In 1971 at the winter break from school, I had finished all my credits as a senior in high school and had no need to return to finish the next 2 semesters. I knew that I needed to get an education and that I wanted to leave the heat of Arizona and go to California. I said goodbye to my folks and ten siblings and left for Cal Poly. I knew that Agriculture was what I wanted to put my energy into and California was where I wanted to be.
After arriving on campus at Christmas break, I found that most of the students had gone home. The few that were left were the ones I got to know. The third semester started and I embarked on my agriculture journey. In May of 1972, I and about eight other students were walking to a field across campus with our department professor when the Dean of the department called my name and said, “Daniel Blake, you don’t belong here”! I thought maybe he was stating this because I had not yet registered for school, but soon found that wasn’t why. He told me I had no background in Agriculture, but said that I knew more than his fourth-year students and that I challenged every one of his professors. I asked him what I should do. He told me I should go work for the farming families that grew all our foods. With that I left Call Poly and headed towards Bakersfield.
Within a few days of working in the fields of Bakersfield I was appalled by the type of farming they were practicing and left for the coastal highway. I hitched a ride, making it to Monterey, then decided to turn around and head south towards San Diego. I got picked up by a couple men who took one look at me and said, “there’s food here for you, eat and sleep a bit, then come up and join us. After eating and resting for a bit, I joined their conversation.
After hearing my interests and what I wanted to do in agriculture, they began to formulate an idea. We would go to the city of Long Beach, CA and get permits along with a small piece of land, preferably an old clay tennis court. The reason for choosing an old tennis court was that the courts had 16-foot-tall fences, 4 gates and water. I was tasked with going into the high-rise apartments close by and signing up 27 families for the “project”. The project for the families was transforming the tennis court into an edible garden. Two months later I had 26 families signed up. But the father of the 27th family said “no” to me 26 times. I kept going back. Finally, he said yes when I made him the bold promise that by learning how to grow food, he would be out of debt and off welfare within eight months. At the end of those eight months he was off welfare and now a contractor. His job for the next year was to find 27 new families, one of which he would personally mentor to take it over the following year. He did exactly that.
I came home to Arizona, working for a short period of time, then left again to travel to the east coast where I learned other construction trades. Several years went by and it was now summer of 1999. I had just returned from teaching in Honduras in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch that devastated the countries of Nicaragua and Honduras. Responding to a call to teach agriculture, I stayed for 4.5 months. I was now three years later I received a gift to take a three-day beginner course, learning permaculture farming.
I had heard about Ecology Action in Willits, California, having purchased many tools and other items I could use in the growing of clean foods. While I was on the phone trying to get into the Ecology Action course, Bill Bruneau, the course instructor, asked me questions about what, if anything, I had done to help teach third world communities to grow food. As I was telling him of my teaching in Mexico at a couple of orphanages, and the course I took in Belize, Central America, Bill kept saying “so what that’s nothing”. I racked my brain for things I had done that would give me access into the course. I then turned the conversation around asking him if I could place an order for 15 English Digging Forks made by Carrington out of England. He said sure, but what are you going to do with 15 English Digging forks? I told him that I had a new job requiring me to build a road. Bill immediately responded, telling me these tools were not meant for that kind of use. I then told him that he should go and tell that to the men and women of Pena Blanca, Cortez, Honduras. Bill responded with amazement saying “that was you?” I said yes. He then relented saying “yes, you can take this course.”
Lots of different relief agencies were observing via satellite at all the different people who came down to teach this tribe of Mayan’s how to bring more clean, nutritious food to their family tables.
When I arrived to take the three-day beginning ag course, I was one of over 45 people and 35 nations represented. On day one in the classroom all of us were sitting and waiting for class to begin. John Jeavons stood up and asked each attendee to stand up and state something about us that was not in the bio we each had to provide. I shared that I was raising a grandson, had a patent on the most sustainable lifting device on the planet, had a trademark mini-greenhouse and that I ran a landscape /arborist business in central Arizona. John Jeavons immediately said, “is that all you are going to say”? I looked at the bio in front of me, and thought of the few words I had just shared, shrugged my shoulders and said, isn’t that enough?
John then told the other students, “This man has done more for the children of the world than anyone on earth”. He continued by saying that there are millions of $$$ donated to organizations like World Neighbors, the Gates Foundation, World Vision and their own Ecology Action. He said he had paid men and women to teach people how to grow more food, and that I (Daniel Blake) had at my own expense, done something that no other person had ever done. I had taught more people world-wide how to grow and bring to harvest, bringing more food to their table, faster than anyone on earth. I listened gratefully to the applause generated by his statement from those in the room.