Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 2:22 pm | Mostly Cloudy 71º



Montecito Urban Farms Cultivating Innovative, Local Approach to Gardening

The nursery is the first in California to utilize the Tower Garden vertical system, which allows produce to be harvested when needed

The days of buying leafy greens at a grocery store and then, guiltily, throwing them away when they’ve gone bad could be over.

Montecito Urban Farms is handing control over food supply back to everyday consumers and restaurants — at least, that’s the goal for owner Alex Thomson.

The nursery at 2353 Lillie Ave. in Summerland is the first in California to use an innovative Tower Garden vertical farming system. Its 150 8-foot-tall towers have built-in “chambers,” where plant roots are suspended in air and are “spoon-fed” water, oxygen and nutrients.

Plants are grown healthier, 30 to 50 percent faster and can be harvested whenever needed.

Montecito Urban Farms opened to select guests Wednesday evening to show off its gardens, which impersonate a lush, tropical rainforest when water cascades down inside the hollowed towers.

In reality, the nursery that produces more than 5,000 plants per month is on 3,000 square feet of gravel that used to be part of an unused parking lot.

Thomson said he discovered the Tower Garden technology last June during Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Festival because of his friend, Todd Mehl.

The discovery set him on a path to start his own farm and to meet Tim Blank, founder of Florida-based Future Farming LLC and the Tower Garden.

Cilantro, lettuce, kale, chives, parsley, cauliflower and more could all grow vertically.

Montecito Urban Farms allows customers to pick which produce seedlings they'd like to buy or grow in their own vertical tower gardens. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
Montecito Urban Farms allows customers to pick which produce seedlings they’d like to buy or grow in their own vertical tower gardens. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Blank said the concept is all about “empowering people” for their food choices, something Thomson has wanted to do for years.

“Immediately, I was intrigued,” Thomson told Noozhawk. “It was just so simply put. People will be able to come and take home living produce.”

Thomson started the nursery in January, and has been partnering with culinary teams at Wine Cask, Intermezzo and bouchon to use the 100 percent non-GMO, organic and pesticide-free specialty plants.

Starting in April, Montecito Urban Farms will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Seedlings are grown onsite and available for purchase.

Thomson also hopes the nursery will be used as a training facility for others who want to have their own Tower Garden. The closest training farm a few months ago was on the East Coast.

“Ideally, what I’d like is more locations,” he said. “I’d love for everyone to have one in their front yard.”

Those who see the Tower Gardens firsthand become aware of the power and flavorful punch the greens provide the simplest of dishes.

Mitchell Sjerven, owner of bouchon, said customers preferred the taste of Urban Farms’ greens in a blind taste test with traditional farmer’s market fare.

“They’ve filled this perfect niche,” said Sjerven, who enjoys the greens so much he bought his own Tower Garden. “We throw a quarter of our food away,” but with a Tower Garden, “you only go get it when you need it.”

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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