On November 18th, 2023, Calvin Brooks, our beloved friend, mentor, tomato whisperer, and super volunteer at GRuB, passed away. Since first coming to GRuB in 2017 as a volunteer, he had become a regular fixture on the farm and farmhouse, greeting everyone with a smile and, if lucky, a big Cal hug.
Cal was born and raised in Olympia and the surrounding area, never moving further away than Shelton. He graduated from Olympia High School in 1967, where he first learned about and became passionate about woodworking and carpentry. That experience led to a long career as a builder and carpenter. Cal loved telling stories about the Olympia of his youth and how it had changed and grown over the years.
Cal was always open about his past and proud to share stories about his struggles with alcohol use and recovery and was dedicated to helping others going through similar, complex journeys. After recovering in 1988, Cal founded a remodeling business, Calvin’s Construction Company. He would hire other folks in recovery from addiction as a way of supporting them as they built new lives. In an article written in 1989 about his work, Cal was quoted as saying, “I’ve found that the best way to help yourself is to help others. It works for me, anyway. I don’t make a lot of money, but I make a lot of friends. And that is important to me.” Cal had a deep sense of service and generosity that guided him no matter what he was doing.
In early 2017, Cal was diagnosed with lung cancer and given only six months to live. That was when he initially found himself drawn to GRuB and first showed up to volunteer, wanting to spend his time in a welcoming and healing place. Cal jumped into a project to build built-in shelving in the knee walls of one of the farmhouse's office spaces. He showed up increasingly, building close and lasting relationships with many of GRuB’s staff and volunteers. Cal always credited the community at GRuB with his healing and how he was able to beat the odds of his cancer prognosis. He said he stayed at GRuB for so long because of the friendly people there, and he liked walking around the garden and farm whenever he wanted.
Cal started volunteering to help with various building projects throughout the GRuB farm and farmhouse. With decades of experience in carpentry and home remodeling, Cal was always happy to offer his knowledge and expertise to projects. He especially enjoyed taking youth who showed an interest and enthusiasm for building things under his wing and teaching them new skills. Cal was especially good at leading a big crew of GRuB volunteers, staff, and youth to tackle big projects, like rebuilding our Hilton greenhouse or our big 2019 project to construct the composting facility on the farm. “It’s like (being) an orchestra leader…I like to do that!” Cal said.
In 2020, Cal found another way to use his skills and passions to support GRuB: he began Cal’s annual Tomato Fundraiser! Cal grew up gardening with his mother, but tomatoes were his favorite to grow. He especially loved experimenting with growing all the different varieties of tomatoes and discovering new interesting ones. Cal would raise hundreds of tomato starts from seed and sell them to GRuB’s community members. He then donated all proceeds to GRuB. From 2020 to 2023, Cal helped raise more than $5,000 for GRuB through his tomatoes! But beyond that, Cal’s Tomato Fundraisers brought many new faces to GRuB. He loved meeting folks at GRuB to pick up their tomatoes when they were ready. He loved being able to keep people updated and keep in touch with folks who purchased tomatoes through the “Cal’s Tomato Fundraiser” Facebook page. And if people couldn’t pick up their tomato plants, Cal was happy to make deliveries!
In addition to his volunteer work at GRuB, Cal spent much of his later years helping his sister, Verna, with her garden and chickens. He enjoyed delivering Verna’s eggs to friends and family all over town. Cal loved animals just as much as he loved people and got great pleasure from watching and photographing all the wildlife crossed by his windows facing out into the Tumwater woods. He was also a hell of a pool shark!
Cal indeed embodied so many of the characteristics that people love about GRuB. He loved people and believed in the power and medicine found in a solid and supportive community. He was a warm, friendly, and loving presence at GRuB, a presence that is still very much seen and felt throughout the farm and in the hearts of so many people impacted by him.
One of Cal’s last projects at GRuB was helping to design our new tool shed. Since his passing, an incredible group of staff and volunteers have come together to complete the shed! GRuB will host an event to open and dedicate the shed in Cal’s honor on March 9th. This event will hold space for his many friends and family to come together and celebrate his life and share stories and memories of Cal. If you want to attend, click the link below to learn more. Cal leaves behind so many people who loved and were loved by him. He was a wonderful brother, father, grandfather, uncle, and friend. Our GRuB family is privileged and honored to be counted among them.