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"It sort of dawned on me, like, 'Wow, farmers are even more vital than the chefs,'" Woody says. "Yeah, chefs cook food, but it's farmers that make the food."
Farmer Woody — unassuming in a plaid blue button-up, dirty work boots, and a straw farmer's hat with two long blond braids trailing out — doesn't look like a city planner. But labeling him a "farmer" doesn't feel quite right, either.
It would be more accurate to call this guy a farmer-construction worker- stonemason-electrician-plumber and general handyman rolled into one. As a boy, watching old-timers like his father — who, Woody recalls, had the skills to fix and build anything — motivated him to become the ultimate craftsman. For the past two decades he's put in the long days and backbreaking work to live up to his own idea of "a real man."
Today, he wears his Farmer Woody hat — literally — as he oversees volunteers working on a 14,000-square-foot space near 10th and Pierce streets. He hopes this plot will become not just a space for community improvement, but also a testing ground for future farmers, chefs, and backyard gardeners.
The space will house a 3,000-square-foot amphitheater for cooking lessons, art demonstrations, and live music, in addition to a greenhouse, tilapia pond, and garden. Also included in the design: a drive with space for two food trucks where Woody would like to see the community's youths taking their first forays into the culinary world.
"We've received so much for this project," says Woody, who usually works alone and has used his own money to finance past projects. Valley Leadership helped him secure donations this time; Richard Melikian donated the land. "I have a hard time accepting so much. I want to pay it forward."
With his "business hat" on now, Farmer Woody says his desire to turn the farm into a cooperative. This summer, he'd like to challenge 18- to 20-year-olds to a "Survivor-style" competition involving hard work on farms; the winner takes part-ownership of the land. Woody, who works at Superstition Farms (as well as part time at Nachobot), knows firsthand the potential for a farm to become a tourist attraction.
Blue eyes twinkling as he looks out over the piles of mulch and dirt meant to evolve into his most impressive project yet, he explains this is just another stepping stone on his way to something bigger. The vision of his own city keeps him flitting from farm to kitchen to wherever he thinks he's needed for now.
"I'm telling you, this whole neighborhood is going to be one crazy garden," Woody says. "I just want to show the impact of what one small group of people can do in one neighborhood. You can do this everywhere." — Lauren Saria