Alumni Spotlight: TJ Silva & Carli Cullen of All Good Things Farm

Santa Cruz Permaculture has had the joy of teaching and learning with many students over the years. Our alumni have gone into many diverse fields (literally and figuratively) since participating in our courses. 

To celebrate and demonstrate the many unique directions that studying permaculture can take you, we have started an interview series. In these blog posts, you’ll hear directly from our alumni about how permaculture is showing up in their lives.

We hope the stories and insights shared by our alumni inspire you on your own permaculture journey! The work our alumni are doing in the world demonstrates that people really can affect change in their community while living an adequately resourced life and livelihood. 

Our first alumni spotlight features TJ Silva, who received his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) through our PDC course in fall 2016-winter 2017, and he served on the PDC course Acorn (teaching assistant team) in spring-summer 2017.

TJ Silva (left) and Carli Cullen (right) of All Good Things Farm

TJ Silva and his fiance Carli Cullen manage All Good Things Farm, a small permaculture farm in the Salinas Valley of California. We interviewed them via email to learn more about what they are up to, what they’ve learned since starting their farm, and how they integrate permaculture into their work. Their reflections and insights are full of hope and gratitude, and we hope you enjoy learning more about where their permaculture journey has taken them in the last couple of years!

SC Permaculture: Can you share a little about your farm?

TJ & Carli: All Good Things Farm is located in Chualar, in the Salinas Valley. We started our farm in November of 2017. We rent a quarter of an acre from a family friend, and grow on the back of their property. One day, we hope to have our own land and a larger farm.

SC Permaculture: Tell us a little about your background and training in permaculture farming.

TJ: I learned to grow on my own. I just got my hands in the ground and learned along the way. My initial interest in growing, was honestly sparked by cannabis, and it’s the very first plant I learned to grow. And then, any opportunity I had to grow, I took. I even volunteered on farms across the U.S. through WWOOFing programs. As I grew, I became more interested in permaculture and other plants. I started reading books that inspired me, like The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka and Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway. I wanted to take a permaculture course and thought I would have to travel really far to find one. But one day, Carli shared with me that she found a permaculture course in Santa Cruz. So I signed up for Santa Cruz Permaculture and haven’t stopped growing since!

Carli: Honestly, I learned to grow from TJ. Before we started our farm, I worked in production at Succulent Gardens in Castroville. So I planted thousands of succulents everyday for two years. I learned to propagate and grow succulents, but that’s really all I knew. So when we started All Good Things, that’s really when I grew food and flowers for the first time. TJ showed me everything I know and I am so grateful to have such an amazing teacher.

Produce grown by TJ and Carli at All Good Things Farm

SC Permaculture: TJ, how did your experience with the Santa Cruz Permaculture PDC help you along your journey to starting this farm?

TJ: The Santa Cruz Permaculture PDC gave me the skills I needed to apply all the knowledge I was learning toward my goals. Going into the course, I knew I wanted a farm one day. And working with the team on the PDC course project, really helped me realize my goals were attainable, sooner than I thought. David Shaw is so knowledgeable and encouraging and was a great teacher. And all of the guest speakers in the course were very inspiring. The visit to the Chadwick garden and the UC Santa Cruz garden really helped me visualize the possibilities of my own permaculture farm, where I could grow my own food and share the abundance with others.

SC Permaculture: What are your most important guiding principles & values as you plant, grow, and sell produce and flowers?

TJ & Carli: Through farming, we have learned patience. So we say, all good things in all good time. Another principle we value is to give a little more, and take a little less. This we implement in our farming and when we deliver. By using permaculture principles and biodynamic practices when we farm, we give back to the soil. We sheet mulch heavily and apply compost after harvesting. We use only hand tools, and don’t till the soil, so we encourage life. We don’t spray any pesticides or insecticides, only compost teas and essential oils. We respect the Earth, the plants, and the land. We also really value the Permaculture Principle to use small, slow solutions like local resources and responses and farm on a manageable scale.

SC Permaculture: What do you grow/produce, and how do you distribute to people in the community?

TJ & Carli: We grow a variety of specialty produce, herbs, and flowers. We try to grow different food, from all over the world, to create a biodiversity of crops for the farm and to introduce people to other produce than they are familiar with. We also focus on growing heirloom varieties and medicinal plants. We harvest our produce the morning of a delivery for our CSA members and restaurant chefs. So we really bring the farm to the table, fresh. We do our own deliveries, making the experience more personal. We work closely with our chefs, to grow the produce they want us to grow for them. And we communicate with our CSA members to make sure they are enjoying the variety throughout the season. We also supply them with recipes and information on our more exotic produce. We have developed these relationships through friends, word of mouth, and Instagram.

Produce grown by TJ and Carli at All Good Things Farm

SC Permaculture: What is your favorite thing about the work you two are doing?

TJ & Carli: Our favorite thing about the work we are doing, is that we are growing and working together. We learn so much from each other and about each other working together. We also love knowing that we are providing families with food that is affordable. We love seeing chefs start snacking on the produce when we deliver and seeing what dishes they make with it. We love all the smiles. We just really love spending time with the plants and being out at the farm, together.

SC Permaculture: As you started and have continued to grow your farm, what has been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced?

TJ & Carli: The biggest challenge we have faced as we have grown, has been our limited space and labor. It’s just the two of us managing the farm, and deliveries, and part time jobs. So balancing our time has been challenging. We also didn’t know which direction we wanted to go with our farm in the beginning, so we started growing everything. We have learned over the last year more of what works for us, what we want to grow, what our supporters want us to grow, and have made it more manageable.

SC Permaculture: Can you share your long-term vision for All Good Things Farm?

TJ & Carli: Our vision for All Good Things Farm is to one day, have our own property. We would like to have a permaculture demonstration food forest and garden, livestock, and host retreats. We want to make the most of our space, live by the permaculture principles, and give back to the land. We want to host workshops and educational classes at our farm. We want to homestead, raise a family, continue to grow, and teach along the way.

TJ and Carli got engaged earlier this year. TJ proposed while they were planting dahlias at their farm.

SC Permaculture: What advice would you give to folks who are just starting to learn permaculture? 

TJ & Carli: The best advice we have is to learn and listen to the plants. They will tell you what they need. Learn from mistakes and continue to grow. Implement permaculture into everyday life. You don’t need a farm, we started out with a small patio. Just continue growing your passion for permaculture.

SC Permaculture: Is there anything else you’d like to share about All Good Things Farm?

TJ & Carli: All Good Things Farm would not be possible without David Shaw and Santa Cruz Permaculture. We also couldn’t do this without our supporters. All Good Things is more than just a farm, it’s a lifestyle. We try to give All Good Things back to the Earth and put positivity into this world and into the plants we grow.

We are so grateful to TJ & Carli for taking the time to let us interview them! It’s awesome to see what they are growing, hear their stories, and we look forward to seeing their vision continue to unfold. 

Learn more about All Good Things Farm & follow along on their journey!

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