Giving Back, Paying It Forward: Compost Tea Comes to UC Santa Cruz
Acknowledging one’s roots is something many of us recognize as our careers begin to mature. Giving back to the fertile fields of learning can be as simple as writing a check, or as specific as donating a 25 gallon Compost Tea System. To Richard Slye and his wife Tanya, the latter was the perfect way to express their gratitude for their time spent as Farm and Garden apprentices at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). For Growing Solutions President Michael Alms, it is a “pay it forward” gesture.
UCSC’s Center for Acroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) is dedicated to increasing ecological sustainability and social justice in the food and agriculture system. On the UCSC campus, the Center operates the two-acre Alan Chadwick Garden and the 25-acre Farm. Both sites are managed using organic production methods and serve as research, teaching and training facilities for students, staff and faculty. “My students,” Garden Manager Christof Bernau explained, “are always asking about practical tools and techniques to promote plant health that they can produce on farm/in garden, and compost tea is a clear example of how to exponentially benefit from something already part of the farm and soil fertility management system.”
The CASFS program has graduated 40 students each year for the last 40 years. Eight of the 40 make the cut each year for their role in the second year as staff for the incoming students. Richard and Tanya, both first and second year apprentices in the program between 1998 and 2000, met at CASFS, graduated and went on to manage some of the finest agricultural properties in California over the last 12 years. “To say that the apprenticeship was the single most important part of my career would be an understatement,” Richard explained. “The beautiful, productive farm is much more than a career builder alone. Its energy is the product of more than 40 years of training people to be responsible thoughtful stewards of our planet. That collective soul permeates the farm and influences all its activity. It is something to experience, if only for a day.”
The day that Richard and Michael delivered, set up and demonstrated the Growing Solutions Compost Tea System25 on the UCSC campus sparked new energy in Madeleine Morley, a second year apprentice overseeing the fledgling compost tea program. “Maddie was thrilled to learn from both of you and share some of her experiences so far. She’s very motivated and focused on making compost tea a regular part of our fertility, pest and disease and plant health management repertoire,” Christof noted. Growing Solutions has worked with a number of CASFS graduates currently in the industry, many on the cutting edge of sustainable practices. “The quality and discipline the CASFS experience offers is evident, having worked with a number of talented graduates from this program,” Michael said. “We want to support future students who can gain hands-on knowledge working with compost tea, and carry it forward into the industry.”
The joint donation of the System25 from the Slyes and Growing Solutions becomes part of an exceptional endeavor with a longstanding history. “This donation was the perfect opportunity for Tanya and I to help facilitate the Farm and Garden’s desire to incorporate compost tea into their curriculum,” Richard said. “This machine, in the hands of 40 different apprentices each year, will surely create its own collective knowledge about compost tea.” Christof agreed, saying “this new knowledge and tool will be incredibly useful in training the next generation of farmers, gardeners and agricultural educators. I am really looking forward to seeing it all unfold.”