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The Best of Two Worlds

After years in the corporate world, Eve Jursch, at 58, has found balance between two jobs; that of Patagonia executive and organic farmer.

May 15, 2000|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WILLITS, Calif. — Spring tiptoes late into Eve Jursch's valley, with a blush of blossoms in the meadow, a hint of basil in the soil. A recovering CEO, Jursch is an organic farmer now. Eight years after she moved here alone, her life has slowed to the rhythm of the seasons and pivots with the turn of each day.

She spends most of her time running this 20-acre farm. But she still works; once a week she commutes to Ventura. In November, she stepped down from a plum job as CEO of Patagonia Inc., opting to become a part-time vice president of the revered outdoor clothing company. By plane and car, the commute takes up to seven hours each way.

Jursch, 58, spent years searching for balance between her two worlds, trying to figure out just what she is: A farmer? An executive?

After experiencing both extremes, and making some false steps along the way, she has finally answered the question, crafting a life that keeps her in two unparallel universes.

Her transition began years ago, while she was still fully involved in the kind of life professional women are supposed to covet. She had burst through the glass ceiling, becoming a top executive at more than one company. And though she had the big title, the Brentwood house, the Mercedes-Benz . . . she also had the sense that something was missing.

"It started with a yearning for something more meaningful," she says simply.

*

On the farm, Jursch usually starts her day at 5 a.m. with a strong cup of coffee and list of chores.

Just after dawn, she heads out the door without a shower or makeup, a fleece pullover wrapped around her sturdy shoulders. Her four dogs trot alongside her to the sheep shed. Her stride is easy and unhurried. Jursch knows her 25 sheep by name.

This morning, she checks them for hoof rot. If manure gets trapped inside, the hooves will split. Her farmhand, 27-year-old Paco Trejo, grabs Beau by the horns, pulling the ram upright. It is cold enough to see Trejo's quick puffs of breath.

Jursch stoops to wipe Beau so he can urinate properly. Beau bleats and squirms a little. Next, she shears the black crust from his hooves.

"Getting rid of this stuff, sweetie pie," she coos, then strokes his face.

When she first moved here, she had no experience with farming or organics--and neither did Trejo, the nephew of a man she knew in Topanga. She once watched a neighbor clip sheep hooves and had seen a video on the procedure.

In May, when it's warm enough, she and Trejo will shear the sheep with the help of a professional. If they're lucky, local hand spinners will pay about $40 each for 4 pounds of fleece from a few choice sheep. That's a bit less than, say, the bottom line at Patagonia, which has $180 million in annual sales worldwide.

But Jursch says she'll get more out of a sheep's $40 than any big paycheck she ever made.

"Like Thoreau once said, and I don't know how he said it exactly. . . . He said there's a whole lot of people who go to work, back and forth, back and forth, and they come to the end of their lives, and they realized they haven't lived at all. You know? So that's what this was. This was for the experience of being free and being in the wild and a whole new life adventure."

Early Kinship

With the Outdoors

As a kid growing up in San Francisco, Jursch was smitten with the idea of a life linked to the land. Her parents, who raised four kids, stoked her kinship with animals and the outdoors. Her mother, a homemaker, nursed injured animals such as a chicken with no legs. Her father, an engineer for Southern Pacific Railroad, took the family on hikes.

In 1960, Jursch enrolled at UC Berkeley, studying French and Chinese, with a minor in drama. She thought about becoming a diplomat. But two years later, she ran out of money, dropped out and took a job at a department store in San Francisco. She found that she had a good head for business and a knack for reeling in customers.

Nothing slowed her scurry up the retail ladder--not marriage, not motherhood. She worked as a saleswoman, fashion buyer and general manager for major chains, including Broadway Stores and J.W. Robinsons.

In 1980, at 38, then known as Eve Rich, she became CEO at Contempo Casuals, a clothing chain that caters to young women. During a 10-year tenure, Contempo grew from 28 stores to 300. She loved it, and she and her husband and teenage son lived in an art-filled Brentwood home. But traveling 20 weeks a year, working six-day weeks and turning out for society functions were wearing her out.

One day, in 1985, her sister mentioned that she had signed up for a one-week camping trip across the Sierra on horseback. Jursch, who had little riding experience, invited herself along. Just to get away.

Mindful of her manicured red nails, Jursch took her turn packing the mules. The group rode through thunderstorms, on 18-inch-wide trails, into swarms of bees. On their first night, Jursch and her sister begged from tent to tent for peppermint schnapps, anything to take the edge off their aches and bruises.

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