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Winter Intensive '17

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Course Details
Cost Details
Lodging Option


About the Course

We teach regenerative farming. Learn to grow better, healthier food where you live, and more of it, using cutting-edge practices that can be taught in the winter in coastal Southern California's unique climate. What we teach is applicable to all forms of agriculture, urban and rural, whether you're an entrepreneur, a home vegetable/fruit grower, or simply have agricultural curiosity. We want you to grow food where you live.

We begin with the Soil. Our farming philosophy begins with the development of healthy, rich, living soil that offers multiple beneficial effects, including plant health, water retention, carbon sequestration, and natural resistances to pests and disease.

Goals of the Program

1. Educate students in the basic mechanics and philosophy of how to grow food ethically and ecologically using means suitable for urban and small-scale farming or gardening.

2. Cultivate new growers using hands-on learning experiences on a working farm; provide food literacy and understanding of what a healthy food system can look like and how to achieve it.

3. Empower everyone to grow food where they live -- for their own health, the health of their families, their communities and the world.

Why This Course? Why Now?

We teach sustainable farming because the current conventional agriculture food system exerts tremendous pressure on natural resources and habitats while compromising the economic, environmental and physical health of our communities. Cheap food is killing us and the planet. Industrial agriculture threatens the food security of everyone and the health of those who farm and eat foods grown with pesticides, fertilizers and other toxicants. We think small-scale agriculture is the solution -- growing food where we live -- and we teach you how to do that.

Timed to fit with EcoFarm

This course will end a few days before the start of the 37th annual EcoFarm Conference, held in Pacific Grove, on the ocean in Central California. The conference is the largest gathering of ecologically minded farmers, growers and agricultural innovators in the west.

We always send a contingent of Wild Willow staff, students, friends and colleagues, and we welcome you to join us. You are responsible for your own registration at the conference, but if there's enough interest, we may rent a van and share transportation costs. There's early-registration discounts and conference often sells out, so we encourage you to register early.


Total tuition for course is $1400 not including lodging. Tuition includes enrollment fee, all classes and labs, textbook, class materials, drinking water, and breakfast and lunch on class days.

What is not included: students must provide their own evening meals and between-meal snacks on class days, and all meals on non-class days; transportation to and from the farm (carpooling encouraged); all non-program-related costs; and other personal needs.

Click here to apply. Enrollment is limited


After application, we will contact you with enrollment instructions. Enrollment is secured after paying a $200 non-refundable enrollment fee. You are not enrolled until the fee has been paid. Payment may be made in cash, check, or via PayPal. Balance is due at orientation (first day of classes).

Camp Surf Lodging

By special arrangement with our friends at nearby Camp Surf, for an extra fee, non-private, cabin-style accommodations are available right on the ocean in Imperial Beach, about three miles from the farm. Students choosing this option will be provided a bed, bathroom and shower in insulated, shared cabins. The camp has easy access to sandy beaches, restaurants, public transportation, and recreation. Additional cost for Camp Surf accommodations is $500/per person.


Breakfast and lunch will be prepared by students and staff using as many farm-fresh ingredients as possible, with additional items purchased as needed. These meals are provided as part of your tuition. Students must provide for their own evening meals.

Textbooks (provided with enrollment).

Gardening When It Counts by Steve Soloman
The New Vegetable Growers Handbook by Frank Tozer

Our Vision

Wild Willow Farm's School for Sustainable Farming is 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 County. From the beginning, we have been advocates for building a healthy, locally based food system by promoting small-scale urban and rural farming, teaching locally appropriate and sustainable practices, and encouraging people to be engaged with their food system through education, volunteering, community events, workshops and more.

We welcome and encourage you, as farm Wild Willow farm students, to express yourselves and be creative. We are a collection of talents and we want this to be a safe space for yours. 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 now a part. We welcome you to participate in our vision during Farming 101 and beyond!
San Diego Roots has been educating, cultivating and empowering sustainable food communities in San Diego County since 2008.


Below is the general course outline. Class content in the first half of the course is primarily our Farming 101: Introduction to Small-scale Farming course, and the second half is primarily our Farming 102: Growing Seasonal Crops course. The last day of class is a group discussion about what you've learned, how your perspective may have changed, and discussing next steps toward activating your farming ambitions.
The instructor reserves the right to make adjustments and changes as necessary to facilitate instructional clarity, which may be done orally or in writing at any class session.

Farming 101: Introduction to Small-scale Farming


Welcome, Course Scope, Introductions.
Lecture: In the Spirit of Organics


Wed Jan 4

Tour of Wild Willow Farm


Distinction between different agricultural models: (industrial, conventional, transitional, organic, sustainable, regenerative); ethical farming; regenerative farming practices; food miles; benefits of locally produced food; reduction of purchased inputs.

Class 1

It Starts with the Soil

Intro +
Ch. 1, 2, 7

Thu Jan 5

Making & using compost, mulching, sheet composting, 
cover cropping.


Compost is proof that there is life after death. Students will be introduced to the benefits and use of compost, and will understand that composting is the cornerstone to soil, plant, and human health. Working in our Living Lab, students explore aerobic high-temperature, active, and static composting techniques, while building a compost pile. The farm’s “recipe for success” is emphasized, including greens & browns (Nitrogen & Carbon), water, air, and volume. Vermiculture, and the use of compost tea is also introduced.

Class 2

Growing Fertile Soil

Ch. 3

Fri Jan 6

Farm tools — proper use and care; evaluating soil texture and moisture; bed preparation; mechanical and manual tillage; compost tea and extract.


“Feed the soil to feed the plant.” This class emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining fertile soil to ensure healthy plants. Topics covered include building fertile soil through the use of organic matter and low-till practices, and understanding the role that the microbiology of the soil and plants have on soil fertility. Students will examine soil and evaluate texture and moisture, as well as soil type. The Living Lab will teach proper bed-preparation techniques with the least amount of soil disturbance. Wild Willow Farm’s Complete Organic Fertilizer recipe will be shared, as students prepare the mixture out of locally available products such as animal feeds. Focus will also be on the description of farm tools used in small-scale and handcrafted farming, that leans towards a goal of no-till farming methods.

Class 3

Propagation & Planting Techniques

Ch. 4, 5

Sat Jan 7

Direct sowing and transplanting; starting seeds; planting practice.


Getting plants off to a healthy start is critical to successful crop production. Students will learn the fundamental concepts and practices used in propagating crops from seed. In the Living Lab, students will practice mixing potting soil and potting up plants, while understanding how to use a propagation nursery and green house. Also highlighted is how to grow and determine high quality starts, and growing starts from cuttings and divisions. Students will discover a number of different direct sowing methods, proper seed bed preparation for different varieties of crops, and inoculants necessary for living soil. Planting practice with seeds and from plant starts will include proper depth, spacing, and maintenance for good crop establishment.

Class 4

How Water Moves through the Soil

Ch. 6

Tue Jan 10

Efficient irrigation practices.


The best place to store water is in the soil. This class addresses the quantitative and qualitative approaches to delivering water efficiently and effectively through an irrigation system. Students will experience the water situation in Southern California and determine sources of water in an arid climate. Topics will include how water moves through soil, the mechanics of an irrigation system and how it operates, how regenerative farming methods increase the water retention capabilities of soil, and water conservation techniques through building organic matter in the soil and appropriate plant spacing. The Living Lab will tour students through the irrigation systems at Wild Willow Farm. Students will learn to put together automatic irrigation valves, install drip irrigation systems, learn irrigation design concepts, and identify effective repair and maintenance strategies.

Class 5

Integrated Pest Management

Ch. 8

Wed Jan 11

Identifying pests and pathogens and beneficials.


Increasing biodiversity is key to the health of any garden ecosystem. Students will become aware of the principles of Integrated Pest Management, and understand the delicate balance of microbes and insects for plant health. The class will highlight a plant-positive approach to pest control, to host both beneficial and predatory insects, and students will learn how to create a habitat for beneficials to thrive. Students will take part in a Living Lab farm walk to identify pests on crops, and also beneficials that are on or around crops. Mammalian pest management methods of exclusion will be emphasized, and the proper use of gopher traps. Students will also be introduced to the fundamental concepts and basic skills needed to prevent, identify, and manage plant pathogens.

Farming 102: Growing Seasonal Crops


Students will discover the history of human development and cultivation of our primary food-plant families, the cultural requirements of the varieties, and their botanical classifications. Students will learn specific requirements for each plant family, such as which crops need extra attention (trellising or harvesting often) and specific amendments or inoculants needed. Topics include the level of care required, level of fertility, type of watering required, common pests and diseases, and yield. Special attention will be paid to seasonality, as students identify the appropriate season for specific crops.

Living Lab

Students are taken through steps in the field to plant, maintain, and harvest plant families when seasonably available.


Immersion into the plant family includes the experience of traditional and popular culinary techniques of preparing food.

Class 6

Brassica Family


Thu Jan 12

Broccoli, Kale, Cabbage, Radish, Collards, Cauliflower, Arugula, Brussel Sprouts, & more.

Class 7

Daisy & Beet Families, plus Sweet Potatoes & Okra


Fri Jan 13

Sunflower, Lettuce, Chicory, Artichoke, Jerusalem Artichoke, Yakon; Beet, Chard, Spinach, Amaranth. Quinoa; plus others.

Class 8

Onion & Parsley Families


Sat Jan 14

Onion, Garlic, Chives, Leek; Carrot, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Parsnip.

Class 9

Squash Family


Tue Jan 17

Summer & Winter Squash, Luffa, Melon, Pumpkin, Cucumber, African Horned Melon.

Class 10

Bean & Tomato Families


Wed Jan 18

Beans, dry & green, Favas, Peas, Limas, Black-eyed Peas, Scarlet Runner Beans; 
Tomatoes, Peppers, hot & sweet, Tomatillos, Eggplants & Potatoes.

Class 11

Grass & Mint Families


Thu Jan 19

Corn, Wheat, Oat; Basil, Mint, Oregano, Rosemary, Lavender.

Class 12

Building Resiliency into Your Farm

Fri Jan 20

Exploring permaculture practices; observing the farm with a holistic eye; a visit to our beehives. End of course pizza party and class photo.


A more resilient agricultural system is needed, especially in the face of climate change. We explore principles small farmers have established to be more resilient, as in the ability to bounce back quickly from a disruption, permaculture practices, rain harvesting methods, establishing reasonable expectations of your farm, realizing your resources, and holistic farm management that pertains to animal husbandry. Future farmers have the opportunity to research their local market and business model, and students are introduced to the array of landholding models such as sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, nonprofit, or cooperative. The culminating Living Lab experience will showcase a tour of Wild Willow Farm’s bee hives and honey harvesting.

Class Structure Each class topic has two components: a lecture and a lab. Unless otherwise instructed, the day begins in the Classroom.

Quizzes Three quizzes will be given throughout the course. The instructor will notify you beforehand so you can prepare. Quizzes are based on reading assignments in the course textbook.

Final Report Please complete a re-cap report (one page or more typed) 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.

Click here to apply.