Sunset Magazine’s ‘Westphoria’ Blog Celebrates The Weirdness Of The Western States

chickenIt’s no secret that the 13 states comprising the Western U.S. are a bit unusual. Enter Westphoria, Sunset magazine’s 4-month-old blog dedicated to celebrating all that’s quirky, kick-ass, and distinct about the Left Coast, Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions. Think retrofitted teardrop campers, chicken “sitters,” bike-powered farmers market smoothies, and, uh, hotel rooms designed to resemble giant bird nests.

For those of you living on the other side of the Continental Divide, Sunset is the nation’s top Western lifestyle magazine, focused on travel, gardening, design, green living, food and the outdoors. Understandably, we’re big fans here at Gadling.

Westphoria is sort of like Sunset’s black sheep little sibling: edgy, on-trend, a smarty-pants with a sweet soul. Categories include themes like “House Crush,” “Made in the West,” “Dream Life,” “Food” and “Wanderlust.” I’m hooked.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Green Garden Girl]

Driving Through Detroit

In a part of the public imagination, Detroit is an urban frontier, ripe for the conquering and reimagining, poised for a renaissance, driven by Chrysler ads and noble hipsters volunteering on urban farms. It’s also true that Detroit is an abandoned city, dark and desolate, the kind of place where you can drive down Mack Avenue late one night and only see one pedestrian, a woman scratching her arms in a black dress, looking lost and sitting on a curb at an intersection in front of a boarded up building on a Saturday night.

So let’s dispense with the romance of the place, the idea that Detroit just needs one good idea to be brought back from the brink of total annihilation. It’s a city of systemic problems, even if Eastern Market remains a focal point for the community and suburban kids are moving into downtown and Slows Bar BQ, a barbecue joint that features in pretty much every story written about Detroit these days, is doing brisk business.

Traveling the American Road – Detroit

My expert source on the region, Micki Maynard, an editor with Changing Gears in Chicago, put it this way: “You have people who are trying to lead this region out of this terrible situation and people who’s lives have been changed completely because of what’s happened here over the last couple of years”

“It’s a city that if you drive around it, it looks half-empty, and that’s because it never actually filled up,” Maynard continues, pointing to plans for three separate business centers that were never fully realized in the wake of World War II. “When people talk about how empty Detroit looks, a little bit is because of the way the city was designed.” And of course, she adds, “Recent events have really taken a toll on Detroit.”

One afternoon, I went to have lunch at Slows. The pulled pork and ribs and mac and cheese are excellent but I wonder if there isn’t another reason so many people stop in: It’s just around the corner from Detroit’s abandoned train station, the ne plus ultra of the city’s ample supply of ruin porn.

After wiping the sauce from my fingers, I went over to see it, fenced in with NO TRESPASSING signs. A couple was taking pictures of the shattered windows as a Salvation Army truck handed water to destitute men dressed in little more than rags who were gathered in the shade nearby. A man with a ponytail carried a spray can, walking the sidewalk, squirting herbicide on weeds, seemingly oblivious to the monument to despair towering behind him.

Other signs of the Detorit diaspora are more subtle. Micki Maynard again: “My dad worked for American Airlines. The airlines back then were important because Detroit was important, so American Airlines had hourly flights to New York. Now they’re down to those little regional jets and basically a few frequencies a day.”

Crime, too, remains an inescapable part of life here. In 2010, there were 307 murders in Detroit, a city that had roughly 700,000 residents that year. In 2009, more than 50,000 property crimes were reported to police. My hosts at the home in Woodbridge where I stayed talked about using the buddy system when biking in the city to avoid being targeted. One of them had his car stolen recently.

The fact that the Woodbridge Pub, a relatively new addition to the neighborhood, had plate glass windows without steel bars protecting them struck me as either monumentally encouraging or monumentally stupid. I didn’t ask the bartender how many times they’d been shattered.

Detroit’s Urban Farms: Budget Battles and Milking Goats

I had never milked a goat before the time I wrapped my fingers around Apple’s teat and squeezed, inside a barn on a one-acre plot next to a public school in Woodbridge, Detroit. Two volunteers at the farm, Doug Reith and Leeann Drees, offered to bring me along for their turn at tending the animals at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a school that’s also home to one of the city’s best known urban farms, made so by its appearance in the much-lauded documentary Grown in Detroit and a profile in Oprah Magazine.

Urban farms have become sort of cliche in Detroit, cast as a gardener’s pipe dream that will save the city, one batch of arugula at a time. There’s no question that many stories on the subject have been done. But at the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a school for pregnant teens and young mothers, four in five girls participate in free and reduced-price meal programs. Cliche or not, this is a city that needs cheap, nutrient-dense food — the kind that comes out of the sun and soil of a farm, urban or otherwise.

But the pastures at CFA, as its known, are facing a crisis.


As Rachel Maddow recently reported, city-wide budget cuts are threatening to close the school, and if that happens, the fields will go fallow. My hosts Doug and Leeann, who make cheese with surplus goat milk harvested from the farm, told me about a protest to keep the school open, a sit-in that was quickly broken up by police.

Why risk arrest to protest the school’s closure? Says one student in a YouTube video of the sit-in, talking about pregnant women, including herself, “Sometimes it’s like we don’t have no hope. Basically it’s our job to give them some hope. You can’t just let them feel like they’re alone. [This says to them] You’re not alone, because you’ve got people like us fighting for you.”

As the budgetary fight wages on-a decision on CFA is scheduled for this summer-the goats still need to be milked twice a day. As the sun was setting and the mosquitoes were coming out in force, Apple and her pen-mate Royal, gave almost two liters of milk, most of which will stay on the farm. (I was most proud of myself for avoiding the flying hooves of Apple, who probably hasn’t been called docile lately.)

Walking past the rabbit warrens, hen house and horse pasture, where the school’s brown mare trotted over to greet us, Doug and Leeann wondered what would happen to the farm if the school was shut down. Without girls and volunteers and, yes, money to tend the fields, they’d probably just be abandoned. Like so much else in Detroit.