Hello from Tim Ward!
In the six months since I first stepped foot onto Ridgewood Ranch, where the Grange Farm School claims its happy home, I’ve had a strong feeling that I am in the right place at the right time. It was a very similar feeling when I landed in 2006 in a position at a non-profit environmental education program, Vida Verde Nature Education, where a chance beginning became the defining directive for my life for 5 ½ years. As an educator, and also eventually director and grants manager of the fundraising team at Vida Verde, I learned a great deal about what would be demanded of me to step into the 3 roles here that I now carry: Fundraising Director, School Program Director, and Field Crop Manager. I immediately found both the good cause I was looking for and a strange tickling feeling I have that says I might really find a reason to stay here for a long time.
To tell the story of how I have come to be wearing a great many hats, I would start in 1996. I left high school early, trying to find a path of education that felt creative, organic, and free for me to be myself. I would have loved the Grange Farm School program! In a 5-year path of college education starting in Lake Tahoe at age 17, through Santa Rosa Junior College, and on to graduation at UC Santa Cruz, I stayed ever-seeking solutions to the world’s problems and ever-focused on making a difference in this troubled world.
My life passion began with an awakening in environmentalism and with a personal connection to nature and wilderness. My love for farming was born at 18 studying organic farming at SRJC’s Shone Farm in my hometown of Forestville, CA. My love for food has also been a big drive in my pursuit of agriculture. My first adult work, starting at age 16, was in the kitchen-side of food service and thus began my very informal career path as a cook, chef, and caterer. My college career went on and away from agriculture, toward a multi-disciplinary span at SRJC and UCSC including economics, development, ecology, soil science, writing, policy, and education.
Throughout college and ever since I have lived a life a full of commitment to as many constructive activist causes as my time can possibly allow. I have done a lot of work with healthy food gathering, food distribution to people in need, 5 years as a volunteer mechanic and core-member of a community service bike repair shop, and always dominated by a career path focused on the cause first, and my own sustainable life energy and finances later. It is quite fitting that I took this position at the Grange Farm School on top of my existing commitments.
In 2011 I decided that I needed to personally return to agriculture after 9 years, post college graduation, in Environmental Education. Vida Verde has a strong focus on exposure to healthy farm education and so my social and personal life became increasingly focused on farmer friends, living on farms, and “geeking out” on the details, science, and advancement of organic, local agriculture. With much sadness to leave, I gave notice at Vida Verde and in June 2011 I hit the ground on 30-acres of valley-bottom farmland in Boonville, CA on the southern side of Mendocino County, moving my life and some livestock onto the farm and beginning the process of building a small food production enterprise.
I have continued to acquire, breed, slaughter and sell meat from the farm ever since. The farm has produced most of the hay and pasture for our animals and also some grain, since the first year. In 2012 a vegetable production was added. A CSA membership program, as well as local direct marketing has always been sufficient to move all of the farm’s produce. I had to take some loans to get the farm afloat and I have had to seek employment off the farm in addition to the farming since my first summer in business.
The farm has the character of my personal activist mission: to build community resiliency with a farm as the centerpiece, offering a gathering place, connection to the land, and local food security. With that in mind I know that I was in the right place at the right time, just like Vida Verde before and the Grange Farm School after. The farmland, founded as Boont Berry Farm in 1980 (certified organic at its founding at that time!), has always been a hub for the Anderson Valley community. It is just two blocks from the Hwy 128 in downtown Boonville, already the remote rural community’s hub. So we call it Anderson Valley Community Farm and in town everyone just calls it The Community Farm. I have been seeking to find partners and make the farm a cooperative endeavor for all these years. I have managed to find some other partners, which has resulted in great expansion for the farm, which now operates on 125 acres and includes vegetable, livestock, hay, grain, fruit trees, and olive oil.
Since I landed in Mendocino I have also somehow squeezed myself to be involved in local food politics and activism with significant involvement in the Anderson Valley Foodshed group, the Farm 2 Fork program, the advisory council of the Mendocino County Food Hub, and a member and now elected officer at the Anderson Valley Grange and auxiliary member of the Little Lake Grange.
So needless to say when I went out last fall to seek sustainable employment in addition to my farming “hobby”, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what the Grange Farm School was going to require of me. Fortunately my life experience has left me battle hardened and not overwhelmed by situations that seem impossible…
All I can say is that I am so excited to be here, do my best, and that at least it’s not boring!