I’d like to introduce myself and explain what I am trying to do.
First off: Here’s a picture of me outside Chicaoji Central on Lopez Island, WA just so you’ve got some idea of who you’re dealing with here.
Second: I can get a little long winded so grab a cuppa.
I grew up in Texas surrounded with plenty of good food and generous portions of Love. I found my way to Lopez Island,WA over 30 years ago and give thanks all the time that my Path brought me here. I played around with making hot sauces over the years and enjoyed sharing them with friends. When I bundled the Chicaoji flavor together, friends encouraged me to make a business out of it. Here’s the story of Chicaoji.
Here’s an impromptu video made by videographer Len Davis. (I did not know he was a videographer at the time.) He stopped by one day to pick up some sauce. He asked a few questions and as I answered he asked if he could record my answers. Come to find out, he’s a professional videographer. He edited his recording of our spontaneous interview and did a great job of sifting out my “er’s and uh’s”. I’m sharing this because it really does convey why I’m still doing this Chicaoji thing.
Chicaoji provides a livelihood and allows me to accomplish many things I consider valuable. I’ll list and try to describe them.
Organic food production
I believe that organic production of food is important to us as individuals and as a society. Many of us choose not to grow our own food and so rely on others for nourishment. Supporting organic food production is the single most important long term choice we can make for our health and in the market place. Our daily decision to purchase or not to purchase is the one “vote” we can make every day that truly has the power to influence our society.
Utilizing the natural processes of life to maintain and improve food production makes sense to me (composting, crop rotation, natural pest control, and so on). Reliance upon fossil fuels for our food production and distribution will become increasingly problematic as they become more difficult and expensive to obtain. We need to focus our energies on developing durable infrastructure and protecting our biological (agricultural) heritage so that generations in the future will have what they need to survive. I want to focus the energy I have on what will benefit life for generations to come.
I like to obtain my what I need for my life as locally as I can. I support local businesses and buy organic food grown locally. One of my business goals is to promote local/regional production of some of Chicaoji’s ingredients: goji berries, apple cider vinegar, chilies, and sea salt. Even though cacao and agave will not be produced in Northwest Washington I do support organic production where they are grown.
Goji berries will grow in the Pacific Northwest. Several local farmers and gardeners are learning to cultivate them. At this time, no commercial production in the Northwest. I have donated some starts to local gardeners and hope to continue supporting production. For the time being I support organic goji production in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China.
Apple trees grow in well around in the Pacific Northwest. Many local trees are quite old, remnants of a time when San Juan County was the fruit basket of the Northwest. These old trees have survived complete neglect for decades. Even though they aren’t currently productive they can be rejuvenated with proper care and, by means of grafting, remain a living resource for ‘heritage’ varieties.
These old trees could be certified organic. After all, some haven’t been pruned in 30 years much less treated with chemicals. New orchards could likewise prosper. However, we lack the infrastructure at this time to legally process local fruit into value added products such as juice, hard cider, and vinegar among many other products.
I hope to direct Chicaoji’s need for organic apple cider vinegar toward local production of apple related products and, by extension, benefit all sorts of local fruit production and processing. I hope that value-added products from these fruits will feed and support our community. I want Chicaoji to contribute to the long term stability and nutritional abundance of this region.
Chipotles are smoked jalapeño chilies which will grow here. We have wood for smoking them into chipotles.
Sea salt surrounds Lopez Island. We can create the infrastructure to obtain this as well. The Celtic Sea Salt I use for Chicaoji comes from the coast of France which is a bit silly but the nice folks at Selina Naturally who distribute Celtic Sea Salt have established a reputation for quality that I am willing to support until something local gets going.
Lopez Island and some of the other islands in San Juan County have begun to integrate food production and processing into their school curricula. Several programs exist to teach students how to grow food and some even supply the school cafeteria with fresh food.
I want to support these programs and help extend them. In addition to growing fresh food, I hope to support programs that teach students how to properly process food to feed the community and to create value added products that can support their families by nourishing people elsewhere.
Math, science, biology, chemistry, materials fabrication/shop, physical education, business management, and other academic pursuits can be incorporated into food production and processing studies. Imagine the ways these studies can be integrated from seed to plate and labeled jar.
Another dream of mine is to facilitate student and cultural exchanges with the communities/areas that produce Chicaoji’s ingredients. I’d like to see students from Lopez Island and the other San Juan islands travel to areas that grow goji, agave, Celtic Sea Salt and cacao and have students from there come here. I think it would be interesting and beneficial in ways I can only begin to imagine to connect these communities. I like that the beginning criteria where to start the exchanges would be the fairly random list of ingredients that compose Chicaoji. Further criteria are the common threads of nutritious food, sustainable food production and Enjoyment of the Table.
OK, maybe this is a little out there but the point of this page is to share my ideas about Chicaoji and what I hope it can do, even though I can barely just imagine it now, long after I shed my mortal frame.
I want to do something with what remains of my life that will be beneficial. I like that we came up with a condiment that people enjoy eating made with ingredients can contribute to physical well being. Many people who know about nutrition and the value of eating raw organic foods read Chicaoji’s list of ingredients with eyes widening in recognition. It is actually fun to watch these folks read the list. A simple reality is that if you only have a bowl of grains, greens, or water Chicaoji can add enjoyment and nourishment.
Food is medicine. I hope that Chicaoji can help people in this way.
I perceive Chicaoji to be a part of my spiritual Path as well. I have assembled a Gathering. I did not do this alone as several friends and loved ones contributed to the contents of my Rucksack. It nonetheless fell to me to saddle up and take this Gift over the Mountain to feed the People and bring them enjoyment. I have been carrying Chicaoji as She has been carrying me. I will try to explain.
Goji berries originated in southwestern Asia. They are in the same plant tribe as the tomato, potato, eggplant, chile, and other nightshades: what we call the Solanacea Family of Plants. They have been incorporated into the Chinese pharmacopeia for many centuries. Just a few years ago you would have to go to a pharmacy of Eastern Medicine to obtain goji berries. These berries found their way into my hands.
Cacao originated in Amazonia. These little beans have been used for medicine, religious ceremonies, enjoyment, and even as a currency. We call this tribe “Theobroma” or “Food of the Gods”. They grow in the deep green forests and are part of the community there. Cacao brings to us profound Gifts that words struggle to describe. These beans found their way into my hands.
(One day these two ventured into my hand at the same time. Read the story of Chicaoji. Some deep spark lit inside me as I joined these inside myself. I heard another one calling and I knew the voice right away because it was chilies beckoning. Having been raised in Texas, the voice was familiar and instantly recognizable.)
Chilies also originated in Amazonia. They are in the same tribe as the goji: Solanacea. The flying tribe we call birds scattered them with wild abandon. Chilies enhance the flavor of food and can also benefit our health.
Apples originated in Central Asia and have been scattered across the earth especially by humans who enjoy and benefit from the fruit. Apple trees take energy from the sun and make sugar like many other plants They wisely chose to wrap their seeds in little bags of sweetness that many animals enjoy thus ensuring their dispersal. Now apples by themselves bring us nourishment and health benefits. Others enjoy the sweetness of the apple, namely the ascomycetes tribe.
You likely call the Ascomycetes tribe yeasts. They consume this sweetness and manage to turn the collected sunlight into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Many stories might from this point diverge but to stay on the trail I introduce you to yet another Tribe we call the Acetobacters. This Clan of bacteria transforms alcohol into vinegar. Thus transformed, the sunlight becomes vinegar which brings us nourishment, flavor, and health benefits.
Perhaps you are by now detecting a theme.
Agave originated in the Central Highlands of Mexico. It is in the Tribe we call Cactus. Agave concentrates sunlight into sweetness found in its sap. Agave brings us nourishment, flavor, and health benefits.
Maple syrup was used in North America’s First Nations People long before European contact. Processing techniques have changed over the centuries but the process of tapping the flowing sap of maple trees in the late winter and reducing it to syrup is fundamentally the same. In 2021 we are switching to maple syrup to sweeten Chicaoji and phasing out Chicaoji. Maple syrup production is more sustainable and customers prefer it. This change does not significantly affect the flavor.
Salt is concentrated in the ocean. It is a Gift that also provides flavor, nourishment, and health benefits. We need salt to live. We can obtain salt in our food yet humans have found it convenient and beneficial to use the salt concentrated by the oceans, whether we use salt from recently dehydrated ocean water or from ancient sea beds buried in the earth.
Water is required for life. All living things must have it. I thank it for the many Blessings I enjoy in this life. Actually, I see no need to rattle on about water. If you are reading this you know what I am talking about.
I have now described in brief the Tribes Chicaoji has gathered. As time passes and I contemplate this Gathering I have begun to realize the wonderful and beautiful complexity of what has occured. As I share Chicaoji a network of relations grows in ways that escape my full realization. From all the little and big critters (including minerals and elements) that comprise the Homeland of each member of the tribes to all the relationships that have developed from their dispersal the complexity of relationships grows.
This network is what I call the Gathering of the Healing Tribes. It came to me as something we named Chicaoji for lack of a better term. I have seen people make friends and share a kind of joy with their loved ones by incorporating into their lives these little bottles of Chicaoji. It has only begun.
I have been guided on my Path by sometimes peculiar means. Sometimes I get to thinking I know what needs to happen next and make plans accordingly only to have my intended goal blocked by some odd little twist that nonetheless presented an insurmountable obstacle. In these times I have learned just to stop and look around for another Way that I have not imagined. My experience has been that a more appropriate Path appears as clearly as my intended Path was obscure.
My task is to keep the Chicaoji flowing. I hope that it helps bring you enjoyment and health.
I hope this page gives you some idea of who I am and what I want to do with Chicaoji.