Growing Cities Blog

A talk with Maggie McProud- Farmer & Educator!

January 22nd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

Maggie McProud works as the Farm to Table Manager at The Woolman Semester School in Nevada City, CA. She has worked as a farmer in a number of amazing settings and has inspired those around her to enjoy growing and cooking healthy food. As an educator, Maggie works to give her students essential skills in farming, nutrition and healthful eating. To learn more about Maggie and the Woolman Semester, check out their Facebook, or visit their website!

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Sophie: What is the Woolman Semester and how does the school support local and sustainable agriculture?

Maggie: The Woolman Semester School is a progressive academic school for high school students who want to make a difference in the world, who want to take charge of their education and study the issues that matter most to them.  Students take an active role in their learning experience through community work, organic gardening and cooking, permaculture, art, wilderness exploration, service work, and by doing advocacy and activism work with real issues of peace, justice and sustainability in the world.

At Woolman we hope to embody a vibrant food system on campus and welcome participants of all backgrounds.  Integrating our students into our food systems and educating them about current food industries helps to foster reverence for natural systems in and out of our garden.  Students and Interns help grow produce in The Woolman Garden that they prepare in our kitchen.  We source additional organic, local and regional foods when needed, and visit many of these businesses on field trips.  The Garden Program also donates time, resources and produce to local schools hoping to share the bounty.

Sophie: What is your role at Woolman, and how does it influence your work as a farmer?

Maggie: I am the Farm to Table Manager at the Woolman Semester.  I manage our once acre site, our orchard and oversee many of the food systems on campus.  It’s a pleasure to provide our kitchen with as much fresh produce as we can use thought the year, put up surplus for the offseason and diversify our meal plans to utilize choice, seasonal produce.

Additionally, I coordinate garden and nutrition education for our students, interns and visiting schools. I teach a weekly Farm to Table elective, an advanced Farm and Garden Course to our interns and I lead educational field trips for local schools.  I also generate funds for the garden program by selling produce and transplants in addition to offering an 18 week CSA.

My roll at Woolman greatly influences my work as a farmer.  From the crop plan, system design to lesson plans, I am constantly evolving my growing practices to support the kitchen and inspire those who eat and cook on campus.  Primarily, I’m focused on creating a space and an experience that is not only beautiful and inviting but also encourages learning and connects our community to the land and the food that nourishes us.  My experience as a commercial farmer informs my understanding of how we have become separated from our food.  At Woolman I have the opportunity to design and share a food producing system in a new way, focusing on facilitating connection and resiliency instead of profit margins.

Sophie: Describe a day on the Woolman Farm, if possible!

No day on the Woolman Farm is ever the same, nor is it entirely predictable.  This makes it very exciting but makes planning difficult.  Our garden is a flurry of students of all ages, hummingbirds, pollinators, cats even occasional skunks!  Our learnscape is home over sixty annual crops, dozens of perennials and is dripping with flowers and herbs; all needing their own form of care.  There is always something to do and always that sweet quite spot that beckons the daydreamer.  We might start the day with recording and discussing observations, harvest or planting, bed prep and them move on to a class on permaculture, a 3rd grade field trip or knock out some weeding.  Because of the variety in our schedule, participants of our program learn a divers set of skills and practices in any given day, including me!

Sophie: What’s one issue in agriculture you wish people were more aware of?

Maggie: This is a very difficult question.  I could basically start anywhere because many of us are disconnected from where our food comes from, how its grown and who grows it.  We have so far to go in educating the public about the environmental and social ramifications of the current industrial food system, its affect on our health and that of the natural systems that we rely on.  One obvious improvement would be awareness around externalized coats in food production.

Generally speaking, ‘cheaply’ produced food doesn’t actually help anyone accept big business owners.  We rarely stop to ask, What are the actual coasts of manufacturing and consuming affordable and highly processed convenience foods?  Our bodies, our landfills, our soils, our atmosphere, our medical industries… are all paying for it. Many of the cheapest foods require the most energy, medical and environmental problems.  In particular, generating awareness of how subsidies and other externalized coasts end up affecting food scarcity, food access in low-income communities and the resulting effects on their health and well-being is very important.

Producing healthy food has many coasts but if we were to allocate resources to producing nutrient dense fruits and veggies instead of feed, refined foods and sweeteners we could improve food equity and affordability.  Most organic, fresh produce has fewer externalized coasts making it closer to its true cost and sadly, unaffordable to many who need it most.

Also, the production of conventional flowers and nursery plants is one of the most toxic, inhumane and environmentally impactful agribusinesses in the world today.  There is no regulatory body that governs this industry to safe practices because it’s not a food product.  Thus, it is no surprise that very few people hear how destructive this agribusiness has become. Addressing this exploitative industry could go a long way for fare trade, social justice and global sustainability.

Sophie: Anything else you’d like to add?

Maggie: Surprisingly for me, spending my time growing food is one of the most radical social, environmental and political occupations I can design.  Fortunately, this form of subtle activism affords a rewarding daily experience that greatly enhances my life. I am so grateful to have to opportunity to continue farming without the privilege of owning property and without the pressures of a commercial business.  At Woolman I have the pleasure of continuing my own education and practice in a community that celebrates learning and inspiration. I would encourage anyone who is interested in growing food to look for alternative settings where compromising visions because of economic pressures are minimized.  It is in these settings that for me, the joy and experience of farming has really come alive.

Sophie: Thank you so much Maggie!

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 Illustrations by Sophie Brinker of Growing Cities

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