“I could do with less,” says Andrew Brown, current student at the SAA, and this sentiment succinctly captures the minimalist style of the one who prefers to go only by “Brown.” A former member of the California Conservation Corps, Brown, 22, can be identified any given day by the beanie and safety spectacles he wears at all times on his head while he goes simply and methodically about his tasks. I sat down with him on a Friday afternoon in the schoolhouse living room after a morning of scheduled student chores. These included things like weedwhacking the now-golden hillside by the schoolhouse for fire suppression and continuing work on a new chicken coop made from welded rebar. Brown, an avid insectophile, had spent the time refilling his homemade flytraps with attractant.
D: Brown, let’s start simple: Where are you from, and how did you get here?
B: I grew up in San Bernadino, but I don’t like living in a city. I’ve always wanted to go out to the country, be in a more rural environment. When I was 13 I read a book called My Side of the Mountain about a young boy who goes and lives alone in the woods. Ever since then it’s been my goal to move to the country.
D: We’re a good ways from San Bernadino. I know you joined CCC, is that what brought you up here?
B: That’s how I got to Ukiah. I joined the Conservation Corps in December 2015 and spent a year with them. We had the option to join up for another year, but about six months into the Corps I was already sick of it and had started thinking of what can I do that still allows me to be outdoors? That’s how I decided on farming. I joined the WWOOF website and found the Golden Rule Community at Ridgewood Ranch and they had a link to the School of Adaptive Agriculture website.
D: So that’s when you decided to apply to the school?
B: Yeah. I came to visit the school in December 2016 to check it out for the term that started in April 2017 and just ended up staying as an intern for the ranch before the term started.
D: And is this your first experience with agriculture?
B: Not exactly. I did a program in high school where we did organic urban agriculture. They taught us about sustainability, conserving electricity usage, water usage, and we did some hands-on bed-prepping and growing. This is the first time in the country, a more rural setting, and on a bigger scale.
D: Are you enjoying it? What about it appeals to you?
B: Yeah, I’m enjoying it. I enjoy the physical labor, being outdoors, the fresh air, and it’s always a little varied. You’re not really doing the same things everyday. And it has the appeal of helping the environment rather than harming it, being a part of the solution rather than being a part of the problem, or just sitting around and complaining about it.
D: I know you have a special interest in insects, and in particular in farming them for food. Tell me about that.
B: I’ve always been in love with insects, since I was really young. At one point I wanted to be an entomologist and then I realized that meant being indoors all day staring at insects and that’s not fun. Then I got the idea of farming them. I thought, people eat insects in Vietnam and Thailand so, why can’t I grow them here? Now that’s become a big theme on the front line, part of the next wave of sustainability and I’m like, “awesome, I now have a path.” I would like to grow insects. I want a longterm place where I know I’ll be awhile and just have colony after colony after colony.
D: Have you started learning much about what’s involved in farming insects?
B: Yeah, it’s delicate. You’re taking care of this fragile life and seeing it all the way through. You really have to be careful with insects, they can’t take much toxins. If you feed it a chemical, it’ll kill it quickly. Plus there’s the whole thing of having to get over the Western fear of eating insects.
D: Right, that’s a good point. You can always just cover the insects with chocolate, right?
B: Ha, maybe, but where do you get the chocolate? You can’t really get that local, so that brings its own set of complications.
D: Last question Brown. What are your plans for your farming future, after the term with the SAA ends?
B: I’m hoping to stay here for a while, keep working at the Ranch. After that I don’t know. I have an aunt in Oregon who’s always sending me information about farms near her. I want to pursue the insects. I want chickens in the future, at least laying hens and maybe some meatbirds. I’m still on the fence about anything larger than that like goats or sheep. I don’t think I want to raise cows. Mostly just stay outdoors, keep on farming. And keep things simple. I could do with less.