Muir Ranch: Food & Flower Power for Teen Farmers
August 9th, 2013
Here’s some more great news about the Urban Farming Movement.
In 2011, a dedicated team of volunteer teachers and students began converting 1.5 acres of Pasadena, California’s John Muir High School campus into a school-based farm.
Today, Muir Ranch grows a variety of flowers, vegetables and fruits that are included in weekly CSA boxes as well as school cafeteria lunches. Students can complete community service or internship graduation requirements by enrolling in classes at the Ranch. Muir Ranch also provides paid internships to students, which are funded by private donations, special events, farmer’s market sales, and subscriptions to the produce box program (CSA). Every week, Muir Ranch CSA subscribers get a box or bag of about 7-10 different types of fruit and vegetables grown without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Customers pick their shares up at central distribution sites throughout Pasadena. Muir Ranch CSA partners with several local farms for seasonal fruit and vegetables to supplement what they can produce, providing tax-deductible weekly boxes to over 100 subscribers. It is the CSA program that generates much of the income that keeps this place operating.
One of the people at the hub of this fast-rolling wheel is Mud Baron, a passionate school garden advocate who serves as the Executive Director of Muir Ranch. That sounds like a high-falutin’ title, but in all reality, he is true to his nickname. Mud gets down and dirty – and REAL – with his kids, teenagers whose horizons are much brighter after they’ve learned to grow and sell food and flowers to local customers.
How did this former design-build contractor end up teaching gardening and farming skills to urban youth? I’m still trying to figure out the exact path of Mud’s career, but suffice it to say he’s in his element growing food and flowers. He totally lights up whether he’s shooting the breeze with one of the teen-CSA interns or sharing drinks with me and a board member (Mud ordered the Stone IPA, brewed with dandelion greens).
Board member Leelee Clement Doughty discovered Muir Ranch through the Pasadena Garden Club, which brought expert Rosarians to the farm to teach students about rose growing and rose care. She got hooked and started volunteering. “The best sales pitch is the Ranch itself,” she told me. A lifelong gardener and corporate finance escapee, Leelee digs the lessons she sees young people learning: Cooking and Catering, Marketing, Nutrition, Math and Business, Science and more. Right now, Muir Ranch is a “fiscally sponsored proeject of the Pasadena Education Foundation,” but if Leelee and Mud’s vision is realized, it will soon be a standalone nonprofit.
Many programs besides the CSA are supported under the umbrella of Muir Ranch, such as partnerships CSAs run by with other local schools and learning gardens. Muir Ranch also and hosts monthly “Plug Mobs” to help the community start their own gardens. In Mud’s mind, no Southern California-based teacher should go wanting for school garden supplies. “The Plug Mob program means that finding seeds and plants is no longer a factor for 2,000 schools,” he says. Muir Ranch operates like a plant nursery, helping source and distribute seeds, bulbs and flats of plant starts. Like modern day Johnny Appleseeds, Mud and his supporters share what they have and spread around the love.
Muir Ranch hopes to add a culinary program that will connect students more closely to food systems. As young people “connect the dots,” they become involved in how food it is grown, distributed, and finally cooked into healthy meals. Besides being a center for education, Muir Ranch hosts a variety of ongoing and special events. The program is known for its floral arrangements, and I love that Mud has taught his interns and student workers how to harvest and assemble bouquets. When I visited last month, he gave two young women a challenge to create a bouquet for me. I loved the ease and confidence with which each gather flowers – mostly annuals and summer dahlias — into a custom-made bunch.
And the word is getting out about Muir Ranch’s flowers. One of Mud’s interns just earned $400 selling wedding flowers to a market customer. According to Mud, that experience has opened her eyes to possibilites for a bright future.
Volunteers are welcome (and needed) at this innovative program, especially to weed, prepare beds, turn compost, plant seeds and plugs, move worm “tractors,” maintain irrigation systems, water nursery plants and harvest crops. If you’d like to stop by and help, the regular Muir Ranch Workdays take place Monday-Friday from 8 to 11:00 a.m.
If you want to feast your eyes on more beauty from this place, follow Mud’s Instagram posts here: http://instagram.com/cocoxochitl
And follow his Twitter feed, here: @muirranch or @muirranchcsa