The creation of the Organic Farm School in Maxwelton Valley
The original idea for, and creation of, the Organic Farm School was the product of three people: Anza Muenchow, Olivia Forte Gardner and Marion Atwood. These three women were able to find grant funds for a training program and established what was then called the CSA Program at Greenbank Farm. The school was offered with free tuition with stipends provided by the sale of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) products.
When the original grant went away, the partners were at a loss and suggested that the project be allowed to sunset. But the Greenbank Farm Management Group (GFMG) felt it too good to let die and so picked it up, a year later hiring Judy Feldman to be Executive Director of both the Management Group and the farming project. A native Texan, Judy came to the GFMG with a degree from the University of Washington in Natural History and a Masters Degree in Organizational Psychology from Antioch University. Armed with a work history at WSU Island County Extension, that included Noxious Weed Control, Beach Watchers, Livestock Advisors, Climate Stewards, and 4-H, she was excited about the prospect of keeping the farmer training program moving forward.
The program, eventually called the Ag Training Center, and then ultimately the Organic Farm School, continued to operate at Greenbank Farm with Sebastian Aguilar first picking up the role of instructor, then Jessica Babcock, until the GFMG contract was terminated by the Port of Coupeville in 2015. Judy and GFMG Board members began looking for other locations that would work for the training program. Then, one of those Whidbey serendipity moments happened: Ron Sher, who owns 300 acres in the Maxwelton Valley (and also is a successful owner of several Seattle Area retail businesses), heard about the Organic Farm School and had a conversation with Judy. One month away from making a decision to close the school, Judy asked Ron and his wife Eva if there was any chance they might have room for the program. Their reply: “We don’t see why not.”
Ron Sher created an arrangement with the Organic Farm School to provide a no-fee lease of 10 acres on his property. The school is evolving on this property with the understanding that Ron and Eva will have the school and its outcomes as part of their legacy toward a more environmentally sustainable future.