Richard Merrill is perhaps best known for editing the 1976 anthology Radical Agriculture, a formative text in the sustainable agriculture movement, along with the 1978 Energy Primer: Solar, Water, Wind, and Biofuels. Merrill was born in San Mateo, California, in 1941, and earned his MS in population biology at UCLA, studying with ecologist Monte Lloyd just as the modern ecology movement gathered power. He went on to study ecology at the Ph.D. level with another eminent ecologist, Joe Connell, at UC Santa Barbara, but left the academy to dedicate his life to the community-based teaching and activism that he considered more relevant during that time of tumultuous social change. He was profoundly inspired by the writings of the anarchist social ecologist Murray Bookchin.
Merrill helped start the El Mirasol urban organic farm in Santa Barbara, California. In 1975, he founded the Environmental Horticulture Department at Cabrillo College, which he directed until retiring in 2005. While at Cabrillo, Merrill mentored and inspired several generations of students, who went on to become organic farmers, gardeners, and activists in the Central Coast region and beyond.
Currently Merrill runs his own environmental consulting service, Merrill Associates. He recently co-authored (with Joe Ortiz) The Gardener’s Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking. He is now editing an anthology called The Greening of Agriculture: Creating a More Sustainable Future for our Food and Farms. Merrill spoke at The Organic Summit conference’s plenary session in Washington state in 2009.
Ellen Farmer conducted this oral history with Richard Merrill at her house in Santa Cruz, California, on April 18 and June 20, 2007.