A little more than two months ago, in late August, I posted a Critical Action Alert, writing that the Noyo Food Forest was at risk, and that unless immediate action taken, this critical resource, this treasure of the coastal community would likely close forever.
Today I report to you an update, and the good news that because of an extraordinary outpouring of grassroots support and the willingness of stewards of our community to step forward, we appear to have dodged the bullet, at least for the moment. A path to a bright future has opened and new leaders have stepped forward to guide the organization to a point of closer alignment with the school district.
But right now, the most critical need is to secure funding, money to carry the organization forward, money and more volunteers, until a planned alignment and incorporation with the school district can take place, perhaps next fall.
Some of you may not be familiar with the Noyo Food Forest, so let me take a moment to tell you about it, this one acre garden learning center right behind the Fort Bragg High School. The NFF was developed by three visionary women out of derelict, abandoned wasteland behind agricultural outbuildings at the high school. For more than 15 years, it has functioned as a learning Garden for agricultural and naturalist education within the Fort Bragg School District. Produce raised by students and volunteers in the garden supplies critically needed organic vegetables and fruit that goes directly into the Fort Bragg School District nutrition services for lunch at the schools.
But the Noyo Food Forest is much more than that. It is a community resource, a base for building community resiliency, strengthening Fort Bragg and the neighboring communities by educating people about agriculture and the earth, about raising food close to home, literally in our own backyards. Over the years thousands of children and volunteers have learned about nature, organic food production, bio-intensive agriculture and community security and resiliency at the NFF
Although technically on School District property, it has never been to my knowledge an actual part of the school district, but has always been at arm's length.
Detailing the events that led to the crisis are beyond the scope of this update, but suffice to say that there were, as always, a chain of events that led to the situation on site that day. It wasn't one big thing, it was many little things. Among them: the inevitable changeover and shift in personnel in volunteer organizations; the domino effect of the Covid pandemic, which essentially shut students out of the garden for more than 2 years, and eliminated the demand for produce from the gardens since the school district was no longer serving lunches to students; and personnel change including the sudden departure of the longtime executive director and the death of the President of the Board of Directors.
Some of these developments were months or years in the making, but events took on a critical mass and began deteriorating this spring.
After a quick assessment, the one Ray of Hope that I saw in the garden that morning, aside from the beautiful Earth and the plants, was the woman that told me all this bad news: Veronica Storms, the "garden manager" and the only one at the site that day. Veronica impressed me immediately as someone who was a keeper; she could be a strong leader in the garden and is such a dynamo of energy and enthusiasm that it carries over. She's an invaluable resource and since that first visit has become the garden manager.
Even as I left the garden that morning back in August the terrible sinking feeling that I had in my stomach was being supplanted and replaced by a fierce determination and resolve to save it, to save and carry forward this beautiful resource that had been nurtured and carried forward with such amazing energy and love. To me it seemed a crime beyond measure to just squander this place, to let it slip through our hands.
And so I went home and wrote my manifesto and I posted it up on the internet. Veronica had told me that an organization meeting was planned, it was going to happen soon and if people didn't show up for that, the garden would close.
Well it happened that I was not the only one that cared about the garden, and cared about it a lot.
The generous people of this place, our beloved North Coast home community responded. Yessir, you did! You responded in force and showed up and blew the rafters off the building where we had the meeting! 45 people showed up, enthusiastic volunteers, all of them including - very importantly - Joseph Aldridge (the new Superintendent of Schools) and his wife Hollie.
Their attendance was a crucial sign and very real physical demonstration of their commitment both as enthusiastic gardeners and as very important decision makers in the school district.
Out of this initial organizational meeting an enthusiastic and experienced group of people have been elected to form the new board of directors. Joining veterans Steve Lund, Teresa Raffo and Tracy Wolfson, new board members include: Jessica Scribner, Ericka Lutz and Anne Harvey. These are the people who have been elected to provide oversight and direction for the Food Forest as we enter the winter months. They will guide the organization in this critical time as we work with the Fort Bragg Unified School District to more closely align with their agenda and toward an eventual incorporation with the district, hopefully by next fall.
I spoke with Joe Aldridge personally yesterday and there can be no doubt about his commitment to the garden; he's working hard right now to secure grants and funding for the coming months.
But we need to back him up with additional financial support right now.
We need support now to get us to a time, hopefully fall of 2023, when a good part of NFF funding will come from the school district. We need money do most everything that needs to happen at the garden - most importantly reinstate agricultural education and internship program within the Fort Bragg School District, upgrade our propagation house so we can start offering seed starts to the community, build on our seed bank, and become a resource that our community can turn to and depend on.
We have a very solid garden manager to lead us into the future in Veronica Storms. The garden itself has entered a more dormant phase with the coming of the winter months, although still providing the high school with Salad Mix. Our need at this point is to marshal our resources and funding, and have a program in place as we come into the new year.
Because of the influx of new energy and ideas we are just over 3 weeks away from now from a fantastic fundraiser event that's going to be held at the Mendocino Grove, a unique destination resort that is being made available to our organization by Teresa Raffo, newly elected President of the Board of Directors.
"Dinner at The Grove"
Saturday December 9th
"Join us at Mendocino Grove for a fun and delicious evening to celebrate Noyo Food Forest, honor our awesome volunteers, introduce you to our new board members, and raise money to support our 2023 season.
Friday's Line-Up Includes:
4-5pm - Wreath making & hot toddies from The Farm, Albion.
5-6pm — Appetizers and special holiday cocktail
6pm — Hearty Winter Feast of Coq Au Vin, NFF greens and warm apple upside down cake....local wines and beer included
$75/adult, $20 child
Live Music... Raffle....More
I understand there are some tickets still available...
Tickets & More Info at firstname.lastname@example.org
More details about the fundraiser will follow, but I can report to you that very definite progress has been made towards securing the future of the Noyo Food Forest. Critical accomplishments achieved or in progress include: 1) Securing the active participation and involvement of the school district 2) Recruitment and election of a new and capable board of directors 3) Recruitment of many new and enthusiastic volunteers.
These are all definitive and measurable mile markers on the way forward to the future. It does feel as though we've turned a corner. As Veronica put it in a recent meeting, "It's like a switch has been turned on; It was dark before and now light has come back on."
Much more work remains to be done and a project like this is really only ever as successful as the ongoing efforts of people behind it. But I feel quite confident and optimistic about our future.