Meet a Farmer: Helena Sylvester of Happy Acre Farm
Meet Helena Sylvester, a California Certified Organic Farmer, of Happy Acre Farm in Alameda County. After being a vegetarian and watching food documentaries, she decided she wanted to grow the food she eats. So she became a farmer!
CA GROWN: What are you doing today?
Helena: Today I am in the greenhouse, getting ready for the season. I’m growing a lot of different vegetables, tomatoes, kale, chard and other greens. There are only two of us on the farm so we kind of have to divide and achieve. My partner Matthew is driving down to Watsonville today because that’s where the closest agriculture supply stores are. We’re in Alameda County and it’s mostly vineyards. The bigger agriculture stores are either in Santa Rosa or in Watsonville.
CA GROWN: What is your favorite thing about farming?
Helena: I guess it’s a combination of things. I love that I get to work outside and that the farm is our office, that’s pretty rad. I also enjoy being part of the process from seed to harvest. Watching our crops grow and being a part of the local food system is really rewarding.
CA GROWN: How do you give back to the community?
Helena: We are in a pretty unique land situation, so our landlord is SAGE, Sustainable Agriculture and Education, so we have class tours coming through here all the time. We really get to interact with the kids ages 3rd grade through high school and we help them understand the process of growing vegetables and where their food comes from. We also work with a local school in town; we farm in the small town of Sunol. We donate a lot to their school garden; extra seeds or extra plants and we just try to stay in with the community.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the farming profession?
Helena: It sounds a little silly, but it was actually watching food documentaries right after college. I was a vegetarian and I thought I was being pretty healthy by eating a lot of vegetables and soy. It was me fully understanding what goes into not only the seed for certain foods but the stuff that goes on them, what’s sprayed on them. I went kind of to the extreme and just started growing my own food. I dragged my then boyfriend, now husband to Hawaii and then back to California all for the sake of learning how to grow food.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
Helena: When I’m not farming I really enjoy hiking. We also try to go away for one night camping trips as much as we can. The Stanislaus River is our favorite place to go camping. And cooking, we cook all of our meals from scratch everyday so we spend a lot of our time cooking and eating and thinking about food.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
Helena: I would say, just go for it. Start growing things wherever you can and just keep building on that desire to be a farmer. And simultaneously, if you are interested in doing it on a larger scale I would say volunteer on a farm or be an intern on one during the summer. I think it’s also important to realize that it is a romantic lifestyle but there is a business side to it too. Also that it doesn’t matter if your parents weren’t farmers, it’s innate. We as humans know how to grow things. I feel like it’s just in us. So if you want to farm just go grow something!