Kin to the Earth: Tamara McFarland

By David Cobb

Tamara McFarland is a person of deep convictions who lives her values everyday. She consistently challenges herself and those around her to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. And she does so without being preachy.

When I was asked to write about Tamara I turned to the person who has known her longer than anyone else– her mother, Jeri Scardina.

Jeri shared that from a very early age Tamara did everything she could to right any wrong that she saw. Jeri said, “Tamara has always stood up for her beliefs, even when it was hard. I am so very proud of the woman she has become. I taught her as a child, and she is teaching me as an adult.”

At age 14, young Tamara announced to her traditional meat and potatoes family that she was becoming a vegetarian. Today that may not seem so radical, but in the early 90’s in rural Humboldt that was a big deal. A few years later she became a vegan. Jeri says, “Tamara never wavered. And she didn’t have just one reason, she had all the reasons: avoiding animal cruelty, protecting the environment, her personal health, spirituality.”

Tamara married her high school sweetheart, local firefighter Matt McFarland. They are

Tamara, Bella and Matt McFarland with a newly installed mini-garden. Photo courtesy of Cooperation Humboldt.

raising two beautiful children together here in Eureka.

In her early 20’s Tamara helped to found “Friends for Life” to help homeless and abandoned animals find forever homes. Jeri estimates that she and Matt have personally fostered over 20 different animals.

She also created her own successful small business. At McFarland Designs she creates custom jewelry from recycled metals and ethically sourced gemstones to create wearable works of art. She was one of the very first jewelers to incorporate this level of social justice and sustainability.

She was the lead organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Humboldt County in 2016, and went on to serve as campaign manager for Austin Allison’s successful campaign for Eureka City Council. The local Central Labor Council awarded her the “Community Partner of the Year” in recognition of her work. 

I asked Austin about Tamara and he was effusive.  “She is one of most organized people I’ve ever met. She was — and still is — an inspiration to me. Honestly, she is one of the main reasons I got elected. In every way, she was just on it. Always.”

After the 2016 election she helped to co-found the North Coast People’s Alliance to advocate for economic, environmental, and social justice with a focus on local progressive politics.

The Cooperation Humboldt mini-gardens project, started by McFarland, has installed over 100 small gardens for low-income community members. Photo courtesy of Cooperation Humboldt.

In 2017 she helped to co-found Cooperation Humboldt in order to help create a local economic system that puts people and planet before profit.

I confess that in writing this column I tricked her, sharing that I was having trouble helping a friend see the connection between the environment and racial justice.

She did not hesitate, and immediately pointed out that our destructive capitalist economy has always required “sacrifice zones,” and that these are always located where black and brown folks live.  She reminded me that helping folks to do the hard work to confront — and to overcome — the white supremacist and patriarchal culture is critical. She sighed and said, “I know it is hard and can be uncomfortable, and I don’t always do it very well. But I keep doing it. Not only because it is morally the right thing to do. But because we have to do it if we want to win.”

Later that evening she sent me a follow up email. Here it is below so you can get a sense for who this woman is:

“I was imagining that this person you’re talking to might be feeling frustrated watching this incredible worldwide mobilization around Black Lives Matter when the same thing isn’t happening around the climate crisis.

But we have to remember that our current economic system — which is the cause of the rampant environmental degradation we’re facing — must be replaced if we are to have any chance of repairing/regenerating our planet. Out entire society is literally built on a foundation of racism and genocide. It’s not possible to replace this economic system with something based on deep ecology unless we find a way to address and reconcile that racism and genocide. And if we try to skip that step in our efforts to save the planet, the unaddressed racial issues will eventually infect and undermine the new system.”   She also included the following article  “Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-Racist.”

Tamara McFarland truly is “Kin to the Earth.” I am a better person because she is in my life, and I am grateful to call her a friend, a mentor, and a colleague.