Embrace Freshness, Support Local: Thornapple CSA's New Journey Begins!

Organic Pioneers: Inspiring the Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Organic Pioneers: Inspiring the Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers

From Tomato-Picking to Feeding the Future: My Journey to Becoming a Sustainable Farming Advocate

When I was just a teenager, my very first job was laboring on an iconic organic farm in Santa Cruz, California called Molina Creek. While some of my peers might have run for the hills at the thought of spending their summer picking tomatoes and sugar snap peas, that experience actually revealed the lifelong passion that would guide the rest of my journey.

As that summer came to a close and I headed back to school, I found myself an enthusiastic new student in the agroecology course at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There, I had the privilege of training under Steve Gliessman, a pioneering academic whose book Agroecology: The Ecology of Sustainable Food Systems established the framework for a human-centered, ecological approach to agriculture over the past four decades.

But as valuable as that formal education was, it was the people I lived with, gardened with, and learned alongside on the campus farm that truly solidified my passion for this work. Through those relationships, I came to understand the profound importance of cultivating a sustainable food system – one that nourishes both people and the planet. That understanding would go on to shape the rest of my journey.

Lessons from a Biodynamic Homestead

The following year, I spent 12 months at Camp Joy, a four-acre biodynamic homestead run by a mentor of mine, Jim Nelson. Jim himself had been mentored by Alan Chadwick, a visionary British gardener who brought organic farming to the West Coast in the 1960s.

Camp Joy was a pristine example of the ecologically-driven, community-run model that I had studied in college. Jim’s approach demonstrated an impressive range of diversity, seamlessly integrating vegetables, fruit, flowers, and animals in a closed-loop system. But beyond the operational details, what struck me most was Jim’s commitment to growing things outside the bounds of convention.

Rather than limiting his production to familiar standards for the sake of market familiarity, Jim sought out crops with a story behind them – like the Padrón peppers he had sourced from a friend who smuggled the seeds from northern Spain. This was 20 years before you began seeing these specialty items on the menus of premium restaurants in the Bay Area.

Camp Joy also had a strong cottage industry element to its culture. The farm was a hive of activity, with students constantly collecting and sharing information. Nothing went to waste – if we couldn’t sell it at the market, it was roasted, dried, preserved, or fermented into a new value-added product. The pantry was massive, packed with everything from windfall apple butter to roasted chiles to homemade vinegar. Even the kitchen ceiling was filled with flowers hung to dry, ready for the big weekend celebration when the public would come to experience the harvest.

Bringing the Lessons Home

All of these elements – the integrated diversity, the value-added production, and the emphasis on mentorship and community – have gone into the farming model that I’ve built at Thornapple CSA. While the scale of our operation is very different from Camp Joy, the foundational principles are the same.

In fact, mentorship is a particularly crucial component of our approach. Earlier this year, we launched our Farm Apprenticeship program, taking on eight young people with a passion for changing the food system. But our goal isn’t just to educate and train new farmers – it’s to create a culture around the philosophy and practices that define a regenerative lifestyle.

As leaders in this movement, we see it as our responsibility to model that lifestyle by giving more than we take. Through our mentorship, we aim to demonstrate the power of collaboration for change, and to dismantle the concept of the “impossible.”

After all, as a young person with big dreams, you need more than just people telling you that you can do it. You need to see people actually accomplishing what others say can’t be done. And that’s exactly what we strive to offer our apprentices – a daily demonstration of what’s possible when you apply ecological principles to the way we grow and consume food.

Mentorship as the “Secret Ingredient”

Mentorship, you see, is different from education or training in that it’s fundamentally relationship-based. By leading our apprentices through genuine connection and guidance, we’re able to show them the true power of collaborating for change.

That relationship-based approach is crucial for inspiring the next generation to make even greater strides than we dare to imagine today. Mentorship turns people from passive participants into empowered change-makers. It shifts the question from “Can I be successful at this?” to “If I don’t do this for my community, who will?”

In mainstream culture today, mentorship isn’t readily accessible for most young people. With the exception of a few specific niches in academia or the professional sphere, it can be difficult to find guidance toward creating a meaningful, impactful life.

But at Thornapple CSA, we’ve made mentorship a top priority across our entire organization. From the intergenerational wisdom we glean from our community elders, to the focused guidance we receive from experts in their fields, to the cultural and spiritual leadership that shapes our community gatherings – mentorship is woven into every aspect of what we do.

And in our Farm Apprenticeship program specifically, that mentorship extends far beyond the practical, hands-on training. We want to follow our apprentices’ journeys and support them long after their time with us is done. Instead of simply training them and wishing them good luck, we aim to incubate them, hire them when possible, and equip them to pursue their passions – all while continuing to build a culture that sustains their endeavors.

Because at the end of the day, we don’t just want Thornapple CSA to be a workplace for our apprentices. We want it to be a place they can always call home.

Cultivating a Connected Culture

The relationships that formed the foundation of my own early education are what really set me on the path toward the work that has defined my life. To this day, mentorship remains essential to how I live, grow, and evolve. I’m fortunate to have a dozen or so trusted mentors in my life, from my creative partner and wife, Kristin, to the wise business leader and Thornapple board chair, Joe Baird.

Rather than operating in a silo like so many organization founders, I’ve found it essential to surround myself with a group of people I can consistently lean on for support and guidance. Their mentorship allows me to better serve as a mentor, collaborator, and change-maker myself.

Not everyone may want to be a farmer, but everyone wants to learn how to create a meaningful, impactful life. And mentorship is the secret ingredient that can help us build the connected culture with the capacities needed for a healthy present and an abundant future.

So if you’re passionate about sustainable agriculture and cultivating a more regenerative food system, I encourage you to seek out mentorship opportunities – whether that’s joining our Farm Apprenticeship program here at Thornapple CSA, or finding your own network of seasoned guides to support your journey.

Because the truth is, we all have a role to play in inspiring the next generation of organic pioneers. The future of our food, our planet, and our communities depends on it.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

Follow On

Subscrive Our Newsletter
To Get More Updates

© 2023 Thornapplecsa.com. All Rights Reserved