Sarvodaya Farms TourCSA
Over the weekend I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the farm where my CSA veggies come from. Sarvodaya Farms is located in Pomona, CA which is a short 34 mile drive from my house. It takes less than an hour to get there with no traffic and since we left at 9AM on a Saturday, way too early for the majority of Angelenos to be driving around, we made it there in 45 minutes. Yes!
The tour was organized through the Permaculture Design Course that I’m taking. The purpose of the tour was to show us what it looks like to implement the design principles that we have been learning about. For me, there was the added excitement of meeting the farmers who grow my food, Rishi and his mom, Pearl, who I had only interacted with over email and social media. You gotta check out Pearl’s Instagram, it’s pretty great.
On our tour we got to visit two locations. The Growing Home was the first location, which is the actual home where Pearl, Rishi and the rest of their family live. This home is located in a very nice, suburban neighborhood in Pomona. As we drove down their street looking for the correct address I was like “how the hell is this going to be a farm?” We passed by row after row of well planned suburban homes with well manicured, “drought tolerant” landscaping. This was a residential neighborhood just like any other, not remote farmland. But when we pulled up in front of the house, it started to make sense. While every other house on the block had minimalist, cookie cutter lawns, the Growing Home is enveloped in a veritable food jungle. There is so much foliage and plant life that the house is barely visible from the street. The front yard is filled with a thick canopy of citrus, cherimoya and papaya trees. Under the trees are all kinds of fruiting and flowering bushes and the ground is covered in chard, sweet potato and other low growing veggies. As we walked across the street to their house you could feel the temperature cool and the moisture content of the air increase. We found out later during our tour that to support all of this greenery they use less water than when they used to have a well manicured, “drought tolerant” landscaped yard.
The first person to come out and greet us was Pearl. I don’t know if it’s her healthy, green lifestyle or genetics but the first thing I noticed was that she has amazing skin. Like the skin of a 25 year old. I was like, I’ll have some of what she’s having.
The rest of our group started to arrive and then Rishi came out and introduced himself to our group. Our tour started in the back yard which was just as impressive if not more so than the front. There was a little swampy pond thing, veggie beds, terraces, more fruit trees, and lots of cool soft earth. Rishi and Pearl gave us an overview of how they managed to build this suburban Garden of Eden around their house.
The land that the house sits on is mostly clay and sand. Most fruit and veggie plants don’t like to grow in this kind of soil. It’s hard for roots to push through and spread out and there tends to be very little biological activity in this mixture and it’s doesn’t hold moisture. Water just flows right through it. So Rishi and Pearl added a ton of biological matter to their lawn to create rich, biodynamic soil. Soil that is full of life and that holds on to water like a sponge so that it doesn’t need to be watered constantly. They did this by bringing in tons and tons of stable bedding from nearby horse stables, so lots of horse poop and hay, and they also brought in tons of other people’s yard debris. You know, the stuff that your gardener either rakes or leaf blows into a bag and then throws away? That stuff makes amazing soil. It just takes a little time. Oh and mulch, they also brought in mulch. All of this stuff broke down over time to create soil that holds moisture and supports a ton of life.
Pearl informed us that this home garden or food forest, actually requires very little maintenance, something that intrigued me a lot because that’s the story I have about gardening… it takes too much time so it’s not for me. But Pearl says she spends very little time tending to this stuff. It pretty much takes care of itself and that is something I could definitely get on board with. A little front end investment that produces plenty of yield without much ongoing effort sounds like my kind of garden.
After the tour of the growing home, we headed on over to Sarvodaya Farms which is, in comparison to the Growing Home, a higher maintenance but higher yield farm. We drove ten minutes to another more urban residential area and there, across from a park was a little white house that had a large back yard that was, as promised, a real live farm. There were rows and rows of veggies, a nursery for seedlings, chickens, a small fruit tree orchard and a whole section for composting. A much different set up from the wild food forest at the Growing Home.
This is where the stuff that I get in my weekly box comes from and during this part of the tour, where they explained their CSA program, I got to proselytize about how much I love the program, the veggies and how low waste their program in particular is. It was also really fun to see what was ready to harvest and then guess what might come in my box this week.
At the end of the tour I got to talk to Pearl about some of the recipes I had seen on her Instagram. We chatted for a bit about cooking and fermenting, what works, what doesn’t work. It was really great to connect and actually get to know my farmers. For real. I also found out that they teach classes on gardening, composting and farming. Seeing all of this and the varying levels of maintenance and commitment and what you gt for it was really inspiring to me. I took this class so I could be a better consumer but who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to become a producer too. If I decide to do it, I know that I have a lot of support available to me and that feels great!