Story by Sigrid Wright
By most accounts, the Santa Barbara region —with its year-round growing climate, rich soil, vibrant fisheries and daily farmers’ markets—should be able to provide us with all the nutritious, healthy food we need.
And yet, with an increasingly globalized food system, that isn’t the case. In fact, more than 99% of the produce grown in our county is exported, and more than 95% of what we eat is imported. A head of broccoli or basket of strawberries grown in the Santa Barbara region may very likely make a thousand-mile trip to be washed, processed, packaged and re-distributed back to a grocery store not far from where it originated—impacting the health of both people and the environment.
How do we create a resilient food system that supplies an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, eggs, meat, seafood and spirits—and stitches together our community in the process?
By bringing it local. Very local.
Grow Your Own
As anyone who has grown a tomato or a container of basil will tell you, their caprese salad tastes better than anything offered in a restaurant. Chicken lovers will say their eggs have brighter yolks. And those who have traded their excess butternut squash for eggplant with a neighbor will admit that leaning over the fence to make that trade just feels good.
Create a network of edible gardens
In a healthy food system, everyone has access to a patch of land to grow at least a portion of what they need—whether at a community garden, school, church, backyard or even a front yard. If converting your tidy yard into a productive foodscape sounds daunting, take heart: fellow gardeners support each other more than ever. Members of the local Food Not Lawns group share information and tools—posting on Facebook, for example, when a new shipment of bare root strawberries has arrived at a local nursery or when it’s time to plant more kale for the winter. Group members get together to swap seeds in the spring and excess produce in the fall or to tour a highly productive home “fruit forest.” For those without a yard, the City of Santa Barbara manages three community gardens (usually with a wait list): 1. Yanonali Community Garden (E. Yanonali St. at Soledad St.), 2. Rancheria Community Garden (Rancheria St. near Montecito St.) and 3. Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden (Pilgrim Terrace Dr. at Modoc Rd.). Other community gardens have sprung up on the Mesa and at Trinity Lutheran Church to handle the demand.
Think outside the yard
For those who want to grow more of their own produce, but don’t have the space or proper soil, vertical gardens are becoming increasingly popular on rooftops, patios, balconies and terraces. These self-contained units use an aeroponic system—the plants grow in just water and air, fed by a nutrient solution. The systems are popular for leafy greens such as kale, chard, arugula, spinach, bok choy and lettuces, as well as herbs like cilantro, basil and parsley. Tower gardens need an electrical source to run a pump, and the units themselves don’t come cheap (about $499 each), but the seedlings are affordable (about $1 each). Two local companies sell tower gardens: Montecito Urban Farms and Chapala Gardens.
Raise your own chickens
After a century of moving away from our agrarian roots, backyard poultry has become cool again—so much so that one of Santa Barbara’s more upscale neighborhoods recently organized a tour of some of the swankiest chicken coops. For those interested in getting started, here are the basics: within city limits, you can keep up to 15 chickens in a residential area. Chickens must be kept in sanitary coops, hutches or cages that are 100 feet from a school, park or other institution and 35 feet away from any human residences on adjoining lots. You’ll want to build a solid coop, as chickens tend to attract raccoons, skunks, hawks and other wildlife. It’s illegal to keep roosters, but there’s no need if you just intend to produce fresh eggs, not baby chicks. Chicks can be purchased from Island Seed and Feed in Goleta and need to be either incubated with a heat lamp until they’re six weeks old or purchased after they have enough feathers to keep them warm. Supplies are also available from La Cumbre Feed and Western Animal Supply.
Bring back the honeybees
A vibrant food system needs pollinators, and with the buzz being that massive honeybee die-offs are taking place from Montecito to Goleta, an avid group of beekeepers is determined to protect as many colonies as possible. Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association (SBBA) removes unwanted swarms for free and helps new enthusiasts get started. For $250/year through its Host a Hive program, SBBA sets up a hive stand, provides a beehive, performs monthly inspections, and—most importantly—supplies some honey. SBBA also offers monthly meetups, introductory and advanced beekeeping classes, and guidance on how to register a hive with the Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioner. (County code requires that apiaries be located more than 600 feet from a dwelling and 300 feet from a property line.) While backyard beekeeping isn’t for the faint of heart, local beekeepers form a tight-knit group, sharing information and equipment such as smokers, beekeeping suits and honey extractors.
Share With Others
Despite Santa Barbara’s abundance, our region still struggles with hunger and diet-related illness. In fact, more than 20% of the people in our county live below the poverty level, and about half of the top ten leading causes of death in the county are significantly impacted by diet. For those interested in providing healthy, nutritious food to those in need, a handful of local organizations offer ways to give back.
Donate your extra produce to the Foodbank
Put those extra oranges, lemons, avocados or other fruit to use by dropping it off at the Foodbank warehouse (4554 Hollister Ave.) or arranging to have the boxes picked up from your home. If you or your neighbors have trees that you can’t harvest yourself, Foodbank will arrange for a group of volunteers to do the gleaning. And for green thumbs with extra gardening space, this spring consider participating in the Foodbank’s “Plant a Row” program by deliberately growing more than you need. All fresh produce is distributed through the Foodbank’s 300 partnering organizations.
Volunteer for those who need it most
Run by its passionate founder, Anthony Carroccio, Organic Soup Kitchen focuses on doing one thing well: soup. “Soup is easily digestible, full of nutrients and critical to those who can’t always count on more than one meal a day,” Carroccio says. Volunteers prep and cook in local commercial kitchens. Last year, they provided about 20,000 free meals, which were distributed by six partnering agencies. Organic Soup Kitchen targets veterans, the disabled, the elderly and others in need.
Food From the Heart provides complete homemade meals to those dealing with cancer, AIDS, recent surgeries, terminal illness or other situations where hunger or malnutrition can impact a patient’s healing. Volunteers meet each week at Trinity Lutheran Church’s commercial kitchen (909 N. La Cumbre Rd.) to prepare the free meals from scratch, creating fresh, healthy, digestible, visually appealing “comfort food”—often using locally grown ingredients donated by the farmers’ markets.
Support Local Treasures
Like almost every community throughout the U.S., Santa Barbara has become increasingly reliant on a global system to grow, process and distribute its food. All of the small dairies that once dotted our coastline—and most of the working cattle ranches—have given way to the pressures of land development. However, a few cottage businesses remain, and in recent years, the “go local” movement has created more demand for food that is Santa Barbara grown and raised.
Locally made cheese
Cheese lovers will be happy to learn that a couple of families have brought back this historic industry by offering local handmade artisanal cheeses. The Santa Barbara Cheese Company runs a dairy in Cuyama and a creamery in San Luis Obispo. And Casitas Valley Creamery—located on Regenerative Earth Farms between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria—makes its cheese locally with organic milk that comes from a family farm in Sonoma. The cheese is available for order online, at farmers’ markets or (for Casitas Valley Creamery) through local stores such as Isabella Gourmet Foods and Pierre Lafond.
Locally raised beef
The Santa Barbara region’s rich history of cattle ranching goes back to California’s turbulent days as frontier country. Today, the family of Jose de la Guerra—the original owner of Rancho San Julian—continues to preserve and work the land. Hundreds of cattle roam the remaining 13,000 acres of the ranch, which is one of a handful of operations that still provide local pasture-raised beef. Others include Hollister Ranch Cooperative and Dey Dey’s, which raises California lowline cattle and pasture-raised turkeys and chickens on 220 acres in the Santa Rita Hills outside of Buellton.
Sustainably caught local seafood
According to Sarah Rathbone, owner/director of Community Seafood, it’s not easy to find local, sustainably caught seafood in Santa Barbara stores. In fact, when a group of researchers at UCSB discovered that more than 90% of the seafood harvested in our region is bought by Los Angeles-based processors and distributors, they realized they had a small business opportunity. Similar to the “farm share” programs made popular by community-supported agriculture, Community Seafood customers pay upfront for a minimum of four deliveries of seafood, then collect their weekly or bi-weekly shares at locations in Santa Barbara and Goleta. The catch includes popular items such as black cod, king salmon, white seabass, California halibut, ridgeback shrimp and black mussels—as well as seasonal items like opah, swordfish and squid.
In addition to almost-daily farmers’ markets on the South Coast, a number of local farmers provide their produce directly to customers. Here are a few of the more established farm stands:
Classic Organic Farm and Market Unstaffed farm stand with an “honor box” payment system. Provides organic produce from their farm as well as others in the neighborhood. Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Located: 40 miles north of Santa Barbara. From Highway 101, watch for the small brown freeway sign for Nojoqui Park. From the turnoff, the farm stand is 400 yards down the road at 2323 Old Coast Hwy., Gaviota.
Ellwood Canyon Farms Unstaffed farm stand with an ìhonor boxî payment system. Provides a wide variety of seasonal produce, occasional cut flowers and other products such as canned tomatoes or honey. Also offers a weekly box of produce to those participating in the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Hours: Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (hours may vary with the season). Location: Winchester Canyon neighborhood, at the end of Langlo Ranch Rd., Goleta.
Fairview Gardens Offers seasonal fruits and vegetables from the urban farm, as well as other products such as eggs and olive oil. The farm also offers a weekly CSA, summer camps, farm tours and occasional classes on beekeeping, fermentation and farm-to-table cooking. Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Location: 598 N. Fairview Ave., Goleta.
Shepherd Farms Provides a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Also has an on-farm volunteer program and offers a weekly box of produce to those participating in the farm’s CSA. Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Location: 6701 Casitas Pass Rd., Carpinteria.
It’s a whole new world as wineries go green via organic or biodynamic farming and sustainable practices. For more information, see “Wineries go Green.”
Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.