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Wild Willow School for Sustainable Farming

Orientation for Farming 101:
Introduction to Farming

Our Vision

Wild Willow Farm and the School for Sustainable Farming are fulfilling the vision and purpose of San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project, an educational non-profit whose mission is to educate, cultivate and empower sustainable food communities in San Diego. From the beginning our goal has been to engage people with their food system by being advocates for small-scale, local and sustainable farming through education, volunteering, community events, workshops and more.

As farm students, we welcome and encourage you to express yourselves and be creative on the farm in whatever form that may take. The vision for the farm is a collective one, formed out of the community that surrounds and nurtures us and to which you, as students, are a part.

Upon completion of Farming 101, students may enroll to become a Tier 1 Farming Student (T1) and take unlimited T1 basic weekly classes at Wild Willow Farm.

Course Requirements

Recommended Readings and Resources

Return to General Information about Farm School

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Guidelines for a successful outcome

Come to the Farm Prepared

Arrive on time or earlier, and ready to go.

Close-toed shoes or boots are required, long pants and long-sleeve shirts are recommended.

Protect yourself from the sun and other elements with sturdy clothing, appropriate layers for changing weather, sunscreen, etc.

Wear a broad-brimmed hat that covers your neck, a great option for sun protection.

If you have gloves, bring them; if not, we have plenty.

Bring a water bottle. We have a water cooler of purified water for refilling in the office.

We encourage you to have a notebook to take notes in, write down thoughts, questions, project ideas, etc.


The more you work with others, the more you'll learn—which is why it's so important that you show up and participate.

Take advantage of your program—take notes, ask questions!

Focus on goals for the day as well as on each task—weeding, planting, harvesting, irrigation, etc. Practice close observation of soil, plants, weather, insects, disease, and other elements in the garden.

Learn how to pace your work. Think about how you would manage your time if this were your own farm/garden. Think about how you might start your own farm/garden!

Practice mindfulness of the group—sharing tasks, helping each other, cleaning up and putting away tools, watering cans, hose and supplies, as needed.

What We Expect From You

Solid, regular commitment from students at Wild Willow Farm. Past experience has taught us that the more a student dedicates him or herself to the program, the more they enjoy their work and the more they get out of the experience.

Regular class attendance and completion of class assignments including readings, quizzes, and writing assignments.

Patience, compassion and respect toward yourself, the farm (including tools, animals, etc.), staff and visitors.

Responsibility for your work and the tasks you are given; completed in a timely and organized manner.

What You Expect from Us

Learn many aspects of small scale organic urban farming including direct sowing, transplanting, soil management, weeding, irrigation, propagation, composting. Each farm school session consists of classroom and hands-on instruction.

Learn about "farm time" and the natural rhythms of farming. Wild Willow Farm is a relaxed environment where things may not always happen as you plan and in the time frame you expect. That's why we work thoughtfully and with patience to observe the natural rhythms of the farm. By not asserting our expectations on a situation, we allow for natural expression to meet individual, farm, plant, and animal needs.

Ability to use the farm for an engaging, hands-on experience.

Course Requirements

To fulfill the requirements of the program you must attend all instructional classes and labs. Upon completion of Farming 101, students may enroll to become a Tier 1 Farming Student (T1) and take unlimited T1 basic weekly classes at Wild Willow Farm.


It is important that communication occurs from us to you and from you to us. Please check-in and communicate regularly, including any issues you may be having personally or at the farm that might affect the work you do.

Final Report: We ask you complete a re-cap report on your experience during your time at Wild Willow Farm, due on the last day of class. We also would like your constructive feedback to help us improve the program for future students.

Recommended Reading and Resources

Curated by Misha Marston Johnson, founding farmer at Wild Willow Farm.

The resources listed below cover their subjects broadly but with a solid amount of details. If you are looking for books covering a specific subject, such as chickens, see the "Plants & Their Companions" section below.


Small-Scale Farming

The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman


How to Grow More Vegetables... (Biointensive) by John Jeavons
Culture & Horticulture (Biodynamics) by Wolf D. Storl


One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
Introduction to Permaculture
by Bill Mollison
Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway
Farmers of Forty Centuries by F.H. King

Online Resources

National Sustainable Agriculture Institute
The Permaculture Institute
Soil and Health Library
Biodynamic Association
Vegetable Seedsaving Handbook


Situating Ourselves in the Environment

This first section of the readings is about getting to know the land with which you wish to work, and yourself, the one who is to work the land. Through these readings and viewings you will gain a better understanding of the greater contexts (social, environmental, etc.) within which you plan to work. You will also be situated within the particular context of WWF and San Diego.

Kat Anderson: reading from Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources: Introduction

Aldo Leopold: readings from A Sand County Almanac: "The Land Ethic," "Wilderness," "Country: Man's Leisure Time," "Conservation Esthetic"

John Burroughs: The Art of Seeing Things

Thich Nhat Hanh: reading from The Miracle of Mindfulness: Chapter One (The Essential Discipline)

Tai Chi of Gardening, handout from Occidental Arts & Ecology Center

Wolf D. Storl: readings from Culture & Horticulture: Appendix III (Tools)

Introduction to Agriculture

Wolf D. Storl, readings from Culture & Horticulture: Introduction and Chapters I (History), II (Voices of Concern and Reform, III (The Pioneers of Organic Agriculture)

Eliot Coleman, readings from The New Organic Grower: Chapters 1 (Agricultural Craftsmanship), 2 (Land), 3 (Scale & Capital)

F.H. King, readings from Farmers of Forty Centuries: Introduction and Chapters 8 (Growing), 9 (Waste Utilization), 11 (Crowding Time and Space)

Soil Culture, Compost, and Mulch

Jeff Lowenfels & Wayne Lewis, readings from Teaming with Microbes: Chapters 1 (Soil Food Web), 2 (Soil Science), 10 (Earthworms), 13 (Gardening), 15 (Restoration), 16 (Compost), 17 (Mulch), 18 (Compost Teas)

Wolf D. Storl, readings from Culture & Horticulture: Chapter XIV (Compost & Liquid Manures)

John Jeavons, image from How to Grow More Vegetables... (Cross Section of a Compost Pile)

Eliot Coleman, reading from The New Organic Grower: Chapter 24 (Livestock)

Harvey Ussery, reading from The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: Chapter 7 (Deep Litter Management)

James Bruges, readings from The Biochar Debate: Chapters 1 (Introduction), 3 (Amazon Civilization), 4 (Agriculture)


Toby Hemenway "How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth, but Not Civilization"

Bill Mollison, readings from Introduction to Permaculture: thru Chapter 1 (Principles) and Chapter 3 (Pattern Understanding)

Paul Stamets, reading from Growing Gourmet & Medicinal Mushrooms: Chapter 5 (Mycological Permaculture)

Bill Mollison "Dryland Permaculture Strategies"


A good introduction may be found at the ATTRA website

Wolf D. Storl, see above for readings by this author from Culture & Horticulture

Karen Davis-Brown, essay from the Biodynamics Journal: "Healing the Earth is Healing Ourselves"

Heinze Grotzke, essay from the Biodynamics Journal: "Healing the Earth through Biodynamic Agriculture"

Plants & Their Companions

Introductions to grains, herbs, seed saving, livestock and more.

Root Development of Vegetable Crops (esp. Chard, Lettuce, Cabbage)

Root Development of Field Crops (esp. Alfalfa, Sweet Clover)

Gene Logsdon, reading from Small-Scale Grain Raising: Introduction (Grains & Food Security)

Ross Conrad, reading from Natural Beekeeping: thru Chapter One

Bryan Connolly, readings from The Wisdom of Plant Heritage: Organic Seed Production & Saving: Introduction and Chapters 2 (Before you Grow the Seed) and 3 (Growing Seed)

Alan Toogood, selected pages from Plant Propagation

Dave Wilson Nursery, "Fruit & Nut Harvest Dates"

Michael Phillips, selected images and passages on fruit tree planting, pruning, and care from The Apple Grower (see also, Holistic Orchard Management, a textbook used in our Fruit Tree Care courses)

Herb Companions, page from the Rodale Herb Book

Juliette de Baraicly Levy, readings from the The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable: Introduction and Chapter 1 (Preparing and Gathering)

Harvey Ussery, image from The Small-Scale Poultry Flock: Chapter3 (Your Basic Bird)