From the air, the Goleta Valley is a vast, gridlike expanse of tract homes and thoroughfares, with one strange exception: a small green oasis. Dotted with orchards and lined with field crops, it forms a different pattern, less linear, more undulating. From the ground the image clarifies into avocados and peaches, peppers and tomatoes, cherimoya and mulberry trees, surrounded by gas stations, fast food restaurants, shopping centers and Highway 101 in a straight shot ninety-nine miles to Los Angeles.
Fairview Gardens stands on a tiny corner of what was once the largest Chumash Indian settlement on the Central Coast of California. The original ranch got its name, the story goes, when Mrs. Hollister exclaimed over the “fair view” she saw from her shiny new farmhouse circa 1895. Under her feet was some of the richest topsoil in California – 30 feet thick in some places – and as far as she could see, citrus and walnut groves stretched to the foothills and to the sea. The groves are mostly gone, but Fairview Gardens – now just twelve and a half fertile acres – still flourishes, in part because it has constantly reinvented itself while development arose on its borders.
Over the years the farm has meant different things to different people. For the Chumash, who did not farm, it was an unspoiled homeland; for the Spanish ranchers, a conquest. Turn-of-the-century settlers saw a place to build a home, establish orchards, and hunt in the lush watershed that once thrived here. Now, the remaining twelve acres feeds a growing suburban population, educates their children in the ways of the earth, and provides a place for music and cultural events. This tiny piece of land has also stirred controversy and galvanized a community to save and protect it.
The Chapman Family
In 1994, after Roger Chapman passed away, the Chapman family needed to sell the farm. Roger, a music professor at UCSB, loved his family farm for almost thirty years. The family gave first rights to purchase the land for a reduced rate, to Michael Ableman, the Farm Manager since 1981. Michael could not afford to purchase the land alone. Michael and a small committed group of local activists formed a non-profit organization to buy the farm and place it in trust with the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County, the first of its kind. The agricultural land trust guaranteed the farms preservation as an organic educational facility for generations to come; a dream of Roger Chapman’s and for Michael Ableman, who was responsible for transforming Fairview Gardens into an early model farm for sustainable, organic, urban agriculture.
Conservation & Non-Profit
The conservation easement was designed to protect the land in perpetuity. Unlike most “open space” easements, ours is based on active use, requiring that the land must always remain a working organic farm and that the education work must continue under the nonprofit organization, officially named the Center for Urban Agriculture.
The farm continues to produce an explosion of fresh fruits and vegetables. Its assured presence in the heart of a growing urban center provides a way for people to reclaim their lost connection to the land and to one of the most important and intimate acts: securing the food that they and their children eat.
On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm
A Book by Michael Ableman
Portions of this site are excerpted from the book, On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm