UCSC Farm & Garden: How to Enjoy the Farm Year Round

In late July 2017, 500 visitors descended upon the 30 acres of lush, hilly grasslands nestled near the base of the UC Santa Cruz campus.

They weren’t students, although you couldn’t tell by the class-filled days and late night parties that ensued over those three days.

They were former staff, students, and apprentices of the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), known more affectionately by the Santa Cruz community as the UCSC Farm & Garden, arriving to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the farm’s founding by master gardener Alan Chadwick.

What began in 1967 as a scraggly lot of devoted students assisting Chadwick to build a garden on one of the rockiest hillsides on campus eventually blossomed into a fully functioning organic farm which not only produces over 700 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers but also has become a premier training program for aspiring organic farmers from around the world.

Even if you didn’t get to join in that weekend of workshops, tours, and photo exhibitions, there are plenty of ways for you to take part in the magical wonderland that is the UCSC Farm & Garden.

How You Can Enjoy the Farm

The farm is open to public every day and hosts tours, public workshops, and community events throughout the year.

Each Tuesday and Friday between June and October, fresh produce from the farm is sold at the Market Cart on the corner of Bay and High Streets (near the main entrance to campus.)

Community members can also sign up to receive a weekly share of the farm’s best produce by participating in the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Want to enjoy all that the UCSC Farm & Garden has to offer? Here are ways all community members can get involved:

  • Farm Tours – Free, docent-led tours of the UCSC Farm are offered the first Sunday of the month from April through November, from 2 pm to 3:30 pm.
  • Market Cart – Stock up on fresh produce at the Farm’s Market Cart on Tuesdays and Fridays from 12:00 pm – 6:00 pm, June through late October.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program – Not only do shareholders receive a box of fresh organic produce each week, they are also welcome to harvest from the CSA herb and flower garden at the UCSC Farm.
  • Annual Harvest Festival – The Farm’s biggest event of the year! Read more about the Harvest Festival below.

The UCSC Farm & Garden is open to the public daily, 8am-6pm, year-round. Metered parking can be found near the front and back gate entrances to the farm. Directions are provided here. It is requested that public visitors not harvest food, flowers, or herbs from the fields or gardens. Feel free to take seedlings from the designated “Free Table” next to the greenhouses.

Harvest Festival

Each fall, the farm welcomes one and all for its biggest event of the year, the Harvest Festival.

At this family-friendly affair, staff and students of the farm pull out all the stops with tractor rides, fresh cider-making with an old-fashioned apple press, live music, food demonstrations, face painting, wall climbing, and hourly workshops on everything from brewing kombucha to growing hot peppers.

Piles of freshly harvested organic pumpkins are available for sale. And, of course, there is plenty to eat.

General admission to the festival is $5, with free admission for UCSC students and children under age 12.

Life on the Farm

On an average summer day, a stroll through the gates of the UCSC Farm & Garden will land you in a fresh-aired sanctuary rich in flourishing greenery, vibrantly colored flowers, buzzing pollinators, and dusty red footpaths leading to the various fields and gardens on the 30-acre site.

You’d likely see the farm apprentices, farmers-in-training who live and work on the farm for six months each year, busily planting and weeding rows of crops.

You might hear the squeals and laughter of campers at Lifelab, the PK-12th grade garden-based education program located on the farm, as they jump giddily around bales of straw. Or, you may encounter one of the dozens of teenage summer workers irrigating plants and making bouquets at FoodWhat?!, a food justice organization with offices and gardens on the farm.

Passing by the rustic, weathered wooden sheds and barns of the farm might cause you to forget that you’re on a college campus, until you stumble upon a group of apprentices and interns engrossed in a botany class or tree-pruning demonstration. Then you’ll remember that this place is not only a meditative refuge from the busy-ness of modern life or a cool place to let the kids run around, but is also an outdoor classroom and research lab teeming with lessons in how we all can stay connected to land, nature, and food.

No wonder hundreds of people wanted to come and celebrate 50 years of this place as a nourishing community resource. Thousands more have walked this land, and the 3 original acres of the Chadwick Garden nestled in the hills of upper campus, and have in some way or another found themselves cultivated within its rich and fertile soil.

As staff members of the Farm & Garden often say, ‘We don’t just grow plants here. We also grow people.’

About Laura Turner-Essel

Laura is a psychologist and writer that lives in Santa Cruz with her husband and four children. She loves building community and being in nature.