Hiking along the eastern end of the Indian Valley fire road, the vista opens up to bucolic rolling hills studded with majestic oak trees. Nestled in this sun-drenched haven is an unexpected vision an active, bustling farm brimming with seasonal produce and spectacular flowers. Amble by and you'll find a place to cultivate good soil, food and farmers — the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden at College of Marin's Indian Valley campus in Novato.
If you've cultivated edibles at home, you know how gratifying it can be to plant, nurture, harvest and enjoy your own home-grown food — be it from a patio planter stuffed with aromatic herbs or full-out beds that produce enough to feed a neighborhood.
Acquiring the knowledge and skills for successful food gardening can be a hand-me-down family affair, self-taught through trial and error, instruction-based from a variety of sources or a combination of any or all of these. Marin is now the beneficiary of an extraordinary resource that provides time-tested and newly developed technologies in organic landscape, farming and gardening that are taught in both indoor and outdoor settings. Offerings are designed to meet the needs of industry professionals as well as the enthusiastic home gardener.
Launched in the spring of 2009, the 5.8-acre certified organic demonstration farm is a teaching lab and working farm and garden — the only one of its kind in Marin. A collaboration between the College of Marin, the Conservation Corps North Bay, University of California Cooperative Extension and Master Gardeners, it showcases innovative sustainable agricultural and living practices, growing over one hundred varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs.
Patterned after successful teaching farms at universities in Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, San Diego and Fresno, the farm is part of an initiative to teach residents about the valuable role of agriculture in Marin County while promoting local food systems.
"It's resplendent in the summer bounty," says Master Gardener Karen Detwiler, who was involved at the beginning of the project and has watched its transformation. "It's a very inspirational project that reminds us to eat locally and live sustainably."
Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden focuses on:
- Providing skill-based green job training for sustainable agricultural, landscaping, and horticulture professionals.
- Hands-on agriculture and food systems education for middle and high school students, corps members and local residents.
- Showcasing innovative sustainable growing and living practices for the people of Marin.
- Transforming the lives of underserved youth by providing hands-on green job training and work study opportunities.
- Improving community health by providing underserved families with affordable organic produce.
- Fostering collaboration between local nonprofit groups, government agencies and farmers working in sustainable agriculture/food systems, community health and youth development.
Marin Master Gardeners serve as farm docents during partner events as well as organizing and leading community educational opportunities for the public, a perfect fit of their training and commitment to community service through education.
"The Marin Master Gardeners are leaders for the partnership in engaging the larger community of Marin to learn about sustainable and organic vegetable production," says UCCE Director David Lewis. "The result is the infusion of sustainable gardening tenants into individual homes and gardens that increase the quality and availability of food across Marin in ways that safeguard the environment."
Monthly educational programs geared toward the home gardener are on tap, including one from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 22. "Planning Your Cool-Weather Garden" is a two-hour workshop about tending a winter garden and why it is important to begin planning yours now. It will cover topics from selecting season-appropriate vegetables, natives and ornamentals to succession planting, cover crops, winter soil preparation and composting.
Co-sponsored by Conservation Corps North Bay and Master Gardeners and taught by College of Marin instructor and Horticultural Therapist Liza Buckner, the workshop is being conducted in conjunction with the farm's fall plant sale. For more information, including workshop registration and directions to the farm, go to the Marin Master Gardeners website at www.marinmg.org.
If it's fresh produce and flowers you're after, visit the farm stand at the entrance to the farm; it's open year round from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays. And if you like learning by doing, the farm welcomes volunteers to assist with soil preparation, propagating, planting and harvesting from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesdays and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays.
Next time you're out for a hike, stop by the Indian Valley Organic Farm & Garden and see what it has to offer.