Thirty-five years ago, when Michael Ableman began his tenure at Fairview Gardens — the farm founded in 1895 that’s now surrounded by Goleta suburbs — he was on the leading edge of the movement to grow artisanal, heirloom, and organic fruits and vegetables. His success led to the establishment of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens as a nonprofit in 1997, and helped usher in a wave of like-minded farmers — so much so that today, artisanal, heirloom, organic, and other catchwords are the mantra of most small farms in California and beyond.
So Fairview Gardens is no longer an outlier, which is a good thing for our collective health, but that agro-cultural shift is also forcing the farm to realign its mission to stay relevant. Today, while farming of various crops continues on the property’s 12 acres, there’s a strong focus on education, an energized farm stand program, and an increasing outreach campaign to attract the greater community to experience Fairview Gardens for themselves.
“It’s a giant classroom,” said Dayna Birkley, who is president of the board. “We’re growing food, but we’re also growing teachers and we’re growing farmers.” That starts quite young, with infants and toddlers coming to play and learn every week with their parents, and carries through elementary school visits, spring and summer camps for many ages, internships for college students, and the apprenticeship program, where aspiring farmers stay and work on the property for months.
Meanwhile, rather than just selling what the garden grows, the farm stand on Fairview Avenue now stocks items from growers and food purveyors from around the region. “It’s like a six-days-a-week farmers’ market,” said Birkley, who is also excited about a new pre-paid card program. “We’re calling it CSA 2.0.”
Yet most of all, the Fairview Gardens team wants people to know that the farm is open to everyone for exploration and enjoyment. That’s as simple as taking the self-guided tour one afternoon or by hosting your next birthday party or business dinner there, for such events also help fund the farm into the long-term. “We’re running a farm to bolster our education program,” said Birkley, herself a financial advisor by profession. “Neither one of those are a cash cow.”
On that front, Fairview Gardens is hosting its annual fundraiser, the Farm-to-Table Dinner Celebration, on Thursday, May 19, featuring food by Rachel Main, cocktails from Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, and wine from Fess Parker Winery. See fairviewgardens.org/farmtotable.