CITYWIDE — People flock to Santa Monica’s thrice-weekly Farmers’ Markets for their pick of fresh produce from the Golden State, but a handful of Santa Monicans are joining a movement that takes “local” to a whole new level.
With the help of a Los Angeles-based company called Farmscape (www.farmscapegardens.com), approximately 10 Santa Monicans brought the farm home to their front and back yards in the form of raised beds that Farmscape’s employees tend once a week.
Depending on the size of the garden, the produce can supplement regular grocery or Farmers’ Market produce or completely supplant it, said Sean Williams, co-founder of Farmscape.
“The thinner gardens won’t replace the food budget, but it would offset it a bit,” Williams said. “Some of our clients get more food than they can handle, and others get just enough to eat good tomatoes with their salad.”
Marcy Winograd, an Ocean Park resident and former congressional candidate, discovered urban farming through people involved in her campaign.
When she moved to Santa Monica, Winograd wanted to become a more active participant in her own food production, and brought Farmscape in to see what she could grow.
Winograd was motivated by the idea of knowing where her food comes from and making her own eating habits more earth-friendly.
“Our house isn’t big, but the front yard is large,” Winograd said. “It seemed like it would be a waste not to use it for food production and greening the environment.”
She requested raised beds in her front yard, which workers planted with tomatoes, dill, sage, squash and string beans, amongst others.
They come by once a week to tend the garden and put a basket of homegrown vegetables at the front door.
Although Winograd has long been a patron of the local Farmers Markets’, bringing the production home was a new experience for her.
“I do not have a green thumb, I know how to open a can of soup,” Winograd said. “It’s relatively new to me, and I’d love to learn more and think this is a great opportunity to do that.”
Tatiana James also brought in Farmscape to install her garden on Marguerita Avenue.
Unlike Winograd, she’d done some farming and even composting at her previous residence on 16th Street, but had some difficulties with more challenging crops like tomatoes.
Things like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers have difficulty in Santa Monica’s mild climate, Williams said, and require some inventive solutions to trap heat for the plants.
The company spent a good deal of time developing best practices for growing a variety of vegetables in Santa Monica conditions, but most of it boils down to garden placement.
“The biggest thing we do is show up,” Williams said. “We take a look, see what would work and install with a licensed landscape architect.”
After that, it’s a matter of weekly maintenance and a little forethought, knowing when certain pests come to wreak havoc on plants or how to deal with diseases like powdery mildew, which is rampant in Santa Monica.
Bringing the garden home worked out for James, who no longer had time to care for a garden on her own.
“I liked having it, because my kids would go out there and eat vegetables right off the vine,” James said. “Before, if you put a raw vegetable in front of them, they’d look at you like you’re insane.”
There are drawbacks to getting stuck with your own seasonal produce. Not everything is ripe exactly when you want it or need it, and when it comes, it comes in bulk.
James found herself overburdened by chard and even sorrel, an herb with a light lemony flavor.
It’s been a good experience, although if you’re in it to save money, you may be disappointed, James said.
“It has a feel-good factor. It’s nice to know that the broccoli on the table wasn’t trucked in from somewhere. It grew there,” she said.
Setting up a garden costs around $2,000 and then $60 per week thereafter for maintenance, Williams said.
The garden’s owners are welcome to putter around in the garden with Farmscape’s employees, and sometimes learn enough about the system to let the service go altogether.
Winograd plans to take advantage of that service.
“My New Year’s resolution in 2012 is to learn how to garden,” she said.
The company has approximately 100 clients in the Los Angeles area, including private residences, schools and even restaurants like Nnaka in Palms.
It plans to expand to fruit trees soon, with the goal of producing family-sized orchards at home, Williams said.
“We’re on our way,” Williams said. “We’d like to replace as much of the L.A. area with productive food gardens as possible, and we feel like we’re on our way to do that.”
City Hall provides other opportunities for urban farming within city limits by linking homeowners without the necessary skills or expertise with gardeners who lack space.
The program is called the Garden Sharing Registry, and is available through the Community Recreation Division, which can be reached at (310) 458-8573.