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The Esalen Approach to Farming and Gardening

I came to Esalen to learn to be a better farmer as well as a better person. I see the dynamic Big Sur coastal cliffs as a metaphor for my own life. Two years ago I would have been embarrassed to admit publicly that I’ve joined poison oak in meditation or honored the four directions of the garden by snorting tobacco juice. Similar to the landscape, I've been changed by the intensity of being here, and I too am constantly in-flux, changing, and growing.

               —Jessie Spain, Esalen Farm Supervisor

The Esalen Farm and Garden exists in a landscape of constant transition and transformation. It is not certified organic, it is not biodynamic, is not permaculture, is not bio-intensive, is not no-till. In any given year we may dabble in any or all of these practices to some extent. The Esalen Farm and Garden is like the Esalen Institute as a whole: we wear our dogmas lightly, we go with the flow, we experiment, and we constantly evolve in our practice.

Food for Esalen

Our main goal within the Farm and Garden is to grow as much food year-round for the Esalen Institute as possible. In collaboration with the chefs and kitchen crew we feed 250 to 350 people every day.

Cool weather crops grow best on the ocean cliff. We specialize in gourmet salad mixes, specialty herbs, heirloom root crops, and grow about every variety of kale and lettuce we can find.

The work force fluctuates between two to twelve people helping in the fields, depending on the day, from experienced farmers to people who have barely touched the soil before.

Our climate can be especially challenging. Torrential rains and 60 mile-per-hour wind gusts . . . summer days that are cool damp and foggy . . . sunny days that arrive in November often continuing on into January. Plus mudslides, road-closures, fires, regular water line breaks in the canyon . . . Big Sur is a wild and remote place to live and farm.


In collaboration with the kitchen crew, we proudly compost nearly 500 pounds of food and green waste every day, in addition to shredding roughly 60 pounds of cardboard a day to contribute to the compost piles. We sift out a lot of silverware which comes in handy as impromptu tools on the farm.

We apply the resulting 225 tons of finished compost every spring. The soil is very fertile, and a sandy loam, so it is relatively forgiving to all the green hands joining us everyday.

Organic Approach by Esalen Farm & Garden


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