Mel Lions, Director, Wild Willow Farm, Imperial Beach

“Hi, my name’s Mel Lions. I’m the Director of Wild Willow Farm Education Center and San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project. We started kind of by accident about thirteen years ago when a friend of mine, a farmer, called up all his friends into his living room one day and told us that the land he was farming was up for sale.The only people who wanted to buy it were developers who wanted to take a beautiful piece of farm land and turn it into mansions and a polo field.”


“He posed the question to his friends: maybe the community wants to buy this land instead and make it a community farm, a community resource, as a place to teach farming to others, to perpetuate farming lifestyles in San Diego? So we said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that!’ We were faced with having to raise $6 million in a year and we ultimately were not successful, but it started off what has now become San Diego Roots Sustainable Food Project.”

“I became involved quite by accident because I knew the farmer. I’m a graphic designer by trade. I thought I didn’t have anything to offer other than to make a flyer that says, ‘Save the farm.’ That was really the only way I thought I could contribute to the project. As time went on and my interests grew, the importance of the work grew. And even after failing to save the farm, the need to educate people about the efforts of sustainable food just grew inside of me. I don’t know how it happened, but now I run the thing. The purpose of graphic design is to convey a message. So this organization, our efforts, our work here, the farm itself, are parts of conveying a bigger message to our greater community-the community of people who eat food. It pretty much includes everyone.”

“We want to convey the messag that how you eat, where your food comes from, and how your lifestyle is affected by the food you eat, are important issues for our world, our families, and our communities everywhere. This work is really designed to address the problems of our food system. Our food system is killing us. The food system, the globalized non-localized food system, is killing us. It’s creating all kinds of debilitating diseases. It’s polluting the environment. We’re using exorbitant amounts of energy to transport food around the world to our tables when we can do it in a much simpler, closer to home way.”


“I’ve always been at the low-end of the income scale, but I decided years ago that I couldn’t afford healthcare, so what was the one thing I could do to keep myself healthy? I could eat better food. Direct affect. I started eating organic food 20 years ago, no longer than that, when it first started becoming available. I started growing my own food in my 20’s, finding that if I couldn’t afford to go buy it, I could afford to grow it. It was a nice way to be outside and enjoy the environment. There’s some societal factors, systemic factors that give the appearance of organic food being unaffordable, largely due to, again, the globalized food system.”

“So I think if you can get your head around these kinds of issues and see that there is a logic in adopting organic and local sustainable practices, I think it’s going to have an effect in the market place. Also, as more people eat organic and local food, it’s going to affect the price. I think there are other choices rather than going to Whole Foods or expensive supermarkets. Farmer’s markets are a great way – they’re all over the community now. They’re in every little area of town, different days of the week. You can always find a farmer’s market. You can go and shake hands with your farmers. You can find out how food is grown. They may not say they’re organic but it’s very likely that they are because they’re growing this food around their families. They don’t want their families poisoned, so they adopt these practices. And you can talk to these farmers, you can negotiate. Can I pay you a little bit less? I think you’re going to find that you can get a good food value out of going to a farmer’s market, going directly to the farmer. No middle man between you and your food. You’re buying it from the people who grow it.” 


“What inspires me the most these days are the people who come here to volunteer. People who come out of their 9 to 5 jobs because they want to get their hands dirty. They want to do real work. They want to do something that makes some sense, that has kinetic knowledge that hearkens back to everyone’s ancestors. All of our ancestors grew food. These people are connecting back into some kind of genetic calling. I’m especially inspired by the young people who come to our farm school.”

“We have a twelve-week farm school where we teach sustainable agriculture. The people that come to the classes are generally post-college. They’ve come through a career or two and decided that they want to make a shift in their life, that they’re not liking what they’re seeing. They don’t like what’s been given to them as their options in life. They come and they learn from our farm school. There is book learning, there are lectures, tests, and there’s lots of time out in the field digging, really doing real work and reaping the rewards of that work. It’s so inspiring to see that. It gets me coming back here and gets me all juiced up every time I see it. I am so lucky that this can be going on here.”