This 21-Year-Old Farmer Is Building a Sebastopol Farmstead From the Ground Up

Grower Alice Tibbetts has launched a no-till produce operation on shared land in Sebastopol, and aims to make farming more sustainable for the farmer.

When Alice Tibbetts dreamed up the idea of Fledgling Farm, she was thinking about her own self-confidence as much as the farmstead.

“At first, it started with the idea of ‘full-fledged farm,’ because people don’t always believe that a small-scale, one-person operation can be a farm,” she says. “People want to call it a garden.”

But farm or garden, she took the leap.

“This idea of jumping from the nest is what Fledgling Farm means—the concept of coming to the edge of something kind of scary, and you know you have to do it and you know you can do it.”

It’s the perfect metaphor for a devoted no-till farmer, who at just 21 years old is building a farm and CSA from the ground up on 1.5 acres of shared land at Green Valley Farm + Mill outside Sebastopol.

As a pair of red-tailed hawks circle above and a knee-high cover crop blows in the breeze, Tibbetts is already envisioning what it will look like in June when her first CSA distribution arrives, with lettuce, radishes, turnips, scallions, kale, chard, peas and more.

Farmer Alice Tibbets of Fledgling Farm at Green Valley Farm + Mill near Sebastopol March 25, 2024. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)
Farmer Alice Tibbetts of Fledgling Farm at Green Valley Farm + Mill near Sebastopol March 25, 2024. (Chad Surmick / The Press Democrat)

As a young farmer of color, Tibbetts knows the struggle many go through trying to find land to farm. And she knows how lucky she is to have landed at Green Valley, where she can farm more than an acre and share the greenhouse and barn, while paying less than many people shell out for their monthly PG& E bill. It’s exactly what she had in mind when, as part of the National Young Farmers Coalition, she helped brainstorm ideas for the 2023 Farm Bill.

“We were trying to add legislation about land access,” she says. “I’m very aware how difficult it is for young, especially BIPOC, farmers to access land. So, the idea that I could land in this amazing community, with lots of resources and community recognition, and have it be so affordable, was an automatic yes for me.”

Growing up in a small town in western Massachusetts, Tibbetts helped out at a horse-plowed farm. At Bard College at Simon’s Rock, where she enrolled at age 16, she started
a campus farm club and founded a “farm house” where like-minded students lived together. After two years of college, she left to apprentice full-time, immersing herself in no-till farming, a practice that includes disturbing the soil as little as possible, keeping living roots in the ground and sequestering carbon. It’s how people grew food centuries ago.

“The whole philosophy behind no-till is that the soil and compost are sort of the plant’s stomach outside of its body,” she says. “It needs those other forms of life to process carbon and plant material and waste into nutrients. It can’t do that on its own.”

At a passion fruit vineyard in Hawaii, she discovered Korean natural farming, utilizing micro-organisms to enrich the soil. In Thailand, where her mother has roots, she learned about seed saving.

Along the way, she also learned about the sustainability of the farmer. In an age when farmer suicide rates are nearly four times the national average, she sees the evolution of farming in America coming around to the needs of the farmer.

“My parents’ generation, the back-to-the-land generation of new organic farmers, took the homesteading philosophies and found it was financially possible to do small-scale farming…Now, my generation is trying to make farming sustainable for the farmer. The goal is to hold everything that’s been done, learn from it, and choose to make it more sustainable for me in the long term.”

Fledgling Farm, 13024E Green Valley Road, Sebastopol. 413-270-5321,