Stephen Kaffka: Pioneering UCSC Farm and Garden Manager, Agronomist

Read the full text transcript (PDF) and listen to the audio of the oral history with Steve Kaffka.

Stephen (Steve) Kaffka came to UC Santa Cruz as a philosophy student in 1967 and began volunteering in Alan Chadwick’s Student Garden Project in the same year. He worked side-by-side with Alan Chadwick and eventually became the student president of the Garden in 1968. In this oral history, conducted by Ellen Farmer at her house in Santa Cruz, California on August 31, 2007, Kaffka shares his recollections of Alan Chadwick and the Garden in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the period after Chadwick left, when Kaffka managed the Farm and Garden and formalized the apprentice program through University of California Santa Cruz Extension.

Although Alan Chadwick was deeply troubled by the specialization and fragmentation of scientific practice within the academy, paradoxically, Kaffka, perhaps Chadwick’s closest apprentice at UCSC, ended up with a distinguished career as a research agronomist. After he left UC Santa Cruz in 1977, Kaffka earned his Ph.D. in agronomy from Cornell University, and now directs UC Davis’s Center for Integrated Farming Systems. He is also director of the California Biomass Collaborative and extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis. He chairs the BioEnergy Work Group for the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and participates on several advisory committees for the California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board. Kaffka conducts research on water quality and agriculture in the Upper Klamath Basin, and the reuse of saline drainage water for crop, forage, energy biomass feedstocks and livestock production in salt-affected areas of the San Joaquin Valley. He has M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University in agronomy and a B.S. from UC Santa Cruz in biology. In May, 2008, Kaffka was the subject of an NPR documentary, “Are Organic Tomatoes Better?” which featured his research comparing the nutritious value of organic versus conventionally grown tomatoes.