A Change of Plan

This week has been strange and exciting. On Monday morning I had one plan for my future, but by Tuesday afternoon I had a completely different plan. It's been a whirlwind of discussion, research, prayer, and anxiety - but ultimately, the next two years are going to be simply great for me, and I'm thrilled beyond reason.

Let me back up a bit. As you know, I've been looking for work. After spending five years as a para-educator with special needs children, I was feeling a desperate need to do something else. Part of this is age (I'm 48), part of this is that my children are growing up (Kate is 13, Adam is 15 in November), part of this is my relatively newfound joy/passion in homesteading and practicing sustainable, regenerative farming and gardening in our yard (I've always gardened, but have only gotten serious about it in the last four years), and part of it is looking towards the future and what will be possible and attainable as Tom and I move inexorably toward our retirement years (still a long way off, but now's the time to figure all that out). 

Looking for a new job, in a new field, hasn't been going so well. I'm running up against the limitations of my own education and the fact that I never, despite seven-ish years in four different colleges, got a degree. Part of it is that, on paper, my experience with gardening looks pretty unimpressive. If you spent an afternoon with me in my garden, or any garden for that matter, you'd see that I have quite a bit of hands-on knowledge. I study a lot on my own. I like to learn new things. But convincing a possible employer that I can do a job I've never done before? It hasn't been easy.

So this past Monday I succumbed to a feeling of helplessness and interviewed with a school district near here, for a position as a para in one of their special needs classrooms. The pay was quite good, far more than I've been making; the position was totally within my wheelhouse, and was with children that were on the moderate side of the spectrum, so while not easy, would have felt easier than what I have been doing the last couple of years. The district is well-run, organized, and full of professionals from whom I could have learned a lot. I got the job, dependent on the usual fingerprinting protocols, TB tests, background checks, etc. I resigned myself to taking it. I even said to a friend, 'Maybe this is all I can do. Maybe this is what I'm supposed to be doing.'

So Tuesday morning I was setting up all my appointments for those things, working towards starting this job November 7. Right in the middle of scheduling fingerprinting, the phone rings. It's Kathy Kramer, the founder of the Bringing Back the Natives tour. I had sent her my resume weeks ago, on the off chance she was interested in hiring an assistant. She's not, but we ended up talking for almost an hour. I won't bore you with the details, but she totally got me thinking about the future of gardening right here, in the Bay Area, with our limited resources. Together we brainstormed what the needs of homeowners would be, the things they would be asking for, the services they would need performed. Then she gave me several recommendations for getting to the place where I would be able to advise homeowners on exactly these requests and services. It was an incredible conversation that allowed me to dream. And more than that, she had suggestions of concrete pathways to actually obtain that dream. 

I had a serious talk with Tom that night. Here's some truth: He's the best partner I could ever wish for. Because he went there with me, he was on board with the dream. He didn't immediately say "but we need the money you bring in." He didn't say, "but you don't have the best track record with school." He didn't say, "I'm so jealous that you get to do something you are really passionate about, while I slog to work, in rush hour commutes for three hours every day, in a career that fulfills me but doesn't exactly ring my bell, having to be the sole wage-earner of the family and all the stress that goes with that." He could have. He'd have every right to. Instead he said, "Go for it."

So here's the upshot: I am now enrolled in Merritt College's Landscape Horticulture Department. Merritt is one of the excellent junior colleges that are a mainstay of the California education system. Their hort dep't is amazing, with certification available in Basic Landscape Horticulture, Landscape Design and Construction, Landscape and Parks Maintenance, Nursery Management, and Permaculture Design. This is a vocational program that will give me the knowledge I need to help advise folks on the gardens of the future. I will begin my studies in January.

Today I got to visit the department and tour the grounds. The department assistant, Meril Bull, spent a good deal of time with me and talked me through my plan for the next few semesters. What a blessing, because it's been a long time since I've done the college thing. The grounds are amazing, with three greenhouses, a raised bed area for edibles, a section for natives, and a huge area on a hill for a permaculture food forest. They also have several structures in the garden, such as an outdoor kitchen. There's large areas just for soil mixing and compost, as well as labs and classrooms. The whole area just felt like home to me, like a place I would be happy to hang out for the next two years. Here are some photographs. 

What more can I say? I'm just happy down to my bones. I can't think of anything better than taking some time to really study this stuff. To LEARN things - that's like my favorite thing to do. Gosh I'm so lucky. 

Here's how you know a place, and the people in it, are great - they give you food. On my way out I was told to take a bunch of collards, which were displayed as a bountiful bouquet in a seating area. So not only did I figure out my schedule for the next few months and get to know the department - I also got lunch.