Santa Ynez Valley Journal
March 27, 2008
If you are thinking about planting a vegetable or herb garden this spring, the first thing you should do is to make Noey Turk your new best friend.
The singular force behind the Yes Yes Nursery in Santa Ynez, Turk gives life to carefully cultivated organic plants, delivering seasonal vegetables starts, culinary herbs and medicinal plants to customers at the Wednesday Solvang Farmers’ Market. Her range covers everything from French sorrel and lemon-scented geraniums to nasturtiums and evening primrose.
Turk’s one-year-old nursery was a natural extension of five years of vegetable farming, under the tutelage of one of the most respected organic farmers in Santa Barbara County, Shu Takikawa, on a 2-acre parcel within her family’s larger farm.
As Turk recalled, “Since we grow all the starts for the vegetable business, the nursery arose spontaneously out of the farm.
“Learning about new plants by collecting seeds, planting them and seeing what happens is just such an exciting little micro adventure. I really fell in love with it. It continues to astonish and amaze me every day.”
Despite a background in physics, she confessed her learning curve was steep.
“Soil science is its own discipline, but it shares a lot with chemistry and physics, so the terminology wasn’t all that scary,” she said.
While most vegetables have the same soil and nutrient requirements, Turk discovered quite a different set of rules for herbs and medicinal plants.
“I’m growing so many different types of plants, and they all have stunningly different life cycles and requirements,” Turk explained.
“Last year, when I started soil trials side-by-side, so many things went wrong. But nothing replaces the education I get from hands-on experience.”
One result of her persistence was a better understanding of how to formulate a custom soil-less media (potting mix) that takes each plant’s specific needs into account.
She described the process as she gently sifted through a mixture of pumice and coir, a renewable organic matter from the discarded husks of coconuts, stored in a cast-iron bathtub next to the greenhouse.
As a third-generation valley resident, she is particularly interested in the restoration and propagation of native plants and heirloom varieties.
“I’m trying to use locally-collected seeds, but they are hard to find and much trickier to grow,” she said.
She held up a little-known plant called soaproot, originally used by the Chumash.
“It takes a really long time to grow – such a slow process – but it’s definitely worth the effort.”
She went on to explain another little known fact about certain native plants: fire ecology.
“A lot of native plants in the valley have a requirement for fire. Some of them need the heat of the fire, and some of them just need the ashes of the chaparral to activate germination,” Turk said. As proof, we could see tender shoots of new Matilija poppies and Manzanita plants sprouting from under a bed of burned pine needles.
Turk’s passion for her work is matched by an equal appreciation for her customers.
“The community has been so enthusiastic. They have really encouraged my growth as a small business,” she said. “It’s wonderful. I can’t think of anywhere else I could do what I’m doing – start out on such a small scale, with such a big learning curve – and be so supported.”
Turk hopes it goes beyond supporting her new business and pointed to more fundamental values.
“As people start to buy local food from their local farmers, they are making a choice – not just about what they put in their bodies, and what they put on their dinner table – but about what kind of community they live in,” Turk explained. “They choose to live in a community where small farmers like us exist and support it by shopping at the (farmers’) market.”
Back in the greenhouse, the importance Turk places on organic practices is evident in her whole approach. She watches over a large variety of cultivars, from heirloom violas started from seeds discovered in her Grandmother’s garden to beautifully fragrant hummingbird plants.
As she excitedly showed off seedlings of all types, she was both thoughtful about the process and displayed downright affection for the plants under her care.
“I totally love what I’m doing. I don’t need a big business,” said Turk. “Staying small and keeping it simple gives me space to experiment and really refine how I farm.”
She summed it up: “What it comes down to is living well and having a good life. I’m really lucky that I’ve found something to do that I’m so excited about.”
After spending a beautiful morning learning about organic farming from Turk’s perspective, I think we are lucky too. Lucky to have Yes Yes Nursery in our own backyard.