What’s Up at Fairview Gardens?

Goleta Farm Closed for Now, but Former Director Returning in Fall to Help Plan Fairview’s Future

Fairview Gardens in Goleta

The old saw goes that if you want to make a million bucks farming, you should start with two million. That’s been the recent fate of Fairview Gardens, the 13-acre farm in Goleta that found itself on “the brink of a financial cliff” and took a “pause” to conserve resources in June. “We simply could not ask the community to continue to support ongoing operations without a long-term plan to reach financial sustainability,” the letter at the farm’s website reads.

The Board of Directors for the nonprofit, which runs under the name Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, recently announced the return of Michael Ableman, who managed the farm for more than 20 years as the nonprofit’s first executive director. Ableman left to start his family’s farm near Vancouver in the early 2000s, and Fairview farm had a series of other managers until the board paused the operation. Ableman was invited back recently to help plan Fairview’s future. 

The problems of drought and climate change are high on his list. “Santa Barbara County’s climate issues are significantly higher than anyplace else in the United States,” he exclaimed in a phone call on Thursday, clearly excited to tackle the challenges at the farm.

According to the letter, among Ableman’s plans are a focus on deep-rooted perennials that require little water and reducing energy use at the farm dramatically. At the farmhouse — which was first the home of Albert Hollister, whose wife famously gave the area its name when she proclaimed, “What a fair view!” upon looking out her kitchen window to the farmland and the Pacific Ocean beyond — the garden will demonstrate how to replace a lawn with high-density food production. The farmhouse itself, dating back to 1874, must be restored, and a service building is envisioned for equipment, tools, workshops, kitchens, and meeting space. These plans represent the bulk of about $10 million the nonprofit intends to raise to carry out the new plans.

During the era of the great ranchos in the 19th century, Goleta’s topsoil reached down 300 feet in places, wrote Walker A. Tompkins in Goleta: the Good Land. By the time Roger and Cornelia Chapman bought the property in 1975, the land near the top of Fairview Avenue was well-worked. They began to regenerate the soil and farm organically, and they started encouraging students to come to the farm. Fairview Gardens became an organic agricultural and educational facility in perpetuity after extensive fundraising under the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, the Chapman family, and the farm’s supporters in 1997.

Education remains in Ableman’s sights, who plans for children’s programs that include “a multi-dimensional edible sensory landscape.” He said it would take at least a year to get the planning and designs worked out before any rebuilding could take place. “The land is protected,” he emphasized, “and will continue in active agriculture.”

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