How do you grow a farmer? You start with dirt and seeds and water, of course. But just like good vegetables also need mulch and worms and pollinators and beneficial bugs to chase off the pests, a farmer learns not just through her own experience but through the hard-won experiences of other farmers, a whole long bloodline of observation through years of harvests and springtimes, of rain slicing down into mud and hot sun swelling the tomatoes sweet, of aphids clumping up inside the broccoli and leaf miners boring wiggle tracks across the chard.

That’s great if you come from a heritage of family farmers. But what if the closest you have to a back forty is a pot of basil on steps? Or what if your family’s farm is corn and soybeans, and you want to grow organic lettuce? If you’re young and hardy, you can rent yourself out as an unpaid intern or WOOFer, and hope you get to do more than just water and weed.

Or you can dig into a hands-on, intensive program like the one at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz. For a six-month growing season, you’ll live, learn, eat, sleep, and farm on a beautiful 30-acre spread of organic educational farmland.

Graduates of this program, which has been running for over 40 years, are the farmers feeding you now. They’re the ones building school gardens and working on food justice and sustainability issues all around California and beyond. For a program that graduates just 35 to 40 farmers a year, its impact on the organic movement has been both broad and deep. As a graduate myself, I’ve met countless farmers and food people over the past couple of years, only to find out that they, too, are former “farmies.”

And now it’s time to help the farm grow its farmers. What the program needs is housing. After several decades of letting apprentices live rent-free in tents (and before that, teepees) while in the program, UCSC is now demanding that proper temporary housing be built on the farm. The result? Some $250,000 needs to be raised by mid-summer, or the program will have to go on hiatus next year.

Hence, the campaign to Grow a Farmer Campaign. Throughout May, participating restaurants and businesses around the Bay Area are donating 10% or more of their sales on a particular day to the campaign. If you’re a chef or restauranteur, you can sign up here. If you’re a happy eater, check out the list of events for this month.

Because who will grow your food if you don’t help grow your farmers?

stephanie rosenbaum in ucsc garden

Grow a Farmer 9 May,2009Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen


Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen

Stephanie Rosenbaum Klassen is a longtime local food writer, author, and cook. Her books include The Art of Vintage Cocktails (Egg & Dart Press), World of Doughnuts (Egg & Dart Press); Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Food (Williams Sonoma); Honey from Flower to Table (Chronicle Books) and The Astrology Cookbook: A Cosmic Guide to Feasts of Love (Manic D Press). She has studied organic farming at UCSC and holds a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. She does frequent cooking demonstrations at local farmers’ markets and has taught food writing at Media Alliance in San Francisco and the Continuing Education program at Stanford University. She has been the lead restaurant critic for the San Francisco Bay Guardian as well as for San Francisco magazine. She has been an assistant chef at the Headlands Center for the Arts, an artists’ residency program located in the Marin Headlands, and a production cook at the Marin Sun Farms Cafe in Pt Reyes Station. After some 20 years in San Francisco interspersed with stints in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, she recently moved to Sonoma county but still writes in San Francisco several days a week.

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