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By Karen Kefauver
January 16, 2015
Link to Sentinel Article

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

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

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.

A member 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 Toole, 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.”

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.”

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