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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Growing Farmers and the Food Movement for 50 Years
Growing Farmers and the Food Movement for 50 Years

This aerial view of the UC Santa Cruz Farm shows the stunning location of the oldest university-based organic research and education facility in the country. Photo by Jim Clark.

Growing Farmers and the Food Movement for 50 Years

by Jennifer McNulty of Santa Cruz, CA

Middle age has a way of sneaking up on people and programs, so hearing now that the experiment in organic gardening that began at UC Santa Cruz in 1967 is the oldest university-based organic research and education facility in the country is, well, unexpected.

“It’s the people’s farm,” says Daniel Press, professor of environmental studies and executive director of the internationally acclaimed, hands-on learning and research programs housed at UC Santa Cruz. “What began as a student- and faculty-initiated idea to create a garden as a place for repose, renewal, and connection is, today, an incredibly well-rounded resource that exists to serve and inspire people.”

More than 1,500 apprentices have learned the art and practice of organic farming and gardening at UC Santa Cruz, making them the “signature crop.”

“If you meet an organic farmer in California, we probably trained them or someone who trained them,” says Press, only half in jest.

Farmers aren’t the only crop produced by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. The Center is home to a range of programs that have upended just about every aspect of food production.

“Universities are incubators of new ideas, and the Center has brought together the science and social aspects of food production in a way that is changing the landscape and the body politic,” says Press, who would like to retire the Center’s unwieldy name in favor of something more lyrical.

Recently retired Congressman Sam Farr (D-Carmel) was an early and passionate fan of the campus’s agroecology programs, and his advocacy in Washington, D.C., brought in much-needed federal support during his 22 years in the capital.

“The modern-day food movement really began at UC Santa Cruz, where a small band of visionaries embraced organic agriculture and did things that conventional growers said couldn’t be done,” says Farr. “Those pioneers went back to basics, learning how to nourish the land and grow crops without harmful chemical inputs.”

Those visionaries started a revolution that is stronger than ever 50 years later, adds Farr: “They’re still the visionaries, pushing for safe working conditions and fair wages for farm workers, training farmers, promoting community-supported agriculture, and always as guardians of the public interest and our precious natural resources.”

Roots of success

It all began 50 years ago when faculty and students appealed to Chancellor Dean McHenry, proposing a garden project that would serve as a central gathering spot on the remote, forested campus. As legend has it, Alan Chadwick, a charismatic, somewhat cantankerous master gardener from England, chose a steep, rocky, sun-scorched slope covered with poison oak to prove a point: If students could create a garden there, they could create one anywhere. And create they did.

With no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, Chadwick and his crew used only natural fertility, hand tools, and love to create a lush 4-acre plot that soon overflowed with vibrant vegetables and fragrant flowers. Chadwick introduced the French intensive, raised-bed method of gardening that features double digging, compost-enriched soil, dense plantings, and diverse crops. Today, the garden’s beds produce tender, melt-in-your-mouth lettuces, succulent basils, a rainbow of peppers, a cacophony of blossoms – all framed by redwoods, citrus trees, and more than 120 varieties of heirloom apples and pears.

Just up the road from Chadwick’s merry troupe, Alice Waters, the owner of Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse restaurant, was planting the seeds of a flavor revolution by creating an appetite – and demand – for fresh, organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables.

“Chez Panisse and the Center are kindred spirits, changing the world by changing the way we eat, the way we grow food, and the way we teach our children about the land,” says Waters.

On campus, the garden became a “laboratory” – a hub of teaching and handson learning that became a model for all that followed.

“UC Santa Cruz has been at the forefront of the food movement for decades, preparing farmers, teachers, cooks, community activists, and policymakers to help us build a healthy, sustainable food system,” says Waters, whose own mission has also broadened; she founded The Edible Schoolyard in 1995 to bring a handson, garden-based “edible education curriculum” to children from kindergarten through high school.

A farm is born

The campus rapidly outgrew the garden as students, faculty, and researchers joined the burgeoning “alternative food movement.” In 1971, the garden program branched out onto an additional 17-acre plot down the hill. The formal sixmonth, residential Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture was born, a certificate program offered through UC Extension, and the new acreage meant the program could expand to include tractor-based farming for the first time.

“The UCSC Apprenticeship Program is the original innovator of farmer education in sustainable agriculture,” says Kathleen Merrigan, former deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and now the executive director of sustainability at George Washington University. “Its graduates are everywhere in the field of sustainable food systems.”

The program grew, and graduates of the apprenticeship fanned out to start their own organic farms and gardens. Word spread, and applications poured in from across the country – as well as Canada, Africa, Mexico, and South America.

Meanwhile, the increased acreage also accommodated scientific research trials. Center researchers partnered with local farmers to pioneer ways to grow crops like apples, artichokes, and strawberries without hazardous fumigants, pesticides, and weed killers. Interest continued, and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems was established, formalizing the nation’s first university-based program in agroecology, a scientific approach that emphasizes the ecology of farming systems.

Launching a movement

Training farmers and “greening” food production wasn’t enough, though. As part of its commitment to enhancing the viability of small farms, the Center nurtured the “community supported agriculture” model in which members “invest” in the farm upfront, giving growers a guaranteed income at the start of each season. Staff share their expertise by writing organic crop-production training manuals on key crops–and distributing them free online. And they worked to broaden agricultural policy to include issues of social justice and worker welfare, bringing wages, working conditions, and the tragedy of farmworkers who go hungry into the conversation.

“The central coast of California is the capital of organic agriculture in large part because of UC Santa Cruz,” says Press. “This university championed organic farming before anyone else, training farmers and raising public awareness about the environmental significance of growing food without synthetic chemicals. Today, the Center is broadening the definition of sustainability to encompass the well being of people as well as the environment. We need its leadership now more than ever.”

Although undergraduates launched the garden program, over the years a relatively small portion of students tapped the Center’s educational opportunities, although some took advantage of internships, independent study programs, and field study. With Press’s arrival as executive director in 2012, the Center began strengthening ties with the campus’s academic programs. Today, hundreds of students partake of the smorgasbord of experiential learning opportunities, including classes with labs at the Farm and Chadwick Garden. Students can choose a concentration in agroecology and sustainable food systems offered by the Environmental Studies Department, and Press would like one day to offer a major in agroecology.

UC Santa Cruz is not a land-grant campus, so it’s not one of UC’s “ag schools,” but that hasn’t kept the Farm from becoming a busy research site that channels millions of federal dollars into efforts to improve crop production, soil health, and the sustainability of food systems.

“The big ag schools solve problems for the agriculture industry in their region,” says Press. “Our niche is to solve the problems of organic production. Thirty percent of agriculture in Santa Cruz County is certified organic.” Nationally, demand for organic food climbs steadily; in 2015, nearly 13,000 certified organic farms produced $6.2 billion in commodities, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. California leads the way with $2.4 billion in sales – 40 percent of total U.S. certified organic sales.

Among the signature achievements of the Center’s research program is the development of strategies to produce strawberries without harmful soil fumigants like methyl bromide. In the early 1990s, faced with the phase-out of methyl bromide, conventional growers literally said it couldn’t be done – and then Center researcher Sean Swezey and Environmental Studies Professor Steve Gliessman did it, collaborating with Jim Cochran of Swanton Berry Farm. That breakthrough led to more research by Environmental Studies Professor Carol Shennan and research scientist Joji Muramoto. Their approach focuses on anaerobic soil disinfestation, a clever strategy that uses short-term field flooding and organic matter to create a temporary environment that kills off harmful soil pathogens prior to planting.

The Center’s leadership is evident across the UC system, where CASFS representatives, led by food systems researcher Tim Galarneau (Rachel Carson College ‘05, psychology), spearheaded UC’s systemwide adoption of 20 percent “real food” purchases, driving the university’s commitment to buy food that is produced in a fair, humane, and environmentally sustainable manner. UC Santa Cruz is committed to purchasing 40 percent “real food” for its dining halls and other food facilities by 2020.

The Center’s reach extends to K-12 partners, as well. Affiliates are working to improve K-12 school nutrition programs through partnerships with 15 school districts in Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties. The Farm is also home to Life Lab, the oldest garden-based K-12 education program in the country; Life Lab brings more than 2,000 students to the Farm every year. And Food What?! is a Farm-based youth-empowerment program that uses farming, gardening, and cooking to build life and career skills.

The ‘people’s farm’

Fifty years after it all began on that steep hillside across from Stevenson College, the apprenticeship continues to attract applicants from across the country and around the globe. Only one in three are admitted – a higher ratio than years past as programs around the country have copied the apprenticeship model, says Press.

“This model seems to appeal to people,” adds Press, noting that the average age of farmers in the U. S. is 57. “Most of our apprentices don’t come from farm families.”

The lucky 39 who are selected each year get an education like no other: Apprentices receive 700 hours of field instruction and 300 hours of classroom learning over the course of six months, covering everything from seed propagation to tractor cultivation. This year’s cohort includes educators, urban farmers and gardeners, youth empowerment advocates, three graduate students, and several recent college graduates. Apprentices hail from California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, and South Africa.

Growing Farmers and the Food Movement for 50 Years

“Food affects everybody,” says apprentice David Robles (BA history, 2016). “Everybody’s got to eat, so food is a great way to put environmentalism at the front of people’s minds.” Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.

Current apprentice David Robles is a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz (History, 2016). As a student, he focused on social movements – and feels today that he is in the midst of an important one.

“Food affects everybody,” says Robles. “Everybody’s got to eat, so food is a great way to put environmentalism at the front of people’s minds.”

But the Center’s mission is bigger than just the environment. “When you pay a couple dollars more for organic, locally grown food, you get a couple dollars of justice for the people who grow, process, and distribute your food,” says Robles, who plans to work with youth after the apprenticeship ends in October.

“Youth education is the way to build a movement that revolves around sustainability and empowering people,” says Robles, who enjoys the tangible rewards of working the soil – particularly in an era when threats like climate change can feel overwhelming. “It’s a very hands-on approach to making the world a better place. The Center has come a long way over 50 years. It was just about organic gardening, and now it’s about the global economy and the global ecosystem. It has gone from a technique to a social movement.”

‘Grow our own food? That’s slavery!’

Apprenticeship graduates carry the mantle forward as farmers, teachers, urban gardeners, community organizers, policy makers, directors of nonprofits that serve veterans and the incarcerated, and more. Karen Washington, a 2008 graduate of the apprenticeship, is a lifelong community activist and a champion of food justice. A co-founder of Black Urban Growers (BUGS) and Rise and Root Farm, located an hour north of New York City, Washington focuses on giving people equal access to soil, whether they are in the Bronx or the suburbs, rich or poor, high school dropouts or Ph.D.’s.

Growing Farmers and the Food Movement for 50 Years

“To grow your own food gives you power and dignity,” says 2008 apprenticeship graduate Karen Washington, who lives in the Bronx and co-founded Black Urban Growers to diversify the burgeoning food movement. “When I was in Santa Cruz… I asked, ‘Where are the farmers who look like me? Where are the black farmers? Where are the people of color in the food movement?’”

“To grow your own food gives you power and dignity,” says Washington, who lives in the Bronx. “For so long in the inner cities, there was a disconnect between where your food was coming from and who was growing it, because of the convenience of going to the supermarket.”

Giving urban dwellers the opportunity to grow their own food is empowering – but not all are initially receptive. “Whites embrace it, but for low-income and people of color, they hear ‘Grow our own food’ and say ‘That’s slavery!’” says Washington. “We have to understand that narrative to be able to reshape it. Same with valuing land.”

Many blacks fled the South, vowing never to go back. But Washington wants to restore the legacy of those agrarian connections and the culture of agriculture. “When I was in Santa Cruz, it really started to sink in,” she recalls. “Looking at the landscape in California, I saw this white-led food movement, and I asked, ‘Where are the farmers who look like me? Where are the black farmers? Where are the people of color in the food movement?’”

After she finished the apprenticeship and returned to New York, Washington reached out, hosting a first-ever conference of black farmers. Since that initial gathering in Brooklyn in 2010, the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference has become an annual meeting, taking place this year in Atlanta. “The conference is a place for people of color to connect and to understand that slavery is part of the American experience, but it doesn’t define us as a people,” says Washington. “The apprenticeship gave me the experience to see the lack of diversity in the farm movement.”

And like hundreds of others, Washington emerged from the apprenticeship with a vision she put into action.

Back on the campus Farm, Daniel Press says it’s tempting to sum up the impact of 50 years with data points about organic farming or sustainable agriculture, but the campus’s greatest impact has always been its people. Today, as ever, the Center produces leaders.

“Fifty years ago, I don’t imagine the students who transformed that hillside into a lush garden thought of themselves as visionaries, but they were,” he says. “We carry on their legacy today, working toward an environmentally sound, socially just food system. And there isn’t a prettier, tastier, better way to do this than the way we are doing it at UC Santa Cruz.”

Spotlight On: People

The Craft of the Wheelwright

The Craft of the Wheelwright

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In these days of standardization and the extensive use of metal wheels you might think there is little call for the centuries old craft of wheelwrighting, but the many demands on the skills of Gus Kitson in Suffolk, England, show this to be very far from the truth. Despite many years experience of renovating all types of wagons and wheels even Gus can still be surprised by the types of items for which new or restored wooden wheels are required.

Elsa

Elsa

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I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the frozen swamp. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground.

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

Sack Sewing with Wayne Ryan

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Watching Wayne’s sure hands it was easy for me to forget that this is a 91 year old man. There was strength, economy, elegance and thrift in his every stroke.

LittleField Notes A Trip to the Auld Country

LittleField Notes: A Trip to the Auld Country

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I’ve come to the north of Scotland this October almost by accident. And I find myself standing on the windy, rocky point of land that is northernmost on the isle of Great Britain. The sea lies before me: the flooding tide from the Atlantic pours in on my left where it collides with the North Sea pouring in from the right, the opposing currents whipping up a frenzy of white capped, tidal confusion: for sailors past and present, treacherous waters indeed. Straight ahead, across the seething waters of Pentland Firth lie the Orkney Islands, my ultimate destination.

In Memoriam Gene Logsdon

In Memoriam: Gene Logsdon

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Gene didn’t see life (or much of anything else) through conventional eyes. I remember his comment about a course he took in psychology when he was trying to argue that animals did in fact have personalities (as any farmer or rancher will tell you is absolutely true), and the teacher basically told him to sit down and shut up because he didn’t know what he was taking about. Gene said: “I was so angry I left the course and then left the whole stupid school.”

The Value of What You Grow

The Value of What You Grow

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There is a lot of value in the produce you sell that contrasts it from what someone can buy at the grocery store. First, you probably sell varieties that are different from what the grocery store sells. As you’ve probably tried dozens of different varieties, you can let the customer know why yours are different. Be brief and talk about things like taste and texture that are easy to get across.

Honoring Our Teachers

Honoring Our Teachers

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I believe that there exist many great practicing teachers, some of who deliberately set out to become one and others who may have never graduated from college but are none-the-less excellent and capable teachers. I would hazard a guess that many readers of Small Farmer’s Journal know more than one teacher who falls within this latter category. My grandfather, and artist and author Eric Sloane, were two such teachers.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

Fjord Horses at Work in the Green Mountains of Vermont

We own a 40 jersey cow herd and sell most of their milk to Cobb Hill Cheese, who makes farmstead cheeses. We have a four-acre market garden, which we cultivate with our team of Fjord horses and which supplies produce to a CSA program, farm stand and whole sale markets. Other members of the community add to the diversity of our farm by raising hay, sheep, chickens, pigs, bees, and berries, and tending the forest and the maple sugar-bush.

UCSC Farm & Garden Apprenticeship

UC Santa Cruz Farm & Garden Apprenticeship

UC Santa Cruz is thrilled to welcome applications to the 50th Anniversary year of the UCSC Farm and Garden Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. The 39 apprentices each year arrive from all regions of the US and abroad, and represent a wide spectrum of ages, backgrounds, and interests. We have a range of course fee waivers available to support participation in the Apprenticeship.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

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A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.

Kombit: The Cooperative

Kombit: The Cooperative

We received word of a new environmental film, Kombit: The Cooperative, about deforestation in Haiti — and an international effort to combat it by supporting small farmers on the island.

Cindys Curds & Whey

Cindy’s Curds & Whey

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The Burgess dairy farm and cheese factory are sustainable operations, meaning that nearly every by-product is re-used or recycled. For example, the usually-discarded whey goes to feed their own pigs, producing an exceptionally tasty, lean pork. Whey is the liquid portion of milk that develops after the milk protein has coagulated, and contains water, milk sugar, albuminous proteins, and minerals.

Harnessing the Future

Harnessing the Future

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En route to a remote pasture where the Belgian draft horses, Prince and Tom, are grazing, we survey the vast green landscape, a fine mist hovering in distant low lying areas. We are enveloped in a profusion of sweet, earthy balance. Interns and other workers start their chores; one pauses to check his smart phone. Scattered about are many animal-powered rustic implements. This rich and agriculturally diverse, peaceful place is steeped in contrasts: modern and ancient.

Twain Under the Farm Spell

Twain Under the Farm Spell

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In his greatest works — Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi and Huckleberry Finn — Twain offered a contrast and tension between town and countryside, between the web of deals and cons and bustle of activity that the modern world would call decidedly urban, and the hard-scrabble but quiet and ultimately nourishing living on farms. There were four farms that touched Sam Clemens, rural locales that sustained and helped mold him, that reached from his beginnings through the decades of his greatest creative efforts.

Farmrun John Erskine

John Erskine

John Erskine farms with horses in Sequim, WA.

Carriage Hill Farm

Carriage Hill Farm: Crown Jewel of Parks

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“Thank you for taking the time to visit our farm.” This is one of the responses that I give to the many visitors as they prepare to leave Carriage Hill Farm, an historical farm which is part of a much larger system of 24 parks within the Five Rivers Metroparks system. The main emphasis of our farm is education and interpretation of an 1880’s family farm with all the equipment and animals from the 1880’s time period.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT