The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens is a non-profit educational farm located in densely developed Goleta, California. Fairview Gardens was founded in 1895 and is considered by some to be the oldest organic farm in southern California. With support from Equity Trust, it has been preserved in perpetuity through an agricultural conservation easement.
The Chapman family had been living on the land at Fairview Gardens for almost thirty years, but after owner Roger Chapman passed away, his family needed to sell the farm. The family gave Michael Ableman, who had been the Farm Manager since 1981, an option to purchase the 12.5 acre farm at below market rate. Still, Michael could not afford the purchase without community support, but with a small committed group of local activists, he formed a non-profit organization to buy and operate the farm: the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens.
In 1996, Equity Trust provided technical assistance to help the Center purchase the farm, drafting an innovative easement and engaging a stewardship partner. An agricultural conservation easement was granted to the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County at the time of the purchase, making the sale price more affordable. When the land trust was first approached with the request that they hold and monitor an agricultural easement, they hesitated. Equity Trust founder Chuck Matthei helped the land trust become comfortable with stewarding a working farm in a suburban area as part of their conservation mission.
The Fairview Gardens’ easement marked new territory for conservation land trusts with the requirement that Fairview Gardens use organic or biodynamic farming methods only. Conservation easements do not typically stipulate agricultural methods, but the Center for Urban Agriculture wanted the easement to reflect their commitment to organic farming. The easement is also unusual in its specification that the educational work of the non-profit be maintained. The easement requires that 88% of the land be used for agricultural production, with farm support, employee housing, and educational uses allowed on the remaining land.
As the Fairview Gardens’ website underscores, “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.”
Equity Trust made a bridge loan of $10,000 to allow the purchase to progress while fundraising was still going on. Equity Trust also played a role as fiscal sponsor, receiving funds on behalf of Fairview Gardens, allowing charitable donations to be used to preserve the farm in perpetuity. The land purchase was completed with the help of grant funds awarded by the County Board of Supervisors, along with private and foundation gifts.
Fairview Gardens builds connections between community, agriculture, and education by producing safe, organic, locally-grown foods in a sustainable manner; serving as a community-based educational resource; advocating for appropriately scaled, healthy food systems; and providing engaging, hands-on experience with farming. Their vision is “a sustainable world for future generations where knowing the source of food is common knowledge and being connected to nature is common practice.”
As a highly visible agricultural parcel in a dense suburban environment, Fairview Gardens plays a unique role in the community, providing its neighbors with food, educational opportunities and cultural events, open space, and a connection to the land. The farm also demonstrates the potential of small farms to feed their communities.
For more information on the farm, see “On Good Land: The Autobiography of an Urban Farm” by Michael Ableman.