Summerland Farm Prevails
Escrow closed earlier this week on a 6.84-acre property at the top of Temple Street in Summerland; the property has been the subject of much community discussion over the years, as its fate was uncertain until about two months ago, when the Carpinteria/Summerland Unified School District, which has owned the property since 1955, accepted a bid on the land. The highest bidder, Santa Barbara Agricultural Farm and Education Foundation, paid $2.25 million for the property.
Leslie Person Ryan, owner of Montecito’s Letter Perfect on Coast Village Road, has been leasing the property the last few years to farm fruit and vegetables for her Sweet Wheel Farm and Flowers business, which she created following the 1/9 Debris Flow that essentially left Summerland residents without access to food for multiple days.
“Basically, Summerland is a food desert. If the freeway is shut down, the only place for residents to buy food is from the liquor store or the gas station. Our only grocery store, Cantwell’s, closed four years ago, so we don’t have access to quality food in an emergency,” Ryan told us during a recent visit to the farm.
Intent on offering organic, locally sourced produce to Summerland residents, Ryan first began farming in Orcutt, and opened a small produce cart on Lillie Avenue (there is also a second cart in Montecito, on the Letter Perfect property). Once she secured a lease on the vacant Temple Street property, which has historically been used as farmland, she expanded the produce offering to a larger space next to the gas station on Lillie Avenue; it’s open every day and is stocked with seasonal, fresh produce, homemade food products, and flowers.
Earlier this year, the Carpinteria/Summerland Unified School District announced its intention to sell the property, and Santa Barbara County eyed the parcel as a potential future home of affordable housing, a plan which did not go over well with neighbors nor the Summerland community at large. Ryan, who was at risk of losing her lease and therefore her farm, sprang into action, enlisting a group of powerhouse community members to form a nonprofit foundation complete with an advisory panel of architects, doctors, botanists, fundraising experts, and legal counsel, which includes Nancy Furman-Alex, Dani Lynch, Adam McKaig, Phyllis Noble, Michael Porter, Diane Pannkuk, Bruno Rocca, Geoff Green, Marc Chytilo, and Julie Etra. Board members include Ryan as president, Alma Mainz as treasurer, and Jasmine Jefferies, secretary.
Former Montecito Association Board President Diane Pannkuk was on the short list of people Ryan contacted in the beginning of the quest to purchase the property.
“It’s a real sense of community, which is what touched my heart and enticed me to get involved,” said Pannkuk. In less than two weeks’ time, 250 donors pulled together to raise the $2.25 million to buy the property. The largest portion of the money – $1.6 million – came from a grant from Nora and Michael Hurley’s Manitou Foundation.
“They saved us, along with the countless other individuals and businesses who came together to raise the money,” Ryan said.
With escrow now closed, the foundation intends on utilizing the farm not just to feed Summerland residents through the farm carts, but Ryan is well-connected to various nonprofits who will benefit from the abundance of fresh produce, which includes all organic melons, corn, wheat, oats, broccoli, herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and much more. This week, food will be donated from the farm to help feed 600 veterans in Santa Barbara County; the first of three meals in the next two months sponsored by the Veterans Foundation.
The farm will also include an educational component, offering schools in the area a place for students to learn about agriculture, farming, compost, pollinators, and more. The foundation also hopes to expand the farm to include a community donor garden, warka towers (devices designed to harvest water from the atmosphere), a greenhouse area, a fire break, compost, bicycle trails, and areas for chickens and goats to roam.
“The potential is here to feed a lot of people. If there is no farm, there is no food, and we are grateful we were able to make this happen,” Ryan said.
For more information, and to donate, visit www.sbafefoundation.com.