Sunday, May 27 , 2018, 2:43 am | Fair 56º


Mark Tollefson Gets Back to His Roots at Fairview Gardens

Executive director of The Center for Urban Agriculture has helped cultivate a community resource for learning and fresh produce

You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farming instinct out of the man.

Mark Tollefson, executive director of The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, was raised in an extended family of homesteaders from rural Alberta, Canada. He recounts the planning that sustained their annual food supply, sourced on the 800-acre, combined family plot.

“We would can 52 jars of tomatoes and 52 beet pickles, which meant we had one jar per week to go along with our meals,” he said.

In addition to working the land, Tollefson was raised in a tradition of education. He said that many of the local farmers were immigrants who didn’t understand how to properly breed animals or farm the land, so Tollefson’s father founded the local 4-H club in Alberta. Through the organization, he taught animal husbandry and land cultivation techniques.

Tollefson attended Vancouver Island University for a degree in hotel management. He worked first as a chef and restaurant manager, then became the food and beverage manager for a golf course. Early on, he recognized his need for a fast-paced job that offered new daily challenges.

“Nature is my muse — I crave the outdoors,” he said.

Next, Tollefson attended a Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School, taking courses in tracking, wilderness awareness and survival. Enjoying the adventure, he came on board, using his degree, as the intake and outtake manager for the on-site hotel. Most recently, Tollefson oversaw a two-year project in Belize. He taught the Mayans agricultural methods to move from a slash-and-burn method to a permaculture process that builds the soil year after year, so they don’t need to keep moving from one farming plot to the next.

Tollefson said he sees how these early jobs led to his position with Fairview Gardens, 598 N. Fairview Ave. He wears numerous hats and has to think on his feet to find creative solutions to challenges that arise. He attributes his generalist career as providing the necessary skills to seamlessly move from being manager and leader to farmer and fundraiser.

“Often within a problem is a solution,” he said, giving the example of the challenges of having a farm in the middle of a city. They have turned it into an opportunity by making Fairview Gardens a community resource for learning and fresh produce.

As an extension of this concept, Fairview Gardens has launched an urban homesteading series of courses, which run once or twice a month throughout the year.

“Locals get to experience farm life and only have to drive 10 minutes,” Tollefson said.

Courses began in January with “Introduction to Beekeeping.” Future classes include garden planning (Feb. 12), composting (Feb. 26 and Oct. 22) and installing gray water systems (April 16). The summer will cover courses in preserving jams and jellies (July 23), canning vegetables (Sept. 17), and chemical-free soap making (Sept. 24), among others.

Tollefson said he considers Goleta uniquely suited for Fairview Gardens.

“We appeal to mix of ideologies,” he said. “Our community likes a guaranteed, self-generated food source and appreciates the built community and employment opportunities we provide.”

He said he strives to have Fairview Gardens be on the cutting edge of nonprofits by creating significant revenue to be self-sustaining instead of leaning on local foundations. Several families, who farm the Fairview Gardens’ 12.5 acres of land, live in yurts on the property.

Tollefson said he also operates under a philosophy of social responsibility.

“I believe we should create more life than we take during our time here,” he said, adding that he sees Fairview Gardens as a community resource and invites those in the area with suggestions or knowledge to reach out and share ideas with him.

The Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens was established in 1997 to preserve and operate Fairview Gardens, the historic farm where products are grown. Founded in 1895, Fairview Gardens is considered to be the oldest organic farm in Southern California, and is now preserved in perpetuity through an agricultural conservation easement.

The fees are $40 for half-day classes and $85 for full-day workshops. Discounts are available for students, Fairview’s Community Supported Agriculture members and those who sign up for a series of classes. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk contributor Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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