Green Gal Home

Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Double raised bed garden update #1

In fall 2016, I began designing the backyard at Green Guy's mom's house so that it can become a cornucopia of year-round vegetables, flowers, and berries in a garden featuring symmetrical raised beds. The past two weekends, Green Guy, his mom, and I have been hard at work turning the design into reality. It's been a fun, hands-on opportunity for me to put into practice what I'm learning in my Permaculture Design Course (PDC), and it's also helping me better understand what to think about as I continue designing a permaculture garden at a local winery for my PDC group project (more on this soon in a future blog post).

The original (ambitious) design of the backyard from fall 2016. There are now only two beds that are 11' x 8' with a 2' walkway in the U part. The raspberries and blackberries (4 of each) are spaced around the perimeter of the yard, and the blueberries (4) are in containers at the corners of the raised beds that face toward the center of the yard. The roses haven't gone in yet and the fountain and strawberries area in the center isn't finalized, but we'll tackle that phase soon.

We spent time brainstorming and asking questions about our goals for the backyard garden at the beginning of the design process, something that naturally happens when you begin designing--especially for someone else--and something that I learned about at the beginning of the PDC. A bare bones vision statement that came out of this process was, "There is a garden with vegetables, perennial flowers, and chickens in the backyard." I had learned in the PDC to write in first person for all goals statements so that the idea is more active and allow for the designer and client to get a sense of what it feels like to state them in the present tense. Some of the goals included, "The garden produces vegetables year-round"; "The garden has automated irrigation, as well as water catchment"; "The garden is beautiful to people, attracts wildlife, and adds value to the property"; and "Chickens in the garden produce all the fresh eggs for the household."

There are other values and goals that have been identified since we first drafted these, such as symmetry and a preference for organic seeds and seedlings when possible. We also spent time at the beginning identifying constraints, environmental factors, and where the sun falls during the day. Some of these goals, such as rainwater catchment and chickens are later phases that we aren't focused on just yet.

The garden bed design came together over the course of a few weeks in fall, although it's taken us many months to implement thanks to the holidays and our busy lives. The design prominently features two identical raised U-shaped beds, with a fountain in between them. Other elements, such as the compost pile and the perimeter spacing of the berry plants have been added in the last few weeks of identifying plants and considering the reality of space needs. We made huge progress in recent weeks, and as of today, both raised beds are now built and ready for plants--although we hope to add a higher wall with key access areas on hinges so that we can keep cats and eventually chickens out of the beds. The chickens will be added to the garden next year once Green Guy's mom returns from a trip to Antarctica in late fall.

At the beginning of the design and again recently, I asked Green Guy's mom to share her favorite vegetables and flowers, and I also had her look through a seed catalog. As we acquired a list, I began collecting information about each plant on small notecards so that we could move them around and identify which ones would go best together. Once we identified which vegetables we thought would go in each bed, I created a spreadsheet adapted from one of Dave Jacke's Edible Forest Gardens books that covers all of the information that I would need about the plant to identify where to plant it in relation to other plants: sunlight needs, water needs, ph and soil type, human uses, plant functions, plant spacing, companion plants, where to buy seeds/starts, how to take care of it, how many plants to grow per person, and where to find more information. A second tab on the spreadsheet indicates when to plant, harvest, and re-seed (based on suggestions from Santa Clara Master Gardeners). A third tab shows each bed throughout the year, with plants growing and then being replaced over time.

 I worked on the plant design whenever I had free time this past week. One day after work, I waited for Green Guy to pick me up near the bus station by grabbing a beer at Mission Creek Brewery on The Alameda and utilizing their free wi-fi to update the spreadsheet (it's on a shared Google Sheet).

Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent more than 24 hours updating the spreadsheet and then putting the plants for bed #1 into a grid (below) of where they'll actually be planted. Finally today we got some seeds into the beds! I have a decent sense of what is going into bed #2, but the grid needs to be filled in. Once that is complete, I'll turn my attention to the central fountain design area and the perimeter of the garden, where we currently have raspberry and blackberry bushes.

Bed #1 (the left bed) contains nasturtiums, carrots, beets, spinach, bok choy, Napa cabbage, broccoli, romanesco broccoli, Johnny Jump Ups, zinnias, lavender, chamomile, cilantro, thyme, and eventually butternut squash.

Some other future plans include building a solitary native bee hotel, adding a lot more perennial flowers, growing herbs in containers, and hanging baskets of drought tolerant flowers along the fences. The big project for next year is the chicken coop and preparing for chicks!

As we make more progress in the garden, I'll post more updates. For now, here are some photos of the beds from the past few weekends:

Before bed #1, from early February

Some views from above the backyard in early February

Raking leaves and preparing for building bed #1 in early February

Bed #1 nearly complete on February 18! Green Guy did most of the building while I planted raspberries and blackberries. The dimensions are 11' x' 8' with a 4' deep U for access to the center. It's 2' tall, and eventually it will reach 3' tall with hinged fencing (like this).

Bed #1 as we left for the day on February 18 (the clouds threatened rain, so we called it a day). Green Guy added a small bench area at inner part of the U, and we poured in all of the soil (50 bags!) on February 19.

Peas and raspberries along the southern fence.

Today I planted seeds throughout bed #1. Green Guy's mom had the great idea to create grids to keep track of which plants are growing where. It made planting so much more organized!

A view of bed #1 with the bench at the end of the U. The wood chips in the center walkway will eventually cover the entire yard.

Bed #1 with its planting grid, as well as some string to show us how tall the bed walls will eventually reach. We're basing the design off of these hinged fence beds, which have drop-down hinged access areas and see-through fencing but keep chickens out! The plants in containers at each corner of the bed are blueberries, and you can see blackberry and raspberry bushes along the perimeter fences.

Today and yesterday, Green Guy put together bed #2. We added ~50 bags of soil to each bed, which did create a lot of plastic waste but definitely beat having muddy soil sitting on the driveway for two weeks as we slowly wheelbarrowed it to the beds (it was rainy last weekend). Both beds have gopher wire underneath them to keep gophers from stealing our veggies. Most of the plants going into this bed won't be planted until April or later: tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, eggplant, edamame, cucumbers, and some flowers. The area along the back wall will be planted with hops, corn, beans, pumpkins, and some perennial flowers around April. I still need to solidify the planting design for that area, as well as grid out bed #2.

Green Guy's mom laid out her vision for the future of this center space before we left today. This central area is phase 2 of the design, along with the back wall plantings. I'll share more photos and updates soon! 

Thanks for reading! Post in the comments or feel free to send me an if you have questions or suggestions!
Green Gal

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday Wandering

 "Where does it start? Muscles tense. One leg a pillar, holding the body upright between the earth and sky. The other a pendulum, swinging from behind. Heel touches down. The whole weight of the body rolls forward onto the ball of the foot. The big toe pushes off, and the delicately balanced weight of the body shifts again. The legs reverse position. It starts with a step and then another step and then another that add up like taps on a drum to a rhythm, the rhythm of walking. The most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak." - Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

For most of January, I didn't ride my bicycle. First it had a flat tire, then it was raining cats and dogs for a few weeks, and this week, I accidentally left my bike helmet with a friend. Fortunately, Green Guy's commute aligns fairly well with mine, so I've been able to get rides to and from my bus stop in San Jose and supplemented my other in-between trips with additional buses. What I learned, though, is that buses take a long time, especially at certain times of day from UCSC.

So this week, I've been walking whenever possible, such as from my bus station to my house along a lovely tree lined street, or from my office down the hill to buildings near the base of campus. The trip from my office to the base of campus is a 25 minute walk, but it's a guaranteed 25 minutes, whereas waiting for a bus to pick me up and drive me around campus and down to the base could take 25 minutes or more. The buses are also crowded, and standing on a crowded bus is not fun. Unless it's raining (or maybe even when it is raining!), I've (re)learned lately that walking is a much better option.

I posted this to Instagram (@greenbeangal) after my walk down the hill on Monday.

I've been fortunate to have meetings or events at the base of campus every day this week in the later part of the day, with enough spaciousness in my schedule to walk. The walk down the hill, with the view of the Bay always in sight, has made my days so much brighter this week. My legs are sore but in that rewarding way that makes you want to keep exercising. I've also been trying to stay up an hour later (until 10pm) to see if I can squeeze one more hour of time into my day. The walking combined with an extra hour to clean up the house or prepare for the next day has been remarkable in how I feel throughout the day. I'm less tired in the mornings, and I've felt less anxiety than usual. My mom is probably reading this and saying, "I told you so!" She has always praised the benefits of walking, and she stays up way later than I do despite having an equally early wake-up time!

I took this photo on my walk down the bike path this evening as the winds picked up but before the rains began.

I hope to keep up this walking routine--as well as continue to reflect on walking with the help of folks like Rebecca Solnit and Henry David Thoreau--which may mean leaving the bike at home more often or taking walks when I get home in the evening. Either way, I love the new-found energy I have this week and hope that you can find time this week to get in a few walks, wherever they may lead you.

In addition to sharing about my discovery of walking this week (which is reminiscent of this post from 2012 about happiness and jogging), I want to share some photos from the beautiful UCSC campus. This morning, I wandered over to the Kresge Garden before going into my office. I'm so glad I did. Look at this beautifully cultivated and thriving place! Sadly, they will be renovating Kresge College as part of the West Campus Housing development to build more beds for more students. It will change Kresge forever, including the garden. If you haven't been to Kresge College before, go now before it becomes a different place!

Where do you walk when you wander? Where does your mind take you when you walk? I'd love to hear what your experience has been with walking--please leave a comment

Thanks for reading! Happy Wednesday!

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." - Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What I Learned at EcoFarm 2017

"Every issue that's out there is your opportunity to step up," shared Amigo Bob Cantisano, one of the founders of the EcoFarm Conference, in his welcome address at EcoFarm 2017 on Wednesday evening. I was in the audience as a first-time attendee of EcoFarm, an annual conference celebrating its 37th year this past week at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, across the road from the glorious Pacific Ocean. The Ecological Farming Association that hosts this conference has a mission "to nurture healthy, just, and ecologically sustainable farms, food systems, and communities by bringing people together for education, alliance building, advocacy, and celebration." I am so grateful I had the opportunity to participate in the conference this year!

I was able to do so with the help of my good friend David Shaw, who recently started a permaculture business called Santa Cruz Permaculture. He invited me to table with him for his business in the exhibitor tent, and this invitation included a conference pass for the entire week. I love tabling, and I'm in the Permaculture Design Certificate course (PDC) through Santa Cruz Permaculture right now, so it was a perfect combination. I'm particularly glad I attended EcoFarm in this role because by being at the table during breaks, meals, and the beer and cheese tasting fair, I was able to meet and have discussions about permaculture with some pretty inspiring people, from Central Coast farmers, urban farmers, and folks farming land all along the west coast, to farm educators, food policy advocates, and students and young people just getting into farming (like me!). As someone new to farming, it made it a lot easier for me to have discussions with folks because I was tabling and had something to share with them. It also helped that David knew practically every other person who walked by since he's been attending EcoFarm for years and involved with sustainable farming since the early 2000s.

In addition to talking with people about permaculture, the upcoming PDC that's starting in April, and the sweet and delicious Hoshigaki dried persimmons that David makes and sells (contact him if you're interested), I also attended a number of workshops and plenaries where I realized how vast the world of ecological farming really is. There is so much I didn't even know I didn't know about, and as one person I was speaking with this week reminded me, that is what makes farming and gardening so fun. There's always more to learn.

Here are some insightful quotes and highlights from my experience at EcoFarm 2017:

I was fortunate to hear Rowen White, an Indigenous Mohawk seed saver, speak twice during the conference. She shared about the beautiful journey she's taken to rediscover the seeds of her ancestors and bring that knowledge into not only her community but communities around "Turtle Island," as North America is known to her people. Her approach to storytelling is poetic, full of quotes that are like seeds of inspiration themselves. She reminded us that "each and every one of you descends from a long line of seed keepers." The history of human civilization and culture is inextricably rooted with agriculture and the cultivation of food plants for survival. Without seeds, particularly seeds that are resilient to environmental threats and biologically diverse, human survival on this planet would become much less secure. Think about how much of your diet is dependent upon seeds, either directly or indirectly through the animals you eat and what they ate. How many of us gather wild fruits and survive on wild plants that propagate themselves? Very few, and this is why seed saving and seed diversity are crucial to our existence as a species. Rowen also shared an example from her own people of how seeds and ancestral foods show up prominently in cultural songs, stories, and value systems, and there are many other examples of this throughout the world.

In addition to her work with Sierra Seeds, Rowen also participated in a panel with Tony Brown, Monty Bengochia, and Jen Schlaich focused on the Bishop Paiute Tribe Food Sovereignty Program in Bishop, California. This group is "working to increase access to and awareness of healthy, traditional, environmentally-responsible, community-grown food that sustains an independent and resilient program which acknowledges, preserves, and strengthens existing community food systems and tribal sovereignty." They have gardens, a farmers market, an aquaponics greenhouse, internships, free workshops, and student education and engagement programs. They are working to feed their community with healthy, local food, as well as work to "decolonize their taste buds" and re-learn the food ways of the Paiute people. As Rowen put it, "if a tribal nation wants to be truly sovereign, they must be able to feed and nourish themselves." This includes learning not only how to grow native foods but also how to cook them, bringing back together the act of cultivation and art of culinary knowledge. She reminded us that the segregation of cooking and growing food into separate disciplines with separate specialists is a result of colonization. By bringing these two back together as skills that everyone should have, it is an act of decolonization and food sovereignty.

I also heard inspiring stories, challenges, and creative solutions for urban farming from Kiel Schmidt of Tower Urban Family Farm & Food Commons in Fresno, and Chanowk Yisrael of Yisrael Family Farm in Sacramento. In the same session, I learned about the California Food Policy Council and their work to advocate for "healthy, equitable and resilient food system for the people, businesses and planet it nourishes." This session was full of information about how urban farms can work with local government to make changes that allow farming to not only exist but thrive in urban settings. Chanowk Yisrael also shared the story of why he started growing vegetables in his backyard in Oak Park near Sacramento, which is in the middle of a food desert. (According to the USDA, "Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers." Despite the prominence of agriculture in Sacramento and the Central Valley, many of the communities there are food deserts because agricultural products are exported to other parts of the state and country.) The Yisrael family homestead has become a place for community engagement, education, and food security.

In the session on Letters to a Young Farmer, I heard from farmer and writer Mas Masumoto, Wendy Millet of TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation, Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Georgia, and Jill Isenbarger of Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in New York (which produced the Letters to a Young Farmer book). The book is an "anthology of letters and essays addressed to beginning farmers, but with lessons for all who seek a new American food system." Jill posed the question to the audience and the panelists, "Is farming a political act?" Though each panelist and those in the audience had various reasons, the answer seemed overwhelmingly to be Yes. Mas Masumoto shared that his parents were placed in Japanese internment camps during World War II, and that after their release, his father "returned and bought land to farm, staking a political claim that said 'I am an American.'" Will Harris pointed out that "farming is always political" because it's so closely intertwined with civilizations throughout human history. There was discussion of farming as "restitution for the history of what's occurred on the land," bringing to mind the environmental degradation that has been occurring on farmland worldwide since the advent of pesticides, as well as the treatment of people on agricultural lands in our nation's history and present day, including slaves, sharecroppers, and migrant farmworkers. Agriculture has always been and will always be political for these and other reasons.

The final nugget of inspiration that I'll share from the conference speakers I heard from is the story of Paul Stamets' discovery that mushrooms may be able to save the honeybees. Rather than type out the long and beautiful journey that he shared in the closing plenary yesterday morning, I'll share a few links:
For more on this year's EcoFarm conference, search hashtag #EcoFarm2017 on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You can also visit my Instagram page (@greenbeangal) and Facebook page (fb.com/greenbeangal) for updates I shared during the week. The EcoFarm website will also be updated within the next week with recordings of many workshops and plenaries.

Yesterday after the conference, Green Guy drove down to meet me in Pacific Grove, and we spent a few hours at Point Lobos State Reserve. We sat on a bench overlooking the sparking blue water crash in foamy white waves upon rocks. Whales breached close enough for us to see. Otters floated in the salty waves, elegantly balancing their heads and tails above water and tricking our eyes into thinking every bobbing log might be another otter. Seals sunbathed on rocks, making us envious of their marine lives in which they are blissfully unaware of the politics of human society. It was peaceful and inspiring--so inspiring, in fact, that we decided that for each month of 2017, we'll commit to going to at least one national, state, or regional park that we haven't been to before. If you have suggestions for wild or semi-wild places for hiking, biking, camping, or swimming within driving distance of San Jose or Santa Cruz, please leave a comment or send me a message.

Similar to what Amigo Bob shared at the beginning of the conference, I want to close with a reminder that in the face of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, disregard for the environment, rejection of science and fact, and the many other issues coming from the federal government in just the last week, we each have a role to play. Analysis paralysis is normal as we learn about the many different causes we could take up, but we must each move beyond the overwhelming options and choose one or two causes that speak most to us. In my previous blog post, I went into this in more depth, so if you're still feeling like you aren't sure what to do when you hear the news each morning, please (re)read this post and really reflect for yourself where you want to focus your beautiful, capable energies in these times.
"Every seed we plant is a tiny loving prayer in action." - Rowen White, Indigenous seed steward of the Mohawk and Haudenosaunee people.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Planting seeds of change on Inauguration Day

Last Friday, at my final UCSC Sustainability Inter-Organizational Retreat as a planning co-coordinator, I facilitated a world cafe-style dialogue with a room full of students, staff, faculty, and alumni affiliated with sustainability and social justice organizations. We had just heard from UCSC alum mark! Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice about what it means to decolonize sustainability and focus a critical lens on the environmental movement in support of equity for those who have been most impacted by not only environmental issues, but also the conservation movement itself. It was a powerful talk that left some in tears, others stunned by what they had just learned, and many grateful for an honest presentation that was critical and real without any attempt to sugarcoat.

The world cafe consisted of two questions, which had been crafted by our planning team of students and staff. People at tables throughout the Colleges 9&10 Multipurpose Room had 20 minutes for each question. The first asked folks to reflect on what mark! had shared and consider how they would bring what they learned or re-affirmed into their work this year.

 mark! Lopez speaking to a group of UCSC students, staff, faculty, and alumni on Friday, January 13, 2017.

The second question, posed after most people had moved to another table to find new dialogue partners, was this: As 2017 brings change for our country, as well as for each of us personally as we begin another year of our lives, what challenges do you foresee or fear related to the work that you do in the world (as a student, as an activist, as a changemaker, as an environmentalist, as a citizen, etc.)? What are you most hopeful for in our world in 2017?

Understandably, the responses to this question varied widely based on the background and identity of each person in the room. After 20 minutes of dialogue, I asked the whole group to "harvest" from their two conversations what the deeper discoveries, themes, or questions were that presented themselves. The majority of the responses focused on optimism in the times ahead, which I do believe is important to carry as a tool when we really need it. However, I know for certain that many people in the room can't simply hope for the best or "stay positive" because they are carrying the burden and fear of the many threats and attacks on their identity that have arisen in our country--via Twitter, campaign speeches, and the actions of citizens emboldened by what they've seen our new president do and say. For so many reasons, people are understandably afraid.

I attempted to open the floor for people to share their fears, but my facilitation skills or the vibe in the room or countless other reasons left the many fears unspoken during that full group share-back space. In debriefing this activity with colleagues and friends, I learned that fears were most definitely shared in the small groups of the tables, which made me feel better in some ways to know that people had a space to share but also sorry and concerned that they hadn't felt safe enough to share those fears to the wider audience. As someone somewhat new to facilitating world cafe harvests, a lesson for me was that I need more practice in creating authentically safe spaces for large groups, especially if I'm going to introduce questions like the ones we explored.

I share this story for a few reasons. The first is that I hope it provides a glimpse into some of the conversations happening at college campuses today, as well as and perhaps more importantly, demonstrate that the voices you hear most vocally are never the only opinions out there. The voices you hear are most often reflective of those who feel most comfortable in the spaces you find yourself in, whether it's online or at an event or at a party. If people don't feel safe or spend time in the spaces where you feel safe, you will most likely not hear their voices. It doesn't mean they don't exist or that they're somehow invalidated for not sharing within your hearing distance. I think we forget this when we hear our own opinions validated by everyone around us. It can be easy to think that we must be right since we don't hear the opposing view shared by anyone in our own circles. None of us are immune to this feedback effect, particularly in today's world of social media, which makes it more important than ever to seek out sources of news and opinions that differ from our own.

Another reason I share this is in hopes that you might ask yourself the question I posed to the group: As 2017 brings change for our country, as well as for each of us personally as we begin another year of our lives, what challenges do you foresee or fear related to the work that you do in the world (as a student, as an activist, as a changemaker, as an environmentalist, as a citizen, etc.)? What are you most hopeful for in our world in 2017?

The question asks you to start with fear and then find hope, but hope doesn't always erase fear. We can hold both fear and hope simultaneously. In fact, I think we must if we are going to protect our people, climate, and natural world from the many threats that have risen to power in this country.

Like the seeds I plant in my garden, we can each tap into our potential for change and grow in ways that may seem impossible to us today.

When I woke up this morning, I wrote the following reflection, in hopes that maybe it will help inspire you (yes, you!) to identify your role as a citizen, as a human, as a force of spirit with such a short time on earth to do the work that you were brought here to do.

I believe we all carry a deeper capacity to create change in the world than we realize. Coming from a place of love and compassion for all life on earth, what do you wish were different today, on January 20, 2017? Share the answer to yourself in thought or written word, but convert your answer to the present tense, as though that world you wish were here today actually were here today.

Within that vision, what are the elements you most fiercely desire? In other words, which cause will you take up or continue to work toward in your life today so that when the time comes for you to leave this earth, you can rest knowing that you did all that you could to "be the change you wish to see in the world"?

The causes we can choose to take up are seemingly infinite, and so many have been elevated and intensified by the offensive, regressive, and often terrifying words and actions of the person taking highest office in our country today. Each of us need not tackle all of these causes if each of us can tackle the one or two that we feel most called to address.

For instance, think of the many people, those you know and those many others you share humanity's journey with, whose identities and freedoms have been threatened, ridiculed, and targeted in recent months on the national stage. Consider who has been appointed to oversee public education, energy, environmental protection, and many other positions that exist to supposedly protect people and planet. There's no lack of options to turn your creative capacity toward, and there's no better time to start than today.

Where to start?

Educate yourself on the issue that you've chosen to pursue. Reflect on it and talk about it with others you trust until you can talk about it with others whose reactions you cannot predict. Write about it. Find out what specific calls you can make or letters you can send. Attend an event and find out what existing organizations have been doing. Join them.

Remember to take care of your needs so that you don't become too depleted to do the work that needs doing by people like you (yes, you!) who care.

Keep going, and find others who care. Find those who don't care and talk to them. Keep learning. Resist injustices and also create and inspire new opportunities for justice. Use whatever training and skills you have developed in your life to determine how you can be most effective. Ask questions. Seek out the opinions of others and attempt to understand. Keep going. Don't give up.

Sunrise over the Village and Farm at UCSC. Every morning the sun rises and brings us light and warmth so that life on earth can keep thriving. What simple things can you do everyday to support life on earth?

In closing, something that has been a reassuring reminder and call to action for me is that our country is by and for the people. Words are powerful, and although our country has seen more than its share of injustices, these words are written on the preamble to our nation's constitution: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." In our actions and lives as citizens of the United States of America, we have the power to uphold these words so that they aren't just ink on paper but reality. As citizens, we still carry power, especially when united. People power is what brings forth justice. And you, dear reader, carry power and capacity that you may not even realize you possess. What will you do with it, starting today?


P.S. You may have heard I'm moving to the UCSC Farm in April for the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture. As a result, my Office Manager & Events Coordinator position in the UCSC Sustainability Office has been posted at jobs.ucsc.edu and applications will be accepted until February 5, 2017. Learn more here, apply, and tell a friend!

Monday, December 19, 2016

UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture

Back in September, I submitted an application to the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture program. This six-month certificate program provides hands-on training in organic gardening and small-scale farming, and it's celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. The program is part of the legacy of Alan Chadwick and takes place on the 30-acre Farm and 3-acre Garden on the UCSC campus. I am ecstatic to share that I was selected to participate in this amazing program, which starts in April--only a little less than 4 months from now!

 Views from the UC Santa Cruz Farm

About the Program
According to the CASFS website, "The six-month Apprenticeship offers instruction and daily work experience in organic gardening and farming, focusing on ecological interactions amongst plants, soils, climate, insects, and pathogens. It also fosters an analysis of the political, economic, and cultural roots of our current food system and provides space to explore how we might shift into a future that supports both people and planet. [...] Since 1967, over 1,500 graduates have gone on to apply this training in a variety of ways around the world: developing their own commercial farms, market gardens, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects, starting inner-city community gardens, working as environmental educators, participating in international rural development projects, managing organic landscaping businesses, and pursuing degrees in agricultural studies." You can learn all about the program on the website here.

I am currently raising funds for program materials, food, and other essential expenses for the six months of the program. You can learn more about what the funds will be used for and even donate directly online at https://www.gofundme.com/greengalgardens. You can also contact me via email for other ways to provide support--promising to visit me or helping me move are other ways that friends and family could help out! If you can spare even $10, it would really help me be able to participate fully and complete the program next October with some savings in the bank to support whatever I end up doing after the program. Below I'm sharing a portion of my application for the program to give you a sense of why I'm pursuing organic gardening and farming through this Apprenticeship.

Thank You!
Thank you so much to everyone who is able to donate and help me as I prepare for this program. In particular I want to thank my parents and my partner Green Guy for everything they have done and continue to do to make my dreams possible! It really means a lot to me to have people in my life who support me in doing the work that I not only want to do but feel called to do. Many of you have been around to watch my budding interest in sustainability blossom into many aspects of how I live my life. Every day, my decision to participate in this apprenticeship program feels more and more like the right next step in my journey. I feel incredibly grateful to everyone who helped me make the decision to apply, even when I thought I might be a bit crazy for wanting to live in a tent cabin for six months on a farm. I'm excited and hopeful for this new adventure, and I couldn't do it without the support of my family and community.

Here is a portion of my application to the Apprenticeship program:

Please describe your previous experience, if any, in farming or gardening.

As a child, I helped my dad in our backyard vegetable and flower garden with planting, watering, composting, picking squash and pumpkins, and eating ripe, red, juicy tomatoes right off the vine. I would carry little bins of tomatoes into the house where my mom would make spaghetti sauce or blanch and freeze the tomatoes for later use. My mom also loved to garden and spent countless hours in the front yard planting flowers and maintaining the landscape. I grew up surrounded by gardeners, including my two grandmothers, and heard stories about my great-grandfather who had a farm in Minnesota in the 1930s. It was the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl that brought my great-grandparents to California in 1940. Immersed in an environment of plants, gardening, and my mom's exploration of natural healing through the use of herbs, I developed an appreciation for plants that led to a fascination for ethnobotany and the many different functions plants can serve in our lives--from food to medicine to tools and more. I spent many hours in high school researching indigenous uses of plants native to my hometown and considered majoring in anthropology to further pursue my studies. I majored instead in Literature for the transferable critical thinking and writing skills I would gain, as well as my love for stories and their power to connect people across time, culture, and space.

After graduating from college, I moved to San Jose where I started my own backyard vegetable garden. It was July 2015, and my collection of bell pepper, cilantro, and mint plants quickly grew into a lush garden of potted edible plants mingled with overflowing nasturtiums, sunflowers, and poppies. Soon, every available sunny windowsill held a rotating array of seedlings and experiments. My childhood passion for gardening blossomed within me now that the demands of homework were gone and I could spend time tending to my plants after a long day staring at a computer at work. I said goodbye to my first garden in June 2016 when my partner and I moved to a house with a larger yard. Less than a month after moving, we built a raised bed on a patch of dying grass where I planted tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, watermelons, sunflowers, corn, and basil and was absolutely amazed by how the many tiny seeds I planted turned into a jungle of growth in the summer heat. I learned a lot about what I’d do differently next time, but I also ended up with more questions than answers about what exactly I had intentionally done right that led to the success of the few vegetables that did grow well.

I’ve come to crave time spent with my hands in the garden, and I experience a powerful feeling of connectivity and joy when I cook up meals with food I grew myself. I often post about my experiences in the garden on my environmental education and adventure blog Green Gal and its related Facebook page to share my appreciation for the wonderful partnership that gardening nurtures between human, climate, soil, and plant. In addition to growing vegetables and flowers, I’ve also tried my hand at worm composting and composting kitchen scraps and garden waste in a compost bin. My knowledge of gardening and farming receives a boost from farmers I meet when volunteering at local urban farms and as I continue to seek a more holistic awareness of effective methods for sustainably growing food and flowers.

Explain your interest in the Apprenticeship, and how this practical training fits into your future plans.
I have been a member of the UC Santa Cruz campus for six years, as a student and now as a staff person, and throughout those six years, I’ve always held a deep respect and awe for the Farm, its food access and justice programs, and the hands-on, practical experiences it provides for those who get involved. In my time outside of class as a student at UCSC, I actively sought out jobs and internships related to sustainability, but most of them were focused more on outreach and education methods for communicating campus-wide sustainability opportunities and achievements. Rarely did my internships put me in experiential connection with food systems, even though I became knowledgeable about the food programs on campus.

The work I’ve done in the last five years on campus and with the Sierra Club has provided me with skills in sustainability program management, event coordination, community building, and teaching. This work has allowed me to promote many experiential sustainability projects. For years, I’ve been a storyteller for why sustainability matters, a convener of community building opportunities through collaborative events, and a mentor to students. Though I love being connected to many organizations in this way, I’m ready to move out from behind the computer screen where so much of my work happens and transition to a more hands-on, active participation in creating a more just and sustainable world, starting with the soil under our feet and the food growing in it. I’ll never stop being a storyteller or community builder, but I want more technical and focused experiences rather than continuing to skim the surface of a broad array of topics.

When I look back on my own family history, I see a thread of profound experiences throughout my life’s journey leading toward a career in organic farming and gardening. From my vivid childhood memories in my backyard garden to my volunteer work with local farms in San Jose, I am ready to move into this type of work where I will encounter opportunities to connect myself and others with the many benefits of reclaiming community control and intimate knowledge of our food system. In recent years I have developed a passion for cooking from scratch; explored fermentation through homebrewed beer and sourdough bread; written a novel about the role of local, small-scale farms as an indicator of community resilience in the face of climate change; and visited urban farms in my city. I recently co-designed and led a community bike tour to urban farms through the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. The policy work of organizations like Garden to Table to implement the Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act (AB551) provides an exciting opportunity for more urban spaces to be temporarily converted into agricultural land, where more community education and food access work can take place. From these experiences, I’ve realized that I want to bring my love of food, education, and community engagement together in a way that connects people to the food on their plate and creates change in our food system. The missing link in my experience that would prepare me for work like this is the skills and knowledge to effectively grow a variety of foods and understand the many factors that contribute to the success of a farm. 

When I’ve looked at job opportunities with these educational farming organizations in the last year, I have noticed that most of the jobs I would be qualified for would likely position me right back in front of a computer and not actively working with the growing of food. Rather than learn organic gardening methods in a piecemeal fashion through entry level part time jobs or unpaid internships on local farms while also trying to manage a job that can pay rent in Silicon Valley, I want to participate in this program that will allow me to fully immerse myself in the study of organic horticulture. I’ve also spoken with my cousin Jack, who participated in the Apprenticeship Program in 2016, about why I’m interested in organic farming and gardening. He shared about his experience in the program this year and strongly encouraged me to apply. I can’t imagine a better time in my life to reconnect with the earth, learn practical skills that feed people, and bring my previous experiences together to cultivate community through food.

In addition to wanting to be effective at growing food, I hope to find opportunities after the program to teach people in the context of farms and gardens. To this day, I recall with great detail my sense of wonder when I wandered through an organic garden at the outdoor education camp in Half Moon Bay where my fifth grade class spent a week. Our experiences with nature and the real world stay with us long after the memorized textbook information has disappeared from our memories. I want to provide opportunities for people of all ages to discover the joy of growing plants and connecting with the seasons. In addition to the food access and environmental sustainability benefits of learning to grow one’s own food, being connected with a plot of land, the climate, and the seasons through gardening can provide a deeper connection to what’s happening in our local communities from environmental degradation and global climate change, which can lead people to want to take action to create a more sustainable future. Ultimately, one of my life's purposes that I began to identify with starting in high school was the desire to help people make the connection between the stewardship of our planet's environment and climate and people's livelihoods and dreams for their future. Our food system is full of opportunities for people to make that connection, and I want to focus my efforts in helping make those connections happen.

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