Spin City: Passion for pedal-powered permaculture

Ken Foster rides one of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping’s rigs to a job site in Santa Cruz. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

If you’re headed south along the coast next Tuesday, there’s a chance you’ll spot Ken Foster bicycling from

Santa Cruz to Monterey County on Highway 1.

He’ll be traveling at a leisurely pace, soaking in the scenery and pedaling his recumbent bike. Foster, 57, estimates the ride will take between five and seven hours depending on if he “dawdles.” During the approximately 65-mile trip, he may stop at an organic farm or chat with people along the way.

For Foster, the owner of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping, and a permaculture teacher at Cabrillo College, the excursion is a “sojourn.”

“It’s a fun challenge and a chance for contemplation,” said Foster. “I love that the ride is a celebration of the Monterey Bay. Much of it is on a separate bike path (the 29-mile Monterey Bay Coastal Trail) that goes from Castroville to Pacific Grove. I go by large strawberry farms, artichoke fields and I’ve seen whales spouting. As a landscaper, I have an affinity with farmers.”

This year will mark Foster’s 15th annual round-trip ride from his home in Westside Santa Cruz to the Asimolar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, where he will attend the EcoFarm Conference from Jan. 21-24.

 At the largest and oldest ecological agricultural gathering in the West, now celebrating its 35th anniversary, Foster will present a workshop, “Drought Proofing Your Landscape and Garden.”

Bicycling to a conference about sustainable farming is the perfect marriage of Foster’s passion for all things green. For years, Foster has used bicycles as much as he can for commuting, recreation and work.

In 1991, he launched, “Tread Lightly,” a program of Terra Nova in which he and his workers use mountain or hybrid bikes to transport landscaping tools.

“I started Tread Lightly because we wanted to be ecological and this was a real authentic expression of being ecological.”

Foster packs shovels, brooms, rakes, an electric lawn mower and more into customized bike trailers designed and built by Santa Cruzan John Welch. There will definitely not be a leaf blower in that tool collection.

The founder of the Leaf Blower Task Force, Foster said, “My goal is to reduce noise and air pollution from blowers, weed whackers and hedge trimmers. The goal is to reduce the carbon footprint by not using gas. I prefer to use a rake and a broom.”

However, Foster does own and use a truck to haul big loads. He uses the bicycles as much as possible for jobs in Santa Cruz County.

Rupert Poole, with Terra Nova for three years, works with Tread Lightly.

“It’s a great service,” Poole said. “We put all our tools in the back. We use hand tools and electrical tools. We don’t use any toxic chemicals or fossil fuels. It’s all organic.”

Ken Foster and Rupert Poole are thrilled to have bikes back in the Terra Nova fleet. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

The Tread Lightly program had been on hiatus, due to extensive repairs needed for the five trailers. Last fall, Foster raised $3,000 (out of a $5,000 goal) with an Indiegogo campaign to help restart the program.

Foster has a long history of commitment to a green lifestyle, something he says was directly influenced by his parents, who were Quakers and political activists who moved to Santa Cruz when he was one year old.

After he completed the acclaimed UC Santa Cruz Farm and Garden Apprenticeship, Foster launched Terra Nova with a partner in 1988. The full service landscaping business (solely owned by Foster since 1991) has focused on how landscaping effects the environment.

Foster remains passionate about his work and has completed a manuscript called, “Confessions of a Bicycle-Powered Landscaper.”

His upcoming ride is also a solo adventure.

“It’s like a personal retreat,” he said. “In the past, I’ve ridden with nine others and in the rain.”

Foster will load up bike bags with 40 pounds of gear, and settle into his beloved Easy Racers recumbent bike, made in Watsonville.

As he bikes, he’ll be thinking about his upcoming talk, finding a book publisher and admiring the beauty of his surroundings.

“Human power (transportation) is really a celebration of life — being outdoors, enjoying the weather and being able to stop and have a conversation with someone,” Foster said. “I think that connection with the natural world is a really remarkable part of being on the bike.”

Karen Kefauver (www.karenkefauver.com) is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz who covers sports and travel.


Karen KefauverKaren Kefauver is a freelance writer who covers sports and travel. She’s based in Santa Cruz.

Permaculture With Terra Nova -Two day intensive

Learn about Permaculture

How the design principles can inspire true environmental stewardship and urban sustainability or simply to create an amazing productive garden

Dates: May 2 – May 3, 2015
Time: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm each day
Place: Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center 35 Pacific Ave. Santa Cruz, CA.
Ken Foster instructor / facilitator

Herbal mandala 20 Cabrillo Permaculture class - From dirt to soil

Some recent work by Terra Nova
Some recent work by Terra Nova

Cost: $175
Shared Pot-luck lunch
•    Early bird discount 15% off up to Feb. 28th
•    Limited to 20 seats
•    Refund policy 90% refund Jan. – Feb.
•    50% refund Mar.– April 10th
•    No refund available after April 10th

Contact Ken@terranovalandscaping.com 831-359-5717

Find us on Facebook Permaculture with Terra Nova- Two Day Intensive.

Send checks to Ken Foster, Note: Permaculture Intensive

PO Box 677 Santa Cruz CA. 95061

Weekend overview:

This weekend intensive will include lecture, power point presentations, discussion, brainstorming and hands on activities. It will be a highly interactive learning experience for all participants.

Day 1:

  • Unraveling Permaculture, a short history of the design science that is Permaculture including, how it is taught, by whom and where.
  • Introduction to the Ethics and Principles of Permaculture.
  • Revising the art of Observation: Pre-weekend homework: Sit Spot and observation skills assignments.
  • Place and Time: A review of the challenges of our time. Peak oil, Peak soil and Peak toil – What we are facing globally and locally and why it matters.
  • Design methodologies and techniques. Finding solutions within the problems.
  • Design for Catastrophe: Permaculture as a first responder to disasters small and large.

Day 2:

  • Obtain a Yield – Harvesting our Collective Brilliance
  • The Work that Reconnects: Joanna Macy’s ‘Widening Circles’ exercise.
  • Transition Initiative, An introduction to the international Transition Town movement (the child of Permaculture)
  • Reclaiming the Commons with City Repair
  • Experiential hands-on workshop
  • Permaculture Economy
  • On-going Permaculture Guild activities
  • Grow Food Party Crew!
  • On-going reading group


Instructor bio: Ken Foster

Ken with Toby and Larry 2
Ken with Toby Hemenway and Larry Santoyo

Ken Foster is native to Santa Cruz, CA. In 1985 Ken was an apprentice at the U.C. Santa Cruz Farm and Garden and has a certificate in Ecological Horticulture from there. Ken also has an A.S. degree in horticulture from Cabrillo College. Ken is a landscape contractor, a certified permaculture designer and the owner of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping since 1988. Ken completed advanced Permaculture teacher trainings with Robyn Francis, Penny Livingston, Tom Ward and Jude Hobbs and began teaching Permaculture in 2000. Ken has taught with Toby Hemenway and Larry Santoyo as well as Penny Livingston, Lydia Neilsen and David Shaw with The Regenerative Design Institute. Since 2011 Ken has been teaching Permaculture at Cabrillo College.