“Mom, I don’t think I should go to school today. I have a sore throat”, declared my son, Riley, on the Tuesday after Winter Break ended. He had tested negative for Covid the day before. My gut-level response from a life spent in restaurants was, “No way. Don’t be a wuss. You’re going to school. You aren’t that sick.” Sucking it up and getting through a shift while on the brink of death gained a person a badge of honor before the pandemic. No work means no money, and no one had health insurance to see a doctor anyways.
Rational Mom-living-through-Covid clocked in. I heard all the pleas from public health officials in my head: “Stay home if you have symptoms”. I relented and left Riley in bed. Sure enough, he tested positive. Luckily, he really wasn’t that sick. (Thank you, vaccines!) I am so glad that I didn’t send him to school to spread contagion, but it took a worldwide pandemic to change my attitude about roaming the Earth when ill.
We celebrate regeneration, but don’t often acknowledge the role that destruction plays in the cycle. The destructive forces in the universe exist to tear down the systems and structures that no longer serve us. It is sad and painful to face uncertainty replacing the familiar. But this is where the opportunity exists. This is the time to gather your experience, knowledge, and skills to create a new entity.
Consider the case of Samantha Bird. We worked together at Juniper and Ivy. She had moved on to her first Pastry Chef position at Mille Fleurs when Covid closed the world. She knew she needed to make money and knew that she would be bored doing nothing during quarantine, so she started baking at home. Bird kept baking and doing pop ups and selling her goods on Instagram. Then she started The Bakers Collaborative, now disbanded, with Amanda Estrella, owner of Pan Del Barrio. Bird credits serendipity with connecting her with wholesale accounts like Communal Coffee and others. And this is how SB Boulangerie came to be. She saves her money to invest in equipment and has converted her dining room into a functional workspace. She hired a full-time baker as well as her boyfriend but even so, they are at their limit until they find a larger space.
Bird has always dreamed of owning a brick and mortar but it always seemed like it would be so hard. She didn’t think she could start so small and didn’t yet believe in herself enough to make the move anyways. Covid had to throw her out of her comfort zone. Now she can see herself doing great things because she is already doing them
I spoke with Eric Sussman of Radio-Coteau about his approach to the decomposition part of the cycle. Sussman works with regenerative practices. Radio-Coteau, his estate vineyard and winery in the Sonoma Coast, became Demeter Certified Biodynamic in 2018. While he posits that “perfection in the finished product is an illusion”, his wines consistently garner top scores. These are some of the finest wines made in California or anywhere.
Composting embodies the process through which one rebuilds what was lost. Sussman gathers all the garden waste, the pomace from fermentation, the bedding and manure from the goats and chickens and uses them as building blocks for the compost pile. Traditionally considered garbage, it would certainly be easier to throw these things out and buy chemical fertilizers. There are many steps involved in composting. It takes effort to collect and stockpile items, construct the compost pile, incorporate biodynamic treatments and to turn it. Meanwhile, microbes, fungi and bacteria convert that pile into food for the next year’s crop. “The best fertilizer is the farmer’s shadow”, Sussman added, noting how important it is to be present every day to do all the messy, dirty work.
The point is that sometimes bad shit happens because we need help to get rid of the attitudes, or jobs or whatever it is that we have outgrown. Destruction can propel us forward. If a flood comes and washes us out of our rut, then when we do end up standing on our own two feet, we have the chance to rebuild. Be like a farmer: put in the effort to gather all that remains and feed it to your dreams.
Editor’s note: The Upside of Destruction was written in early February and now at the time of print, Samantha Bird has turned SB Boulangerie into relic BAGERI, a San Diego based commercial microbakery.