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Fairview Gardens Plants Seeds of New Leadership as Urban Farm Cultivates a Fresh Future

Goleta’s Center for Urban Agriculture turns to Tim Heuer as executive director, Kjessie Essue as operations director

Tim Heuer has succeeded Mark Tollefson as the new executive director of Fairview Gardens in Goleta. He and his family moved to the urban farm at 598 N. Fairview Ave. after seven years at two farming operations in Upstate New York. “We’re really excited to be here,” he says. “This place has incredible bones.” Click to view larger
Tim Heuer has succeeded Mark Tollefson as the new executive director of Fairview Gardens in Goleta. He and his family moved to the urban farm at 598 N. Fairview Ave. after seven years at two farming operations in Upstate New York. “We’re really excited to be here,” he says. “This place has incredible bones.” (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Fairview Gardens was a place Tim Heuer first heard about while working on a farm in Canada.

The Bay Area native just happened to be farming alongside Michael Ableman, the founding father of the 12-plus-acre urban farm at 598 N. Fairview Ave. in Goleta.

What he heard was encouraging — the Center for Urban Agriculture for Fairview Gardens was established in 1997 to focus on educating locals about where their food comes from and on producing quality organic fruits and vegetables for them to eat.

Heuer went back to work in New York, logging seven years of experience as director of farming at Common Ground Farm in Beacon and as executive managing partner at Obercreek Farm, a year-round vegetable farm he founded with his wife in Wappingers Falls.

When he saw an opening for a director of farming operations position at Fairview Gardens earlier this year, however, he applied.

The nonprofit organization’s board of trustees had bigger plans for Heuer, and decided his business expertise could be better used as executive director.

“It’s a big deal that this is here,” Heuer said of the farm during an interview with Noozhawk last week.

“We’re really excited to be here. This place has incredible bones.”

Heuer started his job June 9, moving his wife and two young children into the on-site farmhouse. Mark Tollefson — who held the post the past five years — was asked to move onto other things.

Board president Dayna Birkley said it was time to switch up leadership, now that Tollefson’s task of defining a clear strategic direction and developing popular education and camp programs was complete.

“Fairview Gardens has a history of inspirational leadership beginning with founder, Michael Ableman’s work to promote and protect local, organic agriculture in our community,” Birkley said in a statement.

“It was time to bring in a leader who will take our community work to the next level. Tim and his team will expand access to our beautiful farm and bring our farm and education internship programs to national prominence.

“Given the aging and dwindling population of U.S. farmers, Tim is the best possible inspirational leader, the ‘Modern Farmer’ who can champion innovative, sustainable, organic and financially sound farming practices to help us grow food and the farmers of the next generation.”

The director of farm operations job went to Kjessie (pronounced Chessie) Essue, who boasts more than 13 years of experience in agricultural systems and most recently served as science and garden educator at Crane Country Day School in Montecito. She’s also held positions at school gardens in Carpinteria, Hilltop Canyon in Carpinteria, Aurora Farms in Santa Barbara and Shepherd Farms in Carpinteria.

Her local knowledge is serving Heuer well as he meets with stakeholders and listens to what the community wants.

“People want to know the future of food production,” he said. “I feel like I’m still in the learning phase.”

Atop Heuer’s to-do list is making the farm viable. He’s well aware of the financial woes Fairview Gardens has faced in recent years, when the nonprofit farm was bailed out by the City of Goleta for past due bills.

The drought is a big question mark right now, he said, especially because Fairview Gardens relies on the Goleta Water District and will incur the same rates surge that other residents have seen, although it does get a more reasonable agriculture rate.

No cucumbers or melons have been planted — they use tons of water — on the six to eight acres tended currently. Heuer said production is typically at closer to 10 acres.

“That’ll be a question for the community,” he said of future priorities.

Drought education will become a new focus, along with training farmers.

Heuer, who found his love for urban agriculture while working and teaching at a student-run organic farm at Michigan State University, said the best way to continue supporting Fairview Gardens is to purchase produce at the fruits and vegetables stand on Fairview Avenue.

He’ll figure out the rest as he goes, possibly bringing a sense of stability to the organization.

“I think that’ll take time,” Heuer said.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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