From community gardens to vertical gardens and everything in between, the trend for growing local is sprouting up all over town.
-By Sharael Kolberg | Photos by Jody Tiongco
As Gloria Broming kneels down and grasps the top of an heirloom carrot, she gently plucks it from the soft soil and dusts it off, smiling at her bounty. She then adds ripe, round tomatoes and crisp romaine lettuce to her harvest basket. Gloria, a Laguna Beach resident, knows the joys of growing food right in her own yard. Not only does she reap the benefits of tasty organic produce, but she saves a trip to the market as well, which reduces her carbon footprint. Gloria is one of many residents who have joined the movement of consuming locally grown food.
Lagunans are realizing that eating food grown in or around their town has a multitude of benefits—from less pesticide consumption to promoting environmental sustainability, not to mention encouraging a greater sense of community in our small town. With or without a green thumb, here are a few ways locals are recognizing the rewards of consuming local produce.
The Backyard Garden
More people are replacing their lawns with vegetable gardens, on a quest to eat the freshest food possible. “Fresh food tastes better,” Gloria says. “We live in a climate that allows you to grow year-round, and we live in a community that loves food, from vegans to carnivores. Our community chooses to live more sustainably, and one easy way to do this is to grow your own food. Anyone can grow their own food very affordably if you have access to water, seeds and sunlight.”
For those who don’t yet know how to get growing, community resources are available. Transition Laguna Beach has helped plant edible gardens in nearly 60 yards throughout town. President Chris Prelitz, who has developed a permaculture “Forest Garden” in his Bluebird Canyon yard over the past 12 years, strongly believes in the advantages of eating food grown either at or close to home.
“Planting gardens is just one positive way of creating a future we all want,” Chris says. “People are realizing that our quality of life has gone down in the last decade. Spending time in your garden is actually healing. We become calmer, our stress points lower, we can think more clearly, and many psychological and even physical disease symptoms lessen—all from tending our gardens. You can learn so much from nature and community.”
Transition Laguna’s garden installs work with a pay-it-forward system that allows members to get to know others in the community. Those interested in having a garden installed in their yard must volunteer to help at two garden installations at other people’s homes first. “This system helps build community as well as gardens,” Chris says.
One obstacle that many residents face is lack of space. With the hills, canyons and oceanfront landscaping, finding a plot to grow food can be a challenge. Some have addressed this problem by purchasing a plot in the South Laguna Community Garden. Not only does this give them a place to try out their green thumb, but they also get to know neighbors with a similar interest.
Ann Christoph, who helped establish the garden says, “It is a place to grow vegetables and flowers, but it is more than that. It has become a focal point and meeting place. In the midst of a high-tech and a fast-moving world, the garden is a little touch of ‘down to earth,’ a place to feel grounded.”
The garden, which is currently on land that is at risk of being sold, is more than just a place to plant. Members continually invite the public to join them in celebrating their seasonal surroundings with community potlucks, live music and gardening workshops. Now they are also banning together to raise money to save the garden. “The garden is an example of what makes Laguna unique; an artistic, activist, environmental expression,” Ann adds.
The Farmer’s Garden
Another creative solution to having little space is to mimic what architects have done, and build up. Some local gardeners have chosen to use vertical gardens as a way to maximize space and increase production. At Alegría Farm in Laguna Canyon, Managing Director Erik Cutter and his crew are growing organic produce using more than 170 hydroponic (soilless) vertical towers to grow more than 10,000 plants on less than .25 acres of land.
Rather than growing produce in soil, Alegría Farm uses coconut fiber that requires 90 percent less water and 50 percent less fertilizer than traditional organic farming.
“By growing food locally, we can improve nutritional content and save fuel, reducing the environmental impact of transporting produce across continents,” Erik explains.
Not only is local food good for the planet, but also provides optimum health benefits, according to Erik. He encourages customers to eat fresh produce within an hour or two of picking it to ensure that you’re getting the most nutrients available. “The longer the produce has been sitting … whether it’s in your kitchen or being transported, the fewer nutrients it will have because of oxidation.”
For those who want the freshest produce available, but weren’t born with a green thumb, Alegría Farm offers a produce bouquet that is delivered within two hours of being picked.
For a wider selection of locally grown produce, check out the weekly Laguna Beach farmers market that is held every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon in the Lumberyard parking lot. With nearly 40 vendors (10 of which are certified as organic), this is the perfect place to peruse produce from farmers in the general area and hand-select what’s in season. You’ll find fruit, nuts, vegetables, honey, seedlings, compost and more, as the community gathers to experience the pleasure of shopping straight from the farm truck.
“It is a gathering place … a place to learn about agriculture, growing seasons and the value of healthy foods, and automatically creates a sense of community,” says Laguna Beach Farmers Market Manager Jennifer Griffiths. “It certainly helps local small growers to make a living selling their produce directly to the public. It also allows the consumer to talk to the farmer or the farmers representative and create an ongoing relationship.”
The Kitchen Garden
When chef and co-founder of The Basement Table, Linda Elbert, plants in her garden, she’s thinking about flavor and variety. The Basement Table at Laguna Culinary Arts offers hands-on culinary classes and community dinners, so Linda is continually looking for inspiring ingredients.
“Growing your own vegetables allows you much more diversity in the types of fruits and vegetables you have available to eat,” she says. “You are not limited to the ones that can be grown on a large scale and hold up to shipping.”
Also the chair of Slow Food Orange County, Linda says she prefers to grow her own food to cook with because she feels it allows her to eat the freshest food possible at the peak of its nutritional value—and at the peak of taste. The Slow Food organization has been a big proponent of eating locally grown food to promote quality in food, the environment and social life. The local chapter organizes meetings, conferences, dinners and events throughout Orange County with a focus on food culture, taste education and accessibility to good, clean and fair food.
This spring, Linda will be picking English peas, asparagus and artichokes from her Laguna backyard. “I think they are all great in risotto, individually or mixed together. You could substitute farro for arborio rice if you want more whole grains,” she suggests.
Craig Strong, executive chef at Studio Montage, also prefers to grow food for his dishes. In his home garden you’ll find things like habanero chilies, nasturtiums, African basil, fava beans, kumquat, fig, rosemary, thyme, lavender, bay leaf and mint. “Locally grown food is picked ripe and therefore tastes better,” Craig explains. “It also supports our local economy.”
He feels it’s a natural fit for people in Laguna to want to grow their own food. “I think people [here] are in touch with nature and the environment; these people have a natural connection to playing in the earth and watching things grow.”
Joining the local food movement has never been easier. Whether you want to get your hands dirty and grow your own, or just want to take advantage of the farmers who have grown it for you, now’s the time to take advantage of creating a healthier body, planet and community. LBM