[WE Talk] Azuraye Wycoff: Promoting Sustainability in the Soil and the Soul

Azuraye Wycoff

Promoting Sustainability in the Soil and the Soul

On this episode:

  • The art of navigating change
  • Cultivating sustainability in community relationships
  • How to apply learned skills in various capacities and jobs
  • Community-minded visioning for a better shared future

Episode Transcript:

Nita June:

Hello, and welcome to WE Talk, a podcast that explores the role of Waldorf Education in helping children, parents, and families thrive in an ever-changing world. WE Talk is brought to you by Shining Mountain Waldorf School, and this is your host Nita June.

Hello and welcome wonderful WE Talk listeners. Today I bring onto our show, Azuraye Wycoff. Azuraye grew up in Boulder and of course attended Shining Mountain Waldorf High School, and she is currently undertaking a quite amazing endeavor that you will hear about in just a moment, out near North Boulder called Yellow Barn Farm. Azuraye wants to note that she is fascinated by people in relationships, particularly in conjunction with tech and nature-based system design. She is an advisor and an essentialist – her words. She organizes information, thoughts, beliefs, tension, so that she can best advise people and groups. She likes to build bridges of trust with people one on one, and to facilitate building it in teams. She is doing this work and more in her current endeavors at Yellow Barn Farm. And without further ado, welcome to our show.

Azuraye, thank you so much for joining me today on this episode of WE Talk.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah, so glad to be here, thank you.

Nita June:

Yeah, it’s been a moment since we last connected and a lot has happened in your life, which we’re going to hear about today. You graduated over a decade ago, which is one in and of itself amazing. You graduated in 2010. And since then, I’m wondering, my dear, if you can just share with our listeners a bit about what has taken shape in this past decade, school, travel, work, et cetera.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah, absolutely. So from when I graduated Waldorf, which was back in 2010, I went and studied international affairs and Chinese at CU Boulder. I lived abroad in Nanjing, China for a year, learned a lot there, then ended up moving to Boston, where I was at for the last five years. And through that experience, ended up working with my, one of my best friends, Charles, with his moving company, Small Haul, which we are now about to bring out to Boulder, which is pretty exciting. I actually just moved back to Boulder back in October, about two days before the Cal-Wood Fire happened, so that was pretty wild.

Nita June:

Wow, and you’re right next to it. I mean, you’re right there.

Azuraye Wycoff:

It came about five feet from the farm, so that was pretty insane.

Nita June:

I’m glad you’re okay and the farm’s okay. And congratulations on a Small Haul, moving to Boulder.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Thank you.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah. So Small Haul was pretty impactful, that has really shaped who I am as a person right now. And it’s taught me pretty much every single skill, I think I’ve acquired in the last two years. And bringing that out here is actually what’s really been the impetus for wanting to come back and then also helping my family with this amazing farm that we’ve had for the last 20 years. And really focusing on bringing that up to being really a demonstration farm of just regenerative ecosystems of both agriculture, education, economics, really finding a slot for everyone. So, that’s really been my main focus of the last couple of months, and there’s many, many things that have kind of flowed in between and all around all these incredible things so that I don’t feel like I’m totally stretched between everything. It truly feels like everything weaves together. That’s pretty been, pretty cool.

Nita June:

That’s wonderful. It is interesting to think, I think, many Waldorf students actually feel this way that we do a lot of different things. And well, they are different things. But when we can take a bigger picture look at it they’re actually, you’re wearing, so to speak the same hat you’re just doing it for a different project. Yeah. A different business or with different people. So when you were in Boston and you were working there with your friend, what were, I mean what was it like at the beginning of starting Small Haul? Why did you think to launch it? Take us back there.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah, that was, it was very unexpected. Charles had actually purchased the company. It had been around for almost 13 years before he bought it. And he recognized that moving is just one of those needs that everyone has. And there was a gap in the market that really needed to be filled, particularly with small moves and technology, really bringing in technology to make it a lot easier to move. Moving’s kind of become a reoccurring expense for most people. And we really, when I joined, I actually joined him about two years after he had bought it and he did a lot of the hard work of just getting the whole thing up off the ground. And really when I came in, I thought I was only going to help him for maybe a week or two during the peak busy season, just answering emails and helping hiring and stuff.

And then I got completely sucked into this whole business and really realizing that being on such a small team, where it was really just the two of us in the beginning with just some people who were helping out with the actual moves, we had full creative control, and we could truly shape this into anything that we wanted it to be. And that was unlike anything that I’d ever really been involved in before.

And I’ve mostly been involved in small projects, had never really worked in the corporate life. And I was used to startup mode, but never really getting to have a true influence on the way that it would be shaped and designed. And I think my organizational skills kind of took over and I just started fixing all the systems and trying to make it so that there was the least amount of friction and also just kind of falling over myself trying to learn everything as we went. And it was amazing. It was just really realizing that we were at this really interesting junction in what Small Haul’s trajectory could be. And we could really build it into the normal moving company that didn’t follow everything that everyone else does, or we could actually try to “Uberize” this, or we could really make it, based on technology, make it flexible, make it super cost-effective and affordable and fun and engaging. So we took that route.

Nita June:

Wow. So tell me just a little bit about it too. So you said it’s integrated with technology, it’s for the average person, just moving what apartments, I mean, is it full houses and that you said, I love that you used the word “Uberizing”. So tell me more about that.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah. So we really looked at this as what can the next level of Uber really be? Uber is great if you just are looking for a very, very flexible, small gig, very low barrier to entry, if you have a car that’s great. But you have to do it pretty consistently to make enough money, to feel like you’re getting your basic needs met. We really wanted something that was very much geared towards college kids or young professionals, people that just wanted something to do on the weekends. And it was fun, it was super flexible, it paid well. It was engaging and was very much like what I realized is really integrating your body, getting into your physical form and learning how to use your hands. And I think what I really loved about moving is that it’s kind of just the most simple and honorable service you can do, is that you’re out in the field and you’re actually helping people who need a service done that they couldn’t have done themselves. And I know that generally speaking, moving is not sexy. It’s not a glamorous industry, but it’s…

Nita June:

A lot of people don’t enjoy it.

Azuraye Wycoff:

No, no, no one enjoys it. People are at the height of a very stressful time in their lives. But if we can come in and make that whole process way simpler, that they can go on, fill out all their information, because we’re very, very diligent on all the information we collect, and then it goes to our crew. It’s actually our crew members who are sending out the quotes and the estimates, they’re managing the entire process. They’re dealing with all the logistics. If anything ever goes wrong, you’re not dealing with middle management, you’re dealing with the crew that made the mistake. And we’re kind of here to facilitate that process. And, the beauty of this entire thing, and really what I think I’ve taken away from it is, how do you empower people to truly build up sustainability of really building their own economic foundation and giving them the power to actually make decisions and move into higher levels of leadership and responsibility.

Nita June:

That’s incredible, sweetie. I mean it’s, I was having a conversation with somebody the other day, just about how in any work you can bring integrity and the human element and goals for self-development and the support of each other in community into anything that you do really, really, truly. And of course, it is most effective when it starts at the top, as you are, as you and… Charlie or Charles? Charlie? Yeah. That you to implement it there as that structure. And that’s incredible. So you are fully integrated in the midst of that work. What prompted your return back to Colorado?

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah, well I think this year has been pretty wild for everyone. And I think just, when the pandemic hit, I was still in Boston and we got about five days notice that all of these schools were going to be evacuating, essentially. And it was this mass exodus out of the city, and we were in the midst of that. We were moving out every single student, we were shipping boxes all over the country, we were the only people leaving their houses. And, I think just over the next couple of months of just seeing what was going on globally, there just started to be this whisper that turned into a shout over the summertime of just feeling like I, I need to go back home. I need to go home. I need to be back to the land. I need to get back to my close-knit community, I need to be back with my family. Because there’s something here and I’m not really sure what it is, but I can definitely hear the call and I’m recognizing it.

And I just made steps over the last about a year now of just closing off everything and making sure that all the ties were tied and that I could leave and not feel like a Small Haul was going to completely fall apart. And coming home was truly like this realization that I am definitely here. I needed to be here, and there was a big reason to come home. I got here two days before the fire, just in time to help evacuate everything. We thought we were going to lose the whole property. And part of me was like, you made me come home for this? That’s insane. And then it wasn’t burned, nothing happened. And I think it just kind of hit home that the universe was essentially just telling me that you’re here, you’re here to work on that place and appreciate it. The fact that you have it, be here, be present and pay attention.

Nita June:

It’s interesting to me too, that you came back and had to do that move for your home, what you’ve been doing and then, yeah. The intricacies and whether that’s a detail or of importance at all, but then right, you were like, okay, here I am, was focusing on moving and now are moving my home. And I deeply resonate with that, Azuraye, just this, that call towards owning probably very similarly around the same time as you, I returned back to Colorado and definitely pandemic related, life-related, different events. And there was just this, oh, it’s time. Okay. You got to follow that. Yeah. So you would notice. So your family has owned this farm for 20 years. It’s called Yellow Barn Farm. Tell us a bit more about, the, just the mission and the vision for it right now.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Oh yeah. So yeah, my family has owned this place for 20 years, so anyone who knows me in Boulder from the Waldorf community will definitely remember it. It used to be a big horseback riding facility. A lot of kids, my age, my sister’s age were out there riding horses, growing up as kids. And I know we had a couple high school parties out there as well, but we’ll all remember, and it was just such a magical place to grow up. And about six years ago, we just realized we didn’t have the bandwidth to keep moving this whole project forward. It just took a lot of energy and resources. And we started slowly winding it down, really planning to sell it. And I think most people know that we’ve been trying to sell that place for really five, six, seven years. And often had people come, they were interested, felt like a really good fit, pen to paper, ready to sign contracts. And for whatever reason, things have always fallen through with those sales.

And I think that over the last two years in particular, we have really been at this juncture of what do we do with this place. It is a huge property. It’s a lot of maintenance. There’s nothing going on. Do we want to keep it or do we just kind of sell it and be rid of it? And I came back to Colorado over the summer just to see kind of trying to figure out okay, what’s the next step for this property? And we ended up holding an event with a bunch of entrepreneurs, investors in the network. And just trying to see if anyone wanted to take the lead on that and do something with it. And no one did. Everyone was like, no way, but this sounds like an amazing opportunity, you guys should definitely do something with it and here are a ton of ideas.

And I just kind of sat on that for a couple months just thinking, Oh my God, I don’t want to do that. If no one else wants to do it, do we just get rid of it or do we just try something? Do we give it one last shot and see what we can make of it? And I think by the end of the summer, I realized, okay, this is it. I’m coming home to do this. We’re doing this one mass effort. And if it works amazing. It’s going to be the dream that we always wanted. And I think my mom, myself, my sister have always wanted to turn this into truly a beautiful sanctuary really, at the heart of it is really building this out to be an ecosystem that is play all the time, like a summer camp for all ages, all year, of just adventures and everything that we loved about Waldorf with the Maypole and the education and the classes and workshops and integrating food and being very holistic of how we are aware of what we put into the soil and how we take care of the earth and what we put into our bodies and trying to really think of what are all the outputs that are being wasted in these ecosystems? And can we find other places where those can be inputs?

So, yeah, it’s been amazing. It’s definitely coming to fruition and we’re just seeing all the pieces come together so beautifully. And as people start to hear more and more about the project, they just want to get involved. I think people want to be outside and get their hands in the dirt. And we’re trying to make that space into a place where anyone can just jump in and really contribute and come to life.

Nita June:

That is fantastic. So two questions next. What would you say is your title right now? Actually a couple of questions I’m just going to give to you. What do you feel is your title right now? How many people are working, you and in your family are there, and what types of involvement can someone take on?

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah. I would say I don’t really have a title. I just float between all these projects, but I’ve kind of playfully labeled myself as a human software engineer. I’m really trying to identify who are the people that we have in this entire ecosystem and where do they fit best in the system? How can we really bring people to life by bringing them into greater alignment with what they’re naturally good at and what they really love doing? And I’ve realized that by using this kind of a methodology, instead of just saying, Hey, there’s a gap in the system, just grab someone and put them in there and then train them how to do it. It’s really identifying who are the people that we have in the system and who wants to play and what are they naturally gifted at? How can we actually build a position around them so that they are into that genius and state of flow that whatever they’re doing, they love doing it so much that it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like play. That’s what I’m really trying to create.

Nita June:

I love that! Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic, sweetie. So much of what you’re saying, I think of, and you’ve mentioned Waldorf Education a couple times, but do you feel like there are specific things from your time at Shining Mountain that you learned there or that you’re integrating on a daily or weekly basis?

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah, I think what I realized, especially coming home and just getting these little flashes of memories from just being a kid, I just realized how much Waldorf really did impact me and how much of it influenced my, like the cohesion between the head, the heart and the hands that I can now look at things may be completely abstract or completely siloed in different industries and kind of gather that knowledge and synthesize it in a way that makes sense. And I can then translate it and communicate it to people where they might only be stuck in that one silo. And if I can kind of use a framework that relates specifically to that silo, it translates way more effectively. And so much of this has come through my experience with Waldorf of just getting to play and getting to explore and getting to really be a kid and being surrounded by beautiful colors and incredible people and having this very close-knit community that’s always supported each other. I’m really trying to take a lot of those tenets from what we’ve had and integrate that into what we’re building here.

Nita June:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I love it. I love it. Which actually I didn’t let you answer that last, the last piece of the question, who all is working at Yellow Barn right now?

Azuraye Wycoff:

So we have a fairly small team of probably five core people. And a lot of what I’m kind of trying to work on is actually building organizational models that help us try to build team coherence a lot more effectively just by decreasing friction in the team. So identifying who are our leads and what domain are they a lead of? So whether that’s marketing and sales or tech or HR management, operations, whatever that might be for that specific domain for ecosystem who are the core team that support within those domains, who are our technicians, like the contractors who might just come in, hop in and out, who are the advisors within each of those domains. And then ultimately, who are we really doing all of this energetic input for, whether that be customers or our community or whoever that end result might be.

Azuraye Wycoff:

And so, yeah, so we are actually working with our partners at Drylands Agroecology, this amazing group of people down the road from us, actually. His name is Nick DiDomenico, and he is fantastic. He’s my age. And we have all just super vibed. And it’s amazing because he’s got such incredible knowledge of permaculture, of these earth design systems, of regenerative systems, and if you’ve heard of Kiss the Ground, amazing stuff that they’re doing with the silvopastures and carbon sequestration. So we’re taking all of what he’s been doing on a small scale on his farm and actually doing it large scale at our farm. So it’s amazing.

Nita June:

How fantastic sweetie. So you mentioned bringing in the community to play with you on the farm. So would that be, I mean, are there still horses there, would that be people coming in to help build the gardens or community gardens? What does that all entail with the community involvement?

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah, there are no longer horses, but that’s definitely a piece we’re going to bring back fairly soon. But right now I think the best way for community to get involved, we have a couple projects that are running. So I’ve made a couple of different forms that people can fill out, whether they have soft skills or hard skills. If people want to volunteer, actually coming, helping us put up the hoop house, planting all the trees, we’re going to be doing a really big tree planting day, April 16th through the 18th, which will be our Carbon Sequestration Celebration. We’re currently running a GoFundMe, so if anyone wanted to purchase a tree that they can then come plant, we would absolutely invite everyone in the community to do that.

We have just launched our compost initiatives. So a lot of people are just wasting food scraps as you’re cooking in the kitchen, they’re going into the garbage or the sink disposal. And we’re trying to capture that wasted output and actually use it as a vital resource on the farm. So that goes towards the pigs and they are thrilled about that. And it also creates a revenue stream that then can then supplement and rebuild the ecosystem in the farm. So it’s been super, super helpful to have that because it’s twofold. People feel like they’re able to not be wasteful with their food scraps. It goes towards an awesome cause. And then as that program expands, we actually want to take that as a template for other farms in the area, as a revenue stream, as an additional input, and a way for the community to feel good about where their scraps are going.

And then another thing we’re working on is actually the knowledge network. So this I’ve just used as a form for anyone in the community who wants to just put in their skills, who they are, what they’re capable of, how they’d like to contribute in any way. And that’s been probably one of the most fun things is realizing that this community has so many skills. And as we start to capture this, as they fill out that form, it creates kind of a digital business card, but more about who you are, not so much your whole resume, what you’ve accomplished, but really what lights you up? Like what would you like to do if ultimately there was a perfect position for you?

And I think the most interesting thing that’s come out of this is that as more people have filled it out, there are additional people who come in actually requesting specific skills. And we’ve got a little form for that it’s called a request for service. So people who fill that out, I’m actually manually matchmaking teams right now. So skills coming from the knowledge network versus requests for service that are coming in from within the network, matching those people up with opportunities that would be a really good fit for what they want to do.

Nita June:

That is phenomenal. How fantastic and who would’ve thought on a farm that this is also the work that you are doing, I mean, providing opportunities and matchmaking. Yeah. Yeah. How phenomenal. Azuraye, what is, and I’ll include this too in the transcript, but for those who are listening or watching, what is the website where people could go and learn more?

Azuraye Wycoff:

It is www.yellowbarn.farm.

Nita June:

Ooh, I like that you can have .farm. I did not know that that existed!

Azuraye Wycoff:

Yeah right?

Nita June:

That’s right. Cool. Okay. www.yellowbarn.farm. I might just go in and fill something out too.

So my last question for you, my dear, if you were to take yourself well, you could take yourself back to high school or not, either giving yourself as a high school student a bit of wisdom or insight or advice, or just some insight and wisdom, advice for the high school students who were there today.

Azuraye Wycoff:

I think when I was in high school, my biggest question was trying to identify, why am I here? What is my purpose? What is my mission? And it was something that no one else could help me answer. And I thought that that was probably the most frustrating thing. It’s a question that just didn’t seem to have an answer no matter where I searched. And as a grownup I’ve realized that there are ways that you can identify who you are and getting that kind of clarity, especially from an early age is something, it’s such an invaluable tool, because it really helps you create a mental framework of how you make decisions. And by using this, it’s shown me that as opportunity comes my way, if I can identify if it’s something that I know that I’m either naturally good at, or I love doing, or ideally both, I’m going to be of higher value. If it’s neither of those things, I will be negative value and I won’t enjoy it.

Azuraye Wycoff:

And this is just like one of the very, very simple tools that I kind of use to navigate my life on a day-to-day basis. But it’s something that I am trying to give to other people, because I realized that that kind of clarity and level of self-awareness is so profound in the way that it gives you a path to follow in life. And it’s something that I’m working on. And if there’s anyone out there that is feeling lost, or they don’t know who they are, or need clarity or guidance, contact me, that is my jam. It’s what I realized is my “puzzle piece” in this whole world and my mission. And it’s what I absolutely love doing. It puts me in my absolute highest and best.

Nita June:

I love that. I mean, you just absolutely light up when you speak about that. And so it’s clearly is your purpose for being here. And again, like I noted just so fascinating that you can do that and you are doing that in different capacities, right. You know, with Small Haul and now Yellow Barn Farm, and who knows what the next iteration of this will be, but that is your yeah, your calling in this life. How fantastic sweetie. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today. You are a joy and a beacon of light and inspiration and force.

Azuraye Wycoff:

Thank you, Nita! Lovely to speak with you today.

Nita June:

Thank you for joining me, Azuraye!

Thank you for listening to WE Talk, brought to you by Shining Mountain Waldorf School and hosted by Nita June. WE Talk is made possible because of listeners like you who invest in the production of the show. Share your appreciation for what you’ve heard today. Help us explore the value of Waldorf Education and preparing our children for the future by going to patreon.com/wetalkpodcast. If you’d like to be interviewed, have a suggestion for an episode ahead, or simply wish to share feedback, please email us at and wetalk@smwaldorf.org.