Red wigglers squirm between brown leaves and green vegetable parts as Matt Giese lifts the lid of a wooden box on stilts.
The worm composting bin's surface is alive with beings turning discarded organic material into nutrient-rich food for the rows at Templeton Hills Community Farm. Castings fall out of the bottom of the bin, ready to become the compost tea that Farm Manager Giese swears by.
- Photo Courtesy Of Pastor Zac Page
- GATHERING PLACE The Seventh-day Adventists' Templeton Hills Community Farm opened to the public one month before the pandemic started, in February 2020. Designed to be a community space, Pastor Zac Page said it's a great place to socially distance, outdoors.
Although he used to get it from his neighbor, who owns Red Frog Compost Teas, Giese is learning and attempting to make his own, thanks to some tips from that very same neighbor. Coming up on its one-year anniversary in February, the farm between Templeton Hills Adventist School and the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Templeton Hills Road has been an educational experience for Giese, Pastor Zac Page, and all of the community and church volunteers who've made it a reality.
For instance: "There's a big learning curve for harvesting. People want to take out the whole thing, when you only need a leaf," Giese said, referring to greens such as kale. "It's definitely a learning curve."
Page, who began his tenure at the church in 2015, said he was interested in using some of the 13 acres between the church and its school to create a place where the community could gather—for a soccer field or a community center. The goal was to impact people's lives for the better, to give them a place to connect. But building those was a bit out of the church's budget, so the idea of doing an organic farm came up and it stuck.
- Photo By Camillia Lanham
- PASSION FOR GREENS Templeton Hills Community Farm Manager Matt Giese harvests microgreens on a recent Thursday.
Giese runs the farm part time. He plans planting and harvesting, organizes and teaches volunteers, and puts together produce for people to pick up for a suggested donation. Volunteers can trade work for produce, and community members in need can swing by and pick up produce for free. As production increases, the goal is to be able to donate some of the surplus to local food banks.
"It's been a lot better than a community center or anything else, because it's outdoors and we've been able to provide fresh produce to people and everything else," Page said. "It's been a lot of people from the community who have found out about it, and it's kind of just a family-friendly environment where you can be outdoors during the pandemic."
Giese said his three kids ran around barefoot during the summer, helping other families and children learn what not to do, showing kids how to harvest carrots. Giese and Page say they've gotten good feedback from parents.
"We hear parents saying, 'Yeah I got my kids to eat vegetables for the first time because they knew where it came from,'" Page said. "It gives them some excitedness about vegetables and food and where it came from. ... That's what it's really about for us here. The goal is just to contribute to people's lives."
- Photo Courtesy Of Pastor Zac Page
- FIRST HARVEST Children pick peppers during a volunteer day at Templeton Hills Community Farm, which is open every Sunday to volunteers.
The farm gets volunteers of all skill sets every Sunday and is willing to teach people what they'd like to learn. Eventually, Giese said he'd like to have volunteers more often and be able to teach classes to children and families about growing a garden.
Lettuces, carrots, kale, radishes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, snap peas, garlic, onion, and more are in the ground right now, populating raised beds inside a greenhouse and outside in straight rows. A second greenhouse is under construction, and about 60 dormant fruit trees are waiting for spring to start. None of it would be possible without the donations and grants the church received to get the farm started and help it grow.
In addition to tree donations from Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero, local businesses donated rental equipment and soil amendments, gave discounts on a tractor and farm equipment, or only charged cost for materials. Templeton Hills Community Farm also received a $20,000 grant from Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and local residents have given the farm little things like seed trays and bees, in addition to their time. Everything just kind of came together at the right time.
Giese said he got into gardening when he and his wife, Sabrina, had their first child about 12 years ago. As their family grew with two more children, so did their garden. But it was always at rentals—and when they would leave those, they would also have to tear up their garden. When they moved from Poly Canyon to Paso Robles due to the drought and a failing well, Giese said they doubled the garden and had 50 chickens. But eventually their landlord needed the house for his family, and the Gieses had to move again—right after they had planted a spring garden.
Never again, Giese said, would he plant a garden at a rental property. But, he dreamed of having his own farm one day.
"It was a dream, a passion of mine to have a farm," Giese said. "I just didn't think it was possible."
The Gieses discovered the church on Templeton Hills Road about four years ago, and as they got more involved with the church community, the idea of farming the property got closer to becoming a reality. But it was one of those things that Giese, who's not always an optimist, said he felt wasn't going to actually happen. But then things started to come together.
Pacific Union Conference's grant came through. And a lucky search through Craigslist greatly reduced the cost of the greenhouses they wanted to build: from $3,000 just for the metal to install one to a few hundred dollars for four finished greenhouses that had been sitting in a local woman's field for 10 years.
"A lot of little things like that," Giese said.
"It's tripled in size since we first started just because doors keep opening," Page said.
- Photo Courtesy Of Pastor Zac Page
- BUNDLE OF JOY Everything produced at Templeton Hills Community Farm goes back to the community, either through the farm stand (for a suggested donation), volunteers, or families who have a need.
Sabrina and the kids ran a small farm stand this past year, and Giese already has a potential cooler on the docket and plans to plant more and harvest bigger sections of the farm so they can package it and get it ready in larger quantities than during 2020. He's planting more potatoes this year, as well as other storable produce such as onions, because the community was asking for it.
And if things keep moving in the direction that they're moving, both Page and Giese believe that he could eventually be a full-time farm manager. At the moment, Giese does commercial fishing, runs a handyman service, and is a part-time groundskeeper at the church and school, in addition to the work he does at the farm.
"It's been a really neat ride so far, that's why we're doubling down, tripling down, and see where it's going to go," Giese said. Δ
Editor Camillia Lanham feels the community spirit. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.