You could say that the Greenbank Farm Training Center is itself a seedling. The program is only in its second season, and, like any new enterprise, it requires creativity, flexibility, and energy. There are nine participants in the program, and we all came here with the desire to learn how to grow food sustainably. We are eager to get seeds into the soil, but, as we are learning, it isn’t quite that easy.
We have things to do. The Greenbank Farm Training Center is currently leasing a five-acre plot from the Greenbank Farm and the Port of Coupeville. There is limited infrastructure on the farm, and although the field was plowed last November, a cover crop was never planted, and the deep-rooted perennial broad-leaved dock has started to take over our field.
For the past two weeks, I have pushed away daydreams of farm fresh salad greens and crispy spring radishes, with knowledge that the only thing I will be digging up for the next month is dirt – I mean soil, a term of endearment for farmers. We have been building a greenhouse and also taking apart, moving, and rebuilding a second greenhouse that will act as our garage over the next eight months. This is not a job for one, and, during the moments of consulting the instruction manual, and then consulting it again for second and third time, I feel fortunate to be working in such a large group. Not only are we learning to farm, we are learning what it is like to be new farmers, starting from the ground up.
We are also building a fence to keep out deer and dogs. (The farm is adjacent to walking trails, and as much as we love dogs and their walkers, we are hoping to keep them off the squash bed and on the trails.) We are constructing it with t-posts and an old fish netting, which we procured from a local fisherman in Port Townsend, Washington. The net costs $30,000 new or $5,000 used. Luckily for us, it was very used, and it was given to us for free. We also are designing and planting a hedgerow of native Washington species to act as a windbreak for the farm. We are plotting out the farm, creating a grid of plots 50 feet by 100 feet. And lastly, we are eagerly waiting for the results of a soil sample that we took last week. Have patience, I have to tell myself, that salad will be here soon enough.
The more I learn, the more I am realizing that becoming a farmer is much less about growing food and a whole lot more about becoming a steward of the land and an activist for social justice. While we have been spending the mornings in the field, we have been spending our afternoons in the classroom. We have been busy working our way through the UC Santa Cruz Teaching Organic Farming and Gardening Curriculum. The past two weeks we have focused on learning about the social and environmental issues in modern agriculture. It is an ugly scene when you delve into the history of U.S. agriculture and realize where that road has taken our modern society.
I am sure this is a topic I will return to in this blog, but, for now, the farm is calling. There is potting soil to make, and a packet of rainbow chard seeds that need a chance at life in this wild world. Please take the time to check out the UC Santa Cruz curriculum if you have the chance, and happy sowing to all the farmers and gardeners out there.