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Alan Chadwick and the Chadwick Garden

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

This is an excerpt taken from the 1997 brochure for The Santa Cruz Circle Trail, by Don Weiss. The piece is written by Paul Lee.

In 1967, Alan Chadwick dug his spade into the hardpan of the University of California, Santa Cruz campus on a slope below Merrill College. Thus began the Garden Project, introducing the Biodynamic and French Intensive method of organic food and flower production.

I had been bemoaning the lack of a sense of place an institution like a state university entails and, what with “flower power” in the air, the idea of a garden came to me. It seemed like a good thing for students to do.

The need for roots in a rootless age also had something to do with it. So after a walk with the Chancellor to look for a prospective site, here came Chadwick, whom E. F. Schumacher called “the world’s greatest living gardener” and the only man he knew who could make a great contribution to the the solution of the world’s food problem.

Chadwick, through the garden, introduced me to the Physicalist/Vitalist conflict in the system of the sciences. This spectre haunts higher education and accounts for the hegemony of the experimental sciences over what counts for knowledge. Organic chemistry undermined the integrity of organic nature. The crux of this is the confusion over the meaning of the word ‘organic’; where organic chemistry means the chemistry of artificial synthesis. No wonder plants became factories, just as Tang became orange juice. It’s a big swindle when synthetics are promoted as identical to organic nature. After all, it’s only a matter of chemistry in the materialist reduction of an ontology of death.

Chadwick showed a way out of this swindle in an organic garden of inexhaustible beauty and fecundity. He restored the vitalist principle in time for Earth Day One. He revealed the principle of plentitude in an economy of gift and an ethic of superabundance. Everything he grew he freely gave away and there was always more than enough for everyone. Isn’t that remarkable? My fondest memory is going up at sunrise and picking anemones or daisies, with Chadwick and the students, to set out in the kiosk across from the garden for the university community to come and take.

The garden opened up so many themes for me — the botanical basis of health care in the significance of medicinal herbs (Chadwick taught me my first binomials, the Latin names for plants); the botanical tradition going back from him through Rudolf Steiner to Goethe, a leading example of the vitalist stream; we took for ourselves and the Garden Project the slogan of Goethe’s Italian Journey: Et in Arcadia Ego (And I am in that Arcadian garden), the affirmation of the goodness and sweetness of life from the point of view of death, where the garden is the grave, hence, the raised bed and the double-digging, Arcadia is the Greek equivalent of Eden, the Garden of Paradise.

The UCSC garden was a force-fit at best, bucking up against the trend dominated by Physicalistic Science and the experimental laboratory. No garden there. Nothing organic about the lab. We took it back. And the garden is still there. That’s the wonder of it. The chancellor defended it against all critics — after all, he was an old farm boy whose father had planted by the moon and Chadwick brought him a box of stuff every week. The garden gave rise to the farm and then the Agro-Ecology Program and the Apprentice Training Program. Countless people have been touched and graced by the Chadwick effort to replant the vital root of existence in the late stage of the self destruction of industrial society — that’s how I’ve come to put it.

So, the Chadwick Garden gave rise to the UCSC Farm, the Greenbelt and the Pogonip Park, the Homeless Garden Project, and Ecotopia, our design strategy for the new millenium, which includes the Circle Trail and the Ecology Hall of Fame. We owe it all to Chadwick and his mighty spade.

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