Farm & Garden Projects
"Alan Chadwick’s garden is a ‘garden of the mind’ as much as it is of the soil, and like all genuinely inspired creations it has the power to stir us to new dreams, to a new vision of what man and nature can do, together."
- Page Smith
UCSC Professor of History
The UC system is well known for its contributions to agriculture: the land grant universities are recognized worldwide for research in such fields as plant breeding, integrated pest management, and livestock care. Perhaps less well known is a project that started on the UC Santa Cruz campus in 1967, when legendary English gardener Alan Chadwick broke ground for a student garden.
In their own unique ways, the UCSC Garden Project (now the Alan Chadwick Garden) and the UCSC Farm have nurtured a different approach to horticulture and agriculture–an approach that emphasizes exacting soil and plant care, resource conservation, working with and respecting nature, and finding the ecological basis for sustainable food production. This was the first UC effort to focus on sustainable agriculture, commercial organic production methods, and the social issues associated with developing a sustainable food system. Under the auspices of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (formerly the Agroecology Program), the Farm & Garden continue to combine tradition and vision as students, staff and faculty search for environmentally and socially sound methods to produce and distribute crops.
This article presents a brief history of the UCSC Garden & Farm projects and the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems. Given the more than thirty years which this history covers, it is by no means a definitive effort, but is offered with the hope that readers –especially those unfamiliar with the Farm & Garden–will gain some sense of the contributions these projects have made. One could argue that "only in Santa Cruz" could the Farm & Garden have taken root and thrived, in a time and place that encouraged new ideas and innovative approaches to learning.
The Garden’s Root
UCSC’s garden was sown in an era of both political and physical turmoil. As bulldozers reshaped the Cowell Ranch’s meadows and forests for campus building sites, students sought "a sense of place" at the fledgling University. In 1966, a conversation between visiting professor of history Donald Nicholl and his office-trailer mate, philosophy professor Paul Lee, sparked the idea of creating a garden to offset students’ feelings of displacement and disruption. "It was a time of obvious destruction," recalls Chadwick contemporary Jim Nelson. "The Vietnam war was raging, the world seemed preoccupied with artificiality and contrivance – students were hungry for something new that would help foster change, love of the earth, positive things." (1) Developing a garden was seen as a way to bridge some of the gap between the natural and the artificial.
The idea found enthusiastic support from Chancellor Dean McHenry, who smoothed the way for an agricultural effort on the new campus. In one of those chance events that has now passed into legend, a Bavarian Countess provided the link between UCSC and the gardener who would leave his indelible mark. Countess Freya von Moltke* visited the campus in 1966 with her friend Oegain Rosenstock-Huessey, a mentor of founding faculty member Page Smith. The garden idea came up in conversation, and it was von Moltke who made the connection to Alan Chadwick. She had met Chadwick in South Africa, where he’d gone after World War Two to start a theater company and to design a national display garden.
Chadwick was reluctant to take on the task. "Alan was in his fifties, a failed Shakespearean actor – failed in the sense that he’d never met with any great success on the stage – and suffered a great deal from his back, which he injured during the war," recalled Smith in a 1992 interview.(3) "He was looking for a place to live out his life in relative comfort. But Freya said to him, ‘Alan, you must make a garden here. This is your mission.’"
Persuaded by von Moltke, Chadwick arrived in Santa Cruz in the winter of 1967. It was an exciting time at the UC system’s newest campus. Competition for admission was fierce, as students sought to take part in an academic setting that encouraged experimentation and creativity. Anthony Mohr, a member of the campus’s ‘pioneer class,’ remembers that ". . . we created our own traditions, rhythms, and boundaries. We barred competition. There were no grades, no rank in class. . . No athletic teams existed beyond informal groups. We governed by town meetings. . . Fraternities were banned."(4) Against this backdrop, and accompanied by Chancellor McHenry and a group of students, Chadwick toured the new campus in search of a garden site.
His choice for the enterprise crossed the line that distinguished the simply challenging from the truly daring: given the pick of the Cowell Ranch’s gently sloping, grass- and flower-covered meadows, Chadwick instead staked out four acres on a steep, rocky, chaparral-covered hill between Stevenson and Merrill colleges. "At that time, the hillside was the heart of campus," says Orin Martin, who now manages the Chadwick Garden. "Alan wanted to be in the center of things, and the Garden was the first thing people would see as they drove onto the upper section of the university."
Growing the Garden
Chadwick set to work on the stony soil with a vengeance, using only the Bulldog spade and fork that Smith & Hawken would one day make popular. Author Robert Howard writes, "For the next two years, without taking a day off, this 58-year-old man worked from dawn to dusk every day of the week. Those who were there say he worked more heroically than they had ever seen anyone work before." (5) Drawn to the emerging garden and the tall, lean Englishman, students pitched in to clear coyote brush and poison oak, and amend the paper-thin topsoil with tons of horse manure and other organic materials. Under Chadwick’s often-demanding direction, volunteers hauled limestone from the campus quarry to build paths and retaining walls, and loosened the rock-hard soil with pickaxes before setting to work digging permanent garden beds. "Those who fell under his spell had generally to put up with a good deal. That so many were willing to do so is the best possible testimony to the power of what he had to teach which was inseparable from the way he taught it and person he was," wrote Page Smith (6).
By 1969 the brushy hillside had been transformed. "From thin soil and poison oak had sprung an almost magical garden that ranged from hollyhocks and artemisias to exquisite vegetables and nectarines," says Robert Howard (7). Chadwick had designed the site as a set of distinct "rooms" reached from a winding central path, with marbled limestone walls buttressing sloping garden beds designed to take full advantage of the sun’s course. "Life appeared on that slope–the hummingbirds, the butterflies, and the birds were always there," says Paul Lee. Wave after wave of tulips, chrysanthemums, tithonia, cornflowers, zinnias, anemones, coreopsis, scabiosa, and other blossoms brightened the Garden year-round. "It was a heady period," wrote long-time Garden supporter Louise Cain. "A kiosk supplied daily bunches of cut flowers to anyone passing by. Never have University offices and home dining tables in Santa Cruz been so blessed."(8)
Chadwick introduced a unique approach to gardening, which he called the ‘biodynamic/French intensive’ method. Biodynamics was a movement initiated by Chadwick’s former tutor, Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, which according to Chadwick,
"...refers to total truth – the utmost connection of spirit, mind and body, with horticulture as just one of its facets."(9) "French intensive" reflects the practice of 19th century French market gardeners, who planted their carefully amended and cultivated beds using an ‘intensive’ spacing, so that plants touched each other when mature. According to current Garden manager Orin Martin, the biodynamic/French intensive method ". . . synthesized traditional horticulture practices and observations from the Greek, Chinese and Roman cultures on through 19th century French market gardeners – folk techniques with modern scientific validity."(10)
Students were taught how to "double dig" beds, using a spade and fork to loosen the soil to a depth of two spade blades. Chadwick noted that this approach to gardening was nothing new. In a 1974 interview, he explained,
"What we call the French intensive method was something picked up by the ancient Greeks. They discovered that all plant life grew better on landslides than on the bountiful, fertile soils of the alluvial plains, where indeed plants grew well, but on landslides they found they grew infinitely better." (11)
The double digging process mimics the effect of landslides, creating aerated, well-drained soil conditions. The Garden’s carefully tended beds, enriched with compost, bone meal, leaf mold, and other amendments could produce up to four times the abundance of traditionally managed plots from the same space.
Chadwick didn’t just strive for quantity. His upper class upbringing in Edwardian English society had left him with exacting tastes and an appreciation for fine food that he passed on to his young charges. In an era when all supermarket lettuce was iceberg, all potatoes Russet and apple choices were either red or green, the Garden boasted heirloom varieties of vegetables, fruit and flowers. This was more than two decades before "California cuisine" would make radicchio, purple beans, and fingerling potatoes standard fare on restaurant menus. "It’s not much of a stretch to say that Chadwick and those who trained with him were responsible for the interest in distinctive fruit and vegetable varieties that we see today," says Martin.
Rejecting anything synthetic, Chadwick also helped spur the organic gardening and farming movements, with their craftsman-like approach to soil building and plant care. He used organic inputs to enrich the rocky soil and deplored the use of chemical pesticides. He preached composting – "Life unto death and death unto life" – and emphasized the soil’s fragility, warning that, "The skin of the Earth must be approached with great sensitivity ... it is fragile and must be protected."
The techniques worked wonders on the inhospitable hillside. In a 1969 article(12), Sunset Magazine called Chadwick ". . . one of the most successful organic gardeners the editors have ever met. Mr. Chadwick believes that a healthy plant is not likely to be eaten or overcome by pests and his intensive kind of culture is such that the plants do stay in great health." Sunset’s editors marveled at the transformation of marginal land into an abundant garden, reporting that, "At times during the peak of the flower season, the students cut and placed ten thousand blooms a day at the help-yourself kiosk on the main campus road. And last year the gardeners grew, picked and supplied the college cafeterias with 1 3/4 tons of tomatoes."
Those who worked with him found Chadwick a short-fused amalgam of charm and fury. In a 1980 memoriam, Page Smith wrote,
"In an age of "collective leadership" Alan Chadwick was imperious as a King. In a day of carefully modulated and self-conscious "interpersonal relations," he stormed and raged not just at abstractions like laziness or indifference or inattention, but at the poor frail flesh of those who were the destined instruments of his terrible, unflinching will. And then suddenly, the consummate actor for whom all the world was a stage, he would be as sunny, as playful, as irresistible as the prince of a fairly tale." (13)
Despite his mercurial personality, Chadwick found willing listeners. "He was a renegade and a madman, which is probably why young people were so drawn to him," recalls Wendy Johnson, a former Chadwick apprentice. With 1962’s Silent Spring as a backdrop and the first Earth Day on the horizon, Chadwick’s emphasis on working with rather than overpowering nature, struck a chord. Some student volunteers began to spend more time in the Garden than in the classroom, forming the core of an apprentice group that would eventually be the model for a more formal training program. Beth Benjamin, a freshman in 1967, recalls,
"Alan was simply the most fascinating human being on campus for me. Soon nothing else seemed to come into focus but his garden. I was unhappy and doing poorly in my classes, but in the garden I vibrated with the colors and the smells and the stories Alan told us about the plants and his travels and the new skills I was learning. By April I convinced my counselor that I wanted a leave of absence, and I could finally devote my full time to the world of plants. As an apprentice, I worked from dawn until dark and was filled with his dreams and our common task of bringing the garden into reality, breaking new ground and tending what we had already planted. He had flaming temper tantrums, told tales, gave us dinner parties, fed us from his own bread and ham and cheese, threw dirt clods at us and laughed as he hid behind the compost piles. He taught us the joy of work, the discipline to persevere in order to make a dream come true, even when we were hot and tired, and the deliciousness of resting and drinking tea after such monumental labors ... I think of Alan almost every day still, 30 years later, and smile with the memories and with gratitude for all he gave me." (14)
Expanding the Vision: The UCSC Farm
The Garden’s success spurred interest in an expanded undertaking. In the spring of 1970, students approved the use of registration fees to help develop a campus Farm, where Chadwick’s techniques could be tested on a larger scale. Chancellor McHenry added support from his discretionary funds, and in the spring of 1971 the campus planning committee designated 14 acres of rolling meadow near the campus’s west entrance for the new venture (the Farm has since been expanded to 25 acres). Steve Kaffka, a former student and "lieutenant" of Chadwick’s, was put in charge of the enterprise. Disagreements with University officials over the Farm’s design and management were in part responsible for Chadwick’s leaving UCSC in 1973, when he moved on to start new gardens in Marin County (at the Green Gulch Zen Center), Saratoga and Covelo, California, and New Market, Virginia.
UCSC’s Farm attracted a fiercely dedicated group of volunteers – many of them former students who had left school to devote full time effort to Chadwick and the Garden, others who had been drawn to the project from outside the University. These self-proclaimed "home farmers" moved onto the Farm site, erected tipis, built a rough-hewn "cookhouse," and began to plant windbreaks and fruit trees, lay irrigation pipe, and put in hand-worked vegetable beds.
Following Chadwick’s lead, the home farmers rejected the idea of using mechanical implements to develop the Farm. They tried plowing with draft horses, and directed by Brian Barhaugh, built a large barn using hand-hewn lumber and Amish-style joinery techniques that relied on wooden pegs rather than nails (the barn is still used for equipment storage). After a year, most of the home farmers moved to Arkansas to homestead their own land.
Under Kaffka’s direction, the Farm found a ready audience amongst UCSC students interested in pursuing projects ranging from alternative energy to soil ecology. Still a relatively young, experimental campus, UCSC was open to non-traditional courses, student-developed classes, and independent studies. A group of students championed the idea of a Farm Center that would serve as a dining hall and teaching facility. Campus architect and lecturer Chuck Kahrs led a special class to work on the plans. Greg Smith, a young designer and builder, gave months of his labor both to the task of building and to teaching student volunteers who worked two summers with hammer and nails. The result was a beautiful, airy redwood building dedicated in 1976, which continues to serve as a focus of on-Farm life.
The energy crisis sparked other student projects. Physics professor Peter Scott offered a course in "Practical Physics," using the Farm as a demonstration site. Students built wind generators, solar-operated food dryers, composting toilets, and a solar shower (since refurbished and still in use). Others enrolled in classes taught by Kaffka to learn the basics of organic soil management and food production.
Although student and volunteer energy and a small, paid staff helped maintain the Farm and Garden and push through projects such as the Farm Center, the sites needed a year-round, on-site work force if they were to develop and thrive. At the same time, students were interested in getting a more in-depth, hands-on experience than was available through a regular ten-week class. In 1975, thanks to the efforts of Louise Cain (wife of Environmental Studies professor Stanley Cain), a year-long Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture was developed and offered through UCSC’s Extension program for students seeking intensive training in organic gardening and farming techniques (see be).
The Apprenticeship provided a more formal educational opportunity and helped address the need for a committed group of on-site workers, but Chancellor McHenry’s retirement forced Farm and Garden supporters to face the challenge of finding continued funding and an administrative "home" for the projects within the University. Fortunately, several distinguished Environmental Studies professors, including Stanley Cain and Kenneth Norris, stepped forward to champion the Garden and Farm. In May of 1976 the faculty of College 8 (which included most of the Environmental Studies faculty) voted unanimously to undertake academic sponsorship of the effort as an adjunct to the college.
The facilities became part of an expanded Natural History curriculum. Norris wrote,
"Natural history is the study of the natural world from a holistic viewpoint, the learning of her rules and processes. At the Farm and Garden, the care of the soil, the concern that natural systems be understood and guarded, and the oneness of people with the earth that supports them form the philosophical basis for their functioning. This is ‘applied natural history’ in its finest sense. Our academic scope for natural history at Santa Cruz is thus immeasurably broadened by our new association with the Farm and Garden program." (15)
Student interest in the Farm and Garden grew as the new academic focus brought more opportunities at the sites. In 1978, Environmental Studies professor Ray Dasmann reported,
"The UCSC Farm and Garden have become an increasingly important field laboratory for the academic program in Environmental Studies during the past year.
Starting in the winter quarter, 1978, the first course in Ecodevelopment (ES 175) was based at the Farm Center as the most suitable facility for a course concerned with the application of appropriate technology and ecological principles to the problems of ecodevelopment. Not only does the Farm demonstrate the success of labor intensive, small scale food production, but it has also provided the locale for most of the appropriate technology applications that have been carried out at UCSC.
Also in the winter quarter, a student-directed course on The Natural History of the Farm and Garden (College 8 42F) attracted far more students than could be accepted and provided for the 23 who completed the course, an opportunity to become familiar with the natural systems and agro-ecosystem of the area.
In the spring the Farm and Garden provided a field facility for the student-directed course in Alternative Energy and Appropriate Technology (ES 42C, 192C). This succeeded, among many other accomplishments, in providing solar-heated hot water to the Farm Center, along with a composting toilet. Professor Norris’s course in the Natural History of California (College 8 100B) is based at the Farm when not in the field, and [Stanley] Cain’s spring course in Vascular Plants (ES 168) uses both the Farm and Garden regularly for practice in plant identification and structure. This Fall the Farm is again being used by two of the field sections of Dasmann’s Environmental Ecology course (ES 24).
Perhaps more important than the formal courses are the independent studies based at the Farm and Garden, for which academic credit is given. These involve everything from construction of a solar greenhouse to the natural history of the pocket gopher to a thesis on the Evolution of the English Garden.
The contributions of the Farm to teaching are likely to increase as the research now under way begins to produce results." (16)
In addition to burgeoning student interest, off-campus support for the Farm and Garden developed, thanks in part to the efforts of Louise Cain and other Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden. Founded in 1971, the community-based Friends group served as a link to the area’s many home gardeners and others interested in an organic approach to farming and gardening. In a letter to the Friends, College 8 Provost Bob Curry wrote,
"Over half of California’s prime agricultural land is now in urban areas, primarily in backyards. I see the current research efforts and agricultural extension efforts in this State as being misdirected, and I believe that the Farm and Garden can fill an enormous need as a laboratory for learning to use our backyards wisely. Such an "appropriate agriculture extension" role is clearly a part of the University’s responsibility to the citizens of California. The Friends of the Farm and Garden are an important part of this outreach effort." (17)
The Friends’ lecture series and open houses at the Farm and Garden drew enthusiastic crowds. To raise funds for the facilities, Friends made and sold herb vinegars, put on auctions, wrote and produced the News & Notes of the UCSC Farm and Garden Project, and encouraged the UCSC administration to continue support of the projects. The Friends built a Gatehouse at the Farm to serve as a meeting space and visitors center, bought a deer fence to protect the Garden Project, and hosted plant sales, apple tastings, picnics and teas that raised community awareness of the projects’ work.
Thanks in part to the Friends’ efforts, the Farm and Garden persevered through funding shortages in the late 1970s. Declining enrollment and tax cuts shrank the pool of student fees and discretionary funds which had long supported the projects, so that campus fiscal support declined even as use of the sites grew. In 1978, Garden manager Orin Martin and Farm manager Jim Nelson maintained the Farm and Garden almost single-handedly, "for the princely sum of $600 a month," recalls Martin.
Fortunately, by 1979 the apprenticeship program was firmly established, bringing renewed energy in the form of a dedicated "learn-by-doing" work force. At the Garden, staff and apprentices supplemented Chadwick’s original efforts with new plantings of roses, citrus and apple trees, perennial borders, and California natives. The Farm grew to include tractor-cultivated row crops and orchards, as well as hand-worked garden beds, generating enough produce to support a small direct marketing and wholesale effort. Years before farmers markets were to become fixtures throughout the country, a "market cart" pulled by the Farm’s donkey to the base of campus offered fresh organically grown vegetables, fruit and flowers for sale to campus and community members.
Interest in the Farm & Garden spread as graduating students and apprentices took the message of organic farming and gardening into a larger arena. Articles in Life magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and the Washington Post generated national and international attention. Drawn by news of the successful, small-scale food-producing effort, visitors from around the world toured the projects. In 1978, News & Notes editor Louise Cain reported,
"Among recent visitors to the Farm were six African agricultural educators fostering small-scale agriculture to discourage the too rapid migration from tribal areas to the cities. Another day a tribal chief and traditional mayor from the island of Yap in the Caroline Islands arrived. They were interested in our vegetable gardening especially, since they saw comparable settings and situations to those in Yap." (18)