Jerry Thomas grew up in the Los Angeles area and attended college at San Fernando Valley College (now California State University, Northridge), where he earned a master’s degree in urban/economic geography. He is a fifth-generation Californian on his mother’s side of the family. After a stint in the Peace Corps in Guyana, South America, Jerry and his wife, Jean (who also grew up in LA), wanted to leave smoggy and congested Los Angeles. They moved to the Santa Cruz area in 1970, and became back-to-the-landers on five acres of land in the foothills of Aptos.
In this oral history, conducted by Ellen Farmer on March 20 and May 7, 2007, at Thomas Farms, the Thomases describe how what began as a large garden grew into Thomas Farms, now one of the oldest organic farms in California. Jerry was invited to participate in Rodale’s organic certification program that pre-dated California Certified Organic Farmers, and was a founding member of California Certified Organic Farmers. He helped draft the first state organic legislation in 1979. Jerry has served as a County Farm Bureau director and as a member of the County Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, and frequently speaks at the Ecological Farming Association’s Eco-Farm conference. He has served on the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers’ Market board of directors.
Jean helps run Thomas Farms, and also teaches adult education courses in writing, science and math. A watercolor and monoprint artist, Jean serves on the Pajaro Valley Arts Council; in 2007 she curated Market Motion, an art show about the farmers’ markets in the Central Coast area.
The Thomases have represented the Community Alliance of Family Farmers (CAFF) as members of the Campaign to Save Pajaro Valley Farmlands and Wetlands. They mentor younger organic farmers, and participate in many local farmers’ markets, where their booths are distinguished by a dazzling plethora of colorful sunflowers, zinnias, irises, lilies and other cut flowers.