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A Slice of Farm Life

diningAg-based education gets a boost at Slice, the fifth annual farm dinner to support the Live Earth Farm Discovery Program

Does a hamburger come from a farm?

It’s a surprisingly complex question, and one that youth who pass through the Live Earth Farm Discovery Program (LEFDP) have thoughtfully explored. The nonprofit’s 10 different programs provide farm-based education and activities for infants through teenagers, and the questions posed—such as the aforementioned quandary about the origins of a hamburger—vary in depth depending on the age group.

Young children, for example, may be asked to consider how Santa Cruz County residents eat grapes when they aren’t in season, says program director Jessica Ridgeway.

With high schoolers, like 16-year-old Iysha Benavidez, “we might delve into how the food system works,” says Ridgeway.

As part of a collaboration between LEFDP and local food justice program Food What?! Benavidez spent portions of her recent Food What?! spring internship and summer job with LEFDP at its headquarters, Live Earth Farm in Watsonville.

“I stopped eating fast food five months ago after I learned from [LEFDP] how far it came, what they did to the animals to get the meat, and how it was made,” Benavidez says. “It didn’t really feel right to me. I like knowing that all my vegetables—when I grow them myself or work on the farm—are fresh and right there instead of having to come thousands of miles to get to me.”

Benavidez has also planted a garden at her family’s home in Watsonville. “They really like what I’ve learned,” she says.

More than 1,400 youth cycled through LEFDP in 2012, with the highest portion—30 percent—hailing from Watsonville and Corralitos, says Ridgeway.

“[A lot of them] say it’s their first time on a farm, but they live surrounded by fields,” says Ridgeway. “Some of their parents pick strawberries all day every day, and they never have. Our message to them is that it’s a career to be proud of. They pick one, eat it, have juice dripping down their chin. With the older kids we may talk about how hard that would be to do all day, but that, if you want to eat them, someone has to pick them.”

The nonprofit formed in January 2008 as an expansion of Live Earth Farm’s popular field trip program. “We realized there was a really big need for these field trips and if we offered them, they’d fill up,” says Ridgeway.

School field trips are still a mainstay for LEFDP, which operates separately from the farm, but it also offers summer camps, a monthly home school program, drop-in programs for young families, and more. Each takes advantage of the 50 fruits and vegetables grown at Live Earth, allowing, for example, babies to touch, smell and taste fresh produce, and children to try everything from fruit tree pruning to milking goats.

LEFDP covered all costs for 23 percent of participants last year, subsidized costs for 31 percent, and subsidized transportation costs for 12 percent. To make these sorts of opportunities available, LEFDP is looking to the community for support. It hopes to raise $20,000 at its largest annual fundraiser, Slice, a farm dinner that takes place Saturday, Sept. 14.

Served beneath the canopy of Live Earth Farm’s Espaliered Gala Apple Orchard, the apple-themed organic feast will be comprised entirely of edibles from local chefs, farmers, artisans and winemakers, including apple chutney bruschetta with goat cheese, slow-cooked Linda's Tasty Pork with Live Earth Farm German butterball potatoes, red onions, roasted apples, and braised greens, and apple crisp à la Mode, Penny Ice Creamery-style.

Apples, Ridgeway explains, are both a nod to the area’s agricultural history (where berries now cover the land, apple trees once stood prominent) and a symbol for learning. The locally sourced meal itself is an apt representation of LEFDP’s mission.

“It’s all about teaching farm-to-plate,” says Ridgeway. “We hope that [kids] are walking away with some understanding of how to build a healthy plate of food for themselves, as well as that, basically, all of their food comes from the farm. And the fewer steps it took to get to their plate, the better.” 


Slice, Dinner in the Orchard takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 at Live Earth Farm’s Lower Barn, 1275 Green Valley Road, Watsonville. Live music by The Shapes, an auction, children’s program, and historical Pajaro Valley apple farming display, discussion and apple activities top off the farm dinner. General admission $150. Ticket sales end 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13. Learn more at liveearthfarm.net/celebrations-events/events.

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