Wayside Farm School is an anomaly. We grow lots of food. In fact, today we delivered more than 600 pounds of squash, potatoes and onions to kitchens and staff. We teach and learn from one another every day.
This week we've had lessons in tree planting and orchard irrigation, crop rotations, and weed identification &
management. In addition to these lessons the more than 20 acres currently in production must be managed. This combination of field experiences and classroom instruction highlight the rich educational opportunities Wayside Farm School offers.
And if that wasn’t evidence enough, we will sit down tomorrow, nearly 30 people strong, to share a meal cooked from fresh farm grown ingredients. We will eat that meal on tables built by our students, on a campus that is literally being constructed by the instructors and students who make this all happen.
This is perhaps a normal experience at farm schools across the country, or on college campuses that specialize in agricultural education. Wayside Farm School, however, operates entirely inside a Los Angeles County Jail facility.
We strive to make sure the agricultural education our students receive is as fulfilling and complete as any program anywhere. Often those students don’t make it easy, as they come from backgrounds and with experiences very different from the average college agriculture student. And they are, after all...in jail. They didn’t choose to join a farm school.
They gave up their rights and were, ultimately,
assigned to one.
Rapidly though, they come around. Friday feasts are much better than the bologna or peanut butter sandwiches they normally get, and a sense of camaraderie is developed as we break bread together. Jail politics go away, at least for a few hours while students from diverse backgrounds, racial make ups, age classes and experiences share food they have worked together to grow, harvest and prepare. I imagine this is what happens in farming communities everywhere.
I write this after spending the past few hours laying in the cool waters of Castaic Creek as it rushes past on its way to the Santa Clara River and the Pacific Ocean. I shared this experience with my fellow instructors as we discussed ecology, curriculum and the reentry programs and processes we hope to see become part of the Farm School Program sooner than later.
As the sun moved west toward the horizon, and my colleagues and I parted ways, I reflected on what I, or rather "we" do, and I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am. As I often say, “Farming and Teaching are two of the most noble of trades.” Wayside Farm School and Five Keys allows me to do both, and for that I am grateful.
Wayside Farm School really is unique. An anomaly within
a very structured system that I am proud to be a part of.
I look forward to the years ahead, the meals we will share and the lives that sunshine, soil and soul will transform.
Along with this touchy-feely stuff comes the hard facts of a farming life--Leaks in an irrigation line have led to more weeds than anyone would like, and the Independence Day Holiday gave them plenty of time to get established...now 106 degree temperatures on the field have made it less than fun to get them removed. Cucumber beetles have found our pumpkins (though their damage is limited to a few plants so far) and gaining control is essential to our hopes of Jack-O-Lantern lit streets and that 600 pound Big Moose Pumpkin we try to grow every year. Hand picking the little striped or spotted bugs is a grueling and slow process--We have been trying new control methods including sucking them into a wet dry vacuum filled with soapy water. Not super effective but on a smaller scale might be just what the plants ordered. In our 1-acre pumpkin patch it was less than impactful.
It is, after all, efforts like these that allowed us to get our Certified Producers Certificate inspection for more than 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables. And it is these efforts that allowed us to harvest more than 300 pounds of purple potatoes, 400 pounds of squash and 200 pounds of onions today.
For all of the trials and tribulations farmers face, the light on the meal at the end of the tunnel really makes it all worthwhile. Farming really is more than a job, it is a way of life...and I am happy to be living it.