By Karina Andersen ’21
Carved out amongst the cozy bungalows of the humdrum community of Mira Monte lies a patch of farmland, shared by orchards of juicy oranges and savory avocados, succulent vegetables and a medley of barn animals from pigs to goats to chickens. The vibrant Ojai sun warms our hair as our feet crunch over the softened wood chips, the smell of dung, soil, and seasonal blossoms filling the air.
Welcome to Poco Farms.
Each session on the farm holds a new surprise, including anything from an impromptu trip to the hardware store for nails (and popsicles!) to the harvesting of in-season fruit and veggies to the mucking of the goat pens. The smiling face of Grace Bueti Malloy, a Thacher alumni, is the first thing to greet you.
Established in 2005, the farm has expanded from its origins in goat milk soap to include a wide variety of educational programs for both school children and adults. Students, in particular, are educated in various topics including the care of baby goats, the processing of natural dyes, and methods of sustainable agriculture in a drought-stricken environment.
The farm is famous for its goat milk products, including soap bars, milk, yogurt, cheeses, and more. Additionally, they sell jams, preserves, and handmade on their website, though all of their products can be found throughout the Ojai Valley whether in local shops or at events.
A true supporter of the deep connection between farm, table, and the greater environment, Grace says, “My favorite parts of being a farmer are: getting to work outside and use my strong body as my primary farm tool; seeing the look on a person’s face when they realize the magnitude of the impact of eating; and knowing that my work every day creates health, joy, and empowerment for my human community, and resilience for my ecological community.” Poco serves to educate and empower students on the impact of their food and its production and origins.
For over three years, Thacher has offered Poco Farms as an option in the afternoon community service program, occasionally having Saturday volunteering days as well. Helping out around the farm can provide a fun and stress-relieving way of giving back to the community. The strong ties of the farm with the Thacher community have brought it into our everyday lives more than one would think. Last year, the Mayhem group focusing on agriculture in Ojai visited the farm. Barkley Bennett ‘20, now a current weekly volunteer at the farm, remembers, “I thought it was really fun…I learned a lot about farms around Ojai and that one was the one I liked the most, and I wanted to go back and learn more.”
So far this trimester, the comm serve group, has helped build a new pen for the baby laying chickens that hatched this summer as well as a new corral for the pigs, which have to be circulated under different areas of orchard in order to improve the soil and have the most effective benefits. Freshmen Keira Yin and Joyce Li, along with junior Lila Potter enjoyed carrying the two baby pigs across the farm to their new home, despite the slight muddy mess.
At Poco Farms, learning and serving are intertwined, as one student puts it: “I really enjoy being able to give back to Grace and the farm while also learning about sustainable agriculture. It’s awesome to be able to learn about what we are doing and see the impact of it at the same time.” Poco emphasizes the importance of understanding the processes occurring on the farm and the methods of agriculture used throughout the Ojai Valley. Students have been taught the benefits of Pasture Raised poultry over Free Range (which gives chickens much less space to roam), nitrogen processes in the soil and their connection to the animals residing underneath the orchard, how to milk a goat and make goat milk products, as well as the impact of climate change on local agriculture and what we can do to help adapt to and reduce its effects.
As said by Grace, “Thacher students are (hopefully) going to eat three meals a day for the rest of their lives- and all that food will be coming from agriculture, hunting or fishing. So shouldn’t they spend at least one day of their lives on a working farm, learning about their food systems, by putting their hands in the soil,? By milking a goat? By harvesting an entire meal themselves? I truly feel that what the hands do, the heart learns.”
Of course, a favorite part of the farm experience for many is the goats. From the cuddly babies to the bossy does, one can’t help but smile as they watch their antics in the pen. As stated by an anonymous volunteer, “I love serving here because of all the animals. It’s so fun to work with them and see them in different stages of their lives.”
So maybe the next time you find yourself wondering whether to do community service or to save your two free periods, think about the Poco Farm community, with its fun, friendship, learning, and service, and ask yourself if you too want to be a part of the passionate Poco family.