by Julie Horner
Late May, late afternoon, and I found myself standing somewhat naked feeling but cautiously celebratory beside a big wooden box filled with several cubic feet of dirt. The afternoon sun had slipped below the tree line and I was under dressed but optimistic in shorts and a tank top. Shivering slightly, rental agreement in hand, I drove my stake down into the brown to mark my territory. I had just nabbed one of the last three remaining 6 ft. x 4 ft. raised redwood planting beds milled and handcrafted on-premises at the newly established Boulder Creek Village Farm. Brimming with beautiful organic soil, each bed represented an open slate promising months of fragrant greenery garnishing the south end of downtown Boulder Creek.
I’d missed the grand opening by a couple of weeks when most of the other raised beds had been snatched up by a throng of eager gardeners thirsting for a patch of sun in the forest. Beds were rented first come first served. Proprietor and pilot-turned-farmer, Brandon Parker, said that one person even attempted to camp out. “It was like an iPhone release,” he said. The camper lasted until about 3:00; other people were lined up before 6:00 in the morning. Brandon said, “It was fun, with donuts and coffee, everyone out meeting each other.” By the end of the event all but three beds were taken and 14 out of 18 beds were planted up that day.
Boulder Creek Village Farm occupies the vacant lot next to Boulder Creek Village Wash, which has been in Brandon’s family since 1974. Brandon tells me he’s got new machines coming in – giant front-loaders – “so you can wash your king sized bedspread.” He’s busy refurbishing for a 1950s retro feel, putting in a coffee machine and stepping up the popular drop-off wash service. But he wondered how to make use of that adjacent lot.
He eventually decided it would be best to “open the space up and give it to the community.” While somewhat disconnected from the main thrust of Boulder Creek downtown, “I want people to walk down,” enticed by the curb appeal.
The raised beds of Village Farm occupy about 1/3 of the available space. He pictures having outdoor movie nights, “big long tables for farmers’ dinners,” and live music with small acoustic bands. “I’ve already had a car show with everything from a brand new 2016 souped-up Mustang to 1950s rat-rods. And there’s always the farmers market idea, which proved problematic for some behind the Odd Fellows Hall – maybe at Village Farm the instance would be more inviting from the street with room to unfurl and plenty of parking.
First he’ll get a feel for running the farm operation smoothly by growing it in stages. “In the years to come, it can be as big as the people want it to be. I’m really open.” Some will want to return next year to grow vegetables in the beds, and he’ll be adding gardening classes and workshops. “I like the idea of having cool things for the community to come together.”
The lot gets a full 12-hours of sun in the summer and gets its water from the laundromat. He’s already looking into creating greywater and rainwater catchment systems for the farm and tapping into solar power for the laundromat. Those who joined the farm received the raised bed, soil, amendments, access to water, and tools, “all they have to bring are plants and themselves.” Gardeners and the curious can access the farm from sunrise to sunset seven days a week or walk or drive by any time to peer inside.
“I love Boulder Creek, love the community, and I want to do something positive for the area. The farm has turned out to be nicer than expected…people come out with their kids with watering cans; I can hardly wait to see them pick their vegetables.”
Brandon sees the big picture. “A lot of things need to be changed, and we’re starting at a small level to bring that change.” He’s hoping to set an example by motivating people to eat healthy by growing their own vegetables. “Healthy living is becoming cool. We went so far one direction toward pre-processed foods, now we’re pulling back the other way toward epic organic.”
“We can speak with our dollars. Patronize places that support healthier living.”
A lifelong resident of Boulder Creek, Brandon is thankful to the community for helping out. “The beds were built by Steve Maurer, and Tyrone ‘Ty the Tractor’ Clark brings his rig down from Bear Creek to help move dirt – he’s awesome, stops by to help out. Redwood Edible Gardens donated heirloom tomato starts at the grand opening, Linda Skeff helped line up the cardboard and wood-chips for weed abatement, and Lisa Harwell has been a big driving force behind getting things going.”
Boulder Creek Village Farm started as “just a short grass weed field, an open dead lot,” Brandon says. Now all kinds of herbs, leafy vegetables, berries, watermelon, squash, and pumpkins grow. “I want it to be a community space. I wanted to do something pretty.”
Brandon welcomes ideas for future projects that will improve the space and he’s looking for experts who will host classes throughout the growing season. Message Brandon on Facebook:
Visit Boulder Creek Village Farm: 12890 Highway 9 Boulder Creek, CA. 95006
Julie Horner is a writer and Irish style musician living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, CA. This story was originally published in the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin, June 2016: http://mountainbulletin.com/article/valley-business-boulder-creek-village-farm-epic-organic/