Robbie and Deena met while studying then teaching at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) on the UC Santa Cruz campus. While working the gardens and fields they realized that the combination of head, heart and body seemed just right for who they were as individuals and who they became as a team. Farming will be forever intriguing as there is more than a lifetime of knowledge to imbibe.
I am inspired by the deep connection humans have to the land. The potential of this connections led me to study sustainable agriculture and social change, a focus of the Community Studies major at UC Santa Cruz. I worked at the Homeless Garden Project and saw the garden as a tool to teach job skills, heal emotional wounds and nourish the body. It was not until I started learning the mechanics of organic agriculture that I realized I wanted to farm. By seeing the fields as a living canvas, I can fit into this place as an artist, observing then reacting. It is a feeling like I belong here instead of imposing myself that can bring forth deep inspiration to grow food and flowers for my community.
We have decided we would move on to other professions many times, usually during the spring. One spring I truly believed it would be our last, as our floating row cover had just been ripped from the fields and flung 300 feet into the trees. For weeks I tried to sort through the complexities of what I truly wanted and truly loved, and I kept coming back to flowers. It broke my heart thinking of not growing and designing flowers. I have fallen for their ephemeral beauty and how they soften the edges of the spaces that we live.
The house I was born in used to belong to a woman who moved from England. She brought with her a favorite deep purple bearded iris. By the time I was forming memories those iris were growing the length of our redwood garage. The subtly intoxicating smell of iris in the spring brings me back to when I was young and flowers were magic. I am still pulling apart blooms to look at their incredible flower parts like I did as a child, but now I am in awe of their perfection, when everything comes together to create a flower and I am there at sunrise to bring it to you.
At Cabrillo College on a bluff above the Pacific ocean, my interest was peaked. From propagating native plants to classes on lighting landscapes, I felt a desire to direct my next effort toward sustainable, organic agriculture. With an Associate of Science in Horticulture and Nursery Crop Production, and a respect for the complexities of the soil food web, with its ever evolving living systems, I moved to another hub of learning on a hill above the ocean. At CASFS, The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, I met people like me that felt a connection to plants and growing them.
Now here in the foothills of California, I’ve become more accustom to the hot summers and colder winters. In this hilly landscape, I am inspired by my local community of small scale farmers. They are able to produce so much from so little, each finding their own niche of site specific crops and creative enterprises.
We have continued to follow our love of flowers. My favorite flower memory is seeing a giant gunnera in bloom in a backyard garden in Santa Cruz. The flower was 3 feet tall, like a giant corncob dotted with tiny bright red fruit. I like looking closely at our living world, it is awe inspiring.
I hope in the future I am able to support a family from organic farming. Giving more then we take, side by side, present on this earth.
Where does the root of your sweet story begin? Before we even moved to the foothills to start Sweet Roots, we fell in love on an educational farm at UC Santa Cruz. Robbie was still teaching propagation in the program, (and I was having a go at my first flower farm, a ¼ acre of strange decisions), when we started dreaming about farm names. We knew the land we would start this dream was my family’s, tucked back between two creeks and an irrigation ditch. There was a south facing slope that used to have cattle grazing its pastures, we could gravity feed the field, and the soil tests came back as a clay loam. There wasn’t much more then that.
Should we name the farm after the creeks that cooled the warm summer air? Wolf or poor mans? The trees that filled in the north slopes and peppered the south facing fields? Black walnut, black or valley oak, ponderosa or digger pine, red alder, big leaf and ivy maple, willow, Oregon ash, incense cedar, fir, Madrone Farm? As we let these names roll around in our heads, I started thinking about how this farm was even starting. An agroecology program that inspired me then led me to meet the man I fell in love with. Our family’s belief in us, nourishing our crazy dream and my family giving us a blank canvas to create it on. Our farm was going to start because we loved the idea of farming and what it could mean to a community, it was going to start because we loved each other, and because our family loved us. A pretty sweet start, a sweet root, SWEET ROOTS!