“I was curious,” she says, “and I was quickly intrigued during my job interview. Then when I got a tour of the farm, I was completely blown away. I saw massive amounts of a plant that smelled like celery, so I asked what it was – and that was my introduction to micro-sized vegetables. Each piece of micro celery was only about two inches tall, but the flavor was absolutely explosive.”
Cathy got the job. Because she had no farming experience, she spent the first day on the job sitting in the break room reading books and taking notes. “What I was reading about,” she says, “wasn’t conventional farming. In fact, the books contained some far out ideas about taking care of the soil and about sustainability – not just sustainability in the soil but of everything around us. I realized where the Jones family was going with their philosophy and I wanted to be part of it.”
She quickly became part of the farm’s research team. “The research is so innovative,” she says, “and I was game to try whatever neat project the team came up with.”
During Cathy’s teaching career, she taught a range of subjects at the high school and college levels, including physical science, biology and zoology. She also taught adult basic literacy education and elementary special education, where she “learned so much about people, and about the nature of failure and success.”
She also taught chemistry. “And,” Cathy says, “here’s the thing. All of life is really chemistry. So, at the farm, all of the pieces of my background came to fruition and I was able to help with soil testing, with fertility issues and more. If I didn’t know how to do something, I was given the means to do it.”
With soil testing, as just one example, she conducts the tests and then interpret the results to recommend adjustments and amendments to the farm’s soil. She routinely picks leaves from plants, both young and old, doing °Brix testing and beyond, getting the crops analyzed for nutrient content to determine how well plants are flourishing on a molecular level.
“At The Chef’s Garden,” Cathy explains, “the Jones family looks for people with passion. You don’t need to have a farming background, only a passion for a particular avenue related to farming. They are very patient as you learn and, if you make a mistake, you dust yourself off and try again. I started out taking baby steps and I have received support all the way. They have a gift for seeing the root of the person, not just the surface.”
If Cathy could pick only two of her favorites at The Chef’s Garden, the first would be spinach. “The spring spinach is so sweet,” she says, “that it’s like eating sugar, but the light and sweet flavor is not overpowered. I’m not a fan of Popeye-like canned spinach, but our fresh spinach is incredible. Our ice spinach is also delectable with a nice crunch and bursts of flavor. I even eat it for breakfast, with cut up fruit, sunflower seeds and Greek yogurt. What’s phenomenal is that this is delicious and filling, while also being so good for you.”
Her second choice? “Carrots. Any of our carrots. All of our carrots. They are so sweet, and they look good and taste good. You just can’t compare them to any other carrots.”
The answer is, she’d be a carrot. “Carrots last, long term,” she says. “As far as appearance, yes, they have beautiful and gentle frond-like tops, but underneath the soil is a root that is deep, long and strong. It takes a while for the carrot to come up out of the ground and they can be kind of persnickety and I can relate. And I am also gentle on the outside with plenty of thought and processing going on inside while I conduct research.
“To a person,” Cathy concludes, “everyone at the farm is supportive of everyone else. There isn’t a person that I couldn’t go to for help and everyone is treated as an equal. We come from such diverse backgrounds, which is wonderful, and it’s amazing what insights you can glean from other members of the team. We are all focused on the same goal and nobody is considered more important than anyone else. It’s an absolute wonder.”