Tomio Endo loves to get his hands dirty. Until recently, Endo was the director and founder of the Sonoma Student Growers Cooperative, which is committed to bring a sustainable lifestyle through agriculture and provide a space for students to come together. In Colorado, Endo called himself the “Asian Cowboy,” and fell in love with nature. When he came to Sonoma, he knew he had found the right place to call home away from home.
“Sonoma County is beautiful,” said Endo.
Son of a restaurateur, he grew up loving great food and it was the combination of his passion for food and the outdoors that led him to the path he is currently on today.
Endo studies anthropology and minors in world music. He is part of the Price Charles Pipe Band based in San Francisco and is in his last semester at Sonoma State University. Besides being a hardworking student, his true passion is expressed in his two extracurricular activities, the Sonoma Students Growers Cooperative and the Director of Sustainability/Garden Coordinator for Join Us Making Progress (JUMP). However, Endo made a tough decision to go to grad school, which meant leaving his passion into the hands of other people.
Endo started the Sonoma Student Growers Cooperative with Mac Hart, and it was not a fully developed idea yet. They knew he wanted an outdoor space and they were given the opportunity of maintaining a plot of land, the only stipulation was that Endo would have to repair a dilapidated shed.
“I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I knew I had a dream,” said Endo.
He worked for six to eight months completely alone and the idea of the farm had not begun to manifest in his mind. It was not until that Brandon Sanders partnered up with him that the cooperative began to take its shape.
“Brandon is just one of those guys who have a real spirit of gardening around him. He came and would begin sowing like a madman with his majestic beard,” said Endo.
Sanders was working at the Sonoma State farm at the time when Endo first reached out to him. Sanders graduated last spring with his degree in Environmental Studies.
“Tomio is the most positive, optimistic person I ever met,” said Sanders. “When we tag-teamed to start the farm he was the one who got everyone excited about what we were doing and I was really interested in making an impact and showing people what we could do with this plot of land by growing a lot of food.”
What started as just a couple of guys working on a plot of land, turned into a Growers Cooperative. Now, the cooperative is a student-led organization that is committed to providing an educational experience for students through the practice of sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurship.
The organization is partners with local landowners and much of the food that is served in The Kitchens is planted and grown by the cooperative. They are able to even donate food to different organizations depending on the crop yield.
“Sustainability is for everyone. I really hope I can leave behind a legacy,” said Endo. “I want to return in five years and visit the farms and hear the students talk about how passionate they are about what they are doing, and I’ll think, ‘I helped create this space.'”
Because of Endo’s decision to attend grad school, he had to back down as the main participator and become a background man.
“I am the old man now, I do things behind the scene and get to see other student’s passion about what is they are growing,” said Endo. “It’s important to know what we are putting in our bodies.”
Endo held the position of Garden Coordinator at JUMP for one year. His job was to work closely with the environmental department and get students involved in helping grow food for the Sonoma State owned farm.
“It was there I learned how to be an effective leader,” said Endo. “I always wanted to do things myself, but quickly realized I cannot be everywhere. I learned how to delegate and trust people to do a good job.”