Margaret Koski-Kent added bizarre elements to vegetables and fruits
While studying horticulture and floriculture at Cornell University, Margaret Koski-Kent heard this warning from her professor: make sure you love this career choice because you won’t be making a lot of money with it.
After three decades in horticulture, Koski-Kent has no regrets about her decision.
“I am so blessed and grateful that I could do a job I loved in places I loved, and my efforts were appreciated,” she said. “Not everyone has these options.”
For 15 years, Koski-Kent oversaw the gardens at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, providing an abundance of organic produce for the ranch’s two chefs, the McEvoy store in the SF Ferry Building, and farm produce, while also providing imaginative seasonal additions designed the gardens.
In keeping with the high standards that Nan McEvoy set on the ranch for their organic olive plantations made from Tuscan varieties and the oil they produce, the gardens around the ranch homes expressed McEvoy’s appreciation for art and creativity. Informal and varied, depending on the style of the surrounding buildings, they created a transformative world for themselves.
Long lunches from the ranch to the table
Koski-Kent was introduced to organic horticulture by her mother, who grew vegetables in her Chicago garden. Later, her first farming job was picking cucumbers on the family’s farm in Mouseon, Wisconsin. She received her BA in Plant Science from UC Davis and began working in the landscaping industry.
But while working in the industry, she got a little disillusioned when customers immediately responded to a problem: “What can I spray on?”
Fortunately, in 1998, Nan McEvoy hired her to work as a gardener at McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, a director of pasture and agro-ecosystem management at the Carbon Cycle Institute to create unique and expansive gardens, places that were popular with the ranch’s many visitors.
“The landscape was so lively and expressive. People felt it, ”said Koski-Kent. “A garden is like a dormant seed. If you give him water. it explodes. But this beauty can be so fleeting. “
The 5 hectare, multi-faceted gardens included a mixed orchard, vegetable terraces and a vegetable garden. There were other flashy surprises, like a blue-purple bed of irises mulched with bumpy white oyster shells; a naturalistic Mediterranean garden with gray foliage and bright, red-fruited pomegranates; quiet planting around a fantastic Asian pagoda; a Victorian cottage; a lavender bank; and a Georgian greenhouse.
The completely organic ranch, surrounded by a sea of shimmering gray olive trees and interrupted by six ponds, woke up early every day to the singing of birds, pollinating insects and other wild animals.
Koski-Kent remembers driving to work every morning in the dark. She remembered spending the hours before sunrise doing paperwork and planning for the day’s projects. When the team arrived, she would go outside and work with them.
“I was so motivated. I was full of energy because there was so much beauty. The garden was like a painting, with different versions that changed in endless combinations over the year and years, creating new images, ”she said.
“It was a unique opportunity to grow flowers and plants that really express themselves. … We were so determined to grow organically. In both directions, the earth fed the team, and she fed it. “
Nan McEvoy was an unusual business owner who didn’t dictate to her employees, Koski-Kent said.
“Nan gathered professional people and brought them together to do their best job,” she said. “She knew what she liked and what she didn’t, and we always tried to plant and maintain the ranch and gardens to please her. She had a very sharp eye. “
From her previous work in the Peace Corps in several countries, Nan McEvoy had seen that the best way to connect with others was through food. At McEvoy, she takes a few hours each day to lunch to do business and develop ideas and friendships with her co-workers over a meal from products grown on the land they all tend.
Koski-Kent and her team grew vegetables, herbs, berries and fruits for the two chefs Gerald Gass and Mark Rohrmeier to prepare lunch or in the McEvoy shop in the SF Ferry Building or for agricultural products and for the personal use of Nan McEvoy for sale. Koski-Kent said there were more than 1,000 individual plantings of vegetables and flowers each year to keep production constant.