I am happy to be one of the lucky ones to grow up in a garden. My family always had a big plot, abundant with tall stalks of corn and tangles of tomato vines. We also had a fruit orchard and it might be argued that the amount apricots I consumed as a kid would have made me sick of them, but I’m not. The natural environment that surrounded me at my childhood home became the source and inspiration for every activity I engaged in, from solo picnics in the willow grove to inventing songs with the wildflowers.
In the 1970’s, a few years before I was born, my parents were among the founding few to start The Family School in the Santa Ynez Valley. This was an early incarnation of environmental education, and we learned by watching nature and applying those lessons to our school work. “Class” very often involved long hikes collecting various leaves and rocks, eating miner’s lettuce and sifting through sand, with much less time indoors than out. This awareness and appreciation for nature, and the access we easily had to it every single day at school, created a central core within me and my classmates (many of whom I am still in touch with and know they hold similar value to our early education). That core calls wild woods, meandering creeks and abundant gardens normal, and can’t imagine a world without them.
Some of my earliest memories revolve around these places of nature, and because of that, my life and work has been influence by those impressions in countless ways. A glittering ocean view from a hill above Santa Cruz is what brought me to UCSC. After graduating from the Community Studies Department in 2000, a farm along the majestic Eel River took me north to Emandal. It was there, working as a cook for kid’s and family camps, that a deeper connection to food as an expression of my already strong sense of the environment took hold. Even while living in San Francisco, racing along the dirty sidewalks and honking horns every day, that bigger theme of food propelled me in the Slow Food Nation office.
Since then, I’ve returned to a little property in the Santa Cruz Mountains to embody all I’ve learned along the way at a place called home. The corn and tomatoes are being planted right now, and instead of apricot trees, we have apples. Last harvest season brought us an amazing bounty, including our baby daughter Hazel. By this harvest, she may have a couple teeth to sink into those tomatoes and her very favorite thing is to watch the trees.
Being part of the Life Lab family feels like an extension of my own childhood, and I am so happy everyday to be able to come to work and know that I am translating that back into the world through all that we do here. I can perhaps be proof that the children who are fortunate enough to experience time at Life Lab, learning about the world through the garden, will likewise grow up to continue promoting that early influence…a crucial thing as we face more and more environmental devastation. Hazel is the newest addition to the Life Lab staff, joining me three days a week to spice up office life. When she gets fed up with emails and meetings, we simply go outside…