I apprenticed on a small farm that was run by a farmer who, at that time had been farming for almost as long as I had been living. The farm was an amazing place, a small CSA run by this amazing, generous, eternally positive guy, Andy. It was in the middle of a 1600 acre ranch run by an educational non-profit, and provided some of the backdrop for the farm and wilderness programs there.
Andy knew everyone there, knew seemingly everything about that property, and lived in a little house on the creek at the upper end of the ranch with his wife Carolyn and his two young sons Forrest and Ray. I spent most of my time working on the farm, but what I remember most are the people there, especially Andy. It feels like most of the time I spent with Andy was driving up and down the ranch with him in a Clubcar Carryall II, stopping at the milk house to top off his huge mug of coffee with the cream skimmed off the top of the big milk jugs, and then proceeding to spill half of that coffee on the bumpy dirt road that ran the length of the ranch. The entire time Andy told me stories, mostly farming stories, often the same ones he had told me earlier in the week.
I spent a year there and I was anxious to do the next thing when I left, though sorry to leave many good friends behind. I made sure to come back for visits whenever possible, although those visits got farther apart as the years wore on. Andy was great about keeping in touch and keeping me updated on the happenings at the ranch, and with the family. For a few years we’d meet up at the Eco Farm conference every year and room together which was an opportunity to catch up. The farming connection continued but over time I came to visit more to just see Andy, Carolyn, Forrest and Ray, hear about their trips in the Sierra and what was new on the ranch.
Forrest ended up going to school in Washington and then moving to Portland so Andy would come through every so often and when I got lucky he’d stop for a quick visit. On his last swing through town we were lucky enough to have him bring Carolyn, and Forrest and Forrest’s girlfriend Holly over for dinner.
On Wednesday evening another farmer friend and mentor Michael Ableman, and his son Benjamin, came for a visit on their way down to California. When we got home from a dinner out Tanya checked the messages and there was one from Carolyn telling me that Andy had passed away on Tuesday.
I’ve been thinking about Andy a lot ever since. I’ve also been thinking about all of the other good friends I made, especially the ones I’ve managed to keep in touch with. I also thought about this blog post I wrote back in 2008, coincidentally with both Michael and Andy mentioned. My good friend Dan Gross, who I also met at Hidden Villa said of Andy,
Andy taught me even more about how to talk to people than he did about farming, even though he taught me so much about farming. While I was at Hidden Villa I always felt bad to ask Andy a question because he spent an hour answering it to me. I felt like I was wasting his valuable time when he took all that time to answer me. Now, as I get older, I strive to listen and engage friends and family as Andy did to me.
Andy absolutely set an example I’ve tried to emulate. I’ll miss him every time I think about him, but I’m so happy that I got the chance to work with him, to learn farming from him and so much on top of that.
The following post was about Michael’s farm, but it could just as well have been about Andy’s…
My first “formal” farming apprenticeship was ten years ago, 1998. I went to work for Andy Scott at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills, California, and spent a year absorbing stories, asking questions, and working hard. It was one of the best years of my life.
A few years later I was at the Ecological Farming Conference, talking with Andy and Jim Nelson from Camp Joy Gardens, a small farm I’ve always really admired. One of us, I don’t remember who, started talking about how great it would be to apprentice on someone else’s farm for a season, just to step back and do the physical work and not worry about all of the details of planning and selling and so on. Everyone agreed, it would be great. I just remember standing there with two farmers who had both been farming for practically as long as I’d been living, both so accomplished and both still engaged in learning more.
It was probably that same year that I met Michael Ableman. He was hosting a monthly discussion series on agricultural topics at Fairview Gardens and I was farming about an hour North. I had been really inspired by his book,From the Good Earth, when a friend at Hidden Villa showed it to me, and subsequently his book On Good Land about his experiences at Fairview.
We’ve run into each other a handful of times since that summer, always with an invitation to come up and visit. Finally this spring I made the time to go visit for a month, help out around the farm, and exchange farming ideas with another farmer who has been at this a couple of decades longer than myself. The result was one of the best months of my life, a chance to temporarily shed all the accumulated layers of responsibility that have built up over the years since my first apprenticeship, and to just focus on learning from someone else’s farm
It ended up being incredibly cold and wet most of the month. There was snow when I arrived in at the beginning of April, and then it snowed and melted, and snowed again. I didn’t mind though, I just enjoyed getting the opportunity to be an apprentice again, to watch and learn from an incredibly accomplished farmer.
In the month I was there we planted an orchard, fixed tillers and tractors, put together new equipment, skidded logs, seeded, covered and uncovered, mapped fields, put down a plan for the whole season on paper, and then changed it all again. We baked bread, ate lots of spinach and carrots, watched Benjamin race down the road on his bike, again and again. We counted and recounted, even when there wasn’t any reason to count. We moved rocks, lots of rocks, we dug holes and filled holes, Such a diversity of work in one month. Such is farming.
So here’s a big thank you to Michael, Anne, Jeanne Marie, Benjamin and Aaron and to all the farmers who have come before me, and after me, and that have been so generous with their time and knowledge. There is such an amazing community of farmers out there and it is truly one of the best parts of farming, that and the scenery.