What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been. While much has shifted rapidly, the natural world continues to move at the slower pace of fresh green growth and abundance. The recent generous rainfall triggered the first flushes of spring at the Carpinteria Garden Park, a slow unfurling that will provide food, beauty and comfort throughout the growing season. The peach trees are always first to bloom, with loads of hot pink flowers that will slowly ripen into fresh fruit by early July. Spring crops such as salad greens, sugar snap peas and root crops (carrots, radishes and turnips) spill over the edges of garden beds which community members tend while practicing social distancing.

     

The spread of COVID-19 highlights the importance of community resilience, including sustainable local food systems. Growing some of your household’s own food or supporting local farmers, as well as spending time outside in the shifting patterns of Carpinteria’s spring weather, is a practical response to a global health crisis that calls into question many of our contemporary food systems and lifestyle habits.

Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you can do to support your body’s health. In particular, leafy greens such as Swiss chard, kale, and spinach are packed with essential vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system. Local food is fresher, harvested when perfectly ripe and most densely nutritious.

While social contact is limited, local food producers are finding creative ways to bring spring’s abundance to our community. Santa Barbara County farmers markets and the Farm Cart in downtown Carpinteria are still open and practicing extreme sanitary measures to keep our community healthy. In addition, several local farms and the Farm Cart offer a community supported agriculture (CSA) share, a box of freshly harvested local produce available for pickup or delivery outside of the farmers market.

On a broader scale, the importance of investing in a thriving local food system is more apparent than ever. Beyond supporting local farms, this includes ensuring that agricultural land is protected, and young farmers are supported. We need to prioritize land use for sustainable agricultural production and preservation. Farmland that has not already been lost to development must be protected through conservation as food-producing land in perpetuity.

In addition, a younger generation of farmers, many of whom did not grow up in farm families, must have access to mentorship and support through the incredible challenges of developing a farm and business without access to affordable farmland. According to the Santa Barbara County 2014 Agricultural Statistics, the average age of farmers in the county is 61 years. We need to ensure that this generational wisdom is passed down outside of traditional family relationships, so that a younger generation of farmers will have the skills and tools to feed us in the coming years.

Finally, our community must make it a priority to ensure that farmers providing essential food resources earn a living wage. If you are able, use your purchasing power to support local providers, our friends and neighbors who work incredibly hard to bring our community food security and abundance.

The Carpinteria Garden Park is another element of a web of healthy farms and gardens in our community. The garden is a teaching space filled with fresh food and culinary herbs and native plants with traditional medicinal uses to support immune system health. For those of you with space to garden where you live or rent, now is the perfect time to build healthy soil refreshed by our late rains, and to sow seeds for a thriving garden of edible and medicinal plants. Spring crops can be seeded directly in freshly raked garden soil and should sprout within days. If you planted seeds this week, you would be able to eat fresh lettuce, spinach and arugula and harvest tender radishes and salad turnips within 40 days.

 

As you plant your garden, consider including a few herbs which have both culinary and medicinal properties. Many aromatic kitchen herbs such as rosemary, oregano, sage and thyme have long been used by traditional herbalists for their antiviral, immune-supporting qualities. Common kitchen spices such as onions, ginger, garlic and cayenne (which all grow easily in this climate) are also traditional herbal remedies which warm the body and increase blood circulation, which can help your immune system to flush infection.

    

In this moment of uncertainty, I feel incredibly grateful for the rich agricultural traditions, fresh vegetables and healthy farmland of our community. I hope that the Carpinteria Garden Park, as a small part of this diverse tapestry of farm and food land, will be a welcome refuge and place of inspiration for many in our community.

Alena Steen is coordinator of the Carpinteria Garden Park, an organic community garden located at 4855 5th St., developed by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Community members rent a plot to grow their own fresh produce. The garden is also a center for public education, with classes on organic gardening, nutrition, and sustainability. For a complete schedule or more information visit carp-garden.com.

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