Photo of: Brody Thompson, son of Chris Thompson
F O R A G E R: Chris Thompson
by Steve Sprinkle
reprinted with permission
13 August 2014
He was one of the original farmers at Fairview Gardens, way back before you were born, and does his own welding. Chris and John Givens have partnered around Santa Barbara County since the late 1970’s, grooming the earth and planting it. They farmed all over Goleta and then moved up towards Buelton, in the Nojoqui Creek drainage owned by the Georgis, off the 101, awhile back. You can see the lush down there from the northbound lanes quite clearly. Then you’ll run by an organic farm stand run by the neighbor Helmut Klauer. The passage is a little blip of joy.
Chris Thompson was always the man in the background regarding his partnership with Givens. Chris is the guy on the green tractor about a quarter of a mile away, too far to go over and bother him, discing a field in a pattern that would not lead him to you. He let Givens do the marketing. Chris grows it and John gets rid of it. The stuff is good too. None better, so they say, diplomatically. I’ve known Chris Thompson since 1983, back when CCOF* was a legit organization run by farmers. I don’t think we could be considered friends and are more like contemporary associates who share many things in common, including opinions, lifestyle, profession, zeal, curiosity about natural systems (mostly biology) and authenticity. Chris Thompson is the farmer you must have in order to create a benchmark for legitimate agricultural morality. Remember, this is not about banking or defense contracts, but about what you put in your mouth. I am not talking about common Biblical moralities, Greek moralities or floor length Burqa moralities. These are personal moralities you imagine and then prove to yourself without running to some blowhard for approval. Thompson has firm feelings about how the land should be managed, how crops need to be grown, what the true measure of human health should be. Once upon a time we were incensed about the same thing. A shared incense is a special feeling, a bonding in insult rather than joy, maybe like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro or Nathan Hale and Benjamin Talmadge, except neither of us dodged bullets or wished we had more than one life to give for the sake of organic certification.
There once was a pair of brothers operating in Northern California in the organic apple trade. They did some juicing and ran around to farmers markets, put boxes of fruit on trucks, and were well loved north of Marin. But there were too many stories about too many corners that were cut to fill those boxes. Yet, they were so beloved nobody in the region would call them to account, give them a good old-fashioned organic inspection. So the honchos asked me if I would give the brothers the once over, probe for truth, since I was a southerner, rather than a bedazzled north country acolyte. The story is sordid and even contains withcraft. The incensing was rather continual, sort of a rolling snare-drum beat on the way to the gallows. There were many misdemeanors…zazazazazazazazazazazazazaz….in the field…zazazazazazazazazaz,,,in the records….zazazazazazazaz…and then when we finally observed the pitiful apples getting processed at Huge Man’s Juicetron facility, the wheels fell off, rolled down hill and went over a cliff. We looked down into the swirling vat where the organic apples were about to be cleaned and observed wash-water as white as milk with the residue of untold bins of dirty apples sloshing in a deadly cream.
So we ask the man from Huge about the organic handling protocol. You know, about the clean wash water every Monday for the organic apple juice for little Jimmy and Gretchen? So the last thing their little apples come in contact with won’t be a vat of milky, unpronounceable chemistry? Ooops.
Chris and I were more incensed when the Brothers got certified by someone else two weeks later.
We went up to hear Chris Thompson lecture at his farm last weekend. Grace Malloy’s sister-in-law Carla set it up. We took a gang of young and even the non-farmers came back with a yen for the good earth. The show was real pro, with all the field implements laid out for discussion. Big tractors ready to roll, even a representative from Yeoman’s Keyline Plow Systems. Everyone around here thinks I am some kind of genius and so I shall remain until they see Chris Thompson’s farm. He speaks with an unchallengeable certainty now, and his laugh reveals humanity. I learned anew from him as if I were but a novice of such good methods and knowledge, trusted and true over years of dedication. I suspected that I might be disserving my farm by not keeping it wetter. Chris corroborated my concern. He rarely lets any field dry down like I have-some of my land has not been irrigated for a year owing the drought. This is a shame because I have undone much of the good I did. My earthworms must be halfway to Indonesia by now.
Steve Sprinkel :