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Stoked On | Katie Hibbard of The Ecology Center

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How and when did you first become involved with The Ecology Center?
It is hard to say whether I would find myself living in Orange County if it wasn’t for this 28-acre fertile farmland and the ocean. I feel blessed to have been raised between the ocean and this farm. Growing up, my sister and I were the girls supplying bushels of crisp fall braeburns as post soccer practice snacks, walking our pet chicken around the neighborhood, and squashing wine grapes with our toes in early summer. Spending time in the fields helping my dad prune apple trees, I wondered what would come of the 150 year Congdon House and this special farmland. I then met Evan Marks and he shared his dream for the future of The Ecology Center with me. On board since the beginning, my passion for the project has grown deeper and deeper. Ever since I was a young girl, Evan and his wife, Kristin have been role models in my life. They nurtured and celebrated my creativity and love for art.

How has the direction grown or changed since first starting?
Since the beginning, The Ecology Center has sought to educate our community on how to live in harmony with nature and one another. It seemed there was never a limit on the impact that we would have on the community. Acquiring the entire 28-acre farm has allowed us to dive even deeper into our offering for the community. Since the spring of 2019, we have planted over 400 fruit trees among the rows and rows of vegetables and flower crops. Our community supported agriculture (CSA) is running smoothly and an apprenticeship program for young farmers is on it’s way. As the farm stand manager, I whole-heartedly pour my energy and artistic eye into our store front. It is the public’s first taste of our mission. You will find our farms seasonal, fresh harvest as well as offerings from other local groups.

How has The Ecology Center responded to the hurdles of the pandemic?
In March when Coronavirus surfaced, it was incredible to see my coworkers rise to the occasion and serve our neighbors. From our educators to our front field staff, everyone’s focus shifted to growing and harvesting healthy food to sustain the community. My coworkers and I left for home on those long spring days with exhausted bodies but full hearts. The safety measures we enacted are still being observed today to keep ourselves and our community safe. We will long remember customers accommodating for elderly shoppers and strangers buying groceries for each other. Our work at The Ecology Center became evermore urgent during the pandemic, and it will never be the same. With the help of our generous community we are able to donate 20% of the food we grow to the elderly, homeless, and immune-compromised in San Juan Capistrano.

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As the farm is evolving what are you most excited to see come to life?
Although I am crazy about warm summer afternoons at the beach, I am looking forward to some cool fall weather allowing our farm to develop new flavors in the fields. From Kojinut Winter Squash to Pippin Apples, a girl can only hope for some still fall nights and crisp cool mornings. As I see new produce come into the farm stand, I am excited to see the faces of new farmers, artists, chefs and people of all ages showing up to get their hands dirty. It is through these many hands that The Ecology Center is making a difference.

What does your day-to-day look like at TEC?
From the time I arrive, I hit the ground running. My day-to-day tasks vary greatly but my main goal is to keep our farm stand running smoothly. While I am extremely proud of the variety of fruits and vegetables we offer, I am most proud of the team. Customers come for the produce but they stay for the company. In the hours before opening, our team of cashiers and produce stockers swiftly prepare for opening. I get to check in with everyone as I merchandise our tables with flowers, books, fruit, etc. Throughout my day I pop back and forth from my office where I work on design and art displays to engaging with customers and my team.

How did you get into doing art?
My love for creating art was nurtured through my Waldorf education. From block crayons to flower crowns on May Day, art was in my blood as a young girl. A few years back I traveled through Europe, sketching and painting along the way. The nature, people, and foods certainly broadened my artistic horizon.

How has the farm inspired your painting direction?
The farm is a bread basket full of beauty. Everyday I am amazed by the vibrant colors, patterns, and beauty created in the fields and on the vine.

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What mediums do you prefer to paint with?
My favorite medium to use is watercolor. Traveling especially served to enhance my love for this medium. I learned to capture memories with my pocket-sized palette.

Is your art available to view in person anywhere?
Touches of my art along with those of my fellow creators, Cody Hudson and Nereo Zago, are sprinkled around the farm. In collaboration with my parents, both holistic chiropractors, I illustrated and designed The Healing Garden poster. This art piece touches on the phytonutrients found within each vegetable and fruit. It can be found on kitchen walls all over the world! I love that it is useful and conveys concepts which are meaningful to my family.

If you could get on a plane right now with no restrictions where would you go?
I would love to go hiking in the mountains of Switzerland, breath in the rejuvenating air and get lost in the fall trees. I am somewhat of a small-town girl living in a world made better by the people in it. Any chance I get to travel is a blessing. I learn more about myself and the world, and come back inspired to pour that into my community.

Instagram | @katie.illustrates
Learn more about The Ecology Center

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