My room at the inn faces east, which means that I can instantly tell when it’s a sunny morning from the strong rays striking my face around 7 am. Last week on one of those sunny days I decided to check out the biointensive garden.
There are three garden interns here at the moment: Tania, Susana, and Rachel. Matt runs the biointensive garden at the Stanford Inn through Ecology Action, the non-profit responsible for the development of the growing methods used here.
I headed down to the farm around 11 am with Tania, here for 6 months from Nicaragua, as my guide. She led me to a long, narrow patch at the northeast corner of the farm where we would be planting a new-to-me crop called vetch. Interestingly, the vetch isn’t being grown for human consumption, instead it’s grown between edible varieties to promote the growth and health of the soil.
As Tania guided me through the spacing, digging, and planting process for the vetch, she also meandered through her own story, as I was quite curious how someone from such a different place ended up in rural Northern California. Tania, who is an extremely young-looking 32 (I originally guessed 24!), took me through the story of her sister and now-deceased parents, and how her time watching her father do so much for the lives of others back home had inspired her to come here now. She spoke of her degrees, her time spent working at a university, and with a subtle glistening in her eyes the story of how she lost her parents.
But all of this was not without the sweet curiosity that is permanently manifested in Tania’s face; in the two weeks I’ve been here I don’t think I’ve ever seen her lacking her friendly grin and singsong giggle. As she began to dig she explained to me how the farm operates in the spanglish (an eccentric blend of Spanish and English) we had cultivated based on our mixed bag of language abilities. Her English is pretty good, but I’m definitely glad to get some Spanish practice. Anyways, they aim to maximize the amount of calories that can be grown in the smallest plot of land possible, and to make each farm a closed system. That’s the whole idea behind planting the vetch: to regenerate the soil, so outside sources do not need to be used.
The crops are grown using a 60-30-10 system: 60% of the area is used for high-carbon-producing crops that also produce a significant amount of calories, such as quinoa (shown below–I never knew it was such a beautiful plant!) and other grains. 30% of the area goes to crops that are both area- and weight-efficient (based on calories), such as root crops like potatoes. The final 10% goes to vegetable crops, which are mainly planted for micronutrient needs but do not produce significant amounts of calories or carbon. Based on their growing techniques, they can grow enough to feed one person a diverse and nutritious diet using 40 beds–that’s only 4,000 sq. feet!
Partway through Matt came over to show us how planting vetch was done (aka we were going way too slow, probably thanks to my questions). After I finished up my part I was sent to make compost! Check out this beast of a compost pile. They even keep a thermometer in it to monitor progress!
This isn’t your typical mush-pile of random scraps. In order for them to be able to make the most of their compost (which is a big part of their biointensive philosophy!), it’s a tightly-packed, expertly-engineered system that involved me using a super-legit tool to hack apart different plants. It was like a curved, serrated machete that made me feel like I was in Heart of Darkness, hacking my way through Central Africa. Anyways, I first had to put down a layer of fava bean plants facing in one direction, followed up by a wheat-like crop (I don’t remember exactly what it was) in the other. Next up was a mish-mash of dried up prickly, stringy things, all packed down with a layer of soil dug up from another part of the farm. And repeat. Phew!
All the while I had this awesome view of the horses in their pasture right next to the farm. They even came right up to me when I offered my hand to them (probably sniffing around for scraps!).
Yesterday was such an awesome day, filled with lots of dirt, sun, and a bit of elbow grease. I will certainly be back to learn more!
This article was written by monica