Meet Jared McKinley. More accurately, meet Jared McKinley's alter ego Kitty Katt McKinley, which he uses when producing and promoting some of this city's more creative and memorable events through Powhaus Productions and his new company MEOWmeow Productions.
McKinley also happens to be an amazing gardener who has founded a new group called the Arid Land Homesteaders League. The organization's website is an excellent blend of good writing and an ever-growing selection of do-it-yourself food-production tips. You can read all about it right here.
When he's not in the garden or organizing parties - his underwear party hits Hotel Congress on Saturday, June 16 - he waits tables at Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery and brews aerated compost tea for Merlin Organics. He took a moment this week to discuss the Arid Land Homesteaders League:
TW: Tell me a little about the Arid Land Homesteaders League. How is it different from your previous entity, Tucson Urban Gardener.
JM: This all started on accident. I am living in a rental. I am also fairly poor. I thought I was going to move until about a half a year ago when I decided to stay in this house. I started a garden, late in the season, and started writing about it. I am a writer, so it was natural. I revived this old blog I used to lazily maintain years ago when I was working for Dr. Andrew Weil. My writing on the subject started to really develop and the audience exploded. So that encouraged me to expand on the whole thing. The interest is very much there and so I am continuing to feed that interest.
I expanded the subject matter because I myself was expanding. I got chickens and bees and started brewing beer with a friend of mine and doing all sorts of stuff like that. I am very upset about the state of food in this country, and being able to produce my own food was such a positive experience. I wanted to share that.
So the Arid Land Homesteaders League is really an invitation for regular people to start producing their own food, doing it for themselves. It's about encouraging people to step away from the consumer-driven model and start being producers. It's also about helping people realize that you don't need to be an expert to do this stuff. Throughout history people did this stuff, regular people. We are just as capable. In fact, I think the "experts" have caused more harm than good, making muck of our food, ruining our soils, and feeding us poison. Sounds extreme, but I really feel that way and I thing a lot of other people do too.
TW: Who are some of the people getting involved? Is it just you?
JM: Previously, it was just me. I started getting guest writers recently. But I am expanding the blog into a web page. I have a team of people working with me now. I don't want to give too much away, but expect some big stuff. Videos, more articles, and events about town. I am an event producer and media producer, so naturally I need to apply these skills to this new project.
TW: The first description I was given of you was "this sort of Downtown glitter party organizer who also happens to be a crazy plant guy." What is the connection between your passion for organizing dance and other parties and gardening, or, better put, is there a connection at all?JM: Hmmm...well, for me it's just stuff I am into. I love to live. That means having fun as well as doing stuff. We will all be dead someday. So for me, that means I want to really be a doer, not just a passive consumer. I really feel like that movie The Matrix is what is really happening, metaphorically anyway. People are just hooked up to this consumer system and being fed upon. I do all I can to shake up that system in the ways I know now.
So the connection? If you have been to my parties, I really encourage audience participation. Our audience dresses up, They get messy. They have fun. It's not just a passive experience where you have an audience and the entertainment. And encouraging people to garden, raise chickens, brew beer, is the same thing to me. Encouraging people to do stuff.
TW: You seem to have an enormous store of knowledge when it comes to gardening and other food-related things. Where does that come from?
JM: I have been gardening all my life, for one. I studied ecology/botany at University of Arizona. I have experimented with growing just about everything: cacti and succulents, orchids, bromeliads, vegetables and herbs, landscape plants, native plants, pond plants, I am just sort of obsessed with plants in general.
I actually am not good with feeding myself. I love food. But I didn't grow up in a very stable home situation as a child. As a consequence I am very bad at taking care of myself. I am also very ambitious and work very hard, so I end up starving a lot of the time. The focus on food is really to take care of a weakness of mine. That said, I love cooking, love growing food, making fermented products (sauerkraut, cheese, beer), I just need to learn to EAT. The focus on food plants as of late is to engage this problem of mine. I know I am not alone on this.
TW: People often have a hard time getting their first garden started. Any advice?
JM: For one, don't give up. You will fail. I still fail sometimes. Keep engaging the garden. Keep trying. Look at other gardens. Keep trying. It's like anything else, the more you engage it, the more you figure out. It's not hard, really. The biggest deterrent here is our heat. Sometimes I wanna say, "screw it" some morning when you go outside and it's already 100 degrees F. But just keep trying.
TW: What's in your garden right now?
JM: I have corn, squash, cucumbers, beans, sunflowers, tomatoes, peppers, jerusalem artichoke, burdock, tomatillos, basil, watermelon, probably other things I am forgetting. I had even more stuff earlier but I left a gate open on the garden one day and the chickens demolished a whole lot of seedlings. Like I said, even those of us who have been at this a long time have failures. I want to do more, but since this is a totally new garden, I am still watering by hand. And as I said, I am poor. So I am saving up for irrigation. I have a plan that is fairly cheap. But it's summer, and so money is tight.
TW: What's next for the Arid Land Homesteaders League?
JM: Events, video, and some other surprises I want to keep under my hat. But I am definitely expanding this project.