Supporting Small Farms, Teaching Organic Agriculture

Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op

San Diego Roots' Wild Willow Farm is both an educational and working farm.

Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op began its partnerships with small organic farms in 1998 when it sponsored a farmer to attend The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California–Santa Cruz. After receiving a loan from the co-op, this farmer and her husband started Good Faith Farm in eastern San Diego County. The farm grew salad greens and market produce for the co-op, farmers markets, and the best restaurants in San Diego County.

Because of the co-op's desire to teach young people about food, Good Faith Farm became a partner and provided a location for sixth graders to visit a working farm. The co-op provided staff and transportation funding to make these field trips happen.

In 2001, when the farm was threatened with development, the farmers called together their friends to help preserve it. Though the land was sold, the effort brought together the founders of the future San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. Inspired by the example of Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis, which had purchased a farm, the co-op has since partnered with San Diego Roots to build an educational farm near the co-op and easily accessible to the urban areas in San Diego.

Attaining this goal took time, sweat and perseverance, including an eight-year search to find suitable land. After several possible farm locations fell through because of issues related to water rights and animal management, San Diego Roots' Wild Willow Farm and Education Center was founded in June 2010. Wild Willow Farm (WWF) is both an educational and working farm along the Tijuana River, just east of Imperial Beach and only 15 minutes from downtown San Diego. The five-acre plot is part of the county's riparian parkland and is subleased to San Diego Roots by the owners of Suzie's Farm & Sungrown Organics, whose organic sprouts and vegetables the co-op has bought for years.

The co-op is dedicated to helping build a Wild Willow Farm field trip program to pick up where Good Faith Farm was forced to leave off. The co-op is partnering with the WWF education committee to develop and implement engaging, inspiring field trips that tie into California's teaching standards. Because funds for transporting students to the farm is commonly a barrier for field trip participation, the co-op will be contributing funds to cover these costs.

Over the years, Ocean Beach People's Co-op has provided vital support in many additional ways for the efforts of San Diego Roots to address shortfalls in our local food system:

  • Donated over $5,000 to both the farm and ­Victory Gardens San Diego (another program of San Diego Roots)
  • Granted San Diego Roots partnership status, ­giving them free weekly meeting space in the Community Room
  • Invited San Diego Roots and Victory Gardens San Diego to give presentations at the co-op's annual owners meeting, which resulted in getting several key participants involved in San Diego Roots
  • Sponsored San Diego Roots' Food for Thought Film Series by providing funding to purchase much of their food-film library. Food for Thought shows these films for free around the county.
  • Placed flyers at the cash registers to promote San Diego Roots events
  • Put change-donation boxes at each of the cash registers
  • Donated lots of food for various Roots events
  • Fronted a box of garlic and a box of shallots which are currently growing at Wild Willow Farm
  • Pledged funding to be used for developing and evaluating field trip curriculum
  • Donated gift cards for the raffle and auction at the Wild Willow Harvest Festival
  • Sold shirts promoting the first potential farm location, Willow Glen
  • Provided a scholarship in 2009 to former San Diego Roots President Matt Finkelstein to apprentice in ecological horticulture at The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California–Santa Cruz. Matt has since graduated and is now a small farm manager.
  • Provided space in the monthly newsletter to update the the co-op's membership of San Diego Roots eventsand accomplishments. The newsletter informs the co-op member-owners about how the co-op discretionary income is be used to underwrite SD Roots activities.

In addition, Ocean Beach People's General Manager Nancy Casady is a member of the San Diego Roots Advisory Council. Casady believes this vital educational resource "…increases the connection to the owners, so they can see where the profits go."

Casady's ultimate goal is for "salad greens being picked at Wild Willow Farm in the morning and sold on the salad bar in the afternoon," and San Diego Roots and the co-op expect this goal will be met within the next year. As a first step toward this goal, shallots and garlic provided by the co-op have been planted (largely by field trip students) and will be harvested for sale at the co-op this coming summer. In addition, as Wild Willow delivers freshly picked produce, they will collect deli scraps and green waste from the co-op, to become chicken food and compost to build the farm.

See other articles from this issue: #154 May - June - 2011