With spring in full swing, many of us start thinking of the fresh fruits and vegetables that we can start to enjoy, whether from the farmers’ market or our own gardens. But Jon Aimonetti is meeting schoolkids who don’t realize that fresh vegetables are grown in the ground. As the new leader of Fairview Gardens — the nearly 13-acre, certified-organic urban farm founded two decades ago in the heart of Goleta — this banker turned nonprofit director is embracing these opportunities to educate the public about the origins of real food, recognizing that this education can potentially change someone’s life.
“We strive to provide educational opportunities for growth at all age levels, in order to cause a ripple effect with the hope that these individuals will take their experiences back to their communities,” said Aimonetti, who employs a dozen part-time educators, farmers, and admin staff. Together, they must balance those educational initiatives with the actual farming operation, which provides revenue through sales at the Goleta farmers’ market, the Isla Vista Co-op, and the menu of Barbareño in downtown Santa Barbara.
“Ideally, farming and education are not mutually exclusive, and my goal is to build us to the point where the two are seamlessly combined,” said Aimonetti, who also grows food for Sansum Diabetes Research Institute’s Farming for Life program. “Everything we do here has the potential to provide an educational opportunity.”
Aimonetti first learned about Fairview Gardens through his job at Pacific Premier Bank, which helped with the nonprofit farm’s sponsorships. That inspired him to start volunteering at the farm as well. Aimonetti left the bank to pursue a passion project and was traveling when the top job at Fairview Gardens opened. “Everything fell into place,” he said of taking the job.
The property has been a farm since 1895 — possibly making it the oldest organic farm in Southern California — and was owned for three decades by the Chapman family. When UCSB music professor Roger Chapman died in 1994, farm manager Michael Ableman, who’d worked there since 1981, formed the nonprofit organization to buy and manage the property in 1996. (Roger’s child Dallas Chapman still sits on the board today.) Since then, it’s gone through numerous ups and downs, from political skirmishes with neighbors over farming needs to the usual funding issues that many nonprofits face.
Today, money is an issue again for the farm, and lack of it led to the shutdown of the farmstand and the loss of a full-time manager. As such, there is renewed interest from the nonprofit’s board of directors to expand funding and partnerships. Aimonetti’s background in commercial lending is key to that goal, and he knew that he could provide the nonprofit with just what they needed.
“My experience from the corporate world, specifically banking, gives me a different perspective,” said Aimonetti, of his financial acumen and entrepreneurial spirit. “Our focus now is to get the farm back on track so we have a solid foundation on which to build.” He hopes to open the farmstand by the end of the summer.
But the educational focus remains steady. Most programs are geared toward children, including the Sprouts! program, which is aimed at getting infants engaged with nature. There’s also an after-school program where kids learn the importance of knowing where food comes from, the best practices to get that food, and why it’s important to support small regional farms, especially organic, sustainable ones. “I’ve had parents tell me stories about how kids didn’t like a veggie, and then they tried it from Fairview and liked it because they had a connection with it,” said Aimonetti.
As to what to expect from the farm, Aimonetti is excited about the strawberries and mulberries, which he said are “hard not to overeat.” Tomatoes and zucchini are on their way too, and there will be a pumpkin patch planted in June as well. Promised the new director, “Everything we are producing is amazing!”
4•1•1 | Two events are on the horizon for Fairview Gardens: the Volunteer Day is on Saturday, May 25, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., and the annual Farm to Table Dinner fundraiser is on Saturday, June 1, at 5 p.m. It will feature beer by M.Special, cocktails by T.W. Hollister, food by Barbareño, and desserts by Jessica Foster Confections. Tickets are $200. See fairviewgardens.org.