Meet the Farm Owners

Fifth Crow is owned by three partners: John Vars, Mike Irving, and Teresa Kurtak. Though we are pretty young for farmers, each of us has over a decade of farming experience. The three of us met at and are graduates of the UCSC Farm & Garden program.

Mike Irving has 15 years of agricultural experience.  He graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 2000 with a dual degree in Pre-Med and History. Almost immediately after graduation, a curiosity about gaining practical skills outside of academia led him to a farm in Vermont – Farm and Wilderness – where he interned as a farmer and farm educator of summer campers between the ages of 9 and 14.  The experience opened his eyes to a new passion in life – creating something real and beautiful with his hands in the soil and in concert with the nuances of the natural world, and then sharing those skills and knowledge with youth and adults alike.  In 2002 and 2003 Mike went on to study and teach sustainable agriculture at the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.  That was where Mike met his good friend and current business partner, John Vars.  Mike moved back east in 2004, accepting a two-year managerial position at a small farm on the coast south of Boston, Holly Hill Farm.  In 2006, Mike met Teresa at a Farming Conference in Pacific Grove, CA. They ran a small diverse farm together in Santa Cruz until January of 2008.  That same year, he and Teresa partnered with John Vars to create a whole new farming operation built from scratch on a shoestring budget, big dreams and a lot of sore muscles – Fifth Crow Farm.  Today, Mike and Teresa are married with a son, Charles Oakley Irving and a daughter, Eleanor Joyce. 

Teresa Kurtak was born to entomologist parents in Cote d’Ivoire, where she spent her early childhood. From West Africa she moved to a small town in Eastern Washington, where the family started and ran a cattle ranch and homestead farm for 17 years. She studied Sociology and Fine Arts as an undergrad, running an edible landscaping business on the side.  In 2006 she did the UCSC Farm & Garden Apprenticeship.  From there she went on to work for the Ecological Farming Association, leaving the position to pursue graduate work with the aim of furthering her interest in food and ag related policy and non-profit work. Teresa has a masters in Social Documentary from UCSC, though in between she was side tracked (or perhaps put on track) when she met her now husband, Mike Irving at the Eco-Farm Conference, spending a season running a small farm with him in Santa Cruz.  Her academic work focused on West African food and its place in food security.  Though she still would like to dabble in academia at some point, she is thrilled to have found work that allows her love of plants, food, and people to come together. Turns out there’s really nothing else that comes close to being as satisfying as being a farmer. She and her husband are the proud parents of Charles Oakley Irving, born March 1, 2015 and Eleanor Joyce, born February 23, 2017.


John Vars is a graduate of Brown University in Geology and Latin American Studies, where through an awareness of environmental and development issues, he developed a profound interest in sustainable agriculture.  He studied organic farming practices at the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) for two years. He managed Green Oaks Creek Farm near Ano Nuevo in 2004 and 2005.  He went on to manage the farm at the Esalen Institute for two seasons, teaching the basics of organic farming to dozens of interns, before starting Fifth Crow Farm.    John is fluent in Spanish and loves working with the Fifth Crow’s growing crew of Spanish speakers.  He also enjoys the opportunity to mentor the young people who have come to Fifth Crow Farm in hopes of one day starting their own farm business.  John and his wife Maggi are kept busy when not on the farm with their small children; Naima Hope Vars, born March 1, 2015 and Bodhi Isaiah, born May 23, 2018.

Meet the Crew

There are a lot of people who dedicate the majority of their waking hours to the farm. Though we don’t have bio’s and photos up for everyone, we know and are grateful for not only our paid employees, but the generous support of our families, fellow farmers and mentors, neighbors, and friends without whom our farm would not be the success that it is.

Raul Ruiz, Crew Leader (bio and picture to come soon)

Lina Martinez-Lopez, Greenhouse Propagation & Egg Distribution Manager (bio to come soon)





Elif Stevens, Market Gear and Pack Out. Elif graduated from UCSC in 2021 after transferring in from community college to study and eventually help manage the farm’s student team at the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. Elif does a bulk of their work at Fifth Crow behind the scenes in the pack out, organizing and restocking for market and CSA. They also manage flower sowings in the greenhouse. They are particularly interested in heirloom dry beans, flowers, orchards, and finding ways to help others access and enjoy the best food they can!



Meet the Marketeers

While most of our on-farm employees work at our farmers markets we do have a lot of people who give up their weekends to work at our markets around the peninsula and in San Francisco.

Luke Estrella, Farmers’ Marketeer Extraordinaire.  Luke was born on the magical 27th day of June 1983. He loves farming and has been gardening since the age of 7. His favorite plants to grow are arugula, mizuna, tomatoes, and savory herbs. On his days off you can find him surfing or rock/shell hunting up HWY 1 just north of Santa Cruz, mushroom foraging in the woods, or jamming on the ukulele under the sun. He loves working with Fifth Crow because “the veggies are just as happy as the people farming them.” Luke is our awesome CSA delivery driver and lead marketeer at our Saturday San Mateo market and at our Sunday Campbell market. If you ever have any questions about a veggie and/or how to cook them he’s your guy!


Seasonal Crews of Past Years

Fifth Crow farm Crew 2016: Back row (left to right): Andy, Laura, Jenna, Tyler, Kevin, Darin, (foreground) Teresa, Emily L., Sun, Pickle, Brian, Ramiro G. & daughter (foreground), Porfirio (foreground), Paul, Juan Carmelo & family Front rows (left to right): Katie, Luke, Steven, Charlie, Mike, Veronica, Casey, Emily S., John & Maggi (foreground), Ellen, Esteban Not pictured from this seasons crew: Ali, Raul, Lina, Gabby, Victor, Ramiro M.L., Licha, Erika, Elia, Ramiro, Elvia, & Don Gallo.

Fifth Crow Crew 2013 (Left to Right): Raul, Esteban, Mike, Teresa, John (in foreground), Juan Carmelo, Gabby, Christopher, Lina, Orlando (foreground), Antonio, Licha, Ronny (foreground), Presentacion, and Josephina (foreground)

Fifth Crow Farm Crew 2012 (left to right): John, Mike, Collin, Teresa (foreground), Annora, Matt, Rafe, Annie