design-inspired urban farming
The Sow Swell team traveled to Santa Barbara this weekend! Here’s a photo of our awesome digs for the weekend. Not only did we stay in the cutest Airstream trailer at the Santa Barbara Autocamp, we also met some truly innovative urban farmers.
We recently met Tim Blank, inventor of the Tower Garden and CEO of Future Growing, LLC. Tower Garden is a patented and unique vertical garden system that makes it easy to grow your own fresh fruits and vegetables at home. Blank is the former Chief Horticulturalist in the Living with Land Pavillion at Disney’s Epcot Center. During this time, Blank traveled the world, studied and researched the latest in farming and growing innovation and technology for use at the greenhouses at Disney. His experience led him to create the Tower Garden.
We first learned of Tower Gardens through our friends Daniel Coffman and Sara Villalobos, Los Angeles-area distributors of Tower Gardens through JuicePlus+. We were very impressed by the ease of use and the yield Tower Gardens can produce in such a small footprint. Because of the vertical design and the clever mechanism inside the tower, which uses air to mist water and nutrients to the vegetables, it is uniquely suited for small and large urban farms alike. And when multiple towers are positioned side-by side, the effect is a lush, green and modern vertical farm.
We first visited Chapala Gardens, in the west beach area of Santa Barbara, where Joy Kelly and Sandy Campbell run their rooftop garden using Tower Gardens. During their open house, visitors were entertained with games that encouraged interaction with the towers including, guessing the seedlings, identifying vegetables and timed Tower Garden build-outs. Their rooftop gardens were lush given the close proximity to the seaside. Coastal wind and low nighttime temperatures can create challenges for some vegetable gardening, but Kelly and Campbell seemed to have no problems at all growing lots for harvest.
Next, we visited Montecito Urban Farms, in Summerland, CA, just a few minutes outside Santa Barbara. Alex Thomson, owner/operator and his business partner and self-proclaimed “Montecito Urban Farms Bus Driver,” Tim Mehl, run their farm of 150 Tower Gardens in just over 3,000 square feet. They hold frequent Sunday morning workshops and not only feature Tower Gardens front and center, but also educate potential and existing customers on growing tips, organic pest control and how to use and set-up the Tower Gardens. Their set up was impressive to say the least. They currently supply produce to seven local-area restaurants and also supply seedlings and supplies for their customers and workshop attendees.
At last weekend’s workshop, we also met Buck Adams, Founder of Veterans to Farmers of Denver, Colorado. Adams, a veteran Marine, discovered the
therapeutic effects of growing produce could serve as a perfect method for other vets to effectively transition back into civilian life. He explained the challenges and adjustment when returning home from a tour can be a difficult road for many veterans. His goal is to provide American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts with pride, education and fulfillment through a permanent source of sustainable income, community and contribution: the family farm. He founded Veterans to Farmers, which is building greenhouses throughout the Denver area and are training veterans core skills and knowledge of organic nutrient delivery systems, greenhouse maintenance and operations, plant propagation, maintenance and harvest techniques, and business management. They are preparing and educating vets with skills to run a sustainable business in sustainability. In fact, we also met Evan Premer, a graduate of the Veterans to Farmers program and has just gotten his farm off the ground, Aero Farm Co. in Denver. Both Adams and Premer see farming in the city as a way to provide city’s population with access fresh, local food. And for Premer, the Veterans to Farmers program has become means for both food and financial security for he and his family.