Kaj Enderlein reached a turning point one afternoon in 1996 while making dinner at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, aka the Farm and Garden.
After more than a decade as a civil engineer, he was ready for a career that was more about community. Raised by a conservation-minded mother, Enderlein was also concerned about depletion of natural resources, and that’s what brought him to the Farm. Two decades after his time there, Enderlein has added the farm to his will with the help of UC Santa Cruz’s Office of Planned Giving.
“Engineers like to solve problems,” he says. “How we become sustainable is a massive problem.”
For decades, aspiring farmers have enrolled in the Farm’s apprenticeship program for in-depth training in organic farming. But a month into the program, camping in a field with fellow apprentices who were just getting to know one another, Enderlein the risk-averse engineer was not sure he belonged.
The change came in the Farm kitchen. Crews of four to six took turns cooking for the rest of the staff, and Ederlein found himself preparing food he’d helped grow and harvest. He was surrounded by people who were there to learn the same things he was. They were all going to eat and be nurtured by the food they were making.
“Something shifted. It kind of brought it all home,” he said. The crew finished that shift giggling and happy.
Enderlein took his organic farming skills home to his garden on Orcas Island in the Puget Sound. Enderlein grows food with about a dozen neighbors, who share the fresh produce. He says it also means food sovereignty. For these islanders, if something goes wrong with the Washington State ferry system, the garden has a few days of food for them. About five years ago, he opened the garden for community education.
“It’s a wonderful place to have conversations about sustainability on the planet,” he says.
“Ultimately it’s about building bridges of trust and empathy with each other.”
Focusing on the next generation
Enderlein is 59 and has no spouse or children. Some medical challenges in the last decade brought his attention to planning his estate.
“I keep thinking that I need to focus on the next generation. I want to do it with warm hands, still alive,” he says. “It’s a wonderful tool to feel some sense of control for the end of one’s life.”
So he designated the apprenticeship that had taught him farming as a beneficiary of his estate. A portion will support Farm facilities, and a portion will fund tuition waivers for apprentices.
“If one can minimize the debt from their education, that is really powerful,” he says.
The year of Enderlein’s apprenticeship was the best of his life. He continues drawing on lessons he learned about sustainable agriculture and about community. He says he hopes this bequest, when realized, helps build a bright and better future.
“I can’t imagine a better match for my values than what UC Santa Cruz is doing with the Farm and Garden.”