I can make no excuses about my absence here, except to say the past months have been fraught with challenges in our family—from health issues to difficult circumstances surrounding Logan's well-being. But I've been inspired by recent events, which I will share with you now.
Monday, a friend visiting from Toronto broadcast (yes, he Tweeted!) that he was seeking photographic inspiration. I suggested a visit to the UCSC Farm & Garden, and he accepted. The day was overcast, which is optimal for photography—no glare, no harsh shadows, and clear colors. We met my daughter up at the Alan Chadwick Garden, a two-acre terraced hillside garden that is predominantly orchard, but which also contains rows of vegetables—lots of over-wintered peppers and some Napa cabbages were present on our visit.
It was the first time I'd been to the up there in February—everything was muddy, covered in mustard grass and other "weeds" (it's hard for me to call anything green a weed), and sloppily beautiful despite the disorder. The garden is so different in winter. All the bare stone fruit trees—with their gnarled, grey branches—contrasted with the citrus trees, which were bearing heavily amid their dense, dark, waxy leaves. To someone else's eye, there might not be much to see, but I was seeing things in a new way, and I loved it.
Closer observation brought signs of spring to our eyes—the hopeful bud of leaves on this apple tree, for one. Here and there, a row of flowers remained—purple and white phlox, paperwhites, and golden narcissus punctuated the muddy green grounds.
Soon it was time for my girl to return to her research project, so Andy and I drove up to the farm. My biggest desire was to see the progress on the nine tent cabins that were the result of the fabulously successful fund-raising campaign last year, led by the Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden. (I've mentioned before that I'm the Secretary on the Board of Directors, but have not mentioned that I also designed the Grow a Farmer website.) In last year's dire economy, we were faced with needing to raise $250,000 to build permanent housing for the dozens of apprentices who attend the six-month residential program—housing that needed to be built to UCSC's incredibly demanding code. Well, we raised nearly $400,000. Subsequent to that, someone left nearly $200,000 to the apprentice's scholarship fund. It redoubles my commitment to the farm to see how many people love and are inspired by the work they do—during the program and after.
I was not disappointed. This symmetrical sight greeted us as we rounded the corner to the construction. It speaks for itself: harmonious lines, openness, and when you walk around, you realize what wonderful views the students will have from their windows. (Dibs on the front one, here, overlooking the Monterey Bay practically to Hawaii.)
We continued our stroll around the perimeter of the farm. In all the times I've been there, I've seen apprentice working. There were none in sight. We walked past the kiwi arbor—now skeletal grey vines draped across the even greyer wood beams, above a floor of bright yellow flowers on the mustard grass.
A little further on, small orange flowers popped up under bare apple trees, mirroring the orange lichen that grew on some of the tree trunks.
We passed the netted blueberry beds, rows and rows of cover crops, and a row of the most enormous artichoke plants I've ever seen, with stalks as thick as a man's wrist. They were interspersed with Meyer lemon trees that were sagging under the weight of their fruit—happily, we got to lighten the tree's load before leaving.
When we approached the farm center, there we found the apprentices, all busily pruning the roses that line the long fence along the road into the farm.
We made a quick pass through one of the greenhouses, where one of the farm kitties was camouflaged so well by burlap sacks that we almost missed him. Until he stood up for kitty-pets, that is. (What a sweet cat.)
Time to mosey: the air was turning cold, and the sky was darkening for rain. And once again, I felt so good about bring on a farm—that farm, in particular. To see the fruits of our labors—not only the edible ones, but the cabins I'd help grow, and the apprentices who applied to live and learn there, and Christof Bernau, who teaches so beautifully. (I eavesdropped on his pruning instructions briefly, and he speaks poetry when describing how to shape a Cecile Brunner climbing rose.)
And that was our day at the farm.
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I hope this finds you well :). My name is Matt Finkelstein and I'll be one of the 2010 Apprentices at CASFS this season. Diane graciously shared your email with me in light of the programs new housing opportunities and challenges. As you might know, the development of tent cabin accommodations has left a few of us apprentices seeking off-campus housing for our time there. I thought I would reach out to CASFS alumni and Friends of the Farm first to see if you might know of any leads or opportunities in the area :).
Spending most of our waking hours in the garden together, our living situation is unique. We'll likely be looking for accessible and affordable housing, sublets, or work-trade arrangements near the campus. Initially, we had planned to live simply and efficiently in tents or the tent cabins, so we're definitely flexible.
Not knowing the area well enough yet, I would be so grateful or any leads or opportunities that you might know of that would be appropriate for myself and others during this program. Please be in touch if you do! Looking forward to meeting you at some point as well :).
Thanks so much,
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And that's all for now. I have some good things developing with local farms that I'm looking forward to sharing.
Meanwhile, go read Dave Stockdale's article called "Farmers Share the Love" at SFGate.com.
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "You are not only what you eat. You are what you ate, ate." Who said that? Google is no help.
Thanks for returning. I'll be back soon, promise.
P.S. Logan turned six last month. We're reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (my favorite of all her books), and he's so tall and funny and loving. He's here on his horse, "Bright." (Coincidentally the name of one of Almanzo Wilder's calves in Farmer Boy.)