401 Montana Ave. via Google Maps.

Santa Monica schools often take children to the farmers market to learn about food. A new project in the works will show them exactly where it comes from.

The Planning Commission will review Jan. 16 a plan to demolish a vacant 18-unit apartment building at 401 Montana Avenue and build the Rainbow Garden, a children’s learning center and 10,000 square foot garden. The center will employ a teacher to educate visiting pre-school through third-grade classes about growing and cooking organic produce.

“The lessons will relate to organic gardening, such as vermicomposting, digging, seeding, growing and maintaining plants and harvesting the produce,” the project application says. “The curriculum also includes using the produce to teach the students how to create healthy, delicious meals from food grown in the garden.”

The garden will feature a variety of fruits, vegetables, berries and fruit trees. The application lists the potential for an ABC Garden for flowers and plants beginning with each letter of the alphabet, a Scratch and Sniff Garden and a Rainbow Garden designed to inspire art projects.

The center will also include a roof garden, an underground cistern for water capture and irrigation, a chicken coop and a tool shed.

Mockups of the site show a  low black building set back about 90 feet from Montana Avenue with the main garden positioned in front of it. A long row of floor-to-ceiling windows open onto the garden.

The site will include seven parking spaces – the owner anticipates that children will be dropped off and picked up after class – and a four-foot wire fence, which is six inches higher than allowed and will require a special permit.

The vacant two-story apartment building that currently occupies the corner of Montana Avenue and 4th Street was built in 1947 and is in poor condition, staff said. Tenants were evicted under the Ellis Act several years ago.

Nearby resident Thao Ma owns the property, according to the North of Montana Neighborhood Association, which heard a presentation on the project Jan. 10.

The application indicates that Ma was inspired by the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden attached to a public middle school in Berkeley, Calif. Celebrity chef Alice Waters, who founded the restaurant Chez Panisse, launched the project in 1995.

Like the Edible Schoolyard, the center will feature a teaching kitchen where students will learn to prepare and cook fruits and vegetables.

“The non-profit Rainbow Garden project grew from a desire by a Santa Monica couple to feed their children nutritious, local, organic food,” the application says.



Join the Conversation


  1. 18 units of housing here added to the 99 the City allowed to be demolished at Village Trailer Park, and the hundreds of others approved at the so-called-planning-department counter, which the public never hears about, add up. That is why, with all the awful traffic problems and ugly five-story blob buildings throughout SM, the population has not increased since the 90s.

    Fortunately a governor has been elected who will take on this city and all the others not building–and even demolishing–housing.

    BTW, what kind of reporter fails to mention the Ellis Act numbers in the context of a puff piece like this?

  2. The hearing for 401 Montana Avenue aka the Rainbow Garden Learning Center school is this Wednesday evening at 7:00pm at City Hall.

    The current plan is the following: The school/learning garden will not be open to the public. It will serve as a field trip-style place with groups of up to 40 children at a time.

    They are asking for a permit to operate 7 days a week, 8-6 Mon-Fri and 9-6 Weekends.
    Special Events can take place during the week until 10:00pm and until 11:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It doesn’t appear there is a restriction for holidays.

    They will have 7 parking spaces with no neighborhood parking restrictions. They expect to load and unload the children in the alley parking area.

    As they have received little neighborhood input they expect this to be approved on Wednesday evening. If you have questions, comments or concerns they should be addressed to the lead planner, Liz Bar-El
    liz.bar-el@smgov.net, before Wednesday evening.

  3. With the large population of people in Santa Monica and the surrounding area who are homeless or struggling to make their rent in this very expensive area it seems like tearing down an existing housing so kids can see a tomato grow is very shortsighted. .

  4. I do not think that at a time when Santa Monica and Los Angeles are facing a desperate housing crisis the replacement of 18 housing units with an organic gardening teaching center is what is needed for this site. To my knowledge all the elementary schools in Santa Monica have garden plots associated with individual class rooms and there is ample room on the school grounds themselves to set aside more plots for organic gardening.I actually think this is somewhat selfish land use.

  5. Thank you for your informative article. There were 13 tenants still occupying the building when the Mas took it over. While relocating to safe, comfortable new apartments and bringing healthy meals three times a day to all remaining tenants the Mas were able to responsibly relocate all 13 occupants. One of which they flew to Chicago to be w relatives only to decide he didn’t want that, so they flew him back and found accommodations for him here!
    The 4’ hit for the fence has been approved. I have never seen children as young as
    Preschoolers and kindergarteners at the farmers market in all the 35 years I’ve lived here.
    The Rainbow gardens seem like a wonderful earthly energy that will only enhance that corner and produce less traffic than an apartment building.
    BTW, it’s gray, not black!

  6. Young children do go to the Farmers Market (including our preschoolers from Untitled No. 1 when we take the Expo and walk there). Learning about the diversity of farm-sourced ingredients, where food comes from, and what can be prepared with the bounty is all invaluable. And what I describe speaks to our SM culture and history, as the FM is truly an asset.

    I was thrilled to hear that the preschools nearest 4th/Montana would have the opportunity to learn in this new garden and definitely see it as a community service on the part of the Mas. How wonderful for the neighborhood too, to see children walking to and from there, enjoying their community resources. I applaud the Mas for making this possible, and look forward to following the progress of this worthy project.
    Laila Taslimi

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