Carrots harvested at Fairview Gardens. Photos by Carole Topalian.

The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens

Even on that rare rainy Santa Barbara day, the Fairview Gardens CSA (community-supported agriculture produce subscription program) distribution goes on undisturbed. Bordered by the busy Fairview Avenue, Goleta Library and a prolific subdivision, Fairview Gardens has remained farmland for over 100 years. To the side of the produce stand with its familiar green and white awning is a generous overhang buzzing with people, beneath which are tables displaying the farm’s bounty for the week. Members glance at whiteboards listing their share items as they gather and weigh their produce before picking up a newsletter with recipes for the week.

When I first started as the distribution volunteer, the list of 125 names was just that: a list of names. But with each successive week the names match the faces, which become familiar, and before long picking up produce for the week becomes a social activity. I learn which members trade their cilantro for something else or finish their strawberries in the car before arriving home. The children either help their parents with gathering the week’s food, climb the mulberry tree or visit the goats and chickens. Chatting with people becomes as much a part of my job as restocking arugula. “What did you do with your kale last week?” I inquire, hoping to gain an idea for my own burgeoning crisper drawer. “Oh, I made a green soup,” replies one woman. Another answers, “I toasted it in the oven with a little olive oil. It crisped right up and the kids ate it like it was chips.” Having never eaten greens in my life before joining the CSA, I’m excited to give these suggestions a try.

The ritual of coming to the farm where your food is grown and connecting to the source of your food is just one of the advantages of joining a CSA. Another is that it forces you to try produce that may be out of your comfort range. For example, kohlrabi or green garlic for more advanced cooks, mustard greens or Japanese turnips for those brought up on conventional grocery store fare. A CSA is a good way to re-engage with your local economy. Members pay up front for a share of the farm’s crops for the entire season. This mutually beneficial arrangement assures the members that they are getting the freshest local seasonal produce while lowering their carbon footprint and investing in the local economy. The farmers benefit because they receive funds at the start of the growing season to pay for seeds and equipment. This also guarantees a specified amount of food will be placed during the growing season. CSAs also encourage farms away from mono-crop farming and toward a diverse crop rotation method that benefits the soil.

This model is gaining in popularity, and consequently CSA programs are cropping up all over the country. Fairview Gardens has had its CSA program for many years but has recently greatly expanded the program. Two years ago they had 85 members and an extensive waiting list. This year they have 300 members and no waiting list. They have also built some flexibility into the program so that members can sign up for as few as eight weeks or as many as 45 weeks. To accommodate all household sizes, Fairview Gardens offers both small and large shares, beginning at $20 per week. All the produce in the CSA is grown at Fairview’s 12½-acre farm (or on their newly leased 10 acres up the road) and is certified organic.

Fairview Gardens’ location may at first seem out of place—a farm in the midst of an urban subdivision—but it represents one of the last remnants of Goleta’s agricultural history. The original farmhouse, built in 1895, still stands and was once the single, lonely dwelling among many fields and orchards. These days it is the 12½ acres of fields that stand out amid the sea of rooftops. In 1994 the Chapman family decided to sell the farm. The natural choice would have been to sell it to Michael Ableman, who had been the farm manager for more than a decade. When Ableman was unable to come up with the funds, he and a committed group of local activists formed a nonprofit organization to buy the farm and enter it in the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County. This trust guaranteed the farm’s preservation as an organic educational working farm—the first of its kind. That organization, the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, continues the educational and agricultural goals of Ableman, who left the farm in 2001. Expanding the CSA to include more families in the local food system is exactly the kind of mission this urban farm seeks to fulfill.

Seated beneath the mulberry tree at a rickety old picnic table, I observe the now-familiar faces of Fairview Garden’s CSA members as they pick up their weekly share. I rarely need to ask names anymore when they come to check in, and I mark them off the list. We are all a part of a community. We trade tips and recipes freely and even know whose children dislike strawberries and which people tend to munch a carrot on the way to their car. I may not know them intimately, but I do know what they’ll be having for dinner this week.

Fairview Gardens CSA

A community-supported agriculture produce subscription program, or CSA, brings consumers and farmers together in a relationship of mutual support. The CSA at Fairview Gardens began in 1988 with just a handful of dedicated shareholders. Now, 20 years later, CSAs are more widely known and Fairview has 300 shareholders of the farm. You too can become a member. Go to to sign up online. Small shares are $20 per week and large are $36.

More Than Just a CSA 

Fairview Gardens hosts a number of events throughout the year. This spring visit their booth at the annual Earth Day Celebration in Alameda Park on Sunday, April 19, 10am–1pm, or help out around the farm on one their monthly Worker Bee Days. They also have the following summer programs for kids: from June 22–26 Summer Farm Days for ages 5–7: 9am–noon is Farm Life and 1–4pm is Flower Power; and from June 29–July 1 Summer Farm Days for ages 4–6: 9am–noon is Sprouts Farm and 1–4pm is Bugs, Slugs & More. Summer Farm Days run from June through August. Check the website for more information.


J. Elizabeth Goffin is a freelance writer, mother and regular volunteer at Fairview Gardens. She is likely to be found trolling through numerous cookbooks during naptime, finding new recipes to try out on her family.

Categories Spring 2009