understand the types and quantities of these potential contaminants in the environment. Step two was to help minimize the spread of these contaminants on these folks property by using these fungal barriers as biological barriers. And then third was to re sample and see if we were getting mitigation of the contaminants that we were targeting. So it was partially an aim to help my community as a way to help myself recover from the trauma and the damage that has been done. But also really put to the test some of these fungal bioremediation practices that have been proved in a laboratory setting but haven't really made it out into the real world for testing where any number of things can happen.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: And what has been the result of of any of that of that work that you laid the foundation for right then?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So we've gotten some positive results. Not every property that we tried to address was a complete slam dunk where fungi are really strong as those breaking down of those hydrocarbons and persistent organic pollutants. Because there again, we're using fungal enzymes to take something that's potentially hazardous and persistent in the environment and break it back down into carbon and hydrogen. The heavy metal issue is much more difficult to manage. We did get successful uptake of the heavy metals and so the fungi was immobilizing these materials so they weren't able to slip downhill, get into our waterways. But then there's the continued dilemma of now we have these heavy metals in our fungi and ultimately have to dispose of them the way we do with the rest of this ash and debris, which is taking it to the dump. And from there I ended up networking with several other bioremediation authors as well as groups that are doing similar work in our area here in California. And so we’ve been able to cross-pollinate with other organizations. And we're going to continue to work on the issue moving forward to see how fungi might be part of the solution. It's only one aspect of it. It's not a silver bullet, but it has potential and a kind of resilience that you don't necessarily see in plants.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Yeah. And a resilience that when partnered with plants, you know, again, in this image of nature, as you described the land right from the beginning of the conversation, it is a landscape that is covered in fungal relationships, in algal relationships. And to see those more visibly and then be able to work with them, or have them work with us is just, expanding our own potential as gardeners, growers, remediators, animal husbandry/wifery. You know, it just seems like there's so much to learn right there. And again it’s this fantastic opportunity to remember how little we actually know about so much of these lives that that we live with every day, which I think is a great lesson for anybody. When you then look at TurkeyTail Farm and all of its endeavors as well as Butte remediation. I think that's its total name, isn't it? And you look at thow you entered into the pandemic, are there, a handful of things that you would offer out to other small landholders, farmers, gardeners, as lessons that you are you are learning as you go in in this practice of yours, with your family, with the land, with the animals, with the wild environment around you, Cheetah?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: I feel as small farmers and rural landowners, we have many more opportunities to kind of continue our life and advance our life during a pandemic than many other people do. Especially with the diversified farm. We've definitely seen some impacts in terms of chain supply and availability of labor and things like this. But we also had the flexibility. I mean, here in the woods, we have this kind of unique food sovereignty in terms of by just simply sterilizing wood and having a little bit finesse, I can turn the fruits of the land into literal fruits and continue to feed people despite all the setbacks and the troubles in the world.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: I think one of the things we as a general American economy fail to remember is just how important the link in our lives are of small family farms; truly small family farms, not these big advertisements we see from, I don't know, Syngenta on what a family farm looks like and a lot of simpy music and, shining light behind them. But the actual flexibility that you had to keep feeding your community is an incredible illustration of something that we failed to see and therefore failed to value.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: I appreciate that. I think the pandemic is perhaps showing some of the problems in industrialized agriculture as we saw supermarket shelves go bare and meat facilities being ground to a halt based on pandemic explosions in overcrowded work conditions. And for us out here in the woods, it was pretty much business as usual. And that's kind of the magical part of my job, Barnyard Alchemy, where we can take byproducts of one part of our farm and turn it into a food and another aspect. I can take the trees around me and turn them into these delicious mushrooms just with a little bit of heat and finesse. And so. Well, we kind of get forgotten sometimes in terms of being producers. I feel like it's really been our time to shine and provide food for our community when people really feel unsure about the food chain.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Yeah, yeah. When you think about, you know, your work as the pig and mushroom guy and Sammy's work as the, you know, herb and flower farmer and your parents who are not only environmental activists and communicators in the community, but, you know, another level of structure there at the farm. What are your greatest joys in this work? I mean, it's hard work. And you watched your whole your whole house go, but you saved your animals…. there's this this constant dynamic balance of hard and beautiful. What are your greatest joys, Cheetah?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: There's so many lovely moments in the day that make the sore muscles just kind of quiet themselves. You know, we just had this litter of 14 piglets the other day and, you know, it's the shining part of my morning and seeing how much they've grown overnight and how good the mother is being. You know, I, I work with dog training and this kind of interesting relationship between our guardian dogs and our herding dogs and the sheep and this kind of understanding that happens there and the dynamics that happen there. Mushroom cultivation is definitely my passion, not only in these aspects of potentially healing the land and being functional in recovery from disaster. But my everyday work is just so interesting and always so challenging. You know, we we have this main crop of oyster mushrooms, but this year we will be adding Chez Takase and lion's mains and turkey tails and cordyceps all to the mix, each one with its own unique personality and nuance to learn and of any of the modalities that we do around here or any of our pursuits. You know, I can understand what the plants are trying to tell me, but nothing really speaks to me the way the mushrooms do. They really have a voice of their own. And a big part of my job is just quieting my own self enough that I can hear it. And so that's, that's the ongoing joy challenge passion. And I don't see that ever changing.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Yeah. If you were to offer out to listeners, to home gardeners out there some resources for one small, diversified family farms and farming, but two for, you know, mushroom and or fungal knowledge learning. What might those be? Because I think they will be really interested in following up on these two aspects of your life and work.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: So when it comes to small farming, there's almost too many resources to cite just one when it comes to gardening, Elliot Colman is my go to in terms of how to manage a garden effectively. I'm a Joel Salatin fan when it comes to pasture raised livestock. Countless mentors in my own past have given me little jewels of wisdom. My mycology teacher that said, “Hey, sometimes we don't need all this extra technology. Just a little bit of caring finesse can get us there.”
My livestock teachers that showed me how to read animals and, you know, cite illness before it advanced; ATTRA (https://attra.ncat.org/about-us/), Sustainable Agriculture and their appropriate technology center is a great resource for kind of these overarching, simple ways to go about appropriate technology and increasing efficiency on your farm.
Western SARE (https://western.sare.org/) Sustainable Agriculture, Research, and Education is a granting entity that's given me quite a few grants in the past and continues to be a resource for small and diversified farmers alike.
I will be continuing to give free workshops moving forward and I've got a couple more ideas on how I might be able to. Do more free events for folks. And then you can also go to either one of our websites, TurkeyTail Farm.net, and then my bioremediation work is all published on Butte remediation dot com. And there I also have several YouTube videos that give you basic introduction to fungal biology all the way through low tech mushroom cultivation techniques that you can do at home with just a garbage can and a hose. We're always open to talking to people. Come find us at the farmer's market or one of our events. And I can talk agriculture all day, so. And especially mushrooms.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Is there anything you would like to add for for anybody about the importance of this work in our world in this time?
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm In this time. Yeah, I think that's the thing that really nails it for me. We are in a totally different world from where we were a few years ago. Right? We've had this pandemic that's kind of shown us the holes in our armor. And now amidst looming wars, we're seeing huge increase in all commodity prices and fuel. And for your small farmer, that margin is going to hit harder than you realize. And so I'd say go meet a farmer if you can get it directly off the ranch, that's great. If you can go to a farmer's market, if you can go to your local restaurant that features local farmers, both the restaurants and the growers are hurting right now. And your support means everything. And if you can support us, I guarantee we're going to be here to support you.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Beautiful. Thank you very much for being a guest on the program today. Cheetah, I appreciate your philosophy and your practicality in our world today.
Cheetah Tchudi, TurkeyTail Farm: Thank you so very much for having me. Such a treat.
Jennifer Jewell, Cultivating Place: Cheetah Tchudi is co-founder with his wife Sammi, and his parents, Susan and Steven Tchudi of TurkeyTail Farm, a small, diversified, organic family farm in Northern California. He is also the founder and program director of Butte Remediation in Butte County, California, contributing to an ongoing understanding of the scope and types of contaminants generated by urban firestorms and providing open-source mycoremediation techniques that can be employed to mitigate fallout from future fires or similarly devastating environmental events.
Join us again next week when, at the height of warm season crops, we are in conversation with Jeff Quattrone, an heirloom seed advocate and activist in southern New Jersey, where he has dedicated the last decade or more of his life to the preservation and dispersal of the histories and genetics of Jersey tomatoes. Born and bred right there over the past century. Listen in next week.
Cultivating Place is a co-production of North State Public Radio, a service of CapRadio licensed to Chico State Enterprises. Cultivating Place is made possible by listeners just like you.
The Cultivating Place team includes producer and engineer Matt Fidler with tech and web support from Angel Huracha. We're based on the traditional and present homelands of the Mechoopda Indian tribe of the Chico Rancheria. Original theme music is by Ma Muse, accompanied by Joe Craven and Sam Bevan.
Cultivating Place is distributed nationally by PRX - Public Radio Exchange.
Until next week. Enjoy the cultivation of your place. I'm Jennifer Jewell.
FOLLOW TurkeyTail Farm and Butte Remediation online at: https://turkeytailfarm.net/v2/ or https://butteremediation.com/ ; you can follow them on Instagram at: @turkeytailfarm/
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JOIN US again next week, when at the height of warm season crops we’re in conversation with Jeff Quattrone – an heirloom seed advocate and activist in Southern New Jersey, where he has been dedicated over the last decade or more to the preservation and dispersal of the histories and genetics of Jersey Tomatas – born and bred right there over the past century. Listen in.
Thinking out loud this week:
Hey so – thinking out loud this week about support and community and relationships. And I want to take a minute to thank you all for listening each week. Thank you to all of you who support this weekly work – which is my life, my livelihood and big part of my love in this world. For every listen, for every donation large or small, for every time one of you share an episode or the podcast as a whole with friends or family or other gardeners, every time you tag Cultivating Place in a post or a story on Instagram or other social media, every time you send me a note or comment with feedback or encouragement, you support me, you support this work and you help Cultivating Place grow even better.
Thank you – I literally could not do this without all of you, and heck – I wouldn’t want to do it without you either.
AND Good news for those of you who have asked about transcripts of Cultivating Place each week and who have been waiting patiently for a result.
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Happy summer gardeners.
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