Our friend Luke is truly a community man. As he has worked and lived on many of the other farms we visited in Willits, his dedication to the community was apparent. His fellow farmers had only good things to say about him as a human being and as a farmer. As of November, he has taken on his first independent farming project with his business partner Amanda. They call their little piece of par aside The Brookside Elementary School Farm. After working in the Willits farming community for 3 years and Amanda for 5, an opportunity to rent a piece of land from a local elementary school opened up. Part of their lease agreement with the school includes giving 15% of whatever is produced to the school kitchen, along with providing a space for classroom time among the veggies.
“It’s certainly a different way to learn,” Luke acknowledges, “and at times I miss the master/apprentice relationship.” After working at Ecology Action under John Jeavons, Luke had decided he really wanted to get his hands dirty. “Talking about sustainable theory was great, but I really just wanted to grow food.” Although only breaking ground in November, the farm has already started selling at the local farmers market.
There have been many efforts to cultivate this land, but it has been essentially abandoned for the majority of the past decade. A small orchard has managed to survive, and the legacy of a donated greenhouse provides options for winter crops. However, Amanda and Luke largely started from scratch, and their progress is impressive; over half of the land has converted into long rows of annual vegetables, and their greenhouse space has been completely “double-dug” (using the biointensive approach).
We discussed Luke and Amanda’s desire to cultivate the space with intention for it to be functional long after they’re gone. Abandonment of cultivatable land really takes a toll, and, if established correctly, the area could remain a resource for the school long into the future. Brookside is an important reminder of the commitment to a farming lifestyle. Although a little overwhelmed after signing a 3-year lease agreement, Luke is beginning to recognize the importance of this time commitment, as well as, in the large scheme of things, how little time it really is. “I really don’t know this land yet at all,” he points out, “and probably won’t for another 3 years.” As a reminder to young farmers, this is not only a job, but a lifestyle. Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.