By Cristina Africano, co-owner of the Local Culture Live Foods Marketplace – Downtown Grass Valley, CA. 

Living Sustainably in the Sierra Foothills as Small Business Owners

passive solar house

As we all could imagine, living off the grid has its pros and cons. On the one hand, we have full autonomy over PG&E’s quick “solution” PSPS; on the other, not having that dependency can mean limited power on cloudy days. Even on sunny days, we sometimes have to choose to use either the dehydrator, or crock-pot – rarely can we use both at the same time! “Too taxing on the solar”, we say. But the sacrifices and cloudy days are minimal, so we chose off grid living.

Living sustainably is more than off grid; its growing and preserving your own food, planting an orchard, having a compost toilet and/or a passive solar home — we all do what we can, right?


We moved onto a raw piece of land knowing we had a complete blank canvas. My husband observed the pattern of the sun for a year before we began to build our home: where was the mid Summer sun blasting? Where did the dead of Winter sun lay? With hired help and heavy machinery (and many prayers of gratitude to the forest), we cleared an acre of forest on our land, milled the wood with our Wood-Mizer LT16 wood mill, and the building project began.

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We built a 1,050 sq. ft. passive solar home using the wood from our land, carefully calculating where the sun would begin to enter our windows in the Fall, keeping us warm and sun filled throughout the winter, while during summer months having our home remain incredibly cool with the high sun shining down on our well insulated roof. Our south facing pergola is planted with grapes — offering shade in the Summer, snacks in the Fall, and as the leaves begin to drop, full sun exposure for the cold Winter months.

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Being a business owner in Grass Valley is a blessing – and a lot of commuting for us. We do our best to carry our lifestyle into our business – we are a food/ferment business, so naturally, we create a lot of food waste in the kitchen. The solution for this was easy for us: we bring 100% of our food scraps home to our chickens; creating rich soil to put back in to our garden beds and orchards. We sell our ferments in glass jars, and always encourage our customers to bring back their jars if they are able, or to reuse them at home. We’ve had customers share their garden canned goods canned in our company’s jars (with the labels still on!); I’ve seen our jars used as containers for home made ghee, dry bulk goods, flower vases, or simply as drinking glasses. We serve kombucha on tap in our little storefront in Grass Valley, and gladly reuse all returned glass jars (after cleaning + sanitizing them) for kombucha fill ups. We aim to eradicate the use of plastic 100% for our company, and are well on our way.


Back home, we pressure can and preserve as much food as we can from our abundant garden. We grow our own corn for cornmeal (think polenta, grits, cornbread muffins, etc.) and popcorn, make fruit leather with our Summer fruit, and dehydrated fruit slices with our Fall fruit. We pressure can salsas, marinaras, ketchup, barbecue sauce — if it has tomatoes as an ingredient, I’m going to try to can it! This time of year, our freezer chest is full of frozen elderberries from our elderberry tree for medicine making, bone and chicken broths, frozen fruits for Winter pies, and garden made pestos.


I know this lifestyle is the norm for so many of us, and for that I give thanks for our community. We all tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people. And yet it is so important for all of us to continue to be that inspiration for our friends and families across the state and nation for them to try a version of sustainable living. Whether that is driving an electric car, growing a garden, or planting a fruit tree or two and eating seasonally, I believe every little bit helps.


owners of local culture fermented foods in grass valley ca

Cristina Africano and Chris Frost McKee are the owners of Local Culture Ferments in Downtown Grass Valley, CA – (530) 407-7891. Cristina has been a part of this community for 7 years, with a history of organic farming and clinical herbal and nutrition studies. Chris has lived in this community for 15 years, helping many friends build and begin their homesteads before deciding to build his own in 2014. They live happily in rural Camptonville with their 3-year-old son Isaiah, 2 dogs, cat, and 8 chickens.

Local Culture Live Foods Marketplace

Address104 E Main St, Grass Valley, CA 95945

Phone(530) 407-7891