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Sunday mornings are for plant-lovers at Coastal Roots Farm

Walkers absorbing plant lore beside a spreading willow tree.
Walkers absorbing plant lore beside a spreading willow tree.

(Lonnie Hewitt )

Coastal Roots Farm is a nonprofit community farm with an admirable mission: “to nourish connections to ourselves, our neighbors, and the land.” Inspired by ancient Jewish agricultural traditions, they have been conscientious stewards of their 17 acres in Encinitas since 2014, sharing their harvest and welcoming people of all ages and backgrounds to join in their special events.

Every seven years, as tradition has it, farmland should be allowed to rest. Coastal Roots is currently completing its first seven-year cycle with a year of “Shmita”—a sabbatical for the land that began on the Jewish New Year last September and will end in September 2022.

In keeping with the significance of the number seven, they’re offering a series of seven walking workshops led by Richard Bugbee, a Luiseno Indian with Kumeyaay roots who is a plant specialist at Kumeyaay Community College.

Plant specialist Richard Bugbee
Plant specialist Richard Bugbee, introducing a willow tree, whose bark is a traditional source of natural aspirin, and the dock plant beneath it, an edible weed useful for liver disorders.
(Lonnie Hewitt)

For thousands of years, Kumeyaay people were the inhabitants of the land we now live on, and for 35 years Bugbee studied with Jane Dumas, a renowned tribal elder whose life was dedicated to preserving the language of her people and spreading their knowledge of the many beneficial uses of local plants.

Bugbee, who now lives in Valley Center, originally met his teacher decades ago and became so interested in her talks about plants that she singled him out to become her apprentice.

“She left me with all this knowledge, and if I don’t spread it around, what good is it?” he said before the start of his third Shmita workshop on Feb. 27 whose theme was Medicinal & Herbal Plants. He welcomed all 19 attendees with a warm “Hauka!”—a Kumeyaay word which translates as “How’s your fire burning?” and means “How are you doing?” “And when we say that, we really care how you’re doing!” he added, smiling.

He gave other examples of Kumeyaay language, which sounded strange but expressed relatable sentiments like: “The land is our mother, the giver of life.” Kumeyaay people treat plants like human beings, he told us, and before digging one up, they first have to ask its permission. “You say a prayer and say what you’re going to do with the plant, and sometimes the plant says ‘No!’ so you have to move on.”

Adam McCurdy, Richard Bugbee
Adam McCurdy, Richard Bugbee and one of the walkers passing a sign with a quote from Anne Frank: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
(Lonnie Hewitt )

On our walk, we were also accompanied by Adam McCurdy, director of Farm Production, and two other members of his team. All three shared what they were learning about how so-called weeds and pests can usefully coexist with edible plants. The combination of different perspectives—traditional indigenous wisdom coupled with comments from farm staff who are cultivating this particular piece of land—made the experience even more interesting. Plants we had never noticed before were shown to be edible or healing, although we were cautioned: Don’t eat what you don’t know!

There are four more walks in the Shmita series: March 20, June 5, Aug. 21, Sept. 18, from 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Each has a different theme, and you can sign up for any or all of them at coastalrootsfarm.org. The cost is $18—another significant number in Jewish tradition, since the eighth and 10th letters of the Hebrew alphabet put together spell Chai, the Hebrew word for life.

There are also monthly Farm Tours on Sunday mornings from 9:30 a.m.-11 a.m. The next one is March 13, and you can sign up online. Tours are, like the Farm Stand, “Pay what you can.” No one is ever turned away, and Coastal Roots gives free food to many in need. If you want a taste of what healthy sustainable farming produces, Farm Stand hours are Sundays 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and Thursdays 12 p.m.-3 p.m. Look for special events on the website too.

Coastal Roots Farm is located at 441 Saxony Rd., Encinitas. For more information: www.coastalrootsfarm.org, 760-479-6505.


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