Breathing New Life Into Brookside School Farm

Students in Willits might not realize it, but they belong to a school district that has been busy breaking ground in the local food movement. Over the past several years, the Willits Unified School District has changed the way it feeds its students. WUSD Food Service Director Christy Wisdom has been leading the charge to increase healthy, whole, and local foods served in the school’s cafeterias. Wisdom and her dedicated team partnered with the Farm2Fork project of North Coast Opportunities—Community Action in February 2012, and together they have continued to reshape the face of food in WUSD.

A piece of the puzzle has been missing for many involved in food services at WUSD, however. In 2006, a revolutionary idea was born at Brookside Elementary: what if available public property on school grounds could be used to grow food for the school and community at large?

The idea was warmly embraced, and the one-acre Brookside School Farm was born under the vision and hard work of Jason Bradford. His goal was to design a productive demonstration farm that could both feed and educate the people it served. After six successful seasons that included a popular CSA program, funding for the garden ran out in the winter of 2012. The land has been fallow ever since.
The now-empty garden represents the loss of a successful program, but it also provides a unique opportunity for WUSD to continue its trend of thinking outside the box. After months of discussions and strategic planning, WUSD, in partnership with the Farm2Fork project of North Coast Opportunities—Community Action, announced a new plan for the future of Brookside School Farm.

The school district, in short, wants to “license” the land, essentially granting permission to operate a farm on the property. Proposals are being accepted from experienced farmers, businesses, and non-profits who are interested in operating Brookside Farm. The chosen applicant will be asked to sign a 3-year license agreement, with the stipulation that at least 15% of the garden must be dedicated to growing food for the school. The farm also has to remain accessible for educational activities.

Brookside School Farm already has significant infrastructure that the operator will have full access to, including a hoop house, vegetable washing station, rainwater catchment system, solar power, tools, and equipment. Water will also be supplied, rounding out what is an already appealing package for many farmers. Beyond these equipment and water provisions, the operator will be fully responsible for all expenses and for generating income from the land.

“This is a unique opportunity,” says Susan Lightfoot, Farm2Fork Coordinator. “It’s a great fit for someone with production experience and people skills, a passion for healthy local food, a commitment to community-based agriculture, and a love of children.” It might sound like a tall order, but for the right person or organization, Brookside School Farm has the potential to be both a community asset as well as a profitable business.

Proposals must be submitted by 4pm on Friday, August 30. Anyone interested should contact Lightfoot at (707) 467-3238 or

The Real Dirt

Sign up to keep up with what's growin' on
around Mendocino County and Lake Counties!