Monday, May 28 , 2018, 3:49 am | Overcast 57º


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Goleta May Cut Fairview Gardens a Break on $47,000 in Fees Owed to City

Councilman Roger Aceves suggests a donation as a sign of support for the nonprofit, and so 'we'd be done with it'

Fairview Gardens may get a reprieve on the $47,000 it owes the City of Goleta for unpaid permit-processing fees, after City Councilman Roger Aceves on Tuesday suggested donating a portion of the money to the nonprofit as a sign of support.

City staff members said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting that the farm has made a good-faith effort in the past few years to improve its business practices, appease neighbors upset with farmworker housing conditions and noisy poultry operations, and push for making more money and more crop yields.

The debt issue will come back to the council at a September meeting, where members indicated they are willing to consider donating a portion of the debt to Fairview Gardens, especially since the nonprofit group hasn’t asked for grant money or other city funding.

It’s costing the city money to have the issue come back before the council every few months, and the donation would show commitment to Fairview Gardens and “we’d be done with it,” Aceves said.

Debt to the city came from permit work regarding permanent on-site housing for farm workers, and two current cases of permits for selling off-site produce and hosting special events associated with the farm.

New leadership for the Center for Urban Agriculture, which runs Fairview Gardens, has pushed for a produce stand remodel and completely revamping its patterns for planting crops. As a token of the group’s willingness to do everything it can to get back on track, Executive Director Mark Tollefson brought a $500 check to Tuesday’s council meeting as a first installment.

The produce stand sold about $320,000 worth of goods per year before 2010, but with fewer hours and other issues, that revenue dropped to $50,000 per year — something the farm hopes to fix with its current construction project.

The project, due to be completed by May, will make it more secure and eliminate a portion that affected sight lines along North Fairview Avenue and Stow Canyon Road.

Without the sight-line issues that have bothered neighbors, the produce stand should have better market appeal, even though it will be slightly smaller after construction, Kolwitz said.

The farm also has revamped its entire model of pairing soils and crops together to get higher crop and revenue yields, and the spring plantings and summer harvest should provide a better idea of the fiscal future, according to city senior planner Scott Kolwitz.

The orchards are all gone, save a row of apricot trees — “mostly because I really love apricots,” Tollefson admited — but the other crop yields have nearly doubled from two years ago.

Only 50 to 60 percent of lettuce heads formerly were suitable to sell, which had a lot to do with soil fertility, but now 90 to 95 percent of produce makes it to sale, Tollefson said.

Farm finances went from losing $2,000 monthly to breaking even in just six months, board president Douglas Steigerwald said.

“We broke even, which sounds mediocre but remember, we were losing money every month (for the first eight months of 2011) and now are into the black and making money every month,” he said.

The board of directors — whose committees discuss agriculture, finance and fundraising — has four new members and helps oversee the farm’s participation in farmers markets and education programs.

This year, the organization made $15,000 in both January and February from farmers markets alone.

The education programs — the reason the Center for Urban Agriculture is a nonprofit, Steigerwald noted — don’t just cater to young people and summer camps anymore. Community programs and classes for adults and professionals range from gardening and beekeeping to permaculture design.

Steigerwald also told the council that the organization might not pursue building permanent on-site housing for farm workers, which has been a source of tension with neighbors in the past. The board hasn’t agreed on a different use, he said, but thinks the idea of workforce housing may not be sustainable.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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