Farmer Spotlight: Ceci Norman
Ceci Norman, Event Coordinator, is responsible for organizing the events here at Finca Tres Robles.
In this interview, we talk art, career, and her core values.
What are some of your responsibilities as an event coordinator?
As an event coordinator, I help with rentals, and our own events. If anyone wants to have a birthday party, wedding, workshop or use the space for their business or corporate event, I help arrange all the details of that. We also host our own events, from seasonal dinners where we get to work with a local chef and highlight what produce we have, to finding other unique ways to celebrate what we're doing here.
How did get to know about Finca Tres Robles and what made you want join?
A friend of mine, Karen Man, suggested that I should start getting a CSA to have more access to fresh vegetables. This was in September or October 2017… So I signed up for Finca's CSA and immediately enjoyed it.
It was a lot of vegetables that I hadn't had a whole lot of experience preparing. It really grounded me to eating at home and being a little bit more playful in my kitchen. For example, Karen and I started taking all the seeds from the avocados we were eating and made an ink out of them. It was around when beets were in season, so I started making ink out of beets and just kind of spiraled from there. I started to share some of my art experiments with the farm, so they brought me on to teach a few classes one on photography, another to make cyanotypes, and then I did one ink making class, too. I really enjoyed it.
Through other work as a teaching artist and documentarian, I've found that if basic needs aren’t met, it’s hard to create or encourage anyone else to create. From that I wanted more knowledge about nutrition, how growing food works and how access to food works. This desire to learn more, led me to volunteering with the farm. I think it was at a potluck that I made a joke to Tommy about one of the events that I did in Portland, Oregon, which was cocktail robots versus bartenders, and he was like, "wait, you do events?" Which turned into a conversation about helping the farm do events (despite telling myself I would never do events again… though I also told myself I would never live in Texas. Yet, now it’s been close to 8 years in Houston).
What’s something you think would surprise people about your day to day?
I don't know if I have a specific day-to-day. It's definitely not a 9-5.
I mean, our office is a shipping container and we feel the weather. That alone is atypical of a lot of work, or most places. But I love it. I feel so much healthier that I'm not cold all the time from air conditioning. Otherwise it's a little bit of sitting at a computer managing communication--emailing different people. Then there's a lot more kind of funniness like sourcing chickens (from Tejas) at chef hours, or buying a piñata, or clearing a monster cherry tomato plant.
The best part of it is all the communication that I get to have with people in Houston who are interested in where food should be in terms of creativity, diversity and having more access to it. I love when we can work with a chef who wants to go run around the parks in Houston to forage for ingredients and see the fascinating ways they like might make it jam or pickles. It has a lot of creativity. It also helps us create conversations around where food exists, or why it’s important to eat seasonally and locally.
What would you say is a challenging aspect of your work?
Rain? Weather? It's hard to throw an event in the rain. I'm also probably one of, maybe, five people who live in Houston who moved here for the weather. I lived in the DC area, in New York, in the Midwest, and I just couldn't take the months of gray or the cold or the two feet of snow & dirty slush.
I love being outside. I spent about five years in Austin, and probably 95% of my time there outside. It's part of who I am, but convincing more people in Houston to be outside and be sweaty, or to have variation in the temperature that they feel is not always an easy feat. But… as I said before, I feel healthier from it.
What foods do you like that Finca's grown here?
I love the gold beets, for an incredibly artistic nerdy reason, because I love the color of them... and I love the taste of them. It was last spring when I first cooked them and it was this is beautiful gold or yellow and I just started painting with it. Really. Then I was like, wait, I ran out of it, and I had to wait a whole year for more of them!
How do you make paint out of it?
It's just cooking the beets. So boiling them in water and keeping the residual beet water.
Oh that's it? I thought you would have to like make something to make it thicker?
You can add gum arabic. Gum arabic is a resin that'll help it stick to paper better. Other plants, like the Moringa, I'll use too. I love the green it creates. To paint, I use egg whites that I get from Theodore Rex because they sometimes have them laying around. So I'll mix the moringa powder with the egg whites to make the paint. It’s just a different process of thinking about food as art and that whatever waste you might dump down the drain after a meal could end up art.
What are the biggest rewards from working here?
The biggest rewards of working at the farm are working with the staff here, it's a really friendly and supportive team. It's an easy environment to be in--to not have to be anyone other than myself, which makes it easy to be open, creative and bring ideas to the table, whether or not we run with them. If an idea or plan that falls apart, there's never any negativity around it. It's just like, well that's just kind of part of how this is. There’s so much freedom to be able to play with, and in that play it may not have perfection. With things that fail, we acknowledge how to do better, and go for it. So it's a really open environment, by having that base makes the rest of the work interesting.
What does community mean to you?
Community on this farm has been wonderful. Phenomenal, really. That same base of good people that exists in the staff exists within the CSA members and the people who visit here. There hasn't really been anybody that I've met through the farm or within talking about the farm that I'm like "that guy is the worst and I don't want to be around them." [laughs] It's nice because that's not always the case. But when you spend time fostering an environment with good food, really good people show up.
In a wider sense, I've always been involved in what a community is in a lot of ways. As a little kid, I grew up as a girl scout and was always tagging along with my brother in boy scouts. I was better at it than him too. Then high school, I was involved with theater, swimming, and art clubs. Then I worked for a college newspaper, hung out at a Long Island punk rock bar and interned and spent a lot of time at an art gallery, did some theater and never slept. Just by interacting with a lot of different groups in different ways, it's always been intuitive to me to see how people work together and how important that is. By traveling internationally, seeing the way people work with each other in different ways.
I recently worked with a lady named Marti Corn on a HAA art project, Montrose Neighborhood Art Fare. We had the idea of bringing people in the area together, create art together and talk about what art and community is to them. It was nice how all the people who went loved the trees in the neighborhood. They love the vibrancy of the neighborhood and its art. Pretty consistently everyone had similar things to say of what the Montrose community was to them.
Within Houston, especially, we spend so much time in our apartments, houses, or in our cars where we cut ourselves off from people in ways that don't happen in New York, or even a suburb where you might barbecue on your lawn or hang out in your garage. So I appreciate being able to work within a space that prioritizes spending time with people, and giving them experiences that are unique.
To encompass what community is to me, it’s the process of being together and taking care of each other.
What would you say are your core values and you wouldn't compromise for?
Being ethical, not just on an individual level. There's nothing that makes me more angry than when companies don't think of the lifespan of the products they make, whether it's a phone, a soda, a candy bar, a service or a dress. When they solely work for making money to make money rather than to make humanity better. That’s crazy to me. It makes more sense to develop community with goods and services that help improve our world. Helping foster that is easily a core value. It’s seeing what people need and helping them cultivate that abundantly, and more important, joyfully. Also, creativity.
How do you practice wellness?
I don't sleep, but I'm trying to teach myself to sleep! I pay attention to things that I eat: where it comes from, where it's grown, if it's an animal, where it was from and how it lived its life, who prepares it, and what kind of thought was put into preparation. I've been doing yoga, swimming, and like to wander around. More important is spending lots of time with people who I think are supportive, kind, and where we have a mutual sense of looking out for each other---and laugh a lot. Having good people around me helps me be a better person. It all works together, especially with finding the right balance. It might have taken me a minute, or two, to learn, but when you get a good base, it's easier overall.