Reminiscences from Camp Joy Apprentice Steve Sprinkel, 1972-1975

Big Garden

Considering how grateful I am for my experience at Camp Joy is like expecting a wave to explain how it feels about the wind. I could write a book about it. Oh, but I already have. Not “about” Camp Joy, but so much of what I have done and written about flows out from that day I stood on the hill below Merrill College observing the garden nymphs dance between the flower beds while Alan Chadwick stalked about his rampant stage.

Later I spent a few short seasons in Boulder Creek learning at ground-level from Beth Benjamin, Jim Nelson, Doug Bong, Jimmy X and Bob G, and their many garden friends. I have had more than thirty gardens since. Some were big as 23 acres, some no bigger than two. I gardened in California, north and south, Bolivia and Texas. Today I am on a 12 acre parcel growing dozens of different species. I have 20,000 organic transplants in the back of my box truck that I picked up today at the nursery in Carpinteria. I have four days to plant them before it starts raining again.

As a wave on the water, I have wandered far on those first puffs of wind. Gardening as I learned it has provided me with plenty to talk about. I wrote over 300,000 words on organic agriculture for ACRES, USA from 1996 to 2007. I have published five books of poems, many of which contain agricultural themes, or describe the wildlife we co-exist with. Birds are a frequent source of inspiration. I write a weekly newsletter for my CSA and our “store”, The Farmer and The Cook. I have over 500 of these newsletters now and am publishing those. A Toda Madre is another book I wrote, but never had published, about the Mexicans I worked with in the 1980s in Santa Barbara County.

I am so very wound around gardening like a vine around a pole because of Camp Joy. I was once the president of the Cornucopia Institute, am on the ECOFARM board and maintain a non-profit educational “center” with five people here in Ojai. Now I am on the state California Hemp Association board but I keep telling them that hemp should be grown like corn in Nebraska where the rain falls out of the sky. We have “trained” a lot of other people how to garden on a farm and it is surprising how many of them are still at it. The youth are now massing on their gardens all over. I am glad to be able to observe the new generation creating a new vision of land work. We employ 46 people at the store and the farm. The store floats on a sea of fresh produce and its success would not be possible without the garden.

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