Introduction to Cultivating a Movement

"I tell the world that the organic movement started in California, in Santa Cruz County.”

—Congressmember Sam Farr, co-chair of the Congressional Organic Caucus

555Harley Farms Goat Dairy. Photo by Sarah Rabkin.

Monocultured rows of lettuce, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, strawberries and other chemically grown crops still dominate much of the coastal country of the Monterey Bay area. But tucked away along rivers, bluffs, and canyons, and even within city limits, another, alternative agricultural landscape is emerging. The land tells this story through the voices of those who farm the soil and devote their lives to the sustainable agriculture and organic farming movement. The farms—Pie Ranch, Harley Farms Goat Dairy, Swanton Berry Farm, Love Apple, Mariquita, La Milpa . . . The organizations—California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, the Ecological Farming Association, the Wild Farm Alliance, the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association, the Homeless Garden Project, Life Lab Science Program . . . Behind the names of these farms and organizations extends a synergistic and often visionary web of farmers, activists, educators, and researchers—an astonishingly multifaceted, interdependent community of change-makers that inspired this oral history endeavor.


Launching an Oral History Project

The Regional History Project is an archival oral history program based at the University Library at UC Santa Cruz. Since 1964, we have been documenting the history of the campus and of the Central Coast of California, a region that roughly encompasses southern San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, Santa Cruz County, northern Monterey County, and San Benito County. One of our major areas of research has been agricultural history. [i]

In 2002, Maya Hegege, a former Ecological Horticulture apprentice, completed an independent study oral history project under the direction of our program in which she conducted interviews with four key figures in the founding period of the UCSC Farm and Garden. [ii] Widespread interest in this published volume, combined with our awareness of the strong roots of the flourishing sustainable agriculture movement on the Central Coast, inspired us to begin this newer, much more comprehensive oral history project in 2007.

Finite resources meant limiting the project to fifty-eight interviews with farmers, activists, researchers, and educators. Though one-on-one interviews are usually the preferable format for oral history, several of our narrators farm and do organizing work as husband-and-wife teams, and we respected their request to be interviewed together. The oral histories were conducted according to the best practices of the Oral History Association. [iii] The interviewers did background research and custom-designed topic outlines for each interview, generally asking open-ended questions. Each of the four interviewers brought her unique background to this project. (See “About the Project Team” for biographies of the interviewers.) Most of the interviews lasted between two and four hours, though some were shorter and some longer. The interviews were recorded in digital audio using a professional level compact flash (digital) recorder and external microphones.

The interviews were transcribed and lightly edited for punctuation and paragraphing, and returned to the narrators for their editing and approval. The transcripts are published in PDF format on the UCSC Library’s website ( and in print as a series of archival volumes donated to regional libraries and other repositories.

As an archival project associated with a research library, our intention is to provide primary source material for others to use in their research and creative endeavors. We hope that this project will inspire similar oral histories both in this region and across the world, as to date, little oral history of sustainable agriculture and organic farming has been completed. We also invite feedback on this project, please email or call 831-459-2847.

We want this collection to be a valuable resource to both academic and non-academic writers and educators, as well as to farmers and activists, and we invite quotation of the oral histories within “fair use” guidelines. Please read the “use policy” carefully to avoid copyright infringement. [iv]


A Word on Terminology

“Sustainable agriculture” or “organic farming”? We used both terms because these movements both overlap and diverge; the distinctions between them are the subject of heated taxonomic debate. The interviews in this collection sometimes spotlight contested ground without resolving these inevitable clashes of value and ideology in a young and emerging field. 

“Organic farming” is a legal term regulated through state and now federal organic certification standards. The movement toward organic certification originated in the 1970s with small associations of organic farmers who were angry when a few conventional farmers fraudulently represented their products as organic, and received the higher price that organic food fetches on the market. “Sustainable agriculture” is a broader term than organic farming, and perhaps more difficult to define. [v] The University of California’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program [UC SAREP] asserts that “sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals—environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity…Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” [vi] Agroecology, a subset of sustainable agriculture that emphasizes the application of ecological principles to the cultivation of crops, plays a major role on the UC Santa Cruz campus and in this region, largely due to the efforts of agroecologist Steve Gliessman.


Overview of the Oral Histories

A short introduction to the narrator appears at the beginning of each interview transcript, along with an “additional resources” list of books, articles, websites, and other information sources relevant to that interview. This introduction highlights in a broader fashion the major topics and themes covered in Cultivating a Movement. The names of all narrators appear in boldface type in the following overview. We have designated some overarching categories on the website and in the printed volumes to give organization and shape to this large collection. But many of the narrators move through multiple arenas of this movement—farming, research, activism, and education; hence their names will appear more than once on the website. The less fluid media of the printed volumes also obscures the eclectic activities of most of the narrators. For example, Sam Earnshaw and Jo Ann Baumgartner’s transcript is in the volume on “Organizers, Researchers, and Policymakers,” but could have also appeared in one of the Organic/Sustainable Farms volumes. Rebecca Thistlethwaite’s oral history appears in the volume dedicated the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association, but could also have been collected in the volume on Organic/Sustainable Farmers. In many ways, this is a movement of farmer-activists that defies easy categorization and perhaps resonates with an earlier, less specialized era of American history.

Each digital interview transcript is searchable, and the archive as a whole is also keyword- and full-text- searchable across interviews through the library’s CONTENTdm system. (See )


Non-Governmental Organizations

In March 1971, Robert Rodale of Organic Farming and Gardening magazine sent several staff members to California to launch an organic certification program that “identified fifty-six certified organic California growers.” [viii]

This effort ultimately evolved into the independent California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) organization based in Santa Cruz, California. CCOF’s standards for organic certification were later used as a template in the United States and internationally. This oral history series collects the firsthand recollections of many of the visionary farmer-activists who founded CCOF on the Central Coast. The first interview conducted was with Barney Bricmont, who ran CCOF on a volunteer basis from 1975 to 1985. The farmers gathered around his dining room table, the same table where Ellen Farmer set up her recording equipment more than thirty years after those early meetings commenced. Later Farmer interviewed Mark Lipson, CCOF’s first paid staff member, who described the evolution of the organization, and provided an up-close view of the political battles to pass legislation supporting organic farming at the state and federal levels over the past thirty years. In another oral history, CongressmemberSam Farr (D-California) described how he and Lipson worked on the 1990 California Organic Foods Act (COFA). Farmer and biologist Zea Sonnabend was an inspector for CCOF and served on the CCOF board that developed the first organic certification standards and materials list in California. Russel and Karen Wolter and Betty Van Dyke, founding farmers of CCOF, grew up on farms with parents who refused to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides long before the current organic movement. Their experience offered a living link back to an era predating the rise of chemical agriculture, providing invaluable expertise and inspiration to the novice “back-to-the-land” organic farmers who began farming in the early 1970s. The project encompasses many other farmers who helped shape CCOF over the years, including Janet Brians and her son Grant Brians, Jerry and Jean Thomas, Amigo Bob Cantisano, Dale Coke, Ken Kimes and Sandra Ward, Reggie Knox, Wendy Krupnick, and Jeff Larkey. CCOF’s first Executive Director, Bob Scowcroft, extensively described the early history of the organization.

In 1992, Scowcroft left CCOF to start another powerful Santa Cruz-based organization, the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). OFRF’s “grantmaking, policy, education and networking initiatives support organic farmers’ immediate information needs while moving the public and policymakers toward greater investment in organic farming systems.” The foundation’s key publications include Mark Lipson’s [ix] “Searching for the ‘O-Word’: Analyzing the USDA Current Research Information System for Pertinence to Organic Farming,” and Jane Sooby’s “State of the States: Organic Systems Research at Land Grant Institutions.” OFRF also conducts a National Organic Farmers’ Survey; organizes the Organic Farmers Action Network, which helps farmers communicate with Congress on policy issues that affect organic farmers and ranchers; and convenes the Scientific Congress on Organic Agricultural Research (SCOAR), which they describe on their website as “a collaboration of producers, scientists, and others who plan and promote research and information exchange for understanding and improving organic agricultural systems.” In his oral history, Scowcroft describes these multiple initiatives. A spokesperson for the organic farming movement, Scowcroft is often cited in the national media. His oral history is a colorful, behind-the-scenes, in-the-trenches look at watershed political developments in the organic movement over the past thirty years.

Another Central Coast-based organization with national significance is the Life Lab Science Program, which since its formation as a non-profit organization in 1979 has become a national leader in sustainable, garden-centered science curricula. Life Lab is currently established in over thousand schools nationwide and has won recognition for its programs from the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Science Teachers Association. Interviews with Life Lab founder Robbie Jaffe, Executive Director Gail Harlamoff, Educational Director Erika Perloff, and Life Lab teacher Amy Katzenstein-Escobar form an important part of this oral history project.

Another visionary organization active in garden-based education is Pie Ranch: A Rural Center for Urban Renewal, run by Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson. Pie Ranch bridges the world of inner-city teenagers with the rural environment of a coastal farm through hands-on learning about food production. Mission Pie, a pastry shop in the Mission district of San Francisco, serves as an urban link to Pie Ranch and to other local farms.

Founded in 1990 by activists including UCSC Professor of Philosophy Paul Lee (who also helped bring Alan Chadwick to UCSC to begin the Student Garden Project), the Homeless Garden Project is a national model program, represented here by interviews with Director Darrie Ganzhorn and Farm Manager Paul Glowaski. This program provides three-year paid apprenticeships in organic farming for people who are homeless, runs a community supported agriculture project which provides local organic food to the Santa Cruz community, and oversees the Women’s Organic Flower Enterprise, where trainees learn to dry herbs and flowers and design wreaths sold in the project’s retail shop. The Homeless Garden Project was recognized as a model program by World Hunger Year, as a leader in the fight against hunger and poverty.

The Wild Farm Alliance is a national non-profit organization located in Watsonville, California, dedicated to increasing biodiversity by expanding the idea and practice of wild farms. Director Jo Ann Baumgartner’s recent research centers on how food safety practices for leafy greens production are in fact increasing the risk of pathogens by destroying vegetation and wildlife habitat, particularly in California’s Salinas Valley. Baumgartner’s husband, Sam Earnshaw, is Central Coast regional coordinator of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF). Working with CAFF’s farmscaping program, Earnshaw helps farmers plant hedgerows and create grass waterways, improving production while increasing biodiversity and wildlife habitat on their lands. Narrator Reggie Knox coordinated CAFF’s Lighthouse Farm Network, connecting a statewide pool of growers, advisors, researchers, and other agricultural professionals interested in reducing pesticide use; he eventually became CAFF’s state program director. Knox currently works with California FarmLink, helping keep the state’s farmland in agricultural production while connecting farmers with technical and financial assistance as well as affordable land.

Also based in Watsonville, California, the Ecological Farming Association has organized the Ecological Farming Conference (Eco-Farm) for over three decades. Eco-Farm is the largest sustainable agriculture conference in the Western United States, bringing “food system stakeholders together for education, networking and celebration.” [x] Cultivating a Movement includes an extensive interview with Amigo Bob Cantisano, founder of Eco-Farm in 1981. In the late 1980s, Cantisano made history as the first professional organic farming advisor in the United States. The New York Times called him “one of the most important figures in California organic agriculture.” [xi] Cantisano narrates his long and varied history in organic farming, natural food co-ops, food distribution networks, and other aspects of the movement.

A substantial portion of this project is devoted to interviews documenting over forty years of history of UCSC’s Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), which began as a student garden project in 1967 when master horticulturalist Alan Chadwick arrived from England. Sometimes called a “Pied Piper, a Johnny Appleseed, or a single-minded visionary,” [xii]

Chadwick was recruited in 1967 to start a student garden project by a group of UCSC faculty and by founding Chancellor Dean McHenry, who grew up on a farm in Lompoc, California. The campus was in its infancy, having opened its doors only two years earlier. The son of a British aristocrat, Chadwick was a Shakespearean actor and a follower of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who developed the theory of biodynamic agriculture in the early twentieth century. Chadwick also studied the French intensive (double-digging, raised-bed) method of gardening in the countryside outside of Paris. At UC Santa Cruz, he introduced his unique hybrid of French intensive and biodynamic systems of food and flower production to the United States. Working with hand tools and organic amendments, Chadwick and his student assistants transformed a brushy hill above one of the main campus roads into a garden bursting with flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees.

After Chadwick’s departure from UCSC in the early 1970s, a farm was established in the meadows of the lower campus; a more formal training program known as the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture began, and the Student Garden Project expanded to become the UCSC Farm and Garden. Today the combined enterprise includes twenty-five acres of hand-dug garden beds, tractor-tilled row crop fields, research fields, orchards, greenhouses, a laboratory, and classroom and offices. Known as the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), this institution is internationally recognized for its research, education, and public service programs dedicated to achieving ecological sustainability and social justice in the food and agriculture system. To date, more than 1400 apprentice farmers have learned soil management, composting, pest control, crop planning, irrigation, farm equipment, marketing techniques, and community supported agriculture (CSA) practices, and spread this philosophy and method of gardening and farming across the United States and beyond. Former apprentices found their own organic farms and market gardens, establish community gardens for inner city and prison populations, develop school gardening programs, and participate in international development projects.

Narrators Steve Kaffka, Beth Benjamin, Heidi Skolnik, Wendy Krupnick, and Jim Nelson were part of the Chadwick era in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1981, Steve Gliessman founded the UCSC Agroecology Program (later re-named CASFS). Lyn Garling was apprentice coordinator from 1984 to 1992. Farm Manager Jim Leap, Researcher Sean Swezey, and Chadwick Garden Manager Orin Martin have deep and varied associations with CASFS. Husband-and-wife team Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson, now co-owners (with colleague Karen Heisler) of Pie Ranch, were both apprentices at the Farm. Vail oversaw farm operations with Jim Leap and managed the CSA program that Lawson had inaugurated in 1995. Tim Galarneau is Farm-to-College Project Coordinator for CASFS. Ugandan sustainability activist Godfrey Kasozi is a recent graduate of CASFS’s apprenticeship program, as are Amy Courtney and Paul Glowaski. Current Director Patricia Allen is one of the nation’s most prominent scholars on social aspects of food production, distribution, and access, and under her leadership, CASFS is broadening its focus to include more research on the social aspects of sustainable agriculture. 


Distributors, Retailers, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farms

Jered Lawson’s interview describes the community supported agriculture movement (CSA), in which he has been a central figure for many years. CSA (a program in which eaters pay for a share in a farm and in return receive a weekly box of produce) another vital and growing sector of the sustainable agriculture movement in this region, is a major subject in interviews with Andy Griffin, Amy Courtney, Paul Glowaski, J. P. Perez, and Maria Inés Catalán.


Leaders in Organic and Sustainable Farming

Jim Cochran began Swanton Berry Farm in 1983 because he wanted to try to grow strawberries organically; he became the first commercial certified organic strawberry farmer in California. Swanton Berry Farm is also famous as the first certified organic farm in the United States to sign a labor contract with the United Farm Workers (UFW). Attracted by the organic price premium, Dick Peixoto decided to transition to organic farming and began Lakeside Gardens on a 55-acre farm in Watsonville in 1996. He exemplifies a recent type of organic farmer who, after a long career in conventional farming, transitions to organics for a mixture of reasons. Nancy Gammons co-manages Four Sisters Farm, which she and her husband Robin named in honor of their daughters. They grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers on five rolling acres in Aromas, California. Drew Goodman is CEO and co-founder, with his wife, Myra, of Earthbound Farm, based in San Juan Bautista, California. Two years after its 1984 inception on 2.5 Carmel Valley acres, Earthbound became the first successful purveyor of pre-washed salads bagged for retail sale. The company now produces more than 100 varieties of certified organic salads, fruits, and vegetables on a total of about 33,000 acres, with individual farms ranging from 5 to 680 acres in California, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Mexico, Canada, and Chile. Andy Griffin runs Mariquita (“Ladybug”) Farm on 25 acres in Watsonville and Hollister. With farming roots reaching into California’s 1970s organic-farming renaissance, he has plenty of stories to tell.

In the village of Pescadero, 45 minutes’ drive north of Santa Cruz, Dee Harley runs San Mateo County’s only active dairy, and a successful agritourism site. Harley and her staff care for a herd of more than 200 American Alpine goats, crafting the animals’ milk into sought-after cheeses that have consistently garnered awards at national and international competitions. Jim Rider grows seventy-five acres of apple varieties well suited to the local climate. Rider converted all of his orchards to organic production in the wake of the 1989 public outcry over the use of the chemical Alar in apples. He collaborated with UC entomologist Sean Swezey in ten years of organic field research trials; together they pioneered a pheromone-based mating-disruption system to control codling moth infestation. Cynthia Sandberg is proprietor of Love Apple Farm—an establishment unique among Central Coast small farms in its combination of biodynamic techniques, an exclusive supply relationship with a single high-end restaurant, a focus on heirloom tomatoes, a rich public offering of on-farm classes, and a successful Internet-based marketing strategy. With her husband, Jim Dunlop, Rebecca Thistlethwaite runs TLC Ranch on twenty rented acres in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County. TLC currently raises pork, lamb, and certified organic eggs. Jeff Larkey runs Route One Farms, one of the oldest and most established organic farms on the Central Coast. In addition to his policy work with OFRF and CCOF, Mark Lipson dry farms tomatoes at Molino Creek Farming Cooperative in the hills above Davenport, California.

Larry Jacobs co-founded Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo with his wife, Sandra Belin. Jacobs Farm, located in Pescadero, California, is now the largest organic culinary herb grower in the United States. Larry and Sandra worked with a cooperative of family farmers in Baja California, Mexico, to start the Del Cabo organic growers association, which now provides an international market for organic vegetables grown in Baja California and shipped north, especially during the winter season. In 2008, Jacobs won a landmark pesticide drift case against pesticide application company Western Farm Service, Inc. The Santa Cruz County court found that the contamination of organic crops caused by pesticides drifting after application by this company violated the rights of the organic crop grower. Jacobs’ narration of the events surrounding that case is a critical part of his oral history.


Researchers and Educators

 A founder of the field of agroecology, Stephen Gliessman authored Agroecology: Ecological Processes in Sustainable Agriculture, the first textbook in this field. He directed the Agroecology Program at UC Santa Cruz for twenty years and holds the Alfred E. Heller Endowed Chair in Agroecology within the Environmental Studies Department. Gliessman writes extensively on agroecology, sustainable agriculture, and traditional agriculture in Mexico. Since 1999, Gliessman has taught the International Short Course in Agroecology, offered in Latin America and the United States in alternating years. Gliessman is the co-founder (with his wife, Roberta Jaffe, who is also one of the narrators for this project) of the Community Agroecology Network (CAN), a non-profit organization developing a network of Latin American rural communities and North American consumers, researchers, and activists working to support self-sufficiency and sustainable farming practices. CAN also helps communities mail direct market coffee to consumers across the U.S.

A groundbreaking theorist in the field of organic farming and energy sustainability and creator of Cabrillo College’s Horticultural Program, Richard Merrill edited Radical Agriculture, a collection of essays with historic impact in the 1970s, as well as co-authoring Energy Primer: Solar, Water, Wind and Biofuels (1978), and The Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking (Ten Speed Press, 2000).

Another leading scholar in the field of sustainable agriculture is sociologist Patricia Allen. Her research and scholarship address labor, gender, and access to food. Allen is the author of Together at the Table: Sustainability and Sustenance in the American Agrifood System (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), an incisive study of aspects of alternative food movements such as farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, and urban agriculture. Allen’s book challenged the sustainable agriculture movement to include working conditions for farm workers and food processors, gender and racial inequity, and lack of food security in low-income communities on its agenda. 


Women Farmers

According to the USDA 2007 Census of Agriculture, over thirty percent of farms in the United States are operated at least partially by women, and fourteen percent are principally operated by a woman. The number of women farmers overall increased by nineteen percent between 2002 and 2007, and the number of women who are principal operators of a farm increased by almost thirty percent. [xiii] The large representation of women in this oral history series is testimony to the growing participation of women in farming as well as many other aspects of sustainable food systems, including interviews with over twenty-five women farmers, activists, researchers, and educators.


Latino/a Farmers: Another Growing Sector

While the city of Santa Cruz itself is seventy-eight percent white, other areas of the Central Coast are primarily Latino. [xiv] It is no accident that the groundbreaking Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), which “provides educational and business opportunities for farm workers and aspiring farmers to grow and sell crops,” is located in this region. [xv] According to ALBA, there are now 264 Latino-operated farms in Monterey County. [xvi] Working with primarily Latino and Hmong farmers, ALBA runs two organic training farms in Monterey County. The affiliated ALBA Organics trains ALBA farmers in produce sales and distribution through marketing and delivering ALBA’s produce throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including institutions like UCSC Dining Services, Stanford University, and Dominican Hospital. Narrator Rebecca Thistlethwaite worked for ALBA as a program director for many years.

 “A total of 55,570 US farms had a principal operator of Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino origin in 2007, up ten percent from 2002,” notes the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, with the greatest percentage in the Western United States, including about eleven percent of farmers in California. [xvii] In their oral histories, MaríaLuz Reyes, Florentino Collazo, JP Perez, and María Inés Catalándescribe ALBA’s training program and their continued development as farmers after graduation. José Montenegro, who developed ALBA’s organic farming training program in the 1990s, went on to begin Proyecto de Arraigo, a program that offers training and resources to farmers in rural Mexico. Roy Fuentes, an independent grower who farms organic berries for Driscoll’s, a company with a reputation for providing partnership opportunities for Mexican American farmers, discusses his experiences growing for a large company.


Young Farmers and Activists

While the 2007 U.S. agriculture census found that more than one quarter of all farmers in the country are sixty-five or older, a new movement is afoot across the United States, as young people take up organic farming as a career. The Central Coast of California has had a significant impact on this movement; many of these new farmers complete apprenticeships at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, study agroecology at UCSC, and attend the Ecological Farming Conference each January. “On Tiny Plots, A New Generation of Farmers Emerges,” wrote USA Today. [xviii] “As the nation experiences a groundswell of interest in sustainable lifestyles, we see the promising beginnings of an agricultural revival,” the makers of a documentary-in-progress to be called “ The Greenhorns” write on their website, “Young farmers' efforts feed us safe food, conserve valuable land, and reconstitute communities split apart by strip malls. It is the filmmakers' hope that by broadcasting the stories and voices of these young farmers, we can build the case for those considering a career in agriculture—to embolden them, to entice them, and to recruit them into farming.” Several of the narrators in our oral history have received national attention for their contributions to this emerging sector of the sustainable agriculture movement. Amy Courtney (age thirty-five), of Freewheelin’ Farm, is featured in The Greenhorns film. Narrator Juan (JP) Perez (age twenty-six), of J&P Organics, was featured in an article on young farmers in the spring 2009 issue of YES magazine. [xix] Paul Glowaski (age thirty) manages the farm for the Homeless Garden Project, a program recently recognized as one of the Top 10 Urban Farms by Natural Home magazine. [xx] Nesh Dhillon (age thirty-eight) manages the Santa Cruz Farmers’ Markets. Mother Jones magazine recently called twenty-nine year old Tim Galarneau the “Alice Waters of a burgeoning movement of campus foodies.” Galarneau represents current cutting-edge efforts, largely youth-driven, to transform institutional economic and institutional relationships in the provision and distribution of food, especially between farms and institutions. 


Hope for the Future

Oral history interviews are imprinted by the historical moment in which they are recorded. As this four-year project unfolded, so did a remarkable and sometimes alarming series of events that shaped the conversations with these narrators, and the future of organic/sustainable agriculture in and beyond California

In August 2006, as project planning began, a load of organic baby spinach from the Paicines Ranch in San Benito County contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 was mixed in with several other batches of spinach being processed and packed into six-ounce bags. Within a few weeks, over two hundred people fell ill, and many ended up in the hospital. Two elderly women and a young child died from acute kidney failure. Just as organic and conventional growers were reeling economically and psychologically from the effects of this outbreak, interviewing began. Six months after the outbreak, a coalition of large farmers released the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement, the ecological and economic effects of which are discussed by some of our narrators. Then in March and April of 2007, pet foods that incorporated melamine-contaminated wheat gluten grown in China caused illness or death from kidney disease in several hundred American cats and dogs. This stimulated a pet food recall and concerns about melamine contamination of both the human and pet food supplies, both in China and beyond. Around the same time, the Light Brown Apple Moth was detected in Central California; quarantine measures and a program of aerial spraying of proprietary synthetic pheromone pesticides over urban and suburban areas unleashed a storm of controversy, centered in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, that affected these interviews.

The interview period was also marked by wild fluctuations in the price of petroleum; sharp increases in the world prices for rice, wheat, maize, and soybeans that caused a series of international food riots in the spring and summer of 2008; water shortages in California; the election of President Barack Obama, and the arrival of the worst economic recession to hit the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s. When we set out to do this project, we did not realize that the interviews themselves would be capturing this tumultuous period in American history. While living through these turbulent times, all of the interviewers felt a great sense of hope as we listened to and learned from these women and men devoting their skill and intelligence to transforming the food system.

[i] See

[ii] See Hegege and Jarrell (cited above).


[iv] Under “fair use” standards, excerpts of up to six hundred words (per interview) may be used without the Regional History Project’s permission as long as the materials are properly cited. A sample citation would read: “Excerpted from Rebecca Thistlethwaite: TLC Ranch and the Agriculture & Land-Based Training Association, a transcribed interview conducted by Sarah Rabkin and included in Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming and Sustainable Agriculture, an oral history series published by the University of California, Santa Cruz Library’s Regional History Project, 2010: Quotations of more than six hundred words require the written permission of the University Librarian and a proper citation and may also require a fee. Under certain circumstances, not-for-profit users may be granted a waiver of the fee.

[v] For an excellent overview of the debates over defining sustainable agriculture we recommend Alternative Farming Systems Information Center librarian Mary Gold’s excellent publication “Sustainable Agriculture: Definitions and Terms.” Gold explains that “Supporters of sustainable agriculture come from diverse backgrounds, academic disciplines, and farming practices. Their convictions as to what elements are acceptable or not acceptable in a sustainable farming system sometimes conflict. They also disagree on whether sustainable agriculture needs defining at all.”


[vii] See

[viii]  Steffen, Robert, Floyd, Allen, and James Foote, eds. 1972 Organic Farming: Methods and Markets. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press, cited in Guthman, Julie, Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California (University of California Press, 2004) p. 25

[ix] Lipson left CCOF to become OFRF’s senior policy analyst.


[xi]  Verlyn Klinkenborg, “Amigo Cantisano’s Organic Dream,” New York Times, March 10, 1996.

[xii] See Maya Hegege and Randall Jarrell, eds. The Early History of the UCSC Farm and Garden, (Regional History Project, University Library, UC Santa Cruz, 2003).

[xiii] See

[xiv] For more on the various ethnic communities of the Central Coast, see: Donna Mekis and Kathryn Mekis Miller, Blossoms Into Gold: Croatians in the Pajaro Valley (Capitola Book Company 2009); Sandy Lydon, Chinese Gold: The Chinese in the Monterey Bay Region (Capitola Book Company, (revised edition, 2008); Sandy Lydon, The Japanese in the Monterey Bay Region: A Brief History (Capitola Book Company, 1997); Linda Yamane, ed. A Gathering of Voices: The Native Peoples of the California Central Coast, Santa Cruz County History Journal, Issue Number 5; Ivano Franco Comelli, La Nostra Costa (Authorhouse 2006). See also the collections at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association in Watsonville , the oral histories done by the Regional History Project ( ) as well as other material at UCSC Special Collections; the collections at the National Steinbeck Center ( ) and the Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum in King City, California (

[xv] See


[xvii] See

[xviii] Elizabeth Weise, USDA Today, July 13, 2009,…

[xix] See . Also, Mother Nature Network recently ran a feature entitled “40 Farmers Under 40,”

[xx]  See…