News From the Farm | August 8, 2016

One of the questions frequently asked by visitors to Full Belly Farm is how the farmers ever chose to go into farming.  The question makes sense because there aren’t a lot of farmers in the U.S. (less than 2% of the population), and the best way to learn to farm is through the experience of growing up on a farm, or working on a farm. In fact, four of the kids that were born and grew up on Full Belly Farm have decided to stay and farm here – carrying on a tradition that goes back in time for many generations on their father’s side.

I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I did grow a lot of vegetables when I was young, and much of the inspiration for my vegetable gardens came from my English grandfather, who grew food for his family in Birmingham England, in the allotments that were conceived as a way for needy families to grow their own food.  The English allotments were a lot like community gardens that some towns here in the U.S. have – or even more like the Victory Gardens that we have had in the U.S. in the past to increase food production in wartime.

I remember working up vegetable beds alongside my grandfather while I was growing up. I also have deep memories of eating and sharing vegetables that I grew myself, and I recall willingly shouldering all that responsibility of taking care of my garden because it wouldn’t produce if it wasn’t nurtured.  My grandfather had an English reserve that bordered on taciturn around visitors – but he was almost joyous when left alone to work in the garden.

When I was 14, I stumbled upon the El Mirasol urban organic farm and was taken in by one of its founders, Rich Merrill who enthusiastically taught double digging and compost-making to a team of volunteers.  The garden was in what is now the Alice Keck Park, a manicured city block of highly landscaped gardens and Koi ponds in Santa Barbara.  Rich Merrill went on to dedicate his life to teaching and writing. He also founded the Environmental Horticulture Department at Cabrillo College in Aptos. His energy and enthusiasm all those many years ago, for growing vegetables, definitely inspired me and changed my life.  

The El Mirasol garden was very farm-like in its steaminess, dustiness, and basic undisciplined reality – such a complete contrast to the Alice Keck Park of today. Well, everything seems more disciplined now, than it was in the 1970s…  The caretakers were actually living in the tool shed at El Mirasol, not something that would be tolerated in tony Alice Keck Park. 

The Full Belly internship program is hopefully one way to change the lives of young people looking for something basic, genuine and inspiring to do in their lives, like growing healthy food that they can be proud of, without the use of chemicals or antibiotics. Although on the other hand, at times, it may just seem to them like just a lot of very long days out in the hot sun. We do know that there are many farmers who were once Full Belly interns, so there may be some correlation between an early internship on an organic farm and becoming a farmer later on.

I want to thank my grandfather, and also Rich Merrill, for teaching me some vegetable gardening skills. And I would like to send out another big thank you to CSA members for your membership with the Full Belly CSA – we value your support and hope that you enjoy your CSA boxes.

–Judith Redmond