Steve Kaffka Remembers Alan Chadwick
Steve Kaffka worked with Alan Chadwick for about three years at Santa Cruz before embarking on a political power-play that would result in Chadwick's eventual expulsion from the University. In this respect, Kaffka played a key role in what became a defining event in Alan Chadwick's biography because Alan never fully recovered from that moral blow. He had invested himself body and soul in creating the magnificent demonstration garden in Santa Cruz, working from dawn to dusk seven days a week for years on end without a vacation. That ambitious project became the first organic garden on a university campus in the United States. The entire effort was in fulfillment of a vision that his closest friend, the Countess Freya von Moltke, had instilled in him and toward which he dedicated the later part of his life. Being expelled unjustly from that garden project, which was the tender child of his idealism and altruism, took a profound toll on his health, his optimism, and his faith for the remainder of his life.
For those who wish to understand more fully the details of Chadwick's interactions with Stephen Kaffka in this tragic episode, the following links will provide additional perspectives.
- An exploration into the question: Why Did Alan Chadwick Leave Santa Cruz? in 1972, including an email letter that we sent to Stephen Kaffka asking for clarification on a few still obscure aspects of that episode.
- A commentary on Stephen R. Kaffka's Oral History Interview with the University of California at Santa Cruz, from 2007.
- A discussion of the dubious circumstances and pretexts under which Alan Chadwick was expelled from the University in 1972.
- A description of the strategies that were employed in creating factions among Alan Chadwick's apprentices during the beginning phases of the Farm Project at UCSC in 1971. This project is now known as the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
- Examples of continuing attempts by the University of California at Santa Cruz to vilify and discredit Chadwick, with a possible explanation of why the UC system would choose to impugn his legacy.
- Steve Kaffka's (and another apprentice's) impressions of Vorstand member, Herbert Koepf, during his visit to Santa Cruz in 1971.
- A general discussion about why a group of Alan Chadwick's early apprentices created this website, including an explanation of how they seek to correct misleading impressions concerning Chadwick's work, his philosophy, and his teaching methodologies.
- An observation from a former apprentice who saw how Alan Chadwick was personally affected by the treatment he received from the University of California at Santa Cruz in the Spring of 1972.
- A critical perspective on Stephen R. Kaffka's assertion that the best moment in the history of the garden project at Santa Cruz was the six-week period when he himself (with three friends) was left in charge. (Below)
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Steve Kaffka describes a “Golden Time in the Garden” [with commentary by Greg Haynes]
In this oral history interview (see text below), Steve Kaffka describes events at the Garden Project in Santa Cruz “that had implications for the future of the place.” It remains unstated just exactly what those implications were, but we will be able to form a pretty clear idea of what Steve is alluding to from the context that he provides.
We also hear that Alan Chadwick worked seven days a week, with scarcely a break, for three solid years. Alan’s work-day was from sunrise to sunset every day. Kaffka also tells us that Alan—no doubt because he could not persuade the University to increase its financial support to the project—divided up his own salary so that four advanced apprentices were able to devote themselves full-time to the garden and thus form a basic support-staff for its on-going maintenance.
It is truly staggering to contemplate this level of self-sacrificing commitment displayed by Alan Chadwick, not only his unstinting labors on behalf of the creation of the garden, but also his renunciation of any benefits to himself, as seen by his sharing his salary with these co-workers. As Kaffka goes on to describe it, Alan had impoverished himself to the extent that he was forced to borrow money just so that he could spend a few weeks camping in the mountains to renew himself after those exhausting three years of unremitting labor.
During that six-week respite, Alan left his support staff of four apprentices in charge of the garden. This would not be a problem, he must have reasoned to himself, because everything that they would need had been provided. The garden itself was already well established, so only routine maintenance would be necessary during that period, with an occasional redigging of beds and replanting with seedlings that Alan had already raised in the greenhouse. All the necessary fertilizations were on hand, water pipes laid in and functioning, feed for the poultry bought and in storage: everything planned out in advance and provided for.
And because Alan was not there to issue orders or to reprimand shoddy work, Steve apparently had a wonderful time during Chadwick’s absence. He calls it “a golden time in the Garden.” One can easily imagine why Steve would consider it to be so. Like a teenager whose parents have gone on vacation, Steve enjoyed all the benefits of the household with none of the responsibilities for providing them.
And what would Kaffka gain by calling anybody to task for haphazard work or destruction of seedlings because some foolish student walked over a seed bed? No, Steve would have been very endearing to everyone because, in a few short weeks, no untrained eye would notice the drop in the standard of quality that Alan had established by being a strict taskmaster.
But when Chadwick returned he must have observed the situation very clearly and spoken a few sharp words—you can be sure of that. Alas, Steve went back to being a mere lowly garden employee without status or authority. He had to do Alan’s bidding and toe the line if he wanted to keep his job. And with Alan present, there was no slacking off; the garden had to be ship-shape at all times or there would be repercussions. Quite a demotion for Steve. “Oh, if only Alan would go away permanently,” he must have said to himself, “then we could go back to that golden time in the Garden and it would never end.”
So now we can see just what those “implications” were that Steve referred to in his oral history interview. What could he possibly mean except that his pleasurable experience in that “golden time” would become his justification for ousting his mentor and teacher from the position of director, and assuming that position himself? What other implication for the future was there from Alan having taken a much-needed vacation in the mountains?
That Alan was now sixty-three years old and that he had poured his life blood into this garden project apparently meant nothing to Steve Kaffka. Had he gone elsewhere and started up something more to his own liking, that would have been a laudable course of action. But no, he wanted Alan’s domain and he felt no particular compunctions about taking it. One influential member of the science faculty, Kenneth Thimann, had a long running grudge against Alan and wanted him out of the University. It is highly probable that Kaffka and Thimann (who was Steve’s mentor and thesis advisor) worked together to achieve their respective goals.
Somebody fabricated a story about Alan having alienated all his apprentices and that he was destroying everything that he had created. This was absolutely untrue. The garden had never been in better shape, since eight or ten apprentices were working there every day. The rest were working down on the new farm project, and making considerable progress there. Steve had begun to create factions among Alan's apprentices and had drawn about half of the twenty-five or so of them into his “mutiny.” If Alan exhibited his temper at this time (and he did), ninety-five percent of his outbursts were directed at Steve, who was obviously trying to create divisions and undermine cohesion. If anyone was destroying everything that Alan had created it was Steve Kaffka and no one else.
In any case, the administrator who had jurisdiction over the garden project fired Alan based on these false representations. Steve was given control of the whole garden and farm project, and Alan was thrown into the street with nothing. So yes—thanks to Steve Kaffka—Alan’s vacation to the Sierra Nevada did indeed have “implications for the future of the place.”
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Note: The following quotes are from an oral history interview with Steve Kaffka published by the University of California in 2010. See here for the full citation and web link.
“Kaffka: … So in the summer of 1970, myself, Steve Decater, Michael Zander, and Greg Hudson all worked as assistants to Alan in the Garden. …The four of us became the staff for Alan. Alan had his salary divided so that we each got two hundred and fifty bucks a month, or something like that, from Alan’s salary…
… Anyway, there were the four of us. One of the extraordinary things that happened, I think, that had implications for the future of the place was that [art professor] Jasper Rose, who was then provost of Cowell [College] at the time, lent Alan some money to go on a vacation. Alan had not been out of the Garden since the spring of ’67 when he started it. He was there essentially seven days a week.
Farmer: So, for three solid years.
Kaffka: Yes. We went on a couple of trips here and there—day trips, excursions, when he would leave the place. But that summer he went on a six-week camping trip to Blue Lake in the Sierra Nevada, near Grass Valley. A guy named Will David, a non-student who was working at the Garden, went with him and stayed up there. Alan was gone for six weeks while Michael and Steve and Greg and I were left in charge. The Garden ran beautifully. It did. Things went along, and there were meetings and discussions, and we wrote everything out on a large board. The four of us worked pretty well together.
The thing that was striking about it was that there wasn’t this aura of tension and difficulty while he was gone. It returned the day Alan walked back in the Garden. The contrast was fairly striking. It wasn’t that no one wanted him there; everybody wanted him there, but without the tension. There were always difficulties being around him. Everybody, even people like myself who had been working there, we were always kind of on tiptoes at times. It was unpredictable when there’d be a tirade of some kind. But anyway, that short period was kind of a golden time in the Garden.”