Tending the earth, to herself and her community
On one of the days Jessica Sanchez showed up at a local farm to volunteer, it was a day for planting indigenous corn. As an administrative assistant for a golf company, she was used to dropping her kids off with a babysitter, spending her day inside at the office, picking her kids up and going home, and repeating the process all over again the next day. That day at the farm in the dirt, though, shifted things.
“In me, there was an emptiness and the feeling that life was more. … I never knew that I would find an answer to my search in farming. When I put my hands in the earth, I felt at home,” she says of what is today Terra Madre Gardens in Escondido. “The comfort and ease I felt was incomparable. After that, I volunteered every weekend, and as soon as I saw the opportunity to get more involved, I went for it.”
Her own parents, as immigrants from Mexico, worked in fields and farmed when they first arrived in the United States, and the goal was for her to move farther away from that life and into something seen as more traditionally successful. But her success was found in the land.
Sanchez, 37, lives in Escondido with her partner, David Solomon, and their three children. They both own Terra Madre, though she prefers to think of herself as someone who tends the earth, noting that her indigenous background causes her to struggle with the idea of owning land “or anything that’s purpose is to serve the greater whole.” She took some time to talk about her work at the nearly 20-acre farm, which went from La Milpa Organica Farm to Stone Farms to Terra Madre; why farming and growing food are important to her; and the ways in which the land speaks to her and teaches her about herself.
Q: Terra Madre Gardens has gone through a few transitions, and when you first started volunteering there, it was La Milpa Organica Farm? What was your role there?
A: In 2005, I moved in to the land and the steward at that time was my friend and mentor, Barry Logan. I began as a volunteer, moving on to apprentice and remaining there. I still define myself as being in that stage, as the earth keeps teaching us ways to work with her and with ourselves that keep evolving and changing, and by no means would I ever assume I know all there is to know here.
Q: How long did you work with La Milpa?
A: For five years. In early 2010, my family and I decided we would simplify our lives even more than we had, and we moved to Mexico. Shortly after, we realized Mexico was going through a difficult transition period, and we decided to come back. We found out that La Milpa was closing and that Stone Brewing Co. was taking on the lease for the land and restarting the project as Stone Farms. David and I contacted Stone and made our services available, and were hired. We managed Stone Farms for almost five years, until they closed in 2016.
Q: Tell us about Terra Madre Gardens.
A: Terra Madre Gardens was born March 21, 2016. When Stone Farms closed, Stone Brewing Co. facilitated the lease transition and supported our growth. For me, taking on the lease was in part honoring La Milpa, Stone, and all of the people that worked and visited this place. And preserving the way of life I had chosen for myself and my family.
Our mission is to grow: grow food, grow relationships, grow flowers, grow ourselves and grow ways in which we can help our community grow. I do my best to do all I do with presence and the utmost positive intentions. I believe that the food we grow here doesn’t only carry the nutritional value that the soil feeds it, but also the energetic component that is added by the way we tend to the sowing of the seed, the growing of the plant, the appreciation of the flower and the delicate harvesting of the fruit.
What I love about Escondido ...
I love my neighborhood because it has remained rural. I love the accessibility of having the city and the freeway close to us, but at the same time being able to feel the separation from that and find peace and tranquility.
Q: Why was farming important enough to you to take it on full-time?
A: Farming is, for me, that source that enables my life to carry on a more natural way of living. It allows me to be self-employed and enjoy the freedom that comes with it. Of course, there is a lot of work and responsibility involved, and I spend time in the garden and attending to the farming and administrative needs of the business way more than I would if I had a typical job, but I get to spend time in nature and I’m free from deadlines and the unnatural pace of life most people live in.
Q: Why is it important to you that people learn about the basics of growing food?
A: I believe that there are a lot of components that are missing from our educational system that contribute to the feelings of depression, anxiety and overall disease we are currently experiencing. I believe that in order to suffer less from these diseases, we need to become more wholesome beings who are more in tune with nature and the depths of ourselves. Growing your own food is definitely one of those components. I don’t believe that everyone should become farmers and grow their own food always, because I believe everyone must find what calls them, what makes them happy, and do that; but I do believe that all human beings should have the basic knowledge of where their food comes from and the process of growing food.
Q: What’s been challenging about your work?
A: For me, farming has had many lessons. There is a high level of patience involved as well as dedication and detachment. Nature has a mind of its own and that is the biggest lesson for me, we are not here to impose, we are here to work with her and co-create. Terra Madre Gardens keeps me on my toes as she is a big responsibility and she is full of potential. More than anything, she has taught me that perseverance in my efforts to keep her healthy, strong and happy make me healthy, strong and happy. We have become symbiotic.
Q: What’s been rewarding about this work?
A: Everything: the hard work, the rains, the weeds, the fruits, flowers and people. It is all a blessing. I am often heard saying “I am not in this for the money, my profit is my lifestyle” and I really mean it. Every day that I am able to get up at my pace and be able to direct my day according to the cycles I perceive around me, I am thankful to my work, to this land, and to all that were involved in its creation and survival.
Q: What has it taught you about yourself?
A: It has taught me that I am stronger than I thought. I have times in which I feel overwhelmed and I feel like the task might be too big for me, but then I just have to go out and sit under the oaks with my feelings and my confessions, and she is fast to calm me down and assure me that it will all work out.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: My friend once told me, “Thrive, just as a plant that gets transplanted does when you take care of it and give it what it needs.” Being a mother of three and having the farm to take care of, sometimes I get frustrated for having to change hats from farmer to mom and to all the other functions, but this advice helped me understand that no matter where I go and what I am doing, as long as I nurture myself, I will be able to bloom in everything that I do.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I am also a yoga instructor. I am not dedicated to teaching, but I do have my daily practice.
Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My weekend is composed of selling at the Hillcrest farmers’ market and I love that community. It is really a pleasure to be there. We love the relationships that we have formed, and for me as a farmer, it is those relationships and interactions with the people that eat my food, that feeds me.