On Friday, I had the utter pleasure of attending an event that was one of the highlights of my year. Originally intended to be a part of the annual UCSC Farm Harvest Festival, a ceremony honoring Representative Sam Farr (my local congressman) was moved to Friday, due to a conflict in his schedule.
Thank goodness. Moving the event from the happy clamor of hundreds of people—many of whom are not yet waist-high or possessed of the ability to remain silent for ten minutes, let alone an hour or more—into the calm and quiet of the middle of a workday, high on the hilltop that is the UCSC farm, was a stroke of serendipity and a blessing to those of us who attended. All of us really wanted to be there, and all of us really relished the opportunity to savor in this small celebration.
It was a small celebration for a very big reason: without this man's vision, and his commitment, and his ability to move mountains (of bureaucratic b.s., for one thing), the UCSC Farm simply would not exist at the level it does, if at all.
About forty people took time away from desks and fields to gather at the beehive that is the center of the farm—the beehive that is the kitchen and dining hall for the apprentices, who live on the farm, sleeping in tents on its periphery for the six-plus months of the CASFS program. It was two of the most pleasant hours I've spent in a long time—and I think it deepened and broadened all of us to stand in the sun, on the farm, together.
I've been voting for Sam Farr ever since Rep. Leon Panetta told me to, back in 1993 when Panetta became President Clinton's Chief of Staff. And I'd seen Farr's picture, and heard a whole lot of really good things about him. People in Santa Cruz are hard to impress with celebrity or power, for the most part—what impresses people in my circle are things that you rarely hear in discussions of government, let alone the federal government, aka "Corruption Backwards-R Us." But when I've heard people talking about Sam Farr, I hear the word "integrity" a lot. And "commitment."
Well, those words are really abstract, aren't they? But because I know so many farmers, I have a pretty good sense of what integrity looks like. (And having the grandfather I did, and the husband I do, as well...) Likewise, these very same people display commitment that requires showing up all the time to tasks that are hard. I mean "getting your hands really dirty"—chapped, blistered, and rough. Not, "Gosh, my butt hurts from sitting at my computer all day" or "Gee, I chipped a nail opening the envelope with my royalties check in it" hard.
What doesn't come across in photos of Sam Farr is—wait, I'm going to use a Santa Cruz word—his vibe. He has almost a John Lithgow gentleness, but plenty of steel in the spine, which probably comes from walking the walk.
The Official Photographs, as we all know, have to represent such a narrow range of the spectrum of who any politician is, that he might as well be the Gingerbread Man.
Given that the midday sun on Friday, which required sunglasses for most of us, was not ideal for portrait photography, you might perceive Farr to be frowning or grimacing. He's not. He was smiling under a bright glare. Above, he's expressing disbelief that rosehips, at least this kind, are not only edible but delicious. "To think I've been throwing these all away" is what he's saying.
Along with a lot of the apprentices, office staff, teachers, and Board of Directors members, was the new Chancellor of UCSC, George Blumenthal (pictured above). For 14 months, he'd been Acting Chancellor, and you have to love the guy for using Wite-Out over the "Acting" on his official nametag. (Darn, I wish I'd gotten a photo of that.)
I know comparisons are odious, but the only other Chancellor I've ever met is Alexander Heard, back in my Vanderbilt days. Talk about a stuffed shirt. By contrast, Blumenthal had an almost constant, gentle smile, and radiated a kind of diffuse happiness—but perhaps that was just being out of the office and standing in the sun, surrounded by orchards and fields. Who wouldn't be smiling? I liked him.
The Chancellor presented Sam Farr with a plaque, prefacing it by saying, "We didn't want to give you something with the official seal of the University of Santa Cruz, so we had this photograph of the farm that you grew, Sam." He handed Farr a framed photo with an inscription praising him for his visionary work. (How proud am I that it was this same photo I took just a few weeks ago, during the "Back 40" 40th reunion of the CASFS program? Reader, Sam Farr hugged the photo.)
After brief and moving speeches by Dr. Patricia Allen, director of CASFS, and Dr. Carol Shennan, a former director, who came out of her sabbatical to attend the ceremony, Sam Farr read a plaque of his own, which was an address that went into the Congressional Record on October 4, 2007. I have typed and posted its contents here.
The program began life in 1967 as an obscure 4-acre organic garden tucked away in a disused and unnoticed corner of the UCSC campus. It was birthed by master gardener Alan Chadwick, who inspired a group of students to convert a dry hillside into a magnificent terraced garden that incorporated the latest techniques in chemical-free horticulture and reflected the back-to-the-land Zeitgeist of the day. In 1972, the project expanded onto another unused campus site where garden participants began a 17-acre, later 25-acre, experimental organic farm. There they set out to explore ways of improving and applying organic farming techniques. Throughout the 1970s, the little UCSC Farm community quietly grew, with a mixture of a little campus support, some creative grant writing, and the sales of its farm produce. A steady stream of student apprentices advanced through the constantly evolving program. By the 1980s, the UCSC Farm had come to a crossroads. Could it reach beyond the little world of the UCSC campus and help shape the broader world of agriculture?
Patricia Allen's (pictured above, in the blue blazer) response: "This doesn't often happen, but I'm at a loss for words."
Farr talked a bit about his experience in the Peace Corps (Colombia, 1964-66), and the poverty of the people with whom he'd worked. That poverty determined that they learn organic and sustainable farming, simply because they could not afford Monsanto chemicals to keep their crops pest-free. Likewise, the relative poverty of the UCSC Farm, which was not funded like the "real" agricultural campuses (UC Davis and UC Riverside) guided its development into sustainable practices, which were also fueled by the vision of Alan Chadwick (more on him below), who spread his inspiration by the sheer beauty of what he, Chadwick, was creating.
Pictured here, Christof Bernau, the manager of the UCSC Garden, who'd cut the rosehips for Sam Farr to taste, and who chose the roses which Sam Farr would be planting under a plaque honoring his own work. UCSC had decided upon a rose planting, as Farr is particularly fond of climbing roses, and the plaque which commemorates the event was made from the old solar greenhouse, which had been torn down. (A new one, about 3800 square feet, is being built now.)
And so, shovel in hand, Sam stooped down with Christof to begin planting his climbing rose. He said softly, "I wish I could do this more often." (He's a gardener himself, and a photographer as well. But when Patricia Allen said, "We were thinking of inviting you to be our official photographer," he held up the photo I'd taken, saying, "I think you're doing pretty well for yourselves." That made me smile.)
This is the plaque that hangs on the UCSC Farm Center—at the heart of the farm that Sam built.
One apprentice handed him a bouquet of statice grown on the farm, another gave him a bag of Asian pears from the garden. Patricia Allen gave him a "Back 40" hat, which he donned for the photo op, giving us a Very Official Smile. But when I sang the first two words of "Greeeeeeen Acres," while he pretended to wield the shovel, then he broke into a real grin and laughed.
After all this, everyone headed over to some lemonade and cookies, and a chance to shake his hand. I had to be getting along, but was able to give him one of my calendars, which he pronounced beautiful, and said, "I'll use this!" Good: I hope it speaks for UCSC back in Washington, showing the world what we're doing out here. You can't get stuff that pretty in your grocery store, and now Sam knows that some of the farms in the calendar are owned by graduates of the CASFS program at UCSC.
I have to say, those were two of the most pleasant hours of my life—I learned—which is always fun.
In reflecting upon all the work, the real work, that's been going on up there for four decades, I felt like a very small ant on a very large anthill, hoping I could just carry one grain of its beauty out to share with the world.
This is my grain.
Thank you, Sam Farr. And thank you, UCSC.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: “We are the living links in a life force that moves
and plays around and through us, binding the deepest soils with the
farthest stars.” —Alan Chadwick
Thanks for visiting.
P.S. New photo of Logan here, cooking dinner with his beautiful mother.