Alma Restaurant Rooftop Garden Project: Beginnings

It happened, and I knew it would, I have officially run out of room at the Flower Ave Garden in Venice. My new mission, if I chose to accept it (you best believe I have!) is to find more space for Alma’s veggies!!

Thankfully the success of my mission came in the form of a tiny rooftop space directly above the restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. It isn’t ideal, the space is small, the roof a bit old and could probably use some repairs, but it is a good fix for the short term.

Once again I owe a HUGE thanks to Tony, the ranch owner in Santa Barbara. He and his family drive down every Wednesday to sell produce in the Santa Monica’s farmers market. On his last trip he brought down a truckload of buckets filled with beautiful Santa Barbara soil…and of course donkey shit 😉

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I decided to repurpose crates to turn into planters. I lined the inside with landscaping material that will allow for proper drainage. They are lightweight, portable, and can easily be setup or moved.

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The next step was to design a trellis system for the beans that I planted in the crates. I used these buckets, anchored with brick and filled with concrete to make movable posts. Then up to the rooftop to zip-tie the fencing to the posts!

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Alma’s rooftop garden also acts as good practice for me, as I am patiently awaiting our next step in urban farming…a warehouse rooftop! Stay tuned kids =)

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“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

~Walt Disney

(One) Farm-to-Table: Courtney Guerra and Alma’s Ari Taymor on Farmer-Chef Monogamy (Article from BonAppetit.com)

Credit: Matt Duckor, Bon Appetit Assistant Editor

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I’m standing in front of a modest home in Venice, California. There’s a popular cafe down the street that serves sixteen different types of breakfast cereal and, behind the house, 1,000 square feet of white strawberries, scarlet frill mustard, and breakfast radishes. Venice is in Los Angeles, but this sure doesn’t feel like it.

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The greenhouse belongs to farmer Courtney Guerra, and the micro bronze fennel she’s growing is for Ari Taymor, the chef-owner of Alma.

“What size do you want for the micro?” asked Guerra.

“Micro what?”

“Bronze fennel. What presence do you want it to have on the dish?”

That’s exactly the sort of conversation Guerra hoped she’d have when she moved to Los Angeles.

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Formerly a cook and gardener at The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, Guerra’s aim was to work closely with one L.A. restaurant, supplying it with produce. That exclusive relationship would allow her to focus on what the chef wants planted, when that chef wants it picked, and how much of it the chef needs, not to mention the unified flavor the comes from ingredients growing in the same patch of dirt. She had a friend in Venice who wasn’t using his yard–that is, “besides to store futons, trash and office furniture”–so she moved in and had the garden up and running in a matter of weeks.

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At first, Guerra says, she “felt like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams: ‘If you build it, he will come.'” She didn’t have to wait long. This past Valentine’s Day (a coincidence, I’m told), she met Taymor through Rustic Canyon Wine Bar chef Jeremy Fox. The two clicked and quickly signed an exclusive contract.

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Only one dish on Alma’s menu is currently made up of Guerra exclusives: An early spring salad featuring frill mustard, buckwheat, pea trendril, among other things. But the plan is for everything to come from the garden by early next year. And then there are the snails. Guerra selects them in the morning and Taymor served them to you after being sautéed in garlic and butter at night. They are delicious and evidence that every restaurant should raise its own snails.

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While nearly every restaurant that opens its reclaimed wood doors these days preaches farm-to-table (and a handful of LA restaurants grow their own herbs and limited produce), none match the scope and ambition of Guerra and Taymor. In December, Fox told me he hoped to have a garden supply his restaurant like he had when he was chef atUbuntu, but that it was at least a few years off. While Guerra’s garden is perfect for the 30-seat Alma, it couldn’t exclusively support a high-volume restaurant. Not yet.

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So yes, this is new ground for L.A. “I try to explain to people people–not restaurant people–what it is I do here,” says Guerra. “I think when people see it, that we’ve taken nothing and turned it into a restaurant’s culinary garden, they’ll get that you don’t need two acres in Napa Valley to have something that works.”

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Still, expanding out of someone’s backyard would be nice. So Guerra and Taymor are looking up. Literally–they’re working on a 60,000 square-foot rooftop garden in downtown L.A., where Alma is located. That means more room for everything she plans on growing, including fava beans, Ryokuho broccoli, purple peacock broccoli, and sea kale. For now, I’ll settle for another order of snails and the best salad I’ve had all year.

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http://www.bonappetit.com/blogsandforums/blogs/badaily/2013/03/alma-farm-venice-california.html

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
~Harriet Tubman

Flower Ave Garden Project: RADish

We had our fist harvest of radish come out of the garden! They couldn’t be more beautiful. Just another sign that So Cal is going to be a perfect location for this culinary garden.

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One of the big advantages of a restaurant having their own garden, is they get to dictate what size they would like the radish harvested at. You can have itty bitty ones that make a delicate statement on a plate:

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Or you can have medium sized ones that have a little more ‘meat’ on their bones:

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Kris lives at the house and part of the perk of having a culinary garden in your front yard is access to fresh veggies!

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And to wrap up the day we had some neighbors visit. Courtney, baby Mika, and 7 year old Mark stopped by to check out the garden and ask questions. Come to find out that Courtney and her family are urban farmers as well! She told me they had a few things planted and grew edamame last season and it came out sweet and delicious. I sent them home with some fave bean starters, I hope they enjoy! I think it is a beautiful thing that Courtney is teaching her family what it looks (and tastes) like to grow your own food, they are the next generation of farmers this country needs! And baby Mika is obvy really in to fava beans 😉

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“That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.”

~Adlai Stevenson

Getting To Know Your Farmer: Gary Carpenter, Squab Ranch~Ojai CA

As consumers, we live in an age where the term “free range” simply means poultry are allowed some access to the outdoors with no regulation on the quality or size of the “outdoor” area or the length of time granted access, and the term “cage free” which simply means the animal isn’t kept in a cage but the owner of the facility isn’t required to give any access to the outdoors and practices such as beak cutting are allowed.

So how can a consumer navigate all of the ambiguous and unclear labeling laws in our country? By getting to know their farmer!

This is Gary Carpenter,

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Gary owns and runs Carpenter Squab Ranch in Ojai CA, just south of Santa Barbara ( http://carpentersquabranch.com/home.html ). Gary and his family have been squab farmers in Southern California since 1921, and have been dedicated to producing a quality product like no other. The ranch produces squab, chicken, geese, and duck. And it also acts as a processing facility for locals in the community.

Nestled in a small canyon on the outskirts of Ojai, the Squab Ranch is a tiny example of a farmer and his family committed to doing things the right way.

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The squab Gary raises are some of the most beautiful fowl I’ve seen. The breed are White King/ Hubbell birds, and are a broad breasted pigeon bred in the 1920’s by Dr G. M. Hubbell and acquired exclusively by Dr. Edwin Carpenter for his ranch. The current flock traces its roots back to those original birds.

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The “free range” chicken and geese are just that, FREE RANGE! They are allowed to have full access to the ranch to dig in the dirt for bugs and worms, or make a little nest along side the ranch house and soak up the sun.

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The doors to the spacious coops are left open to give access to the real outdoors.

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It is important to become more savvy about the unclear labeling laws administered by our government, and to be informed about how your food is being brought to your table. Supporting farmers like Gary Carpenter is one small difference that you can make in trying to repair our broken food system. If you would like to try Gary Carpenter’s products, they can be found on the menu at Alma Restaurant in Downtown LA ( http://www.alma-la.com/index.html ).

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.”

~Wendell Berry

Coastal Foraging In Southern California…(a.k.a. Going Coastal)

My job got a whole lot more awesome…if that’s even possible!

I set aside one day per work week completely devoted to foraging for Alma Restaurant. This usually involves going out into the wilderness somewhere to find edible items to bring back to Chef Taymor. This trip I went coastal 😉

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I had to head a bit north of LA; unfortunately much of the direct LA coast line is too polluted to forage. But venture a bit north of LA and the coastline is  very much alive and full of beautiful edible products. Like the sea grass growing here:

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I was amazed how many varieties of seaweed I encountered. Each having their own unique texture and flavors.

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Some were more briny than others, some were more tender and delicate. The  minerality of the seaweeds also varied depending on whether or not they were growing in sand or on rocks.

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Just as vegetables in the garden differ in size, flavor, and texture,  so too did the sea vegetables I harvested.

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I feel as if I have just discovered a whole new world in coastal foraging and I feel so blessed to live in such an abundant and fertile region of the US!

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“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

~Marcel Proust

Flower Ave Garden Project: La Vicotria!

To some this may just look like an unassuming old jar of La Victoria salsa filled with some dried lawn clippings, but to me it is an act of kindheartedness and love!

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The story behind the little jar is this:

A few weeks ago a nice woman stopped by to admire the garden. She told me that she had a little space where a few herbs grew, but mostly it was overgrown with volunteer coriander (cilantro). I told her that I didn’t have any planted and she offered to bring me seeds from her plants. I completely forgot about the interaction until I came home the other day and found the jar full of coriander seeds waiting for me!

These will be a beautiful start to my herb garden. I don’t know if I will ever see the kind woman again to thank her and share the story behind the Flower Ave Garden. But I love that so many little stories like this are woven into the very essence of this place. It is quickly turning into sacred ground and is being built with love!

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any other human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

~Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary

Flower Ave Garden Project: Gatekeeper

Everyday, little by little, the garden is taking shape. I have a looooong list of little projects to get done, and building an actual gate for the front was top on the list!

Designing the frame for the gate was step one.

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The next step was tacking on the fencing to close in the frame of the gate.

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I had a little help with the next step. My parents were in town for a few hours with a layover from LAX to Seattle, so I put ’em to work! They were able to get the holes dug for the fence post, and were able to offer TONS of great advice as they are both very experienced builders.

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After the posts were measured and the holes were dug and the parents were dropped back off at the airport, it was off to my home away from home, Home Depot to pick up some concrete.

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I couldn’t have done it without the help from this little guy! He helped me keep everything level as I poured the concrete.

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Coming in to this project, the most experience I had with power tools or construction was hanging a shelf from Ikea. It’s been so fun to learn to build things, it’s empowering! I think the gate came out rather well if I do say so myself 😉

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And to finish up the day, we had another visitor! Janene lives two blocks away, and did a U-turn once she saw the garden. She just retired from teaching at an elementary school for the LAUSD. She told me of some budding programs for school gardens around LA. It was inspiring to hear about others teaching our kids the importance of staying connected to their food system, and what REAL FOOD looks like!

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It has been such a wonderful blessing to get to share this garden with others. Everyone who comes here loves the garden for different reasons; and all of these different reasons are all reasons why I started the garden! To educate about farming, to connect people to their food, to stay active, to grow and eat healthy food, to encourage others to do the same, to have a working garden in an urban setting…the list goes on!

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

~Henry David Thoreau