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Four snapshots of life in the UCSC Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture

The weeks pass by so quickly here, each day filled with learning the "why" behind the "how," engaging in interesting discussions with new friends, working, and getting "schooled up" (as Orin Martin would say) in how to be effective and skilled technicians in the art of gardening and farming. Each day could become its own blog post with the story of what was learned, practiced, discovered, and enjoyed. Today's update is a series of quotes, thoughts, and tidbits, a somewhat brief glimpse into my daily life here.


The Cultivation of the Gardener
Each week, we have readings due on Wednesday that relate to the topic of our class for that day. One of our readings recently was titled "The Cultivation of the Gardener," written by a few CASFS (Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems) staff a number of years ago. The article describes the biodynamic French Intensive horticulture system brought to UCSC by Alan Chadwick in 1967, and the authors reflect on the philosophy of this system. Here is a quote from the article that I particularly loved:
"The Gardener does not create the Garden. The Garden creates the Gardener. -- Alan Chadwick
 "This quotation exemplifies the biodynamic French intensive approach to horticulture. It conveys the full value of the relationship between human beings and nature, and between the gardener and the garden -- a position of stewardship and enhancement rather than dominance and exploitation. It suggests that perhaps the purpose of farms and gardens is not solely to produce food, but also to serve as multi-dimensional focal points for a society to maintain the productivity and fertility of land and culture. Within the construct of a garden there is room for a blending of aesthetic and productive environments that provide for contemplative moments, scientific discovery, inspiration, philosophic discussion, and space for people to live, learn, and work." -- Orin Martin, Jim Nelson, Dennis Tamura, Mary Kay Martin, Louise Cain
Social Systems
During week three, we spent a day discussing, learning, and reflecting on social systems and how they impact and are impacted by our food system. We examined how the roots of our food system have been fertilized and grown according to the influences of colonialism, land theft, classism, racism, white supremacy, xenophobia, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression. Think of the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homeland so that white men could declare this a nation of "liberty and justice for all." Those same lands were then cultivated and farmed by African slaves and their descendants, filling the pockets of white landowners who were the only people in this country who could vote for many, many years. Think of the Mexican farmworkers who endure backbreaking labor to harvest so much of the food that ends up on your plate. Think of how these folks are portrayed in popular media and in the rhetoric of our politicians.

With these roots, it's no wonder that the fruits of our food system include labor exploitation, unequal access to healthy food and land, unequal exposure to toxins, loss of ancestral foodways, and forced migration and displacement. Consider who can afford organic food, who can afford to grow organically, who "owns" patents on seeds, and which communities are miles from any fresh and affordable produce. We have to know where we come from and how we got here in order to make any kind of change in our food system.

The following week, social permaculturist and wonderful human being Pandora Thomas came to speak, and she shared the concept of "sankofa," a West African word meaning "we must know where we come from in order to move forward," or "go back and get it." We each personally have sankofa stories--where and who we come from and whose shoulders we stand on, in a familial way and in the progression of various movements and human projects that have a rich history of people contributing to the future through their life's work. And also as a society we carry collective "sankofas" that must be understood in order for us to move forward without continuing the same systems of oppression that got us here. What is your sankofa story? Who stands behind you and who behind them in the lineage of your life or your life's work? And once you've grounded yourself in your personal sankofa, which societal sankofa of human history do you wish to better understand so that you can do your part to move us forward toward a better world?

Today's Activities
On a micro, practical level, here's what I did today: I learned a whole lot about and planted many potatoes in the Chadwick Garden/Up Garden. With a few others, we planted ~500 seed potatoes of many, many varieties in trenches along the main slope! Some were early season potatoes to harvest as "new" potatoes, others were mid-season potatoes to harvest as "creamer" potatoes, and we also did a bed of fingerling potatoes, which will be harvested last of the four beds we planted today (potatoes grown until they are fully starched up and at the end of the growing season are "storage" potatoes that will store longer). I'm so excited to harvest the spuds! I also harvested some delicious-smelling garlic today, which will dry and cure in a greenhouse for a few weeks. I finished off the day in the garden by helping weed a rose bed. A grand day in the garden!

The Magic of the Up Garden
Yesterday, we started our first official week of rotation. The past month has been our "basic block" in which we were split into two groups between the Farm Garden and Up Garden/Chadwick Garden (and then switched after two weeks) to learn basic skills like bed prep, transplanting, seed sowing, and to get into the rhythm of the program. We also had one day in the field last week, which involved learning about and then watching tractor demonstrations with various implements. I didn't expect to be so stoked on the tractor demos, but they are quite marvelous machines that make quick work of projects that take us human beings all day to complete. I've uploaded videos from the mechanical tillage demo day to my Facebook page here.

My first six-week rotation is in the Up Garden, the most magical place in the world. The biodiversity up there is unbelievable, with perennial flowers and roses and fruit trees and long, steep annual veg crop beds, nearly every nook and cranny filled with cultivated life in its three acres of loveliness. Trees and shrubs create shaded tunnels along pathways, and when the air is warm, the roses and orange blossoms and lavender and all the flowers emanate the most delicious fragrances while bees and birds and other pollinators dance and buzz around. I've learned to slow down and enjoy the scents and beauty of the garden when I go to retrieve a wheelbarrow or refill my water bottle. I savor the droplets of water from a sprinkler on a hot day, I smell roses as I pass so that I can find my favorite one, and when I've got my hands in the soil, I pause to appreciate its wonderful tilth, or workability, and its amazingly well cared for and fluffy structure.

The people who work in the Up Garden--Orin, Sky, Ella, and Evan--are also delightful garden creatures, with a beautiful sense of humor that often feels familiar and similar to the sense of humor I grew up with. There's a continuous stream of little jokes and jabs and grins that is contagious. They also have some great and practical sayings, and the lead instructor in the Up Garden, Orin Martin, is well known for having a particularly wonderful way with words. He also seems to know everything about gardening, which is usually what he is describing in his eloquent, playful, and memorable way. For instance, yesterday afternoon Orin began an introduction to our rotation in the Up Garden by stating, "We are here, in fact, here we are." This was followed by a reflection on why we are here, but even that first statement on its own says something about what it's like to be in the human and plant community of the Up Garden. There is a call to be present and alive and engaged that is not only spoken and written on a whiteboard on the Chalet porch but also felt and permeating the gardenscape. There are scraps and boards of poetry throughout the garden, a sense of joy and lightheartedness and respect and compassion that is felt even when no other humans are around. If you are ever near Santa Cruz, come and visit this garden up on the hill, which is celebrating its 50th glorious year this year. You will not regret it.

As I've been sitting here in the Farm Center writing this evening, my friends and fellow apprentices have made popcorn and delicious shallot flat bread to share. The scent of something baking in the oven is wafting this way and I notice others are completing their readings for tomorrow. I must join them now and sign off the computer for the night. Thanks for reading!

For more photos of my adventures here at the farm and gardens, please visit my Facebook photo album or find me on Instagram.

Green Gal


  1. What a lovely and thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing what you are learning and what your days are like. It's so wonderful you are gaining so much knowledge and hands-on experience! I love the idea that the garden creates the gardener and not the other way around...


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