Chris Massa brings nobility to farming at Balboa Middle School.
by Sheli Ellsworth
Most of us take food for granted. We shop in grocery stores bursting with choices. Food delivered to our doorstep is a click away. Roadside and farmer’s markets offer fresh and organic options. Food can be purchased anytime on any day. Scholar Thomas Malthus erred in his 1779 prediction; the human population has not out-paced agricultural production.
So, why worry about food or farming?
Because our abundance is dependent on a world food market which is dependent on political and economic forces we as individuals have very little control over. For example, in times of war, victory gardens in private residences and public parks decrease pressure on the food supply and allow people to contribute in tangible ways. The ability to grow and harvest is an integral part of our humanity. It connects us with the earth and with each other.
But we have produced a generation who has little or no idea where food comes from or what it takes to get food from field to fork. Community efforts like Farm Day encourage would-be growers to visit local farms, ranches and processing plants, but how do we inspire a whole generation to appreciate the smell of dirt? We find people like Chris Massa who bring nobility to farming.
We found Massa, a farm to school operations specialist, at Balboa Middle School pushing a shovel for the Ventura County Farm to School Collaborative, teaching world geography, environmental sciences, and history. Massa who has a degree in natural resource conservation from the University of British Columbia moved to Ventura to work for Foodcorps. He says he has gotten down and dirty since he was a kid in his mother’s garden. “But the real hook came in college when I took a permaculture design course. Farming encompasses all of my passions, environmental stewardship, creating healthy communities, and running a business.”
Oxnard Elementary School District, Rio School District, and Hueneme Elementary School District also use Massa’s services. He says his job requires him to spend 15 hours a week at Balboa, but his passion for the soil prompts him to spend much more. “In order to keep the farm in a productive state I spend another 10-15 hours weekly of my own time.”
Massa runs his organic gardens like real farms. He started the Balboa plot in June 2016 and hand tilled the soil adding worm castings and biochar. The 7th grade environmental horticulture class and the after-school Environmental Club tend the quarter acre spot. The students are growing lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and beans. They have learned the value of compost, insects and fresh vegetables. The student’s harvest goes to the school cafeteria for consumption. “The kids will try new foods just because they had a hand in the growing.”
What does Massa see in the future? “My biggest hope for the future is that our food system becomes less centralized. I would like to see more home/school/community gardens and farmer owned cooperatives. I would also love to see less food waste and a world in which no one suffers from malnutrition.” What is Massa’s plan for next year? “One of my favorite quotes is from Confucius, ‘If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. ‘”
Massa says he loves Ventura County because of the year round growing climate. “But my favorite thing about living here is the ocean and how friendly the people are.”