Bean Vines, Dill and Sunflowers

Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism.            –Matthew Fox

One of the qualities of our farm that engages me and sustains my work at HGP is beauty. In this article, I want to celebrate the farm’s beauty and invite you to engage with it also.

In the world of survival, beauty may seem a luxury. At the farm, beauty may seem accidental or unavoidable–the sun breaking through the fog, the rows of colors as you look across the beds in full bloom, dew on dahlia petals, or the bronze heads of lettuces with their nesting leaves.

In my experience, beauty connects me to the moment, and to larger questions concerning what it means to be human. Why does seeing a beautiful painting or reading great literature nourish me? In her book, On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry “argues that beauty continually renews our search for truth and presses us toward a greater concern for justice.”

The processes at the farm–photosynthesis, germination, companion planting–are marvelously elegant. It has always fascinated me that there is a part of photosynthesis that takes place in the dark.  To be able to coax life–and this kind of beauty–from soil is a life-affirming experience.

And of course, there are the people who make the farm work–the trainees, volunteers and staff. Watching these people change and grow is beautiful.  As Tomlyn, an early HGP trainee says in Growing Hope: The Story of the Homeless Garden Project, “The Project is a gentle soft way for people to learn about homelessness and to see that people are people. It’s not dirty, or ugly. People are people and they’re beautiful.”

This farm is something we’ve all made together; we can’t do it without your support.  And together, let us sustain the beauty that is the Homeless Garden Project.

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Tribute to Susie MacMillen

In celebration of Susie’s life. Please join us at Natural Bridges Farm on Friday, June 24 at 2 PM to pay tribute to Susie MacMillen.  There will be opportunities to share remembrances, a small reception will follow. Please feel free to bring food to share, writing, photos. If you need more information, please contact Forrest Cook at

Susie began working at HGP in April 2007 and worked with us until she died. In that time I knew
her as a trainee, employee, friend, confidante, feminist, lover of knowledge, and person committed to
breaking through her own barriers in a systematic and thoughtful way.

For those of you who don’t know, HGP is a job training and transitional employment program
for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The training and employment programs take place in our organic farm and related enterprise. Susie worked in the greenhouse and became indispensable there, and ran our plant sale in 2010. For awhile, Susie insisted that while she loved the plants and the work of nurturing them and juggling those tasks—figuring out her own system for covering all the bases—she was not interested in working with people: volunteers, interns, tours. Then she changed her mind and began being the contact person for many of our kitchen needs and volunteers, giving tours, and helping to supervise and manage people on the farm. She’d created a cheat sheet or mantra that she read every morning to herself before work. It started out, “What is the problem? How can I help?” I can’t tell you how inspiring it was to watch Susie make this transition.

A special time for me with Susie was Friday nights from the end of May through the end of
October. The main way we sell our produce is to people who “subscribe” to our produce and come pick up Fridays during the harvest season. Susie would do the harvest each Friday, work at the farm and in the greenhouse, then came down to the office at about 3 or so where the CSA members picked up. By this time, her paid hours were long over, but she did it every week, consistently. We got into the habit of spending time together in my office after pick up was over and cleaned up.

Susie would bring me in a basket of tomatoes or a bag of produce and we’d talk about the week. Often the light would change into sunset, then dusk, then dark and we’d finally stop talking and go home.During that time, Susie told me about her sons and about being their mother, about their family life. One time, Susie brought in photo albums of their life and travels to show me. The photos and her stories seemed so fun—I kind of wished Susie could have been my mother. In her mothering I could see that same intelligence, vision, and diligent commitment to getting it all done, that I saw in her work at HGP.

Like many of us, I’ve really struggled with coming to terms with how suddenly we lost Susie and
how final that loss seems. I found myself looking forward to seeing her here today. In closing, I want to
read four lines from the Jorie Graham poem, The Visible World

Top of the oaks, do you see my tiny
golden hands
pushed, up to the wrists,
into the present? Star I can’t see in the daylight,
young, light and airy star—
I put the seed in. The beam more on.

–Darrie Ganzhorn, HGP Executive Director; Darrie read these comments at Susie’s memorial on May 7.

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One Generation to Another – A Story of an Intern

A homeless man had walked in with a terrible infection throughout his foot- so bad that if left alone, it would doubtlessly require an amputation.  Luckily the man was admitted, and within minutes of his arrival the hospital called all of the staff Podiatrists to attempt to find a doctor who would be willing to come in and help treat this patient who was in critical need.  The person who made the phone call from the hospital told my father that he was the fifth Podiatrist they called, as none of the other doctors even picked up their phones.  This did not come as surprising, not only due to it being a holiday weekend, but also because it was highly unlikely to receive any pay for the work due to this man not having the funds to pay expensive hospital bills with no insurance.

Meeting this man changed this type of thinking, at least a little bit, for my father.  Upon returning home from treating this man with a critical infection in his foot, my dad related that he was astonished that he ever became homeless at all.  He was extremely intelligent, had gone to college, and earned a degree in Philosophy.  The gentleman explained to my father that he had a steady job and a loving wife just a few years ago.

Hearing this story was very moving for me.  Seeing my father’s way of thinking change had a strong impact on me. Many structural, societal factors contribute to create heightened risk for experiencing homelessness.  Lack of access to resources due to growing up in poverty, for example, would make prospects for high education very unlikely.  I thought about what I learned, and an immense feeling of frustration came over me.  I thought about how all societies should be obliged to take care of all members.  I thought about how easily anyone could have a string of unfortunate events that could result in homelessness.

This experience caused my dad to believe that homelessness can happen to anyone, from any back ground and class, and for a variety of reasons.  It was during this same time that I was thinking about doing some community work here in Santa Cruz as an intern. The Homeless Garden Project was one of many community based organizations I had learned existed here in town. This seemed to be the perfect time to start.

The safe environment and strength of community the Project offers a neglected group of people is crucial in helping the transition into steady jobs, and permanent housing.   Having a sense of belonging to a community and contributing to something important enables the building self esteem and confidence.  After just a few months of working with this organization, I have learned how absolutely crucial places like this are.  It is a shame that society allows some people to slip through the cracks at all, but the presence of organizations such as this helps buffer against some of the consequences of this harsh reality.

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The Mutuality of Nourishment

Nourishing PeopleAs 2009 opened, I was issued a challenge – extended by my youngest sister to each of her six siblings – to make at least 500 pb&j sandwiches for the local soup kitchen or outreach center of my choosing. After strong-arming my Solstice partygoers into a couple of hours of focused sandwich making, my wife Christine and I had a mere 150 or so sandwiches to our credit. I dutifully dropped them at Santa Cruz’s Homeless Services Center and noted the rather lukewarm reception that greeted of our collective labor of love. Turning our Corolla-turned-meal-wagon into Trader Joe’s parking lot to restock our sandwich making supplies, I began to question, “What does it mean to truly nourish people?

This seemingly innocent line of inquiry took on a life of its own, spawning a new round of meal preparation that seemed more in keeping with our community’s needs. Over the following weeks, Christine and I lovingly (if sloppily!) prepared 75-or-so bag lunches – complete with small bean, cheese, and salsa burritos, tortilla chips, and cookies – and distributed them to the omnipresent row of Latino men walking the day laborer line. Tentative at first, the guys shyly scooped up brown paper sacks with mumbles of, “Gracias.” The task became equally fun and fulfilling, but I still pondered whether there might be a more meaningful way to foster community and address basic nutritional needs with my rather limited culinary skills (but abundant desire and energy!).

By April, I managed to expand my query enough to identify a couple of folks equally keen to spread nourishment and – joy of joys! – a community that exuberantly offered to participate in our foolhardy act of gastronomic kindness. Former pb&j sandwich makers and dear friends Karen Lambert and Clay Madden agreed to join me in making lunch each Wednesday for a team of organic farming trainees and the staff of the Homeless Garden Project (HGP – see Our little café would use primarily ingredients grown on the HGP’s 2.5-acre organic farm and distributed to HGP’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscribers. Indeed, we instantly became contestants on Organic Grab Bag Iron Chef, charged with generating a tasty, nutritious meal for 12 – 18 people with the veggies tucked in the walk-in fridge in a large brown grocery sack every Tuesday evening. And we agreed to do this for approximately 28 weeks: the duration of the trainees’ apprenticeship on the farm.

We enthusiastically showed up our first day with a steaming, humongous pot of spicy black bean chili-n-greens with a side dish of cornbread and farm-inspired salad, all of which were devoured quicker than you can say, “Homeless Garden Project.” We learned early on not to begrudge any ingredient that would lend a little fire to the meal, and that fire was best calmed by sugar, preferably delivered in the form of homemade cookies. When enthusiasm threatened to devolve into lackluster meals, we called in the reinforcements. Christine became my faithful sous-chef (OK, at times substitute chef!) and Karen & Clay’s daughter, Kendall, routinely rescued us with batches of lovingly-prepared cookies. The Triple C Double K Kitchen seemed to garner rave reviews. Secretly, though, I think that our panel of organic farming trainee/judges had bonded to us with such fondness that they became compromised critics! Mike – talented sculptor of the spiral garlic & onion bed, gifted carpenter, and wise mentor – offered to start a cookbook called Imagine Flavor based upon some of the dishes we dreamed up. Carmen always had stories of her four year-old’s achievements and antics for us, and we delighted when she shared the news of finding secure housing. Floppy sun hat-bedecked Barbara, skirt billowing in the ever-present coastal winds, frequently sent us off with armfuls of the farm’s brightest flowers.

Habitually slow to emerge from the greenhouse or tiny farm office, Susie would inevitably appear. Sandy gray-brown hair loosely caught in a rubber band, brown weather-kissed skin catching the sun, she’d squint up at us and inquire what delectable feast we had fabricated. Should she not appear, I would wander toward the greenhouse and find her carefully finishing off a seed tray, deep in concentration. As we walked toward the makeshift kitchen/dining area, she would lament that the frenetic pace of the season – which had started without the farm’s co-directors in place – meant that she did not have time to be present to people in the way she deeply wanted to. Seemingly in perpetual motion, I always took it to our credit that Susie actually paused to savor our Wednesday lunches for a good 10 or 15 minutes, which seemed luxurious. Ultimately, this proved to be enough time for us to shape a friendship based squarely in laughter, grousing, and shared admiration at the everyday miracles that abounded at the farm.

Mid-season, she added a few mouse-hunting (OK, rat-hunting) kitties to the farm’s small menagerie. Susie derived no end of pleasure from watching the girls (as she called them) learn the art of pouncing, which they perfected on each other and on assorted inanimate objects . . . She looked after the kittens as if they were her first born, balancing care and attention with the benign neglect that they needed to become true farm kitties. In this way, I glimpsed Susie’s knack for parenting. I was honored to meet one of the prizes of her true art of parenting when her son, Tashi, visited the farm with his girlfriend, Caitlin. Confident and kind, outfitted with Susie’s disarming gentle smile, Tashi warmed up the farm every time he visited. Susie seemed not to take her eyes off of him while he was there. It was clear they shared a remarkable bond, one which any single mother who has had to sacrifice much to hold her family together can speak to.

Among my brightest memories of this grand experiment in mutual nourishment – because Clay, Karen and I soon began to look forward to our Wednesdays at the farm as one might anticipate a great meal – I will never forget the sight of Susie standing in the buffet line at the 20th Anniversary festivities at the farm. Cloth-covered tables and chairs spread in a pattern out behind her, she beamed at Tashi and laughed her deep, resonant Susie laughed at a shared joke, eyes twinkling. She seemed in her element, surrounded by years of friends and the land –both of which she had taken pains to cultivate – and gazing upon the extraordinary produce of her efforts: the buffet of glorious dishes and the family she so dearly loved. Gazing at Susie and the entire HGP community – some of the two decades of formerly homeless HGP trainees, current and emeritus staff members, donors, friends, and children and pets galore – I thought, “This is what it means to nourish people.”

Susie MacMillen, ripened to 57 years of age, was somehow called back to the Creator in the wee hours of the morning on December 26th. She died when fire consumed her haven of peace, a trailer tucked on the far edge of a winery approximately 8 miles from town. As I think about her death, the lyrics of a favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter song ease into my mind: “I keep thinking I’ll flame out/ Leave noone with a doubt/ That I was meant to fire like a rocket.” Susie had far too much sparkle to die a conventional death. In this, I take great comfort as I try to honor and propagate her inspired commitment to hard work, to live ‘til it hurts, and to nourish the land and its inhabitants with every particle of one’s being.

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I’m Part of A Solution

Mona Stevenson

1993 - Present Trainee

Roughly seventeen years ago I first began my training experience making wreaths and working at the WOFE gardens on Washington Street and up at Natural Bridges Farm.  Then in the year 2000, I worked at the farm primarily digging and planting beds and harvesting for that year.  I also had the creative outlet making bouquets for CSA.  Now I work at the HGP store performing the tasks that help cultivate the generosity of the community and their financial support.

In doing this, I hope I perpetuate a means to end homelessness.  I’m part of a solution.  I’m able to applaud the good works of coworkers today because I was given the same opportunities by HGP and WOFE back then.  Now I am encouraged by me peers.

It makes a better life when one has been validated through one’s purposes and intentions.  The project fills my whole life with fruitfulness so that it is not just a bleak existence daily.  Here I am enabled to be useful and instrumental toward the betterment of people.  And this happens with every step I take forward toward helping people to pull themselves up using “the garden’s” supports.

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Braised Turnips with Poppy Seed Bread Crumbs



For turnips
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds medium turnips (not Japanese), peeled and cut into 1-inch-thick wedges
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For bread crumbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs from a baguette
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Braise turnips:
Melt butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, then add turnips, water, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Increase heat to medium and stir turnips, then briskly simmer, uncovered, until all of liquid has evaporated and turnips are glazed and just tender, 20 to 35 minutes (they should be cooked through but still retain their shape).

Make bread crumbs while turnips cook:
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then cook garlic, stirring, until pale golden, about 1 minute. Add bread crumbs and poppy seeds and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in parsley and salt to taste. Just before serving, sprinkle bread crumbs over turnips.

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Leek and Greens Risotto

  • Leeks1 cup risotto (can also use barley but good old arborio is what we had)
  • ½ -1 cup chopped leeks
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh thyme and/or sage
  • 1 cup canned or precooked beans
  • 5 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups chopped choy and/or chard

Heat broth in a sauce pan one the stove to a simmer. In deep skillet heat oil and sauté leeks until soft. Add rice or barley and sauté a couple of minutes in oil. Add white wine and sauté a couple minutes. Add 1 cup broth and sauté/simmer until it is absorbed by the rice. Add broth ½ cup to ¾ cup at a time and stir until rice absorbs it.  Rice should absorb 4 of the 5 cups of liquid and be “al dente” (around 35 minutes). If you like creamier risotto, keep adding the liquid ½ cup at a time to taste. When rice is al dente, add beans and cook for a couple minutes. Add greens and cook until wilted. Salt liberally to taste and add fresh pepper. Add thyme or any other fresh herbs. Remove from heat and mix in parmesan cheese. Add butter for even more decadent risotto.

Adapted from Serves 4

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Gingered Fennel with Garlic

Fennel(serves 4-8) From Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

  • 2 medium fennel bulbs (about 2 lbs.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • ½ cup orange juice (or sherry)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice off the root end and trim the stalks and feathery fronds of the fennel bulbs, reserving a few fronds for garnish, if desired. Cut the bulbs into halves, remove and discard the tough inner cores, and slice thin. In a large skillet, sauté the garlic and fennel in the oil on medium-high heat for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently and adding a splash or a two of water if necessary to prevent sticking, until the fennel is golden brown. And the ginger and the orange juice, cover, lower the heat, and simmer until the fennel is tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on the sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with the reserved fennel fronds.

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Whole Wheat Penne with Zucchini, Kale, and Tomatoes

  • Whole Wheat Penne with Zucchini, Kale, and Tomatoestablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, de-germed and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or 3 small dried thai chiles, crushed
  • 1 lb zucchini or other summer squash, diced
  • 1 cup kale leaves roughly chopped (you just want the leaves, remove stems first)
  • 1 cup canned whole tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons goat cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 portions whole wheat penne pasta

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, in the meantime prep all your veggies and heat a large skillet to medium heat. When the water starts to boil, add pasta and set your timer. Meanwhile add oil and onions to skillet and sauté for 2 minutes, or until onions start to soften. Add zucchini, garlic, chilies and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often until browned about 6-8 minutes. Continue adding veggies and sautéing; add kale for 1 minute, and finally tomatoes. Give it all a good stir and let simmer for a minute or two, or until pasta is ready. Save a little pasta water just in case. Add pasta to skillet, crumble goat cheese on top and toss well. Add salt and pepper and correct to taste. Serve hot.

(serves 2) Adapted from a recipe from

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Raw Kale Salad Recipe

Raw Kale Salad

One bunch of kale
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
Fresh squeezed juice of two lemons
One teaspoon of olive oil
One teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
A pinch of cayenne pepper

Rip the leaves of the kale apart into a large bowl and remove the stem. Add the lemon juice and sea salt. Thoroughly mix by hand or with a spatula for 20 minutes. Add the cayenne, oil, and balsamic vinegar. Mix for another 2 minutes.

At this point the kale is ready to eat. I always like it most on the second day though. If I am making this as a dish to pass, I make it at least 6 hours before the start of the party to allow the ingredients to properly complement each other.


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