Amy Courtney: Freewheelin' Farm

Cultivating a Movement

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Read the full text transcript (PDF) of the oral history with Amy Courtney.

285 Amy Courtney. Photo by Tana Butler.

Shareholders in Freewheelin’ Farm’s community supported agriculture program enjoy an unusual perk: delivery by bicycle-drawn trailer. Freewheelin’ founder Amy Courtney, a 1997 graduate of UCSC’s Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, strives to produce fresh, healthy food while minimizing her environmental footprint. Courtney started the farm in 2002 with almost no motorized vehicles, incorporating used equipment and recycled materials wherever possible in the farm’s operations. She and her current farming partners, Kirstin Yogg and Darryl Wong, still haul all of their CSA shares by bicycle six miles into Santa Cruz.

Courtney’s work as a farmer springs not only from a love of land and plants, but also from a commitment to social justice, community health, and cultural vitality. She majored in community studies as an undergraduate student at UCSC; before founding Freewheelin’ Farm, she worked with school gardens, Santa Cruz’s Homeless Garden Project, the United Farm Workers and the AFL-CIO, and an agricultural extension program in Cuba. Freewheelin’s website places the farm “at the forefront of the growing movement towards community renewal, addressing issues of environment, health, and social equity in a simple and delicious way.” The Freewheelin’ farmers have begun collaborating with “Food, What?!”—a youth empowerment program based at UCSC’s Life Lab Garden Classroom. Other cultural and educational initiatives at the farm have included an annual community art show, yoga classes, and cooking instruction with Zen Buddhist priest and Tassajara Bread Book author Edward Espe Brown.

Courtney’s long, low house sits on the original Freewheelin’ acre, a stretch of cultivated land between the Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean in northern Santa Cruz County. The house and land belong to Courtney’s friend and mentor Jim Cochran—proprietor of nearby Swanton Berry Farm, and the only organic farmer to have signed a United Farm Workers contract. Sarah Rabkin interviewed Courtney there on the late afternoon of January 16th, 2009: a day of clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine that heated Courtney’s southwest-facing living room—with its large windows looking over the ocean—to a tropical warmth. Courtney and her two farming partners were poised on the brink of big changes: they had just signed a lease for an additional parcel of land, multiplying the farm’s acreage eightfold, and they were laying plans to ramp up Freewheelin’s 40-share CSA to a membership of 100.

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