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, where he greatly increased the farm’s production at that time. 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 having a great time learning to be parents with their baby girl (also born March 1, 2015) Naima Hope Vars.
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.
Luke Estrella, Farmers’ Marketeer Extraordinaire/on farm crew. 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!
Casey Gooding, CSA Coordinator. Casey began her love for growing plants at an early age in her parents garden. When after graduating high school in 1997 she was offered a job working for a landscape company she jumped at the chance. She quickly realized she had an instinct for working with plants and at the age of 18 she co-designed an English garden that still continues to be featured on various garden tours. After some years of exploration around the world Casey returned to her hometown of Port Townsend, WA in 2001 and started her own organic landscape business. In 2009 she decided to pursue a college degree and left her business to move to Seattle. At Seattle University she found herself managing the greenhouse at the non-profit farm the University had just begun building. The experience made Casey aware of how proud she felt to grow organic produce for her local community and after graduating college she moved to the Bay Area for a longer growing season. She has now been an organic farmer in and around Pescadero for the past 4 seasons and happily joined Fifth Crow Farm in 2016 as the CSA Coordinator.
Emily Leshner, Flower Production Manager. Emily grew up in Annapolis, MD on the Chesapeake Bay where she developed a deep love for the outdoors and a passion for gardening. She completed a degree in Biology at Wheaton College (MA) in 2012. Emily has worked on organic farms in Europe and Hawaii. She joined Fifth Crow Farm’s Seasonal Crew as an apprentice in 2013 and is now the Flower Production Manager. Come meet her and see both her gorgeous bouquet designs & her dried wreaths at the Palo Alto Farmers Market on Sundays.
Raul Ruiz, Crew Leader (bio to come soon)
Esteban Martinez-Antonio, Irrigation Manager (pic to come soon). Esteban is 25 years old and started working at Fifth Crow Farm in 2013. He manages all the irrigation, helps with harvesting, and he helps out in anyway he can around the farm. You can see him pedaling around on his bike between fields switching water over or walking with multiple 30 foot long pipes delicately balanced on each shoulder. He always has a smile on his face and he likes working at Fifth Crow Farm because “we all get along well with one another.”
Lina Martinez-Lopez, Greenhouse Propagation & Egg Distribution Manager (bio to come soon)
Sarah Baylis, Field Production Assistant. Sarah became interested in pursuing farming her senior year at Dickinson College when she began to think more about where her food was coming from, who was growing it, and how they were growing it. After graduating from Dickinson College in 2015 with a BA in English, Sarah moved to Detroit, MI to participate in a yearlong fellowship program through an organization called Repair the World. Here she continued to learn about food justice movements in the city of Detroit and nationally. She primarily worked with Keep Growing Detroit another non-profit in the city whose mission is to “promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits.” She is looking forward to continuing her pursuit of farming at Fifth Crow Farm in March of 2017!
Henry Smith, Pastured Poultry Production Manager. Henry is a friendly Midwesterner with a quirky sense of humor and a knack for puns. He grew up in rural Missouri about 30 miles outside of Kansas City where he raised chickens, ducks, turkeys, sheep, cows, and rabbits. His favorite kind of chicken is the Polish because of their fantastic hair-do. After graduating from Truman State University with a degree in Anthropology he served in the Peace Corps as an Agriculture Extension Agent in Paraguay, where he developed crop diversification, permaculture gardening, and soil recuperation projects. Henry is an avid animal lover, like Dr. Doolittle and St. Francis of Assisi, he considers himself somewhat of a cat whisperer. He also enjoys gardening, planting trees, growing plants, and sharing the fruits of his labor with others. Henry has a thirst for adventure. He enjoys exploring, hiking, and looking at maps. He is excited to be a part of the Fifth Crow Farm team!
Jacob Dawes, Harvest Manager. Jacob is a newcomer to California by way of Alabama and Chicago who has spent the last few years as a purchasing agent for an organic food delivery service in the Chicagoland area. There, among other skills, he learned to hand-weigh vegetables with stunning and unparalleled accuracy. He also planned for CSA style boxes, farmers markets, and wholesale orders, all the while maintaining relations with local Midwestern farms in order to provide customers with a diversified offering of organic produce, meat, and dairy. Jacob attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham, graduating in 2011 with a degree in Economic Policy and Analysis. He enjoys the outdoors, playing the guitar, and practicing his own unique brand of comedy, which, to be generous, is an acquired taste. He has spent the last few years living on an organic farm, working and attending farmer’s markets, and getting his hands dirty at any available opportunity. He couldn’t be more excited to be farming on the West Coast with his brother Sam (see Sam’s bio below).
Samuel Dawes, Tractor Assistant/Field Worker. Born in California, raised in Alabama, Sam has been involved with organic agriculture since his first farming internship in 2011 at Los Poblanos Organics in Albuquerque NM. Since then he’s co-managed Alabama’s first certified organic farm (Tune Farm), worked as a tractor operator on a mid-size CSA farm outside Chicago (Tempel Farms), and has met a myriad of amazing friends through the WWOOF volunteer program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.) He enjoys music, cooking, camping, and professional kitchen dancing. He’s happy to back in California and farming along the coast.
Elle Leatham, Flower Production Assistant. Elle began working with flowers in 2014 as a design assistant at In Water and French Tulip in San Francisco.There she was trained at making European hand-tie arrangements, orchid designs, classic centerpieces, as well as corsages & boutonnières.Always welcoming of unconventional requests she eventually began dabbling in hair garlands, wreaths, and living walls to supplement the classics.During this time she became increasingly interested in the origins of her products and was frustrated that local, organic flowers were not more abundant. This advocacy of self-sustainable agriculture is what drew her to Fifth Crow Farm where she’s thrilled to be surrounded by socially conscious, experienced cultivators.In addition to floristry Elle is also a music producer, food server, and bartender.
Madeleine Dragun, Flower Production Assistant. Madeleine is a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz, where she studied agroecology and environmental studies. Her favorite classes included plant biology, soil and plant nutrition, insect ecology, and integrated pest management. Her passion for organic and sustainable agriculture began after completing a student internship at the CASFS Farm located at UCSC. From there she immersed herself in the alternative agriculture movement and hopes that through organic farming she can promote environmental sustainability as well as food sovereignty. She has always had a love of flowers because of the beauty and joy they add to life and aspires to one day have her own flower farm to help promote local pollinators and insect biodiversity. In her spare time, Madeleine enjoys painting, reading, photography, and eating tacos! Madeleine is thrilled to be joining the Fifth Crow Farm team and sharing her love of flowers with the community.
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.
Sun Nguyen was born in Dusseldorf, Germany and raised in the bustling city center of San Francisco. Since graduating with a degree in Business and working at many nonprofits, she has found her passion as a young change maker supporting a thriving local food system. After volunteering at an urban farm in San Diego and traveling to Kenya to work with an NGO food hub, she returned to San Francisco to continue developing her skills and broadening her perspective. Upon her return she has completed a Permaculture Design Internship, taught a cooking class to SF youth, and completed an educational farm internship with Green String Farm. Sun is thrilled to be a part of the Fifth Crow Farm team and excited to continue working towards community resilience through responsible ecological and economical practices.
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)