Virginia Woolf and a River

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write,” wrote Virginia Woolf. She described this as the “great problem.”

Thirteen years ago, two women, within a canyon of red stone and brush, each with copies of Virginia Woolf’s book, “A Room of Her Own,” conspired to bring together a community of women writers (a room) and finance creative expression with literary awards (money).

Two years ago, I entered the ‘room’ they birthed, A Room of Her Own (AROHO) Writer’s Retreat in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. The seven-day retreat was the longest stretch I’d been away from my husband and children. It was a declaration to my family but mostly to myself that my writing was important and required space all to itself. My ‘room’ to write was as expansive as the New Mexican sky. The expansion remains and is expressed in the hours I devote to writing.

Photo credit: Jan La Roche

Recently, I was named the AROHO Gift of Freedom, Creative Nonfiction Finalist. The award money addresses the second half of the “great problem,” described by Virginia. The award partially supports research of my current book project, “Eat Less Water, ” and serves as a catalyst for future awards.

March 28, marks the seventy-second anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s death. On that fateful day she stuffed her pockets with heavy rocks and entered the water of the Ouse River to her death. Her weighted body was carried within the Ouse for several days until recovered. Reflecting on her death reminds me of a conversation I had with my eldest daughter.

“Where do we go when we die?,” she asked.

“Some people believe your spirit goes to heaven,”I answered.

“Do you believe that?” she asked.“I believe when we die we return to the source,” She looked at me confused. This was too much for a nine year old to understand. I tried to find another way to explain. “It’s as if we are each tiny drops of water. If I let a drop of water fall into a river you can’t see it anymore. It hasn’t disappeared; it spreads and takes a different form.”

“Does that mean when we die we become a river?”

“I believe we return to the source like a drop of water returns to a river.”

I am grateful to Virginia Woolf’s legacy that spills beyond the constraints of her years lived. The long string of words, sentences, stories and books, she wrote in her lifetime continues to breathe with new vitality. They spread and take new forms; like a writer’s retreat in Ghost Ranch or a woman inspired to write her own stories in a room of her own. Each act reminds us that Virginia Woolf hasn’t died; she became a river.


How to Eat Less Water-Article in California Health

The Winter Issue of California Health Magazine features an article on How To Eat Less Water in the Environment section written by Hannah Guzik. To read the article click here or request a free magazine at

The article includes an informative piece on How to dry farm in your backyard, with easy-to-follow steps from dry farmer, John DeRosier, just in time for spring planting.

Eat less water at your kitchen table!

Be well,


Descendant of farm workers wants to “Eat Less Water”

By Hannah Guzik

Originally published in the California Health Report



Nearly every afternoon this summer, Florencia Ramirez drove past the strawberries and lima beans growing in the Oxnard plain, and each time she grew angry about what she saw.

As the plants gulped in the Southern California sun, high-powered sprinklers ricocheted over the fields, spraying water into the air during the heat of the day, when evaporation was at its peak.

In an area plagued with water shortages and droughts, some of the largest agricultural producers in the nation seemed to be using water with abandon, Ramirez observed.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “We live in what is technically a desert and I pass thousands of acres of farmland everyday that are wasting a tremendous amount of water.”


The Oxnard resident, who holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago, wondered if there was a better way. She began to research agricultural water use and stumbled upon the concept of dry farming — which uses only precipitation to grow crops.

“I found out that even here, amidst all these irrigated farms, there are a few people dry farming, growing wheat, olives, even apricots, with limited water,” she said.

Ramirez, whose friends aptly call her “Flo,” is now turning her anger at water waste into action. She’s writing a book aimed at consumers on how to “Eat Less Water,” a trademark phrase she uses to explain the concept of conserving the natural resource through farming practices and grocery-buying habits.

Dry farming doesn’t work in all locations or for all crops, but it can work successfully even in relatively dry climates, such as Southern California’s, she said. And many of the principles of dry farming, such as paying close attention to the weather and soil composition, can be applied to conventional farming to help save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a year, Ramirez said. Those plants that require more water, such as lettuce or many vegetables, can be drip irrigated, instead of watered with sprinklers or by flooding a field.

Ramirez says water experts predict that by 2025, two-thirds of the world will be experiencing water scarcity.

“We live in this illusion that we have enough water, but most places, like right here in Oxnard, are experiencing water deficits, which means we are using more than is naturally replenished each year,” she said. “It’s not sustainable.”

The average American household uses 100 to 150 gallons of water daily, a huge amount compared to the four or five gallons an African family uses each day, Ramirez said. “But what we use on a daily basis really is a drop in the bucket compared to industrial use and the virtual water footprint of what we eat, drive and wear, which is 1,100 to 1,300 gallons per day,” she said.

Seven out of every 10 gallons of fresh water on the planet are used to grow food, “so if we’re going to have a true conversation about water usage, we have to talk about what we eat,” Ramirez said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic certification doesn’t include any stipulations on water usage, something Ramirez would like to see changed. Read more.



YouTube Video- How To Make Sustainable Pizza Dough

This is the first a series of cooking workshops. I had great fun making it, although it took much longer to film (shows how much I know about film making.) What I do know is how to cook using less water. In the film you will not only learn how to make great pizza dough but you will learn how the color of water, blue, green and grey, is important if we are to save fresh water resources on our planet.

I speak about dry farming in the workshop. My post Dry Farming and Water goes deeper on the subject. My post Pasta and Water is also a great post to learn more on the topic of wheat on water systems in general.

Click here for the Water-Sustainable Pizza Dough recipe plus some links and ideas for topping that will also save water at the kitchen table.

Be sure to post your own pizza success and/or pictures of your pizza on the Eat Less Water Facebook page.

Oxnard woman says water reduction is on the menu (original article printed in the VC Star)

By Hannah Guzik
Photo by David Yamamoto
Special to The Star
Original post March 7, 2012 at 5:48 p.m., updated March 7, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.

Florencia Ramirez is on the “eat less water” diet.

From her kitchen in Oxnard’s historic district, she serves meals made with ingredients grown on “dry farms,” or with limited amounts of water, and she’s teaching other local residents to do the same.

“Right now, these terms live in academia, and my hope is that I can bring this into the mainstream,” she said. “The experts say that, just like the housing bubble, we’re living in a water bubble, and eventually it’s going to pop.”

Ramirez held a cooking class Saturday in her home, teaching eight area women to make pizza from scratch and “eat less water” in the process.

“Eat less water” is a trademark phrase for Ramirez. It describes her push to reduce the amount of water used to irrigate farms, thus helping conserve the natural resource.

It’s also the title of her blog,, and a book she’s working on about her research of dry farms, which use only rainwater or other precipitation to irrigate.

Experts predict two-thirds of the world will experience water shortages by 2025, Ramirez said.

“I want to figure out how we can unwrite that story and write another story,” she said. “We have to start at the kitchen table.”

Kneading pizza crust made with dry-farmed olive oil and organic flour, Ramirez taught the women in her class how to help save water when shopping for groceries.

Oxnard women says water reduction is on the menu

Read the full article at VC Star and view all photos.

Eat Less Water Reading at Bluestockings Bookstore, NY, NY

On Friday, March 9 at 7pm at Bluestockings Bookstore and Cafe I will read from my Eat Less Water manuscript. I will join Andrea Scarpino, author and poet who will read from her works on clean water. The event is titled The Politics and Poetry of Clean Water. What can poetry say about water? What water choices can we make to help move our impending water crisis in a more sustainable direction? Find out in an evening dedicated to clean water.

If you live in the Manhattan area please join us and/or please forward this event information to friends in New York.

Andrea Scarpino

Florencia Ramirez

Florencia Ramirez

Water Conservation at the Kitchen Table: Tequila and Water

I swirl the golden liquid in my glass. “Notice the color of the gold añejo,” directs Dr. Adolfo Murillo, the maker of Tequila Alquimia. “Its color comes from oak barrels.” Absent are wedges of lime and shakers of salt that are used to soften the sharp burn of tequila when it travels down the throat. This is tequila made to sip.

He tells me to hold the flavors of the tequila in my mouth and let them steep into my tongue. “We took minerals from deep in the earth, rain water from the sky, energy from the sun and created liquid gold,” I taste the earth, sky and sun before it disappears in a swallow.

Next, Adolfo reaches for a liter of blanco. The colorless tequila swims inside the recycled beveled glass. This tequila could be confused with water, too young to have absorbed the color of oak. How big would the bottle need to grow to hold 65 gallons of water, the water footprint of a liter of tequila?

The water footprint of tequila represents the average fresh water required to grow the agave and distill it into the popular beverage. Each liter has a blue, green and grey water footprint. Color has been assigned to water. Blue water is drawn from lakes, reservoirs and underground supplies. Green water is rainwater. Grey represents the polluted water resulting from the production of a product—in this case tequila. Each brand of tequila has a different water story to tell depending on how the agave is farmed and distilled. The story of Tequila Alquimia begins on a blue agave ranch in the town of Aqua Negra, Jalisco, Mexico. The ranch is owned by a Ventura County native.

I meet Adolfo at his home. We sit at the dining room table that is bare except for a laptop computer. His neat slacks tell me that he came from his optometry practice. His weathered cowboy boots remind me that the doctor is also a rancher. “What makes your tequila win gold medals?’ I ask as I notice the medals that hang on the far wall. Tequilas reposado, anejo and extra anejo, have collected 13 gold medals between the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Chicago Beverage Tasting Institute over the past three years.

“If you treat the earth well it will treat you well. That is what my grandfather told me. The earth treats us with flavorful tequila.” It is his grandfather’s teaching that led him to produce one of only four tequila brands certified USDA organic out of 1,150.

He shows me a video of his 125-acre ranch. The spiny blue agave plants grow in obedient straight lines. The plants are striking. Their strong sharp pose reaches for the blue sky. The stillness of the plants is broken by the movement of cows that wander between the rows.

“The cattle are our weed control. We spray no herbicides,” says Adolfo.

“Don’t the cattle damage the agave plants?” I ask.

“No, that has never been a problem. The Limousine cattle, originally from France was chosen for their superior foraging.”

Neighboring farms rely on the steady application of chemicals to eradicate pests, fungus and weeds. Spent chemicals alter fresh water into grey water. “What makes your plants resistant to pests and fungus without the use of chemicals?”

“Our plants grow naturally and rely on themselves instead of chemicals. They have built their own natural defenses.” Most conventionally grown crops such as wheat or lettuce receive a single season of chemicals. Since agave grows for six to10 years before it is harvested, conventionally grown agave absorbs a decade of chemicals.

The town of Aqua Negra receives little rainfall. The soil does not crumble like moist chocolate cake of rich farmland. The soil is layers of brittle sandstone. The water hides underground. Most agave farms irrigate year-round. Once the plant is established after the first two years Adolfo’s agave is dry farmed utilizing green water.

“How is it that you can dry farm?” I ask.

“We let the weeds grow during the rainy season where they protect the topsoil and help to store the water. We then mow the weeds, leaving the root systems. The mowed weeds incorporate into the soil. This all helps the soil absorb moisture for the plant in the dry months.” The organic material in the soil absorbs and retains moisture. Adolfo’s farm is able to collect millions of gallons of water under the parched rocks.

The health of Adolfo’s agave is demonstrated by the weight and sugar content of the piña, the core of the plant. The piñas are three times the average weight of surrounding farms. Too heavy to carry, weighing 200 pounds or more, they require the assistance of mules to carry the ripe piñas to trucks. The sugar content or brix of the piña adds to the flavor complexity of tequila. The brix for Adolfo’s agave is more than double the average.

Adolfo describes the distillation process. I begin to understand why the name alchemy was chosen as the name for this tequila. “Distillation was invented by ancient alchemists.” The agave is first cooked until it is soft and tastes like sweet potato. It is shredded to release the juice from the plant fibers. In fermentation tanks that stand 15 feet tall, natural yeast eats the sugars and the digestion yields alcohol. “The fermentation will take seven to 10 days when you let it follow its natural course, as we do. Many tequila companies prefer the faster method of three days, using supercharged yeast which is essentially chemical fertilizers.” The heavy metals and salt present in chemical fertilizers is concentrated during distillation.

The tequila leaves behind vinaza, a liquid that holds high concentrations of chemicals, heavy metals, salt and nitrogen. Every one-liter bottle of tequila leaves 10 liters of vinazas. The common practice of vinaza disposal is to pour it untreated into rivers. It turns rivers into brown raw sewage soup. The grey water strips the river’s ability to sustain life. The Mexican government has begun a campaign to encourage distilleries to build treatment plants, by imposing fines. Most distilleries opt to pay the fines and continue dumping the nitrogen-rich vinazas into rivers. Adolfo has devised a solution for the vinaza disposal. “On the land behind the distillery we prepare an area with a layer of clay followed by a layer of piña fiber. We pour vinaza over it. It turns into compost that supports life,” he says, showing me a picture of weeds and flowers growing out of a mound of soil.

Adolfo’s ranch touches the acreage of his grandfather’s former ranch. The new owners of his grandfather’s ranch slurp the water from a spring on the land faster than it can be replenished. The spring will run dry. Chemical herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers taint the spring and the water hidden underground. The fate of his grandfather’s land fuels his passion to teach organic farming. He has trained over 30 Mexican farmers to grow organically. The sip of tequila I hold in my mouth impacts a river thousands of miles away. My tequila choice sends ripples somewhere on the planet. Before my next sip I make a toast, “To Adolfo’s Tequila Alquimia and others who work to preserve the integrity of fresh water supplies on our small blue planet.” The tequila glass chimes in agreement.

For more information about Tequila Alquimia and a list of locations where it is available visit

You can view this article in Edible Ojai Magazine recent recipient of the James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence.

Pasta and Water published in Edible Santa Barbara Summer edition (Fresh Pasta Recipe)

One Pound of Pasta = 230 gallons of water
The Italian machine grows long linguine noodles with ease. The fresh pasta is dusted with the gold coarse powder of semolina and disappears into butcher paper before it remerges at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmer’s Market the next morning. I take one and a half pounds of The Solvang Pie Co. fresh naked pasta home. I dress the pasta with sautéed tomatoes, garlic, basil and shreds of parmesan. The lively dinner cadence is replaced by the silence of linguine noodles pirouetting around forks and the occasional loud slurp. Joaquin, my five year old interrupts the silence, “This is the best pasta I’ve ever had.” We all enthusiastically nod in agreement, mouths satiated with pasta.

Our family is not alone in our love affair for pasta. In the United States each person eats on average 17 pounds of pasta each year which translates to a water footprint of 3910 gallons of fresh water. The water footprint of 230 gallons per pound of pasta, roughly one package, reflects water required to grow the stalks of wheat and added ingredients.

Water footprint totals present the global average. The water footprint of food varies depending on the county, region, state and farm. All food has a different water story to tell depending on its origin. The water story of the pasta I serve on this night begins at a farm in Santa Ynez, California.

A welcoming committee of clucking chickens is the first to greet me on the seven acre farm of The Solvang Pie Co. tucked between a creek and hillside. About 350 chickens wander on this farm with Tracie Durban owner, her husband Fred and her baby Reagan. “My husband jokes that if I get any more chickens he will leave me for a cat lady,” laughs Tracy. The chickens eliminate her need for pesticides. They eat the slugs and other tasty bugs that feast on her apple trees.

In addition to pest control the chickens supply fresh eggs. “When I first began making pasta two years ago, the dough was sticky. After trial and error we realized that if we gather the eggs the morning we make pasta, without refrigeration, the dough is perfect.” The water footprint of a single egg is 23 gallons of fresh water. This reflects the average fresh water used to grow the feed, clean, and quench the thirst of an egg laying hen.

The water footprint of one egg largely reflects the embedded water to grow the feed for a chicken. Tracie’s chickens are raised with modest amounts of blue water. Water is colorless but researchers have assigned color. Blue water is sourced from ground water, reservoirs, and rivers that scribble across the landscape. Tracie’s chickens are on a diet of grass that grows between the lines of apples trees. Their favorite meal is the wheat germ mixed with scant amounts of water from her thirty acres of wheat fields in San Luis Obispo County.

The amber waves of wheat are grown on more land than any other crop in the world. The majority of wheat grown in the U.S has the friendly accent of a North Dakota farmer which grows enough durum for 13.7 billion servings of pasta each year. Most wheat in the world (90%) is grown with green water. This includes North Dakota wheat farms that rely exclusively on healthy rainfall.

Here, in California the acreage dedicated to wheat is growing, with 752,000 acres this year. Eighty percent of California wheat is grown on irrigatable land. That is to say that it is farmland that can be irrigated. Fewer farms require irrigation during robust rainy years like the one we are in. The majority of durum wheat called dessert durum is grown in the Imperial Valley. The dry valley relies on water from the Colorado River to sustain its wheat crops. A wheat farmer irrigates with either sprinkler or flood irrigation. Most opt for the cheaper flood irrigation which uses much more water than sprinklers.

After the rains between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Tracie with the help of her farmer husband, plant hard white wheat and durum. Most years the coastal moisture makes it possible for Tracie’s wheat farms to be rain fed. On very dry years her wheat will be watered with sprinkler irrigation once maybe twice before harvested in the summer. This year requires no irrigation.

“Do you use any chemicals on your wheat farms?” I ask. Chemicals can increase crop yields. Chemical application used on a farm make their eventual journey to fresh water sources. “Wheat is resistant to most pests limiting chemical use but occasionally we spray fungicides.” For the wheat farmer, fungus is the thief. In wet climates like North Dakota, or coastal California, fungus can wipe out an entire crop of wheat, leaving only the stalk. .“We spray fungicides about once every four years,” says Tracie. “We limit fungicide applications by yearly upgrades of seed, bred to resist new strands of fungus.” Organic wheat farms, according to USDA organic guidelines, disallow the use of synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.

The room that houses the mill smells creamy sweet. The wheat berry sifts through nine screens of silk that separate the white flour from the wheat germ and bran. The mill vibrates masculine sounds. Wheat berries are rubbed between North Carolina granite and concrete. Stone ground flour is to be of better quality. Plastic bins lined with flannel catches the white flour that will age for two months before it is mixed into dough for the bakery. “What happens to the wheat germ?” I look to the bin holding the separated brown wheat. “Some of the wheat germ and bran is used in our baking but most is fed to the chickens.” Nothing is wasted on Tracie’s farm.

Tracie reduces waste through her diverse operation. The apples she grows for her pies are fertilized by the chickens that wander beneath them plucking pests from the soil. The chickens provide the eggs for the bakery, fed by the excess wheat germ.

Purchases from a diverse farm, like Tracie’s diminishes waste that occurs on the conventional journey of food to our plate. Food is wasted at each stop on the food production chain: farm, processing plant, supermarket, restaurant or home kitchen. Between thirty to fifty percent of all food produced never makes it to our mouths in the United States. All the food that lands in trash bins can be expressed in gallons of water.

Seventy percent of all water in the world is ultimately connected to the food we put on our plates. If the world’s water was contained in a gallon bucket, a single drop of water on the tip of your finger represents the amount of fresh water available in any given moment. The drop is equivalent to less than ½ of 1 percent. This drop of water has sustained life on the planet throughout the ages, yet it is predicted that two-thirds of the people living on this planet will experience water scarcity by 2025. If we are to ensure that we have abundant water sources for our growing human population we must take a hard look at how water is used for food production. Every meal we eat either stresses or sustains our fresh water supplies. I will continue to slurp the long linguine pasta from the Solvang Pie Co. For the most important water conservation begins at the kitchen table.

Homemade Pasta
8 servings or 2.8 pounds

Once you open the door to fresh pasta you won’t want it any other way. Tracie’s fresh pasta is available every weekend at the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market. Here is fresh pasta recipe for home just in case you miss the farmer’s market. The Solvang Pie Co. sells wheat berries and durum for home milling. Ask about the bagged stone ground flour. This recipe can be used with or without a pasta machine. The pasta machine I use for this recipe is the Marcato Atlas 150.

2 cups flour
2 cups semolina flour
1 pinch salt
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons oil

Sift together the flour and salt.

Empty the flour mixture onto a clean counter surface. Form the flour into a mountain shape with a deep well in the center.

Break the eggs and add olive oil into the well. Whisk eggs with a fork. I find that I can add about three eggs and oil in the center well before it resembles an overflowing volcano. Once this happens, I start to knead the dough and create another well and add the remaining eggs.

Dust work surface with semolina as needed. Knead the dough until it is smooth and supple about 8-10 minutes.
Wrap dough tight in a plastic wrap at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Roll dough to your desired thickness and cut into your favorite noodle shape or refer to the directions provided with your pasta machine.

Place the fresh pasta on a dusted counter of semolina or hang on plastic hangers to keep noodles from sticking to each other.

Boil enough water to cover the noodles, 2 quarts for a pound of pasta (trust me this is all the water you need not 4-6 quarts normally suggested). Add 1 tablespoon of salt to season the pasta for every 2 quarts water. Add pasta noodles into the boiling water making sure they are separate pieces (not one big clump). Stir a few times to be sure the pasta does not stick together. Fresh pasta cooks quickly. Stay close. Check to see if it is done at 3 minutes. If not, check pasta in one minute increments thereafter.

Remove pasta from water. Save the pasta water to make your favorite sauce. The starchy salty water is excellent in pasta sauces, it thins the sauce, adds flavor and salt. Reusing the pasta water in sauces is common practice in Italy. Your water conservation will be rewarded in flavor. The pasta water adds a rich, buttery flavor to the sauce. You will find yourself wiping the plate clean.

Simple Tomato, Garlic, Basil Sauce with Pasta Water
4-6 serving
2 tablespoons ‘dry farmed’ olive oil *
4 garlic cloves, diced
2 pounds organic** tomatoes chopped into eights
1-2 ladles salted pasta water
1 bunch fresh basil, stemmed

*Dry farmed olive oil means that the olives are sourced from olive trees that use only green water (rain water) for irrigation. How do you know if olive oil is dry farmed? Ask.

**When available, I choose organic or pesticide-free vegetables. This action minimizes pesticide and synthetic fertilizer runoff into water systems. Ask farmers how they utilize rain water for irrigation and support those who implement water sustainable practices.

Sauté the garlic until it begins to brown in the olive oil.

Add tomatoes and sauté until soft.

Ladle 1-2 scoops pasta water to thin and season the pasta sauce. Simmer the sauce to allow for the flavors to marry. (Keep the extra water in the Refrigerate the extra pasta water to add to leftover pasta sauce for tomorrow’s lunch. The sauce is even tastier the next day.)

Turn the flame to low and add basil. Keep flame on just long enough for the basil to wilt about 2 minutes.

To serve, drape the sauce over your favorite pastas. Sprinkle drops of parmesan.

You can find The Solvang Pie Co. at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmer’s Market every Tuesday afternoon and Saturday morning or the Solvang Farmer’s Market every Wednesday. Visit them online at

Find a copy of this article published in Edible Santa Barbara.

Chicken and Water

Out of the oven the bird smells glorious. A stab of the golden skin releases its tasty juice. The 1,876 gallons of fresh water embedded in the skin of the chicken does not leak out.

The average amount of fresh water used to grow the feed for, quench the thirst of, slaughter and clean one chicken equals that bird’s total water footprint. On my dinner plate sat 199 virtual gallons of water: 117 gallons for ¼ pound of chicken, 60 gallons for my beets and potatoes, 22 gallons for two slices of bread, plus an additional 63 gallons for my glass of wine. Food slurps 70% of all fresh water draws. The most important water conservation begins at the kitchen table.

If the world’s water were contained in a gallon bucket, a single drop on the tip of your finger would represent the amount of available fresh water. The drop is equivalent to less than one half of 1%. Our bodies mirror our watery planet: Two-thirds of the earth’s surface is covered in water. What that is not contained by the sea is trapped in natural freezers of snow and permafrost or buried deep underground. This drop of water has sustained life on this planet throughout the ages, yet it is predicted that two-thirds of the people living on this planet will experience water scarcity by 2025….

All food has a story written in water and the one about the chicken on my plate begins at Funny Farms. Darinka and Paul are chicken farmers at dawn, dusk and weekends. They both hold day jobs, but every other Saturday they, along with their teenage daughter, Chloe, are found slaughtering chickens for the growing number of customers who reserve their birds in advance. To read my full article published in the Edible Ojai Spring 2011 click here.