Monday, February 11, 2008

Farm vows to clean up its act

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

For dozens of years, Fairview Gardens has been providing the Goleta community with fresh, organic produce. The 12-acre farm on Fairview Avenue is considered one of the oldest organic farms in Southern California and serves as a model for urban agriculture.
It also has been the subject of numerous complaints from neighbors who are disrupted by noisy roosters and dismayed by poor living conditions for the farm workers who live onsite, despite their support for the farm’s agricultural and educational mission.
Those concerns came one step closer to resolution at a Planning Commission meeting in Goleta on Monday evening, where a packed room of neighbors, farm workers and community members found common ground on many issues.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted in favor of recommending to the Goleta City Council that the farm be allowed to keep its onsite worker housing and chicken coop as long as it meets certain conditions.
Currently, Fairview Gardens does not have permits for three trailers and three yurts, or domelike structures, that serve as housing for the farm’s laborers, an issue that was brought to the farm’s attention about seven years ago.
Representatives from the farm came forward with a proposal to relocate the housing site to the center of the farm, get rid of the trailers, and plan for the construction of modular housing, a new restroom and shower facility, and a kitchen trailer. Those facilities will be connected to the Goleta sewer system, unlike the current housing and bathroom facilities.
“I am sorry at the pace with which the farm has moved to address violations,” said Matt Dobberteen, president of the Center for Urban Agriculture, which oversees the farm. “…We take these issues very seriously and we look forward to transforming the farm to a more community-based farm.”
A group of nearby residents calling themselves Concerned Neighbors of Fairview Gardens applauded the farm management’s attempts to bring their facilities up to code.
“After many longstanding sanitation code violations, we heartily approve of Fairview Gardens’ proposal to be annexed to the Goleta Sanitary District and connect all new facilities to the sewer,” said Linda Cobb, a member of the neighborhood group.
Although Commissioner Edward Easton abstained from voting after expressing a desire to see a more exact design plan for the new location of the housing, the other members seemed pleased to recommend the move.
In order to keep the onsite housing, however, the farm will have to make the switch in six months, if the commission’s recommendation is approved at City Council as drafted. After several members of the public called that timeline unmanageable, the commissioners directed city staff to meet with farm management and neighbors to develop alternatives for the council to consider.
“This is an important asset to our community, so I think it’s important we find a way to make this happen,” Commissioner Doris Kavanagh said.
Part of that issue is finding funding for the relocation effort, which is expected to be in the range of $250,000. Building modular housing, which would be required in five years under the recommendations, is expected to cost $2 million.
Concerns from neighbors about the noisy chicken coop, and crowing roosters in particular, also received attention at the hearing. Although initial plans put forward by the farm suggested reducing the rooster population to four from 12 and moving them to the center of the property, farm manager Toby McPartland announced that roosters will no longer be housed on the farm to applause from the audience.
As far as the remaining 100 hens, they will remain in their current home, a mobile chicken coop, which will be rotated around the farm at least 100 feet from the property line to reduce noise issues.
Although the Planning Commission recommended approval of those two items — permits for onsite housing and a chicken coop — they recommended the council turn down several other permit applications from the farm, including amendments to the city code allowing them to have buildings up to 2,000 square feet for produce sales and to sell products grown offsite.
City secretary Patricia Miller explained that the recommendation is to deny those applications without prejudice, meaning the farm management can return in a short period of time with the exact same permit request. She said city staff did not have sufficient time to examine those issues and did not want to hold up the process of relocating housing.
“We cannot wait another three to four months as we look into the other bundle of requests,” she said.
The Planning Commission recommendations are expected to be considered by the City Council in at least a month, but likely longer. In the meantime, farm managers said they plan to continue to work with neighbors to address any issues they can in the interim, much to the appreciation of residents in attendance.
“We’ve made so much progress tonight,” said Steve Nelson, a member of the neighborhood group. “I feel like we’ve been pushing and pushing and now there is nothing left to push against.”

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ummm....who was there first, the farm or the neighbors? Seems to me those condos to the north went up after the farm was there...and the other neighbors? Well, let the buyer beware. You live next to a farm, you will endure the sights, sounds, and smells of the farm. And you should thank your lucky stars for every day that a farm....a FARM continues to thrive in the middle of the 'burbs in the 21st century. Personally, I'd love to hear roosters in the morning as much as I love to hear coyotes at night. It means something is still right in the world. There is still wildlife and there are still open lands where our food is grown and raised.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the accuracy of you coverage of the Planning Commission meeting of 2/11-re:Fairview Gardens

Anonymous said...

Yes, congratulations on the accuracy of coverage. Anonymous #1 needs to read it again, as they missed the point, and don't understand the issues "dismayed by poor living conditions for the farm workers who live onsite, despite their support for the farm’s agricultural and educational mission."

Anonymous said...

To all who are in support of Fairview Gardens' mission to thrive and survive as a working organic farm, educational center, and local business, please express your support for the farm to the Goleta City council.

They must hear from the public that Fairview's quest to feed and educate the community, and also to house its workers onsite, can only be maintained if the permit requests/amended requests are granted. Also let them know that the farm should be given adequate time to meet guidelines stated in the permits, as 6 months is not a realistic time frame.

Please visit Fairview's website at www.fairviewgardens.org to learn more about the farm/email the farm any questions you have regarding getting more involved with this project. Also, if you're in the neighborhood, stop by the farm for a self-guided tour if you haven't done so already!

Thank you. This place is a gem. Let's allow it to stay that way!

--A former Fairview employee

Anonymous said...

Fairview Gardens filed their conditional use permit October 17, 2003, how much time do they need like perhaps 100 years to clean things up? 6 months may not be realistic, but what about the 4 1/2 years they've already had.

eric broberg said...

As local boy with fond memories of traipsing about Fairview Gardens, I am outraged by the “improvements” foisted upon the organic farm by the Goleta Planning Commission and “dismayed” neighbors. Of particular concern to me (I won’t discuss here the paternalistic/racist attitude of the neighboring suburbanites towards the farm workers on-site, but that is another important conversation) is the apparently upcoming elimination of Fairview Gardens’ greywater and composting toilet systems in a time when these techniques are becoming more and more appropriate for wider adoption and education. Water and nutrients will now be flushed and piped off the farm, at great cost, into a sewage facility and (polluting) the ocean, instead of re-used to grow organic food and recharge the groundwater. All in the name of “upgrading,” “progress,” and elitist, so-called, “sanitary conditions.” Properly designed compost toilets are completely hygienic and do not smell bad – I’ve sat on quite a few and never had to hold my nose. As long as basic safety rules and common sense are used, the risks associated with a composting toilet system should be no more significant than any other situation where there may be some level of fecal contamination (such as using a water-based toilet, changing baby diapers, taking a bath).
Very few places in the county are experimenting in proper ways to re-use our own nutrients with the safe use of compost toilets. With the rising cost and diminishing supply of fossil fuels, we ought to be looking to these systems as an alternative to petroleum-based fertilizers trucked in from somewhere else. Our own bodies produce nutrients -- right here, right now -- that we can use (again, totally hygienic after composted) to make rich, dark, and fertile soil, instead of thoughtlessly flushing them out to expensive, unnecessary sewage facilities and the ocean. “Upgrading” the compost toilets for flush toilets connected to the sewers is a huge setback in terms of needed education through demonstration, and once again discourages people from establishing appropriate toilets for themselves in a climate of illegalized sustainability.
The need for widespread education about these systems becomes more urgent when one considers the larger picture of the global politics of excrement. Incredible numbers of poor people in the developing world do not have access to toilets or sanitation systems. The result is a vast health problem which causes children, in particular, to contract fatally infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera. Outfitting these slums and rural areas with expensive flush toilets and sewer systems will probably never happen because of the cost. Latrines or septic systems are no alternative. During the wet season they regularly overflow anywhere and everywhere and get into the drinking water. “The obvious solution to removing the problem of fecal matter getting into the drinking water is to build dry compost toilets which are unaffected during the wet season and which anyone with the smallest amount of rudimentary construction skills can build themselves” explains sustainable designer Geoff Lawton.
Compost toilets are the most appropriate solution to this vast global health problem. A contributing reason to why their proper design and construction is not being taught on a large scale is that compost toilets are still viewed by many as unhygienic, and a symptom of “poor living conditions.” The sooner this myth is dispelled in industrialized countries and compost toilets are recognized for their beneficial functions, the sooner they will be adopted in developing countries where the middle and upper classes often mimic the attitudes of their counterparts in the North.
The issue of greywater, in a dry region such as Santa Barbara County, is a no-brainer. Two facts, obtained from Wikipedia: “Simply dumping greywater on the soil, from an ecological standpoint, is less damaging than sending highly treated greywater directly into natural waters” and “There have been no documented cases of greywater-transmitted illness in the U.S.” Other drought-vulnerable, arid areas, such as Australia, have required greywater by law and even set up rebate programs for its implementation. Yet in Goleta, they would rather shoot it out into the ocean. This is ridiculous. Water shortage is a huge issue. Water wars are on everybody’s tongue. Will we be fighting wars in South America for control of the Guarani aquifer while we continue to throw away perfectly re-useable “waste” water?
Honestly, let’s abandon this absurd notion of “progress” that holds its snobby nose against (mis)perceived “unsanitary conditions” and sends us thoughtlessly down a path of thirst, soil nutrient loss and dependence on expensive, polluting sewage systems. For all of us and our future together, I hope that the Goleta City Council, the neighbors of Fairview Gardens, and Fairview Gardens itself can come to their senses on this. Let’s hold them to that.