The crowing cocks have been forever silenced at Fairview Gardens in an ultimate concession by the organic farm’s new manager, Toby McPartland, at a Goleta Planning Commission meeting on Monday, February 11. For neighbors who finally gained the upper hand after years of indignation over organic farming practices they found offensive, the roosters’ exodus was mere icing on the cake. Flush toilets will be installed and will actually connect to the sewer system, and Fairview Gardens’ practice of irrigating trees with gray water-from showers, washing, and other household uses-will go down the drain when the farm hooks up to the Goleta Sanitary District’s wastewater system. However, the farm’s venerable compost toilet will not be removed, and can still be used and admired by farm staff and visitors. The hens are also staying.
Also known as the nonprofit Center for Urban Agriculture, the 27-year-old Fairview Gardens is meant to be a model and vanguard for organic farms woven into the fabric of community life, as well as an educational center. It now has to raise at least $250,000 in order to complete the sewer connections and other changes within the next six months, or face the eviction of the farm’s live-in workers: a group of brothers who have been with the farm since the 1980s, joined more recently by their wives and children from Mexico. Their housing currently consists of three domed dwellings called yurts, as well as three trailers, one of which serves as a community kitchen. The trailers must be replaced and all of the yurts and trailers relocated (for closer supervision, especially the discouragement of overloud radio playing) closer to the Victorian farmhouse that houses the manager and offices. Fairview Gardens has five years to install modular housing for the workers, which will cost an estimated $2 million.
Complaints about sanitary conditions and noise were lodged with the county at least as far back as 2001, before Goleta became a city. The county responded with a letter instructing Fairview Gardens’ founder and then-manager Michael Ableman to “cease using” the yurts, trailers, kitchens, and bathing facilities immediately and apply for permits. Twenty months later, he filed applications, but because Ableman dragged his feet-perhaps out of a realization that he would be better able to pursue his vision of an organically self-sustaining farm by flying under the radar-and because county officials were indulgent, most of the farm’s operations remained unpermitted. That includes the farm’s educational events: school tours, summer camp, cooking classes, and seasonal celebrations.
Several of the neighbors who showed up in force Monday night began their presentations with photos of the bucolic Fairview Gardens views that they enjoy from their homes, and even the most disgruntled among them were disarmed by the conciliatory posture taken by the Center for Urban Agriculture-notably board president Matt Dobberteen’s apology to the neighbors for the slow pace and occasionally antagonistic tone of the farm’s response to their complaints heretofore. Some farm supporters nonetheless reminded the neighbors how lucky they were to live next to the acreage that Ableman had succeeded in preserving in perpetuity as a working organic farm.
Goleta’s Current Planning Manager Patricia Miller persuaded the Planning Commission to stick to the six-month deadline despite repeated pleas from Fairview Gardens supporters who said the changes will take at least a year. However, some wiggle room may be created when the proposal comes before the City Council next month for final approval. Dissenting commissioner Ed Easton, who favored a later deadline and review by the Design Review Board, was appointed to facilitate talks between neighbors and farm representatives in advance of the City Council appearance, and already, neighbors are offering to help Fairview Gardens raise the money. Some of the players on both sides of the conflict are describing the new agreement between Fairview Gardens and its neighbors as a step forward in the farm’s advocacy of community-based urban agriculture.