Living on a Farm, Market Gardening, & Moving to Reno

This is part three in a three-part series about my gardening journey. In this post, I share about my experiences in the UCSC Farm Apprenticeship program, managing a market garden and CSA program, and moving to Reno, NV. Read part two here.

Farming apprenticeship

After growing two backyard gardens in two years and with immense support from my community and family, I applied for a six-month residential farming and gardening apprenticeship at the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) (Awaswas / Amah Mutsun ancestral land). This meant I had to leave my amazing job at the UCSC Sustainability Office where I’d worked for many years. It was difficult to say goodbye, but I felt deeply pulled toward this opportunity to learn and work with not only my mind, but also my entire body. Gardening is embodied work, full of tangible, in-the-dirt learning that starkly contrasts with the mostly computer-based work I was doing previously.

While wrapping up my final two quarters at the University, I also took a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course through Santa Cruz Permaculture (to this day I’m still involved with Santa Cruz Permaculture’s programs through my work as a consultant). Less than a month after my PDC ended, in April 2017 I moved to a canvas and wood tent cabin on the UCSC CASFS Farm. My cabin opened up to views of the tractor fields and Monterey Bay. It was incredible.

The 2017 Uppies–folks who spent the final four weeks of the Apprenticeship in the “Up” Garden/Alan Chadwick Garden–with Chadwick Garden Manager and writer Orin Martin. This photo was taken right before our graduation ceremony at the end of the season.

For six months, I lived, learned, cooked, shared meals, and farmed alongside an inspiring cohort of apprentices. We became skilled at digging beds, sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings, making compost, cooking food for 50 people, harvesting vegetables, fruit and flowers, and so much more. There is so much to say about this experience, and you can read more about it here.

While I was in the apprenticeship, I also built two large keyhole raised bed gardens in my now-mother-in-law’s backyard with the help of my partner (now-husband). I planted lots of vegetables and some raspberry plants throughout the backyard, and it was fun to have a side project to tend to on weekends when I was in town visiting my partner. View photos of that garden here.

Market gardening in Santa Cruz

After the apprenticeship, I started a small market garden in the Santa Cruz Mountains  on the land where my husband grew up (Awaswas / Amah Mutsun ancestral land). It was tiny, a micro-market garden really, but I had so much fun designing the garden, digging beds, sowing seeds, transplanting, irrigating, troubleshooting issues like gophers, and creating a community supported agriculture (CSA) program to market my veggies and flowers to a few families in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties. It was a success, even though it didn’t generate much income.

At the same time, I worked part-time as a digital marketing consultant for two permaculture businesses in Santa Cruz, part-time for Stanford University’s residential sustainability office, and then part-time at the UCSC Sustainability Office again. Oh and I was planning our wedding and honeymoon to New Zealand that summer, too. We got married in November. My goodness, that was a busy and fulfilling year!

My husband and I moved to Reno after we returned from New Zealand, so at the end of the growing season, I put the garden to bed, entrusting it back in the care of my in-laws who now grow their own vegetables and flowers in that special place.

Garden art I created during a harvest morning at the market garden in the mountains.

Gardening in Reno

In my last couple of years of living in Reno (Wašiw / Washoe ancestral land), I’ve done a little bit of gardening, but nothing like what I did in 2017 and 2018. This year, however, I’m planning to grow many different vegetables and flowers on ~125 square feet in my backyard. I’ll also be tending various fruits and perennial plants along the borders of the yard: grapes, hops, strawberries, lavender, blackberries, and more! I will continue to share updates, best practices, questions, recommendations, and inspiration to my blog, social media, and newsletter. I invite you to join the conversation!

I’ll leave you now with an excerpt from my application to the CASFS Farm apprenticeship (which much of the above story was adapted from, as well):

“To this day, I recall with great detail my sense of wonder when I wandered through an organic garden at the outdoor education camp in Half Moon Bay where my fifth grade class spent a week. Our experiences with nature and the real world stay with us long after the memorized textbook information has disappeared from our memories.

“I want to provide opportunities for people of all ages to discover the joy of growing plants and connecting with the seasons. In addition to the food access and environmental sustainability benefits of learning to grow one’s own food, being connected with a plot of land, the climate, and the seasons through gardening can provide a deeper connection to what’s happening in our local communities from environmental degradation and global climate change, which can lead people to want to take action to create a more sustainable future.

“Ultimately, one of my life’s purposes that I began to identify with starting in high school was the desire to help people make the connection between the stewardship of our planet’s environment and climate and people’s livelihoods and dreams for their future. Our food system is full of opportunities for people to make that connection, and I want to focus my efforts in helping make those connections happen.”

It’s moving to read something you wrote years ago and feel something deep in your soul say “YES!” That’s how I feel when I re-read this. That’s why I’m still cultivating stories and soil and educational opportunities for people like you, for my children, for my family, and for my community.

Thank you for reading and being here! I wish you luck and joy and learning and growth in your own gardening journey.

For more information on all things gardening, as well as the displacement of Indigenous people from ancestral homelands and how to find out whose land you’re living on, visit my resource guide here.

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