FORT BRAGG, 4/25/23 — The Noyo Food Forest, on the verge of demise last year, blew back with the full force of the westerly winds Saturday for its marquee annual event in Fort Bragg. Each year the Food Forest celebrates Earth Day at the forest’s garden grounds at Fort Bragg High school with a big comeback this year and news that Fort Bragg High School has hired a teacher who will make the learning garden his or her classroom.
Volunteers greeting people at Saturday’s free event counted 1206 attendees, who were able to visit over fifty booths, even on a windy day. There seemed to be about that many parked cars when this reporter arrived at 1 p.m and had to park blocks away at Redwood Elementary School. Every sports field was also churning with Little League and school baseball and softball games. Everybody on the coast seemed to be out doing Earth Day stuff, even though the official Earth Day was actually on Thursday. Maybe it was no surprise that the coast got a late start on 4/20.
Elsewhere on Saturday, the line at the Caspar Transfer Station was more than a mile long and blocked traffic on Road 409 in the early morning. Because of the mobs, the transfer station shut off the free dump day by 11 a.m. The Almost Fringe Festival in Point Arena was also packed on Saturday.
The Noyo Food Forest, begun by the efforts of Susan Lightfoot and others 17 years ago, elicited big community involvement from the start for its local food theme. It appealed to all corners of the community with its efforts to bring back traditional farming practices like seed-saving, organic growing, and teaching food self-sufficiency. The organization and the event grew rapidly in its first five years. Situated at Fort Bragg High School, the gardens were integrated into both the curriculum and the cafeteria. The Noyo Food Forest’s energetic efforts helped inspire and literally sprout gardens at all the local schools. Pupils learned to plant, grow, save seeds and sell starts — not to mention eat the garden’s offerings. These efforts have ebbed and flowed with the energies of volunteers, teachers, students and the district. But the pandemic created big problems for all. The big Earth Day event and Farm to Table dinners that graced each fall were canceled. Volunteerism dropped off and the relationship with local schools, which required food to be grown and classes to be taught, floundered.
Last September, those left put out a call for help to save Noyo Food Forest. The resulting reaction was bigger than a bundle of chard from the greenhouse. Now the renewed annual event was a big success and there is news that Fort Bragg High School will hire a teacher in its Career Technical Education program who will use the learning garden as classroom, the Voice was able to confirm.
“People got pretty fired up. People stepped forward to help,” said Ericka Lutz, a new board member who literally put her shoulder to the plow. An author and a member of the UC Berkeley faculty for nearly two decades, she was a relative newcomer to the community. Others who joined in reviving the organization included Teresa Raffo, another relative newcomer whose high-end glamping business, Mendocino Grove, has bemused some locals while winning accolades, Other new board members and volunteers include Jessica Scribner and Tracy Wolfson. Wolfson’s environmentally green landscaping business Dirt Cheap, had been a major sponsor of Noyo Food Forest and the Earth Day event until it closed last year. Now she brought in the Real Estate Brokerage she works for, Engel & Völkers, as sponsors. A large number of local businesses returned as sponsors, and others came in for the first time. “We started with an organization that was almost defunct. We have spent nearly a year now pulling it up and back into an active role,” Lutz said.
The organization now has both a part-time office person and part-time gardener to keep up with a full acre of land and all the paperwork that comes with any nonprofit. A plan is in the works to get Fort Bragg High Schools’ Career and Technical Education Program to put daily work in the gardens into its curriculum in fall 2023.
The Saturday event attracted community leaders from government agencies like the city of Fort Bragg to Cold Creek Compost, which offered surprisingly aromatic-free samples of what the town’s green waste becomes. There were more than fifty booths that paid Noyo Food Forest to set up, including several food trucks. One big success was that Native people had a bigger role at the event. Lutz said she had made a special outreach to tribes for this year’s event. There were several Native American booths, ranging from the active Land Back program to traditional food-making. “We did reach out. We were honored that so many came and helped make this a great event,” Lutz said.
U’ilani Wesley, Executive Director of Xa Kako Dile introduced its new organization led by Indigenous women, located on Fortunate Farm in Caspar. Others gave updates on other news from Indigenous communities.
Lutz said the Latino Coalition of the Mendocino Coast also participated. “It’s really important to include the entire community in this event,” Lutz said.
Many young people attended the Earth Day celebration, some going back and forth between the baseball games and the event. Earth Day, which dates from 1970, has resurged in popularity. There were bounce houses, face painting, and a display of baby chicks from the schools’ FFA/4-H contingent. The school farm clubs have ballooned in size, students said. One of the big thrills of the day was the performance by 10-14-year-old girls from Circus Mecca. The young athletes wanted to perform at Earth Day so much that they raised money to cover their own expenses. Pomo and Yuki Elder Edwina Lincoln opened the festival with a moving ceremony, followed by music from Lavender Grace and the Honey Hive, Keeter Stuart, and 2nd Hand Grass. KOZT’s Dred Scott MCd the afternoon.
Lutz said the organization has ongoing needs for volunteers and funds.
“We are trying to fund the summer intern program. We have ongoing costs for garden infrastructure. We need new watering equipment, new hoop houses and general repair, maintenance and other needs.” More information about getting involved can be found at the Food Forest’s website: https://noyofoodforest.org/
Earth Day raised $21,000 for Noyo Food Forest. The organization is a 501c3 non-profit; to donate, visit their PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=UGV38CBL4GQK4