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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!

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 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.


  1. Hi!

    Let me share this initiative with you:)
    This Xmas you can plant a tree for free in Africa!

    Just follow the link, I just planted a Macadamia tree.

    Merry Xmas!


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