Scott Chang Fleeman - Alum

July 06, 2020


What brought you to the Center for Agroecology ?

I was an undergraduate intern at the Center for Agroecology as a UCSC Environmental Studies student. I took a lot of classes at the Farm & Garden and worked with  the Center for Agroecology instructors Orin Martin, Kirstin Yogg, and Darryl Wong. I had been around the apprentices a lot as an undergrad and thought it was really cool and knew it was something I wanted to do. I graduated from UCSC in 2015 and took a job at Pomona College managing their educational farm, thanks to a letter of recommendation from Darryl. I moved back to Santa Cruz to do the Apprenticeship to learn more about how to manage a farm properly.

What did you like about the Center for Agroecology ?

We had a really good cohort in 2017. I got really close with all of them. The experience of getting to work with all the site managers and being able to live in the place where we’re learning and working, that is so rare for any kind of career path to have that immersive experience.

A highlight that changed my whole thinking around farming was Kellee (Matsushita-Tseng, instructor)’s seed sovereignty salons. Those totally reframed a lot of how I think about farming and the whole food system, starting from the basic level of seeds. I also loved my winter as a second year as an apprentice. The winter between first and second year is always a pretty special time for people, but just experiencing the farm for the whole season is really nice.

We were around for the 50th anniversary which was really fun. I feel really fortunate for that because so many apprentices came back and I got to meet them all. One of the coolest things about the Center for Agroecology is how long it’s been around and you can find Center for Agroecology people everywhere and it was cool to actually meet those people. Orin would say at that time, "So much of farming and gardening is doing things for people that you’ll never meet, building things for people that you’ll never meet. But this year they’re going to meet you." So much of the work we do pays off over generations and years and years.

What are you doing now?

I run Shao Shan Farm, a 5.5 acre organic farm in West Marin, CA that specializes in certified organic Asian heritage vegetables. We grow predominantly certified organic Asian vegetables, but we dabble in a little bit of everything. This season, because of covid, we switched to a CSA model, like a lot of farms. We have a 70 member CSA of which are around 90% Asian American folks within three counties. We specialize in cool season crops: leafy greens and root vegetables and dry-farmed crops, tomatoes and kabocha squash. We just found out we got into the Clement Street Market in San Francisco, which is my favorite market in the City to shop at. We also sell to a chef who runs two San Francisco restuarants: Mister Jiu's and Mamahuhu. I actually was connected to this chef thanks to Darryl, who had a relationship with him when he ran a farm.

How did your experience at  Center for Agroecology prepare you for what you’re doing now?

I would not be farming without the Center for Agroecology in so many senses. First and foremost, Center for Agroecology was my first exposure to agriculture. As an 18 year old freshman from West LA, I’d never stepped foot on a farm before  Center for Agroecology. I didn’t even know it was something I was interested in until I started interning there. And as far as the Apprenticeship Program,  it was an opportunity to learn a little bit of everything as a first year, but my second year felt like the deep Apprenticeship experience that I was really looking for. Now I have one employee and will soon be hiring my second and having had the experience as a second year and managing first years, I feel really confident in my ability to be managing employees already, even as someone who has never had employees before. My farm is pretty much a miniature version of Center for Agroecology.

Most recently I was really thinking about how Center for Agroecology has prepared me to market to different venues. With COVID a new concern, I felt fortunate for my experience of working at Market Cart while at Center for Agroecology, which prepared me for being at the farmer’s market. I had never worked at a farmer’s market before but I had an idea of how to set everything up and how to load lists and things like that. Even communicating with the dining halls and food pantries and seeing how that communication and deliveries work while at Center for Agroecology was helpful. During COVID I was panicking at first because pre-COVID, 75% of my income and sales were from restaurants and my entire business model was built around selling direct to chefs, but I was able to transition to a CSA and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have exposure to all these different marketing experiences all at once. It seemed less daunting because of my experience at Center for Agroecology. As small farmers, our strength is in diversity, crop-wise but also marketing-wise.

What advice would you give people who want to farm or work in the food system?

I tell people to definitely not do it the way I did it and start a farm right out of the Apprenticeship. Even though it worked out for me, I think the better way to go about it is what my original intention was which is do the Apprenticeship and then go work. My for-profit production farm is the first for-profit farm I’ve ever worked on. I had always worked in an education context either at Center for Agroecology, Life Lab, or the Pomona College Farm before farming as a business, which is super different. I recommend people get the experience of working on a production farm before deciding to start their own business.

Fortunately, I really love the work and I personally love that kind of hard work drive. But I can see how someone could have an experience at their university farm or apprenticeship and love it and then try to enter into an actual business context where there’s a lot more of a hustle and a lot more demand for your time and energy and then not want to do it. But also, you can play it safe and work on other farms and get as much experience as you want but at some point you just have to make the decision that you’re going to do it and go all in. I had one customer lined up and that was a marketing opportunity and then I found this land for lease and it was a really great parcel and it’s just rare to find both those things so I had to jump on it and not overthink it. Starting a farm is the least certain, least safe, least logical thing to do so if you’re going to do it you just have to do it. Kirstin (Yogg, instructor) calls it “that necessary grit.”