Featured Farmer Spotlight: John Bauer of Santa Cruz Seed & Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Every week, we’ll spotlight a FarmsReach Featured Farmer. Our Featured Farmers are brimming with great ideas and knowledge to share with the farming community. Feeling a spark of curiosity? There’s no question too simple or tough. Ask a question or add a Conversation and we’ll be sure it’s answered within a day or two.

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John at Eco-Farm 2013

This week, we’re featuring John Bauer, produce farmer of 25 years, advisor to many(!) farmers in California, owner of Santa Cruz Seed, and seed sales consultant for Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  He is a busy man!  Here are his answers to our Q&A survey we captured over a sunny lunch in Half Moon Bay.

FarmsReach: How many years have you been farming?

John Bauer: 25.

FR: How many generations of farmers are in your family?

JB: Zero. I’m the original one.

FR: How did you get into farming?  What do you love most about it?

JB: In my teens, a friend taught me “healthy cooking” where we used new, weird things to me, like kohlrabi and leeks, and I wanted to figure out how to grow them. My sister then went to Woodstock and asked me to take a break from working on hot rod cars to take care of her garden. I loved it. In 1973, she and I started growing vegetables on two acres of our dad’s 50-acre hay farm in New Hampshire (he didn’t farm it). We then bought a Troy-Bilt rototiller, and the rest is history.

What I love most about farming is the magic of how you can manipulate the soil and choose the right varieties, and just come up with beautiful healthy crops for people.  It’s like magic.  It’s awe-inspiring.

The joy I get from consulting with growers on seeds and varieties is the same joy I get from farming because I’m putting myself in their place to think: What’s the best way to do this with the soil and most appropriate varieties?

FR: What was the most important piece of advice you received when you were getting started? Or, what single piece of advice would you give a new beginning farmer?

JB:  The most valuable lesson, which I’m still trying to learn myself, is how to create limits for yourself so you don’t take on too much.  It’s so easy to do: Growing too many different varieties of crops. Buying too much expensive machinery. Borrowing too much money. Farming too much land.  Establishing limits as an economical farm unit is a major challenge for anyone getting into farming.  And, figuring out how you as a human being can mesh with that system and make it work profitably and while doing the best for the environment.

It’s also really important to have another successful farmer as a mentor. I had a little bit of a disadvantage wanting to be an organic farmer before there were a lot of organic mentors to help me solve problems or figure things out. So, there were a lot of crop failures and a lot of time going down the wrong path. Having successful farm mentors can help you do things right from the start.

FR: What do you feel is the next big thing (or most exciting thing) in agriculture?

JB:  The thing that excites me the most, and which I think is one of the most important issues for our society, is the growing awareness about farmland preservation. It’s not a new thing, but I think it should be a primary part of the environmental movement.  Farmland is an irreplaceable resource. Even more irreplaceable than almost any other resource on the planet. Even water can be rehabilitated and cleaned, and sources of water can be rejuvenated and cleaned up.  But, once you take a bulldozer and scrape off the top soil, or cover up the top soil with parking lots and asphalt, and fill it full of concrete and gravel, you’ve basically ruined ten to twenty five thousand years of geology and biology.  And yet, we rarely ever hear about this aspect of developing prime farmland.

We’re not being selfish like we want more farmland to make a profit. We want farmland so that everyone will have enough food to eat. And for that matter, have enough food, fiber and even fuel.  We can’t have these things without sufficient and high quality farmland.

What’s exciting to me is when awareness grows to a level where we as citizens can overwhelmingly defeat policies like Measure T in Watsonville, which was going to take out 150 acres of prime farmland for a shopping mall and supposedly great new jobs at WalMart.

So, there is some good [progress], but until we make farmland preservation a priority for our country, we’re doomed.

John doing what he does best: listening to farmers' needs and offering to help.

John doing what he does best: listening to farmers’ needs and offering to help.

FR: Tell us a little about your seed company, Santa Cruz Seed.

JB: My company is Santa Cruz Seed LLC, and I specialize in cover crop seed, custom mixed wth varieties that suit the season and particular climate/region.  I don’t have a website, but can be reached by email or phone (below). I have competitive pricing and drop-ship directly to growers.  Anyone can call or email for a price schedule, although cover crop seeds for the San Joaquin Valley are usually specialized mixes.  I am also a seed sales consultant for Johnny’s Selected Seeds for veggies,
flowers, and herbs seeds, so that keeps me busy!

FR: Which piece of equipment can you not live without, or what would your dream new equipment be?

JB:  I couldn’t say one piece of machinery, but I’d say several different types of planters. Most farms use machinery for planting, and it’s a very important part of their operation. When growers are really small and just getting started, they’re trying to find their “love of their life” as far as planters or types of planters they want to use for their operation — trying to get a feel for it, and doing the research trying to find the perfect one.  So, for me, I’ve found my love of my life planters.

FR: What do you like to do in your free time?

JB:  As a young kid, it was working on engines of hot rod cars.  Now, it’s family first (I love to visit my new grandson), and then building farm equipment for people.

To contact John about Santa Cruz Seed or Johnny’s Selected Seeds, email him (john at santacruzseed.com) or call his cell: 831 359 1905.  To learn more about John’s issue at heart, farmland preservation, check out our Farmland Conservation & Estate Planning Toolkit, and recent coverage of the California Farmland Conference in August.

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