Dear Montecito: Heather Hawthorn

By Stella Haffner   |   December 10, 2020

If I had to think back, I would say the first time I learned about sustainable agriculture was during one of the Montecito Union School Earth Day events. There were always a number of stations for us students to visit. I remember the bicycle-powered blender, the birdhouse making station, and what I think was probably just a big pile of dirt. And you know what? That big pile of dirt was a formative “eco-friendly” experience for many of us.

About ten years later, I can see how many people in my generation continue to pursue more consciously sustainable lifestyles. From reduced fossil-fuel transportation to dietary choices (we tolerate the odd vegan, of course), we’re more eco-conscious than ever. What I’m proud to share with you today is a letter from an old classmate. Heather Hawthorn has written to remind us not only of the merits of sustainable agriculture but also the human element that accompanies it. 

Dear Montecito,

Heather Hawthorn realized college wasn’t for her, so she found her passion working on a local hydroponic farm

I was born at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and grew up in Montecito as the eldest of three siblings. I’m a graduate of MUS and La Colina Junior High, and I graduated early from San Marcos High School. 

I have many fond memories from my time at MUS where I made many great friends. We spent our lunches in the school library drawing and playing make believe. During my time at MUS, I was also a part of the Special Education program, which I am very thankful for. In high school, I became an avid member of the marching band and color guard team who became a family to me. High school was also a time of volunteering. I spent many of my hours back at MUS, helping out with the summer school program for Special Education. After graduating high school, I attended Santa Barbara City College. Well, I found that college wasn’t for me and decided to start at a job that I was interested in and where I could do what I really wanted and help people. I found a job working on a local hydroponic farm.

Hydroponics is a process of growing plants without dirt. As I learned more about the process, I began to understand the importance of all the modifications that distinguish hydroponics from traditional agriculture. For instance, with no dirt to plant in, we need to add nutrients to the water. It was even easier to develop an appreciation for the differences in the growing processes as I got to work both in the hydroponic farm and the community garden directly adjacent. In the hydroponic farm we grew mostly lettuce. (But you can grow all sorts of things such as tomatoes, peas, and peppers.) On the dirt farm we grew many fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, peas, carrots, beets, apples, peaches, celery, and much more. Along with everything I learned to value about agriculture and the craft of growing things from seed, as organically as possible, I also learned to appreciate the impact this has on the community. The farm (which is located on the property of an elderly community) was established with exactly the intention of making a difference in the low-income area of the city it was built.

We harvested thousands of pounds of produce every month, many of which were donated to the elderly community as many of the residents of that community had very small incomes and some could not afford food. A program was even started to give the residents lunch every Monday through Friday. During these lunches they used the food from the farm to create salads, and when the pandemic started we began delivering the eighty-something lunches to the residents. Another large part of our produce was taken to the Birnam Wood community in Montecito, where we delivered lettuces twice a week. They also take our produce to create the beautiful salads that they serve daily at their restaurant. Finally, the rest of the produce we harvest is donated to the Food From The Heart (an organization that feeds low-income families) and several schools in the Santa Barbara school district.

I sadly had to quit my job at the hydroponic farm. In a nutshell, my employers had created a very toxic work environment for their employees, so a few of my fellow coworkers and I decided to find a different path to travel. Obviously I loved my time at the hydroponic farm and especially all that I learned, so it was a difficult decision to make. I am still very passionate about growing organic, healthy fruits and vegetables, and plan to continue finding meaningful work where I can make a positive impact on people in need. 




You might also be interested in...