Heather Jo Flores, a singer-songwriter, author and poet, permaculture activist, visual artist, and yogi, has led a far from ordinary life. Out of rough beginnings—she was a homeless youth; she comes from a low-income family; she was a high-school dropout; she was a sex worker in Santa Cruz; she was a pot trimmer—she learned to paint, play music, cook and farm. She also wrote a book.
Food Not Lawns, How to Turn your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community (Chelsea Green, 2006), has sold over 25,000 copies and launched a movement of Food Not Lawn chapters around the nation. At the time of this article, Heather was on the Edible Nation Tour, a project she funded through Kickstarter, traveling throughout the U.S. to help communities set up permaculture designs for food sustainability.
“It’s been amazing but not as lucrative as I’d hoped,” she said. “It’s a labor of love.”
The idea for Food Not Lawns came out of her time as a forest activist in the late 1990s.
“We were traveling nomadic Earth First! activists,” said Heather. “We decided to get a house in Eugene to support the Cascadia Forest Defenders,” she said. That house, rented with a group of artists, musicians, and activists, became a hub known as The Ant Farm. They had held a potluck to name the house, and it happened to be on the one day when ants poured out of the walls for their annual mating journey.
“They covered the ceiling, they were falling in people’s food,” said Heather. “It just seemed perfect, and the name stuck,” she said.
In 2003, she moved from The Ant Farm in Eugene to a working farm, where she became interested in seed saving and creating a closed loop system. However, she started to worry about money; she took some community college classes and had the idea to write to Chelsea Green about publishing Food Not Lawns. They responded a week later.
At that same time, Heather also decided to get her college degree. She was 34 years old when she found Goddard in a book about independent study programs and enrolled in the low-residency Individualized Bachelor of Arts program. She received Approved Prior Learning (APL) credit for her work as a painter, activist, community teacher and musician.
“That was such a wonderful affirmation that you don’t get at a lot of other institutions,” said Heather about receiving college credit for her life experiences.
“I went there just to get a degree,” said Heather. “I ended up getting an education.”
The first draft of Food Not Lawns was her senior product. After graduation, unable to find work, she saved up money and traveled to Spain to study Flamenco. She was drawn back to the arts—playing music, living with Gypsies, but she became depressed. She borrowed money to get back to the states, thought fondly of Goddard, and enrolled in the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program.
“I wanted to become a better writer,” she said. She focused on combining writing and yoga together in drills to affect PTSD trauma healing.
“It worked,” said Flores. “My MFAIA journey was extraordinary and transformed me as a human being,” she said.
Her future plans include spending the next year traveling around, looking for a place to put down roots. She recently pitched a new book with a major publishing house in New York.
“It went really well,” she said. “I am writing a memoir about my life, my work and my quest for sustainable home,” she said.
“If it wasn’t for the Goddard community, I don’t think I would value my own story in the way that I do, and I don’t know that I would have the courage to tell it with the clarity, candor, and humor that I am seeing in my writing lately,” said Heather.
“Through Goddard I learned not only to trust the process as much as I value the product, but also to trust the moment as much as I value the process.”
Learn more about Heather’s work via her website: https://heatherjoflores.com/ This article originally appeared in Clockworks Magazine in 2015