A Diamond in the Rough
Organic farm in Silicon Valley brings farmers and community together
The youngest community members help celebrate the fall harvest in the farm's u-pick pumpkin patch.
Photograph by lilia schwartz
In the fast-paced urban world, the activities that connect us to nature are often limited to visiting our local park. Many of us have only a vague idea of where our food comes from, the miles it may have traveled, or the hard work it took to bring it to our table. As a society, we are accustomed to instant gratification, and sometimes that includes the act of pressing a few buttons and having a hot meal ready for dinner. But what about the long-lasting satisfaction of having an emotional connection to the earth and a direct link to the food we eat? 3 We can still have it. The healthy simplicity of life on the farm thrives at Full Circle Farm, an organic, sustainable farm right off Sunnyvale’s Lawrence Expressway. Located on 11 acres of land owned by the Santa Clara Unified School District, Full Circle Farm broke ground in 2007, bringing new life to land that sat unused for 50 years. Rows of fruits and vegetables now line what was once a barren patch of dirt and grass—land that might just as easily have been used for building another strip mall or condominium development.
Full Circle Farm leases the land from the school district for the bargain price of $1,000 per month. In turn, students get hands-on instruction in sustainable farming, ecology, and nutrition, and half of the farm’s produce goes to school cafeterias, where 45 percent of the district’s students receive free or reduced-priced lunches.
Students from nearby Peterson Middle School take part in a hands-on program at Full Circle Farm. Sixth graders spend one class period every two weeks volunteering at the farm. Working in groups of ten, the students plant, tend, and harvest vegetables, giving them the opportunity to witness the full cycle of farming.
Full Circle Farm’s Interim Executive Director Liz Snyder says, “One thing that happens out here is that we build a connection to fresh, healthy food—an emotional connection—that can last a lifetime…The kids have the chance to plant a seed, watch it sprout, put it in the ground, watch it grow, harvest it, and eat it.”
This is in sharp contrast to the “medical model” of nutrition that is taught in most schools. “Kids don’t respond to that very well. There’s nothing to engage them,” says Snyder.
One of 85 like-minded farm-to-school programs in California, Full Circle Farm is a project of Sustainable Community Gardens, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the renewal of local, sustainable food systems throughout Silicon Valley. The group’s premise is to provide affordable access to locally produced food, as well as education in environmental living, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, and gardening. Full Circle Farm receives a third of its financing from donations, a third from grants from organizations such as Kaiser Permanente and Stanford University, and a third from produce sales. The farm’s harvest is offered for sale at local farmer's markets and at its produce stand on Dunford Way near Quail Avenue (open Wed. and Fri. 3-7 p.m.).
Full Circle Farm also offers community members the chance to buy crop shares through a program known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA members invest $300 per quarter, before the crops are planted in the ground, thereby sharing in the farmers’ risk. After the harvest begins, each member’s “share” results in a weekly basket filled with enough produce to feed a family of four. The farm has already sold out of memberships through May 2010, and there is a waitlist for the next quarter. Last year, the farm produced 26,500 pounds of food. Their goal is to reach 120,000 pounds annually.
Community members can also get involved in Full Circle Farm in more personal, hands-on ways. Take a leisurely stroll down the dirt paths that lead past the greenhouses and through rows of vegetables, each one labeled with the names of the volunteer farmers. Visit the 140-tree orchard or join community volunteers and students in the educational garden. Roll up your sleeves and sink your fingers into the earth; drop-in workdays are Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to sundown. Activities may include composting, planting, or weeding the crops.
For more information about Full Circle Farm and its public offerings, visit fullcirclesunnyvale.org.