December means the holiday season is upon us, and for many it’s a time for revelry, feasting, and holiday shopping.  More importantly though it’s a season for giving.

For a number of years now, NVIDIA Corp. has elected to forgo corporate holiday parties, and instead invests those resources back into the local community.  Last year we were part of NVIDIA’s Project Inspire team that helped to renovate San José’s History Park, in Kelley Park.

This year’s volunteer event spanned two full days, and consisted of more than 1,500 NVIDIA employees, family, and friends, working side-by-side with volunteers from the community, and was coordinated again this year by members of City Year.

Project Inspire Full Circle Farm Volunteers, December 9, 2010 (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

The project this season was especially exciting for us, as the recipient of the volunteer effort this year was Full Circle Farm in Sunnyvale.

This year's Project Inspire event was held at Full Circle Farm

Full Circle Farm is an 11-acre farm located right in the heart of the Bay Area, and a project of Sustainable Community Gardens.

Aerial view of Full Circle Farm (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

Full Circle Farm has a unique mission, not only to provide fresh, locally grown, sustainable, and nutritious food for the community, and Santa Clara Unified School District cafeterias, but also to provide educational resources to the district’s students.

The resident Full Circle Farm hens

Students have access to apprenticeship, and mentoring programs, where they learn the fundamentals of sustainable agriculture, science, and nutrition.  These programs provide valuable work experience, and help the students to gain important life skills in teamwork, communication, and leadership.

Food produced on the farm is grown by volunteers, and remains within the local community

As growers of organic, and sustainable foods ourselves, albeit on a small scale, we’re well aware of America’s disconnect with food, and food production.

We believe that everyone should have access to nutritious, and affordable locally produced food, regardless of income, or location.  The unfortunate truth is that today most affordable foods are generally nutrition poor, and calorie dense.  It doesn’t have to be that way though, and Full Circle Farm is striving to make affordable healthy foods available to the local community.

We admit to having a slight case of tractor envy, we don't have room for one quite this large

Full Circle Farm’s education programs are equally as important as the food they produce.  Access to locally produced food only addresses part of the food problem.  As of 2008, a third of children in the United States were overweight, which in turn sets the stage for the development of a number of chronic diseases in adulthood, including diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. [1,2,3]  As such, nutrition education, especially for children, is imperative.  It’s far easier to teach children about the benefits of nutritious and healthful foods before they develop unhealthy eating habits.

Project Inspire 2011

The goals of Project Inspire this year were to help Full Circle Farm improve their on-site food storage and packing facilities, enhance food production, and distribution within the community.  In addition to helping improve the day-to-day operation of the farm, the goal was also to enhance the educational resources available on the farm, by constructing an outdoor classroom, and building a teaching kitchen for hands-on instruction in food preparation.

As part of Project Inspire this year we volunteered to work on one of the advanced construction projects, not quite sure what we’d be tasked to until the morning we arrived.  Early Friday morning our team leader, Ed from City Year, directed us to an area of the farm where the new outdoor teaching kitchen was to be built.

Each construction team was lead by a member of City Year. Here's Ed, our Team 9 coordinator.

Being both handy with a hammer and nails, and passionate about growing, and cooking food, working on a farm kitchen project seemed like a perfect fit for us!

Fruit and vegetable gardening, and cooking, go hand-in-hand, so the kitchen will provide students with a complete farm-to-table experience, by providing a place to learn how to prepare healthy and nutritious meals from the foods they’ve grown directly on the farm.

Prior to our arrival, the new kitchen area had been graded, and the main support post footers had been prepared in advance, so the volunteer crews could focus directly on kitchen construction.

Our goal was to build an entire kitchen, from scratch!

While a few other teams were securing the primary support posts in the morning, our team set to work framing each of the new kitchen’s exterior walls.

The Curbstone Valley Crew quickly set to work framing out the walls (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

The construction was straightforward 2″x4″ framing, with the wall studs 16 inches on center.

The first task was to frame out eight separate 8-foot x 8-foot wall sections

To make construction more efficient, our team subdivided into smaller groups, and each of us set to work building wall sections.

Laying out a wall section

Each section quickly came together.

Everyone in Team 9 did a great job!

Eight 8-foot wall sections, and four 12-foot wall sections with window openings, were pieced together initially by hand with hammer and nails.

The walls were simply constructed, with a top plate, a bottom plate, and wall studs

However, once the power framing nailer materialized, our team rocked out the last of the remaining walls in no time!  Go Team!

Just in time for constructing the larger wall sections, we managed to find a power framing-nailer

Our team was tremendously efficient, so much so that we had all of the walls framed shortly after lunch.

The 12-foot long wall sections were framed with window openings

As the walls couldn’t be installed until the main support posts were secured, our team then switched over to helping the support post construction crews in the afternoon.

Installing each post was a slow and hefty undertaking, as each post needed to be secured to a support bracket by 10 enormous bolts.  This slowed down construction somewhat, but accuracy in this step was critical if the walls were going to fit, so it couldn’t be rushed.

It was important the posts be well secured to the footings

Each post was plumbed, each bolt hole bored and cleaned out, bolts installed, and then the bolt ends trimmed flush.  The top of each post was also fitted with a joist bracket to support the roof joists.

Mr. Curbstone (left) helping to install a roof joist bracket (Image © Pedersen Quist Photography; Used By Permission)

By mid-late afternoon though enough of the posts were secured that we could finally test-fit one of the wall sections our team built earlier in the day.

As the final post positions weren’t set before the walls were framed, we’d left the end framing open on one side to allow us to make final adjustments to the total wall length at the time of installation.

A slight trim, and installation of the last piece of framing…

With the posts in place, Luai (left) and Mr. Curbstone (right) install the wall end stud

…and then came the moment of truth…

It was time to move the wall into place

…as the first wall section was finally hoisted into place.

The first wall section is maneuvered into position

It was a perfect fit!

The first wall section fit into place beautifully

One down, only eleven more to go!

The next step was installing the roof beam between the posts.

First wall section, and first roof beam in position

As you can tell from the last photo the sun was starting to set, but there was still a fair amount of construction to do.  However, this was only the first day of the project, and Saturday’s crew would be able to pick up where we left off. Unfortunately we weren’t able to attend Day 2, so now we’re really anxious to see how this all came together.  We’re hoping to return to the farm soon so we can provide a quick update on how the teaching kitchen project turned out.  In the meantime, to get a sense of the overall volunteer effort, and all the various projects that were worked on this weekend, see the 2011 Project Inspire Photo Galleries at the Pedersen Quist Photography website, here, and here.

We can't wait to return to the farm to see how the teaching kitchen turned out!

We spent a wonderful, and fulfilling day at Full Circle Farm, helping to build something that hopefully will benefit the community for many years to come.  A far more enjoyable day than elbowing through crowds, and standing in interminably long lines in a department store.

We know in this economic climate it can be challenging during this season of giving to find the perfect, and affordable gift.  It doesn’t cost much to give a deserving local community group the gift of your time though, and if you take along some friends, you’ll receive a gift of lifelong memories in return.  With so many non-profit groups struggling to make ends meet, we strongly encourage everyone to give a small gift of their time, and skill, this holiday season.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
committed people can change the world.

Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

~Margaret Meade

The operation of Full Circle Farm depends on community volunteers year around.  If you’d like more information about volunteering at the Farm, see here.


[1] Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, Lamb MM, Flegal KM. Prevalence of high body mass index in US children and adolescents, 2007–2008. Journal of the American Medical Association 2010;303(3):242–249.

[2] Li C, Ford ES, Zhao G, Mokdad AH. Prevalence of pre-diabetes and its association with clustering of cardiometabolic risk factors and hyperinsulinemia among US adolescents: NHANES 2005–2006. Diabetes Care 2009;32:342–347.

[3] Freedman DS, Khan LK, Dietz WH, Srinivasan SA, Berenson GS. Relationship of childhood obesity to coronary heart disease risk factors in adulthood: the Bogalusa Heart Study. Pediatrics 2001;108:712–718.