No Baloney, Just Vegetables
At first glance, Noey Turk looks like a dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet. She’s dressed in a leotard-tight blue tee, a form fitting brown skirt, candy striped knee socks, and trendy tennis shoes. She’s hip.
Long and lanky (5’8”), with a seemingly delicate frame, Turk jumps off the one ton flatbed truck with precision and poise, landing gracefully, in “second position”, on the asphalt below. With effortless finesse, she grabs a heavy wooden crate full of fresh red onions, does a half turn on tip-toe, and gently plops the produce on a nearby table. She’s rushing to set up her stand at the farmer’s market, held every Tuesday, (rain or shine) on State Street, in Santa Barbara, California.
Turk, 37, is certainly not your average farmer, and her life story is a rich tapestry of experience that makes joining the circus seem like an office job.
Born in Montana, her family roots are nestled here, in the rich farmland of central California. Turk’s maternal grandmother, Charlotte Young, settled in the Santa Inez Valley in the early 1950’s, and was among the first to cultivate a vineyard in the region, helping germinate an industry in viticulture that now rivals Napa/Sonoma. Currently in its third generation, her family’s six-acre farm in Los Olivos, Ca., has blossomed to become a leading producer of certified organic produce and flowers, and Turk is a key contributor to its success. Turk’s mother, Debbie Takikawa, works alongside her daughter today, while her stepfather, Shu Takikawa, and Turk’s nineteen-year-old half-brother Kai, are back at the farm. Collectively, they run the family business, poetically named “The Garden of…..”
When Turk was four, her parents divorced. But Turk’s biological father, Jon Turk (author of the first textbooks on Environmental Science, and an adventure-travel writer) planted a seed in Turk that dramatically influenced her life path.
“He did all sorts of things you shouldn’t do with children.” Turk says.
“He sunk our sail boat off the coast of the Channel Islands during a bad storm with me and my mom, when I was only two. That was a bad idea. And when I was four, he took me and my brothers, who were six and eight, to South America, on a trek through the Andes in Peru, with only a donkey – for three months!”
She crinkles her freckled nose and laughs in soprano while tossing a long loose braid of chestnut brown hair over her shoulder. “I spent a big part of my childhood outside, in nature,” she says. “When I was 11, my dad took me to Alaska to train sled dogs.”
Since both her father and grandfather had PhD’s in Chemistry, it was no surprise when Turk chose Physics as her major in college – a degree she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In between classes and homework, she worked on the farm, with her mother and stepfather, back in Los Olivos. “My stepfather is Japanese, and he was among the first organic farmers in the Santa Ynez Valley, over 30 years ago.” Her broad smile reveals genuine affection and admiration. “After we finish the market today, he’ll have a great home-cooked meal waiting when we get home. He’s an amazing cook.”
Following her father’s footsteps, Turk went on to pursue her own PhD, in Physics, and was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Austin, Texas, just shy of her 30th birthday.
Halfway through the first year, and deep into her proverbial Saturn return, Turk had a crisis.
“I looked at the people around me, and all I could say was: This is not my life. What am I doing here? This is not who I am!”
Having spent her childhood outdoors, in nature, she couldn’t fathom a future life in academia; she had to return to her roots – she had to go back to the farm. When asked to define the motive behind her moment of realization, she pauses to reflect: “I don’t do things ‘sort of ’, she says, arranging fresh butter lettuce and squash in artistic rows across the table. “I like to think that I’m a person that actually does what they believe in. I put my weight into it. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it all the way.”
According to an innate philosophy, Turk realized that a career in academia would not be a true, honest commitment to her life’s purpose. She withdrew from the program, and returned to land, where her strong, muscular hands could turn rich soil; where her days begin at 6:00 a.m., and end whenever the sun sets.
“I’m happy here,” says Turk, “This is where I belong.”