Interview by Anna Pier
When I arrived at the Sonoma Garden Park on Seventh Street East to talk with Steve, I found him pushing a wheelbarrow full of broccoli starts, followed by his dogs, a black Lab and a Chihuahua.
What is your role here at the Garden?
I guess you’d say I’m the manager. I manage the people who come here to work, the volunteers – taking care of our flock of 25 chickens, planning planting, pruning, composting, all the timing., including scheduling crop rotation. Scheduling the volunteers. I do anything that’s needed. I just did the irrigation for four new garden plots.
How long have you been helping out here?
It’s pushing six years. When I first volunteered, I worked with the paid farmer, Rebecca. I learned so much from her – like about the micromix composting method we use, Bokhashi, which is Japanese fermented biomatter. After about two years, when the funding for the farmer position dried up, I just kind of took on the job.
How did you end up at the Sonoma Garden Park?
When I retired in 2011, my wife and I wanted to move to the country. We thought about buying a little farm somewhere around here, but we realized we were too old to take that on. So we bought a place in town. And then I found this.
What was your work?
I wrote and managed databases and business systems for the aerospace industry down the peninsula – Ford, Lockheed, Space Systems Loral. Always in an office. And I always wanted to be outdoors. When I was in college I thought of transferring to Humboldt State, to go into forestry. But I stayed at Santa Clara and went into business.
Have you always loved gardening?
I can remember growing parsley when I was three years old at 246 Liberty Street in San Francisco. And I always helped tend my mother’s garden. Everywhere my wife and I lived I had a little garden – tomatoes and zucchini.
How much time do you spend here?
Around 30 hours a week. Just trying to keep up with everything. I guess you’d say I’m on call too – if there’s a problem with the chickens, or with the water. There are six acres here, and everything you see, I’m the one who says, “We gotta get it done.”
What is a “Garden Park”?
It’s a city park, run by the Ecology Center. I bet most people in Sonoma don’t even know about it. But it’s open seven days a week, to come and enjoy seeing gardening, beekeeping, chicken raising, fruit-growing.
Why do you think it’s important?
It seems to me that people are out of touch with the seasons and how things grow. Children, and even some adults, don’t know when is plum or peach season because every kind of fruit is available year round in the supermarkets. There are lots of people who can’t recognize say, an artichoke plant. We have groups from all the schools come visit. I like that I have a part in introducing children to what is actually going on out here in nature, with plants.
Who are your volunteers?
We have high schools kids volunteering, including the Enviroleaders. A few have done their senior projects here in the Park. And Boy Scouts have come too to help, and Rotary. I could use a pool of about 20 adults, to get 10 volunteers out here every week for sure.
Tell me about these “farm dogs’ of yours.
Eva and Tucker having been coming with me to the Garden ever since I started. Needless to say, they love it. Eva is good at finding gophers, and the school children all love Tucker.
Anything you’d like to see new in the Garden?
Yes, I’d love to have a small moveable chicken coop to haul around to fertilize the back fields. And more visitors!