In the late 1960s, Orin Martin was “allegedly in college,” as he puts it, on the East Coast, but he rarely went to classes. He was in Washington, D.C. for the anti-Vietnam War march on the Pentagon in 1967, and was actively resisting the draft. A year later, unsure of what to do with his life, he headed to California, eventually landing in Santa Cruz. Once here, he visited the UCSC Garden.
“It was knock-your-socks-off beautiful,” he says. “I fell in love with it, and decided, in a pretty immediate and passionate way, that this was something I wanted to learn and do. So I did.”
The garden is a three-acre plot on a steep, south-facing slope in a microclimate that is distinctly warmer than surrounding areas. Referred to for years simply as “the Garden,” it was later named the Alan Chadwick Garden, after its late founder, who Martin knew but never worked closely with. In 1977, Martin was hired as the UCSC garden manager.
“The joke is that I’m serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole,” says Martin, his blue eyes twinkling and sun-kissed cheeks raised into a mischievous smile.
We’re sitting at a large wooden table in the garden, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The early evening light shines through the countless plants and blossom-rich fruit trees as students bustle around, planting in the greenhouse and checking the progress of once-dormant Mason bees that will help pollinate the garden. On the wall is a wooden sign that reads: “Utter disregard for the impossible.”
When the garden was created in 1967, UCSC was not the same place it is now. There were only about 1,500 students, and construction was happening across the entire campus. One group of students was looking for ways to connect with the land and each other, and a professor advised them that one way to do that was to create a garden.
Founding UCSC chancellor Dean McHenry was what Martin describes as a “Lompoc farm boy with a sympathetic view of the farm lifestyle,” and he gave students permission to pick three acres on campus to make a garden. Chadwick, who was enlisted to lead the project, chose the current site, with its steep slope, clay soil and abundance of poison oak.
“He just started wailing away at it, and made a garden,” says Martin.
The garden and neighboring farm, which was created in 1971, have become models of biodiversity, agriculture apprenticeship, and organic farming. They were years ahead of the curve in terms of organic growing, sustainable farming and diverse, dense planting practices.
“In 1967, there was no organic farming industry,” says Martin. “There wasn’t any cohesive movement or certification. The notion of growing chemical-free food was a foreign concept.”
The garden now has 100 varieties of apples, 30 varieties of garlic, 50-60 varieties of peppers, and a thick blanket of trees, vegetables and flowers of all types growing in close proximity. This biodiversity attracts beneficial insects that make the garden more resistant to pest pressure than monocrop planting.
The farm and garden programs continue to forge new ground in the organic movement. There’s a strong focus on raising consciousness around organic flowers, as the commercial flower industry is a major pollutant of air, water and soil systems. There’s also a commitment to teaching apprentices about social justice and food access for all.
The apprenticeship is a six-month entry-level program, with participants spending an estimated 1,000 hours working the fields and attending lectures and classes. Over the years, an estimated 1,500 people have gone through the program, with some of them going on to start garden projects of their own at places like Duke University, Michigan State University and the University of Vermont.
“There are a lot of analogous programs,” says Martin, “and many of them were spawned out of this one.”
When asked about the significance of the 50th anniversary, Martin laughs and says, “Well, 50 years is a stretch.” He explains that the program now serves numerous communities, including apprentices, student interns who earn course credit, and the general public through events, workshops—and, of course, the farm-grown food, which is available through a CSA, UCSC dining halls and a market cart at the base of campus.
For those who want to become better gardeners, Martin advises getting to know your soil through observation, testing and adjusting the level of nutrients.
“The portal to growing is soil,” he says, “and the portal to good growing is good soil. People tend to look at soil as an inert substance that you plunk plants into, but it is your source point.First you grow the soil, then the soil grows the plant.”
50th Anniversary Events at UCSC Farm and Garden
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the UCSC Garden, the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems is hosting an event series that runs through October. There are also free public tours of the UCSC farm from 2-3:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month. Information is at casfs.ucsc.edu. Here are some of their biggest birthday events:
April 26: Art and the Environment book signing by Barbara Benish, Cowell Ranch Historic Hay Barn.
April 29: Alumni weekend tour of the Alan Chadwick Garden, 11 a.m.–Noon, led by Orin Martin.
April 29: Alumni Vintners and Brewers at Hay Barn. Includes farm tours focused on the 50th anniversary at 3 and 4:30 p.m., led by CASFS executive director Daniel Press. $30.
April 29: 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale. Barn Theater parking lot.
April 30: 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Farm & Garden Spring Plant Sale. Barn Theater parking lot.
May 17: Strawberry and Justice Festival, 4-6:30 p.m., Cowell Ranch Historic Hay Barn. Free.
May 20: Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden Gopher Control Workshop, Cowell Ranch Historic Hay Barn, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. $5-$30.
June 3: Friends of the UCSC Farm & Garden Annual Poetry Festival, Chadwick Garden, Noon-2 p.m. Free.
June 4: Outstanding in the Field fieldside dinner, UCSC Farm. Information: outstandinginthefield.com.
July 28-30: CASFS First 50 Reunion Celebration. This three-day events includes a Friday evening reception on the farm, a Saturday gathering in the Chadwick Garden, a symposium, a celebration dinner and dance and workshops. Information: specialevents.ucsc.edu/casfs-fifty/index.html.
October 1: Fall Harvest Festival, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., UC Santa Cruz Farm. $5 (Free to Friends and students).