Sixteen years ago, James Cassidy started the Organic Growers Club where people could garden and learn about organic farming, but mostly just to hang out. Every Sunday from nine am to noon, students of any major can go to the acre of organically grown plants, and learn more about what they do.
As I walked toward a group of thirty students on a grey and peaceful morning, I noticed there was only one voice that captivated all their attention. James was telling the group how there were going to be willows from the Willamette Valley planted along the edge of some crops in order to block the wind to keep pesticides out of their land. This is common knowledge to these students who major in crops and soil, but it was as if they were learning everything for the first time. With his fedora, blacked out glasses, dirty worn jeans, and chipped black finger nail polish, it is impossible not to pay attention to what he says. He also does not sit still. He moves from student to student, making sure they are weeding properly, and seeing what new things they we
re discovering. His passions were equally matched as everyone there had the knowledge and heightened interest with what they were doing.
Every couple of minutes, as he bounced from student to student, he would come over to me where he would tell me more about the service learning project that was happening that day. Students from Soils 205, Geo 300, and whoever came “just cuz” were taught to identify specific plants and weeds, while getting their hands dirty. This project was not work to him, it was life. In the middle of digging up weeds, he stopped and smelt a handful of soil with a deep breath. As some what of an announcement, he then told everyone that there are compounds in soil that are identical to those found in anti-depressants, and that is why people love the smell of the Earth. He knew almost everyone’s name, and each time a different person arrived, he acknowledged them with a “Hey how’s it going?! Glad you could make it!”. His main focus besides having a successful season, is the sense of community that has kept up over the years.
When James was younger, he was interested in
gardening, but that did not last very long as his parents were not as invested in it as he was. Although his early childhood passion of gardening faded, he continued to eat healthy and self initiated that lifestyle. I wanted to know when his passion of farming started up again, which led to the story of when he “redefined his life”. In the eighties, James and some of his high school friends started a band, then called “InSoc”, lengthened to “Information Society”. He described his music as “proto corporate, n
ew wave, EDC electronic”, where they had the grungy clothes and partly shaven heads. This explained the studded ears and painted nails. They were not only playing in their garage either, they toured all around the world and were stationed in New York City. He explained how much he loved Corvallis because five minutes anywhere outside of town is beautiful, but he was equally in love with New York City, a place he described as “the best time to visit, is when you visit”. It was after the band broke up, and still living in New York when he rediscovered his interest in farming. Shortly after, he moved to a more rural area, where James and his wife could expand this interest.