Perhaps the subject of locally grown hops, as announced on our cover, is sending you off for a cold mug of local ale, and I certainly won’t stop you. But as you settle back into your chair to quaff that brew, please turn back for a closer look at the cover.

Artist Susan Tibbon’s striking intaglio print of hop bines* at peak harvest season is the “H” in a 26-image alphabet series. The “P” is one page back on our table of contents, and if you saved our Fall Harvest and Summer 2017 issues, you also have the “F” and the “E.”

Tibbon creates these images by etching (engraving) onto metal plates, which are then fitted onto a press for printing with ink onto paper. Each alphabet letter represents one of the crops Tibbon tends on an organic, biodynamic farm in northern Mendocino County.

As a farmer, Tibbon regards herself as an “active observer of an ever-changing palette of visitors.” Her art becomes a process of capturing fleeting moments, such as when a quail lays her eggs at the base of a hop bine. (Yes, I missed the quail eggs, too, at first.)

The farm began as a collective in the 1970s. “The farmers wrote magazine and newspaper articles about their organic gardening experiences and experiments,” says Tibbon. “As the garden continues to flourish, it has become a preferred spot for numerous birds and insects. These critters form the backbone of the IPM program.”

IPM is the organic farmers’ shorthand for “integrated pest management.” It’s an important tool for growers eschewing chemical inputs so that nature can maintain its own balance. But that management has become more difficult in this era of climate instability.

“The IPM is continually modified as climate change influences predation, pollination, and the viability of different crops as well as the avian, mammalian, and insect visitors,” says Tibbon. “Unfortunately, the workable definition of ecosystem has become expanded to include political, financial, and corporate interests.”

The axiom “all politics is local” has loomed large for Tibbon, who has been bringing her concerns to state and local government officials. “Small farmers have been on the front lines of change, climatically and politically, for quite some time. As a founding member of the California Growers Association, I have seen that horrific abuses by the few can sometimes result in overreach from environmental authorities for the many.”

Tibbon says she has three letters yet to produce in the alphabet for the intaglio series to be complete, and at the rate of about one image per year, she might finish the set by 2020. That’s no surprise, given the intricacy of the intaglio process on top of the demands of food production, teaching, and advocating in Sacramento for the needs and rights of California’s smaller growers.

“Readers are invited to my San Francisco atelier. A walk there may very well go by way of the fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables that make up our urban gardens and wild spaces,” says Tibbon. 

Susan Tibbon’s work is represented by Atelier Posey et Susan in San Francisco and at SusanTibbon.com. Inquiries may be directed to susantibbonart(at)gmail.com.

*Learn about the difference between “bines” and “vines” in our hops article here.