Patti the "big dill" Pickle here, sharing tidbits of what you can look forward to at this year's Santa Barbara Fermentation Festival. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Mark Tollefson, Executive Director of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens. Building critical connections between community, agriculture and education, the farm is dedicated to creating a sustainable world for future generations - a world where knowing the source of food is common knowledge and being connected to nature is common practice.
With sustainability, learning, abundance, and community as core values, we are eager to once again host our festival at this beautiful landmark in Goleta. From the farm to your kitchen table!
Patti the Pickle: We are excited to celebrate the art of fermentation at Fairview Gardens for the second year in a row! How did the farm come to host the festival and how does fermentation relate back to the mission of Fairview Gardens?
MT: I remember three years ago hearing about the fermentation festival and thinking what a great idea that would be to have this festival at Fairview Gardens. A few months later Katie Falbo approached me and asked what I would think about hosting the festival at Fairview because the last location had gotten too small for the people who were really excited about learning about fermentation.
The mission of Fairview Gardens is to explore the critical connections between agriculture, education and community.
I can't think of a better way to do that than through the fermentation festival. Bringing community together to learn how locally grown foods can be fermented for optimal health is a perfect fit for our mission and for the city of Goleta.
Patti the Pickle: Please gives us an overview of the history of the land and how you got involved managing the farm.
MT: Fairview Gardens has been a farm since 1895. It was purchased by Roger and Cornelia Chapman in the early 1970's with the express purpose to preserve the land for agriculture and for education. Roger passed in the last 1980's, and eventually the Chapman family gave Michael Ableman the opportunity to purchase the land and continue that mission. He formed our non-profit, The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, and did a capital campaign to purchase the land. In 1998 the land had been purchased by our non-profit and an easement was put on the land through the Land Trust for Santa Barbara forever preserving this land for agriculture and education.
I have a long history of both farming and education, and have lived in Santa Barbara since 2001. My family and I did a brief stint living up in Santa Cruz while I worked in Belize doing a sustainable agriculture project down there. In late 2009 I found the advertisement that Fairview Gardens was seeking a new Executive Director. I felt that my skill set was perfect for the job, and now over 4 years later I'm still here!!!
Patti the Pickle: How has Fairview Gardens built critical connections between community, agriculture, and education over the years?
MT: Fairview Gardens has always explored this connection. From farm apprenticeship programs back in the 1970's, to Bioneer Conferences held here in the 1980's, concerts in the 1990's, and always classes teaching people how to cook and grow amazing food. Fairview Gardens has helped many schools and family's start gardens. We have donated food to many worthwhile causes in our area, and over the last 15 years of being a non profit, countless children have spent time walking the fields, sitting under the mulberry tree, or escaping the heat playing in the avocado orchard.
Patti the Pickle: Why is fermentation, and beneficial bacteria, so critical to farming?
MT: Nothing grows without bacteria. When I hold a handful of rich loamy soil up to a group of children and exclaim that this is the most important thing we grow on the farm, they look at me with puzzled looks and say, "you mean dirt??"
I have to explain to them that most of what is in that handful of "dirt", is fungus, bacteria, molds, and other living organisms.
One of the key building blocks in ecological farming is composting. A well run compost system is very complex and demanding. A lot of the composting system involves a form of fermentation. So to build really healthy soil, we need beneficial bacteria, and fermentation!!
Patti the Pickle: I hear you are an avid home brewer - what are your favorite types of beer to make? Any tips for those new to home brewing?
MT: I love to make stouts, porters and hoppy ales! The only problem with home brewing, is that the batch never lasts long enough. It's remarkable how many people say yes to a beer when they are at my house when it is a home brewed beer!
My advice to those new to home brewing: Go for it. Better to have a batch of beer in the bottle than to still be thinking about it. It really doesn't take that much time, and the rewards are many. There are some really good companies that sell brew kits. Start with easy brew kits, and once you get that down, go to a more time intensive and complicated process of sparging roasted grains. I went the full gamut. I started with easy brew kits with bags of malts, and ended up using all grain kits and then went back to easy brew kits. I love the end product, and it's way more time friendly.
Patti the Pickle: Tell us about the different educational programs that Fairview Gardens offers - anything special being offered this summer?
MT: This summer Fairview Gardens is going to be FULL of kids. Our summer camps are totally full and we have a great staff with amazing activities planned for the kids who are coming to the farm. We are having an open house for those that want to learn more about Fairview Gardens on June 30th from 5:30 to 7:00. Please send us an email if your are interested in coming.
Look for u-pick strawberries on Saturdays, later in the summer we will be doing some u-pick tomatoes, and we will be scheduling some classes to teach folks how to make canned things and preserves from the farm's bounty.
Please sign up for our mailing list at our website, www.fairviewgardens.org to keep up to date with all the happenings.
Homestead Classes coming soon include:
Herbal Salves and Remedies
Alternative Techniques for dry land gardening
Patti the Pickle: What was your favorite memory at last year's festival? What do you look forward to at this year's event?
MT: My favorite memory from last years festival was talking to people who were here at the festival. There were people from Nevada, San Diego, and even from the mid-west. Each had a unique story about how fermentation has affected them and why they were so excited to be at the farm. I feel like I made a 100 new friends in one day!
For this year's event, I'm really excited to connect all these people to their local farm. So many people who come to Fairview Gardens have no idea that we are a public farm that people can come and walk any time, or that the majority of the farm is hidden over the hill behind Fairview Avenue. I call the back of the farm the hidden jewel. I truly want people to see Fairview Gardens as a community resource that is here to support a healthy resilient community!!