The UC Santa Cruz Farm is abuzz with more than bees this week. A $1 million grant and $4 million pledge have been made to the university to create a grand new entrance to the farm and raise its profile on campus.
The announcement was made at the annual farm-to-fork dinner on Sunday, organized by apprentice farmers to raise funds to offset tuition and expenses for next year’s students in the program, officially known as the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS).
Recently appointed CASFS Executive Director Daniel Press was brimming with enthusiasm for the project—which aims to restore a 1870 vintage hay barn near the campus entrance and fill it with teaching spaces. A new path would lead uphill from the barn directly to the farm.
“Right now the farm is kind of hidden and hard to find,” Press said. “But the restored hay barn would provide an impressive gateway right near the main entrance to campus and clearly demonstrate how much the university cares about sustainability.”
In these times of budget cutbacks at the university, Press said he could not ask for financing from the board of regents, so he decided to “go to our friends” and seek a private donation to fund his vision. Financing came from the Helen and Will Webster Foundation of Altadena—an organization that also helped build new tent cabins for farm apprentices and has been a big supporter of the farm’s Life Lab and Food,What?! programs.
“The farm and the entire south campus complex of historic buildings is the gem of the UC system,” said Alec Webster, speaking for the foundation. “We want to make sure it is vibrant, robust and long-lasting; and that it is not operating on a shoestring, but getting the support it deserves.”
“The farm is the most valuable laboratory on campus,” added Webster, who earned his degree at UCSC in 2001 in Environmental Studies. “This has just been a phenomenal pulling together of things that have been in the wind for a long time.”
Under terms of the grant, $1 million has been given initially to fund a feasibility study and start the restoration. An additional $4 million has been pledged over the next four years to complete the project and reinvigorate farm programs. It is hoped the Webster grant will inspire other private donors to help put the CASFS program on a sounder financial footing.
The San Francisco firm Garavaglia Architecture has been hired to conduct the feasibility study and a workshop was held on campus August 28 to collect ideas for the building. Classrooms, offices and an exhibition space for the CASFS program are envisioned, as well as a picnic area in the adjacent corrals. The same architect has carried out restoration studies locally on the Redman House in Watsonville, the condemned Veteran’s Hall in Santa Cruz and the Butterfly House on Carmel beach. The study is scheduled to be completed by Jan. 1.
The 4,900 sq ft Hay Barn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was part of the original Cowell Ranch. It is also part of the 30-acre Cowell Lime Works Historic District, which local history buffs have been trying to save for years. The dilapidated structure was built without nails, using mortise and tenon joinery and pegs—a relatively rare construction style in California.
In conjunction with the restoration, an exhibition called “Barn Raising” is set to run from December 14th-March 17th at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. The interactive exhibit will allow museum-goers to pound pegs and raise the frame of a scale model of the Hay Barn, as well as contributing ideas for its future use.
CASFS, which includes the 25-acre farm and the three-acre Alan Chadwick Garden, was started in 1967 and pioneered organic gardening in the United States. Students come from all over the world to take part in its 6-month apprenticeship program. Its alumni form the backbone of our local organic farming community, starting and working at places like Blue Heron Farms, Camp Joy Gardens, Dirty Girl Produce, Everett Family Farm, Fogline Farm, James Creek Farm, Live Earth Farm, Pie Ranch and Two Dog Farm, among many others.
Daniel Press took over as the new Executive Director of CASFS on July 1. He is an expert in U.S. environmental politics and has been a professor of Environmental Studies at UCSC for 22 years, including six years as department chair.
Just last month, CASFS received a three-year $665,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand its apprenticeship program and train more organic farmers.
In announcing the grant, Congressman Sam Farr said: “The Central Coast of California is the capital of organic agriculture.” Some of the USDA funding will be also used to help beginning farmers, who have been in business less than 10 years, and to rewrite training manuals, which will be made available online free-of-charge.
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.