Colleen Hotchkiss

Farm Manager

Growing up in Redwood City and attending a small magnet school for most of elementary and middle school, I had quite a few opportunities to participate in outdoor education as a kid. I have plenty of great memories from our class trip to Año Nuevo in second grade to see the elephant seals, our week at Jones Gulch in fifth grade where we got to kiss banana slugs and join the mud club, and a sixth grade adventure in Yosemite that featured one of my first encounters with snow. All of these experiences that I had through school had a positive impact on me, and were a welcome relief from the indoor classroom. Looking back though, from my current vantage point as someone who has chosen farming as a career path, I see one set of experiences I had beyond the structure of school as particularly formative for me.

Almost every year since I can remember, my family has spent Thanksgiving at my aunt's house in Walker Basin, about an hour outside of Bakersfield. She lives on a ranch pretty much in the middle of nowhere with several horses, a couple pot bellied pigs, a goat, some chickens, and two dogs. Growing up, my sister and I would spend Thanksgiving weekend sitting in front of the fireplace doing puzzles, playing on the porch, and feeding the animals. But our favorite part of visiting my aunt's ranch was going out to the big red barn behind the house and taking turns on the swing hung from rafters more than 30 feet high. 

My grandpa was a mechanic, and after he retired in the early 90's, he spent time at the ranch keeping busy with various projects, including building that barn. As a kid, I loved going out to the barn to play on the swing while my grandpa, Pop, tinkered with this or that – fixing power tools or tuning up the dirt bike. He'd go up the hill with my sister and I to teach us how to fly kites, or rig up a zipline between some trees. He even took me on my first tractor ride, on the “digger” he would use to move dirt or clear boulders. Looking back, it's interesting that although these experiences didn't seem life-changing at the time – after all they were just yearly routines – they foreshadowed my future career and my love for the physical, tangible, outdoor work that I find so fulfilling. Pop taught me an appreciation for working with my hands, and the power of knowing how to fix and build things. When I work outside under the sun, and especially when I drive the tractor, I feel connected to him and to those early memories forged in the barn that he built.


Madeline Owen

Community Engagement Coordinator

Amongst the deep roots of Maryland’s tall oak trees lie the memories of my twiggy-legged, towheaded days. Now heavily packed beneath decomposing leaves, my footprints once scored the dark earth. The Woods were my playground. My brothers and I spent afternoons catching glimpses of spotted fawns across wispy green clearings and listening for woodpeckers jabbing their way to dinner. The clamor of my mom’s farm bell rang us into our own dinner at nightfall. In The Woods, the noises of the road would dissipate alongside my elementary school troubles.

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I remember summers the most. Scorching days marked by steaming tar and snow cone stained t-shirts would chase us into the retreat of stretching oaks. Never free to go alone, I followed the dirt stained sneakers of an older brother down the familiar wooded path to our secret summer pool. Soggy soil cushioned our steps as we raced to the bubbling creek bed. The water was always icy, snowpack from the Appalachians drained into the creek, a we’d rinse our filthy, sun stained toes in the steely water. Seeking deeper pools, we’d cross precarious pebbles, slipping our way to a final splash, we’d sink into deep water.

Most days, we’d bring a haphazardly assembled lunch. Perched on leveled boulders, we ate sloppy turkey and cheddar sandwiches with a ripe peach or a few bloated berries. Once, we made our way to the creek’s rippling waters with the long links of a fishing pole, eager to begin our fishing careers. Or maybe we always just said we would.

The Woods were never about the trip. In the afternoons of dark shade, streaked with peaks of sunlight, my brothers became my closest friends. Siblinghood was stamped across the seams of our overlapping genes on weaving paths of The Woods. With the simple suggestion of “let’s go to the creek!,” I knew family was more than a shared last name.


Jen Aguilar

Youth Program Manager

When I was younger, my parents would periodically take my sister and me to Monterey for a visit to the wharf and the beach. I would always look forward to these out of the ordinary days. I loved walking around the beach trails, and feeling the chilly ocean breeze. The air was salty, and I felt intimidated by the booming of the crashing ocean waves. I can remember sitting on blankets at the beach, running my hands through the cool sand and building sand castles with my mom. If I happened to be lucky enough to find a few pieces of sea glass, I would take them home with me as special souvenirs. Humorous thoughts come to mind, as I recall my father’s clumsy attempts to walk along the sand dunes, or my mother’s 80’s style bangs sticking up in disarray from the wind.

My memories are tied closely to the physical experience of being outside. As an adult, the overcast weather, the textures and the smells of the ocean will always bring a nostalgic feeling when I experience them. They are clearly distinct from the greater everyday experience of being indoors. Most of our lives take place inside – classroom time, office work, shopping, errands, and meals. My clearest and often most meaningful memories, like my experiences in Monterey with my family, have taken place outdoors. Whether it was camping and cooking outside, riding my bike through the neighborhood, or playing in the grass as my mother gardened in the yard, these experiences played a significant role in my preference to work outdoors as an adult.

Working with the earth, especially in the Youth Garden, brings a sense of purpose to my spirit. This, I can attribute to my childhood experiences, my roots and the foundation my parents set by leading me outdoors and allowing it to be a positive, celebratory experience. The time I spent outside served as an important part of my development, helping me grow to understand and develop a respect for the environment and my role in taking care of it.