By Evan Marks, Founder and Executive Director of The Ecology Center
Editor’s note: read Carolyn Nash’s op-ed.
Without a doubt, one of the most historic, heroic and profound things the residents of San Juan Capistrano have ever done is to vote to purchase and preserve Kinoshita Farm as part of our city’s collective cultural and community heritage. As one of the last remaining farms, and one of the only organic farms in Orange County, this land is incredibly important to not only the rural character of San Juan Capistrano, but to the very health, fabric, and future of our community.
In 2008, The Ecology Center leased the 140-year-old Congdon House that sits on one acre of the Kinoshita Farm property. Over the past 12 years, with the support of the community, we’ve transformed a dirt lot into a thriving farm, Farm Stand, education center, and community hub that inspires and nourishes over 3,000 local families every month through our Farm Stand—and hundreds more through immersive workshops, a homeschool co-op, farm-to-table dinners, festivals, and youth-centered programs. In 2018, the city council unanimously voted in favor of our nonprofit taking over operations of all 28 acres of Kinoshita Farm to revive the land, maximize agricultural production, and become a working model for the future of food, farming, and community.
The most abundant future for this farm is a regenerative model of agriculture that focuses on healthy soil, integrating rotational row crops with highly productive fruit trees, and farming a large diversity of fruits and vegetables. This is why we have planted over dozens of varieties of crops, including over 100 varieties of fruit trees that regenerate the soil and pay homage to the tree crops that have been a part of this farm and region since the 1870s. With these additional crops, we’re able to maximize yield that is directly available to our community at our Farm Stand, in our Farm Share CSA, and through our educational programming.
For us, stewardship of this land means not only a beautiful, productive and thriving farm, but one that has a realistic, economically beneficial, and sustainable model of agriculture. Additional operational support structures and updates to existing structures will enable us to add productivity and capacity to the farm and its everyday operations. The new proposed structures, such as a barn, greenhouse, and culinary education center, will take up no more than 1% of the total farmland, and all orchards and parking lots will remain unpaved.
Additionally, we are excited to bring, at the request of the City, the City’s Community Garden onto the farm, because we want to tear down the chain link fence that separates San Juan residents from their farm and invite families and individuals to engage and connect with the land in any way we can.
We have a responsibility to steward this farmland with utmost respect to its history and with great consideration for its future. This effort is an extraordinary opportunity to impact our community today, while ensuring the preservation of essential natural and agricultural resources and practices for generations to follow.
Evan Marks is the founder and executive director of The Ecology Center.
Editor’s note: The City of San Juan Capistrano also issued a response to Nash’s op-ed, saying in part, “as directed by the City Council on October 15, 2019, staff is currently studying The Ecology Center’s proposal, and the public review process is just getting started.” The city further stated that “on March 24, a preliminary review of the proposed project will be conducted by the City’s Cultural Heritage Commission and Planning Commission.”