LONG BEACH - Peninsula resident and Green Angel Gardening owner Larkin Stentz has a lot on his plate. Throughout the year he provides yoga and pilates instruction, hosts bio-intensive food workshops and has introduced Qi Gong and other educational activities at his residence in Long Beach. Of his many interests, his extensive certified organic garden has become a heavy load, which has been significantly lightened with the recent help of three busy young women and their determination to learn.
Four years ago, Stentz started his 2.5-acre organic farm at 6807 Sandridge Road in hopes of developing his own interest in following a more sustainable way of life.
Since the farm's creation, Stentz has made headway in convenience by distributing his organic produce to area residents through the Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA). Similar to a magazine subscription, CSA allows community members to pay for their produce ahead of time and then pick it up later. At Green Angel Gardens, customers can take advantage of a pre-paid special where they can receive fresh, local organic produce every Friday for eight weeks at a time. According to Stentz, the country's industrial food problems, such as involuntary recalls and E. coli outbreaks, could decrease dramatically with the help of locally produced food and services like CSA.
With more great opportunities arriving at his door over the years, Stentz began to advertise his new international internship positions for anyone who wished to receive a hands-on education in organic farming under his instruction.
"As a learning farm, I host the Sustainable Living series on my property. The series hosts lectures and demonstrations on different ways you can live more sustainably on the planet, such as naturopathic medicine. Within the next 12 months, I plan on having a wind turbine for electricity. It all helps people live more peacefully with the planet. A sustainable living center with teachers and classes is the long-term goal, a place for everyone to enjoy."
For the first time in his recruitment efforts, Stentz was pleased to receive resumés from hopeful applicants from as far as New York and Philadelphia, Penn. After contemplating the aspects of each student's potential, he chose Ivy Branin and Dana Barber to join his farming crew for the summer. Provided with free room and board and a $50 weekly stipend, Barber arrived at the farm in May and Branin moved in a month later.
Learning about soilBranin, an East Coast native and a student of naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University, applied for the position for her own self interest and relates the farm to her organic gardening studies and biochemical engineering background.
"I wanted to learn more about soil and how things grow, as well as understand how nature's intent works closely with gardening," explains Branin. "And I love the different landscapes, such as the forests and beaches here."
No stranger to humanitarian efforts, Branin has donated her time to soup kitchens and grammar schools in New York City, served as a guide for a blind participant in the 2004 New York City marathon, and built homes with Habitat for Humanity in New York and Connecticut. In fall 2005, she traveled to Melbourne, Australia, to help the Bicycle Victoria eco team clean up campsites along the event's 900-mile stretch - an experience she describes as detailed and tiring. Very fond of traveling to new places, she has studied and traveled to far away places like Europe, Japan, Thailand and India.
Interested in yogaBarber, an art and ecology student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, was not only drawn to the opportunity to learn about organic gardening but also felt drawn to the position because of the availability to Stentz' own yoga studio.
Also very dedicated to helping others, Barber also has an extensive history as a hard worker. While working for the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Washington Conservation Corps in Bellingham, Barber maintained and restored riparian zones, built trails and learned the ins and outs of emergency flood response. In 2005, she was deployed to Texas to perform tree removal after Hurricane Rita and later transported to New Orleans to fix asbestos-laden roofs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"Each of these girls gave me a sense that they would fit in well," says Stentz. "I liked Dana and Ivy's involvement in other areas and their willingness to get involved with the planet. I knew that not only could I teach them, but they could teach me, as well."
Teen is working hardAs the full-time staff on the farm, 16-year-old greenhouse manager Samantha Pointer is also part of the teaching and learning process. Once an Ilwaco High School student, Pointer recently changed her path in education and opted to complete the requirements for a GED. Now finished with her schooling two years before her classmates, Pointer spends many of her hours tending to all the thriving plants and critters on Stentz' property. Recently, Stentz purchased additional property on Sandridge Road for Pointer and her family to reside. When not working on the farm, Pointer experiments with planting at home, which her boss refers to as "a satellite Green Angel Garden site."
According to Barber, the best way to learn how the farm maneuvers is to observer Pointer in action.
"Everything I've learned here is from watching [Samantha]," she laughs. "It's fun learning where food comes from. It is different to grow your own food. But anyone can do it, it's not that complicated."
Nodding in agreement, Pointer describes her job as slightly stressful and sometimes overwhelming.
"I only see the whole farm and I'm learning that I need to realize that I cannot do it all [in one day]," Pointer admits as Larkin teases her about her "farmer's dilemma."
Starting their day at 8 a.m., the ladies often start with "chicken chores" - corralling the farm's 12 chickens, cleaning their coop, checking for fresh eggs and feeding them grain. Throughout the day, the three share a variety of tasks, such as planting seeds in trays, prepping the plant beds, transplanting sprouts to the beds, maintaining the compost, watering crops three to four times, and harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Often making passes through each of the three greenhouses, the trio delicately tend to beds of strawberries, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, acorn squash, corn, bok choy, potatoes, cucumbers, kale, chard, beets, broccoli, carrots, snap peas, radishes, fava beans, peppers, onions, parsley, cilantro, basil, lemon balm, rosemary, chamomile, edible flowers, arugula and numerous lettuces and other salad greens. Trees of Asian mint, plums, apples and Asian pears are also nestled among the grounds.
Over the past weeks, Branin and Barber have experienced hands-on demonstrations in soil conditioning, building and rotating compost and studied the concept of successive planting. Recently, a millipede infestation served as an additional and unexpected lesson.
Each of the girls say they have also come to better understand the seeding, planting and growing rotation and have further appreciated the opportunity to able to produce food rather than purchase it.
"I really like having the eggs in the morning and love being able to eat off the land," says Branin. "Working here makes it so possible for me to look forward to having my own sustainable garden."
In addition to expanding their knowledge in gardening sciences, Branin and Barber have submerged themselves in the business-side of raising produce. Since their arrival, the interns have been taught how to prepare CSA orders and how to properly maintain the roadside store, which features produce, locally made soaps and cheeses, and biodegradable bags made from corn.
Stentz says, "It's been great having their enthusiasm here, it really buoys up my experience ... What we're doing here is something more than itself and I think we're healing the planet ...their work is helping to make the farm a better resource for the community through manning tables at the farmer's market and improving the store. I wouldn't be able to do it all without them."
Barber and Branin are scheduled to finish up their intern experiences in September, just in time to resume classes. Both ladies have expressed an eagerness to start their own organic gardens one day to utilize the skills they learned, but mainly because they love the tasty meal choices. While Barber finds the Peninsula's ever-changing weather to be "kind of weird," Branin is unsure of the wind gusts but says she will miss the farm and the chickens' morning eggs.
To find out more about the Green Angel farm or to sign up for future Sustainable Living series demonstrations, call 642-4018.