I was both honored and anxious when Full Circle Farm’s ED Wolfram Alderson asked me to write something about being the co-founder of Full Circle Farm. So many unresolved feelings, such a sense of loss – it’s hard to describe what it feels like when you voluntarily walk away from something, and yet that something is so near and dear to your heart that it feels like walking away from your child. When I left Full Circle Farm, a big part of me was heartbroken. But I knew I needed to do it – for my family, for my sanity, and for the farm to continue to grow and evolve far past what I could have ever imagined. Writing this was cathartic. I needed it, and I’m so glad to see the farms’ history come alive on the web thanks to Wolfram’s efforts!
Here’s what I wrote:
Taking part in the foundation of Full Circle Farm will always be one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. Together with an intrepid group of volunteers and Josh Salans – all-around visionary and the founder of Sustainable Community Gardens –we dared to dream what seemed nearly impossible: an urban, educational farm right smack dab in the middle of Silicon Valley.
These days, if you ask the average person on the street about local food or urban agriculture, usually you get a nod of agreement that locally produced food is a great thing for any community. Back in 2006-2007, this just wasn’t the case. Collecting signatures to gain support for the idea of Full Circle Farm, we mostly got a lot of blank stares. But our hours of clipboard-wielding persistence paid off and we eventually gathered over a thousand signatures from local supporters.
But the real challenge? Convincing the school board that we were on to something! Then-school board member Teresa O’Neill was the catalyst for the whole idea – her work with Save BAREC and farmer-activist Linda Perrine had inspired her to think differently about the school’s excess acreage – to look way beyond dollars-per-square-foot and imagine something wildly different than the greyscape that so much of our open space has become in the last 50 years.
Teresa put out the school board’s RFP for an organic, educational farm. I always had the feeling the other board members were mostly humoring her – the assumption was that the land would be leased to fee-based soccer leagues at a competitive price! All that changed though when our rag tag group came in with our 97-page proposal, our 1000 signatures, and our impassioned plea to keep the land in a form where it could benefit ALL children, not just the children than could afford organized sports programs.
In a surprise turnaround, the school board voted 6-1 for Full Circle Farm. I could have fallen out of my chair! I remember Josh turning to me, wide-eyed, and saying “Holy Crap! Now we have to start a farm!” My sentiments, exactly.
It was a dizzying experience, to have your vision for something so beautiful and good and world-changing to be set on the path to becoming reality. To this day, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the vision and faith the Santa Clara Unified School District showed that night.
In the whirlwind 3 years that followed, I wore many hats: grant writer, post-hole digger, garden educator, event planner, weed warrior, public speaker, produce washer, and even a terrifying 11 months as Interim Executive Director. Through it all, it was incredible to watch the farm come to life – red tailed hawks circling overhead, western bluebirds perched in the young orchard trees, lacewings and ladybugs flitting past, and killdeers nesting in the rows of glistening green vegetables. Seeing the ability of an organic farm to bring back wildlife to suburbia still astounds me!
In 2009, it was time for me to step down. I realized that I was burned out, and that I needed to let others take the torch. Stepping down, though bittersweet, allowed me to gain some much-needed sanity! I’m guessing that many of the early staff that have come and gone (and anyone who’s ever started something great!) would agree with me – starting something this big, and this important, is a tremendous experience. But the energy you need to put in to make it fly just can’t be maintained forever.
Through all the tremendous ups and downs, joys and frustrations, victories and defeats, I am left with one overwhelming feeling – gratitude. Gratitude for everyone I worked with, and gratitude to the land that fed my family, was a vast playground for my child, and nourished my soul. Today, when I take my daughter Helen to the garden and look out on those 11 acres, ever-evolving and blooming, I still pinch myself – it can’t be real, can it? I will forever feel blessed to have been a part of something so magical and extraordinary.