Jan Siegel By Jan Siegel

A dozen years ago, a young man came to San Juan Capistrano with a dream of making agriculture sustainable, usable and workable for an entire community. Evan Marks had run an organic farm in Costa Rica and taught agriculture in Nigeria before returning to his home in Southern California. 

The City had purchased the Kinoshita Farm and the entire area including the historic Congdon House, which was part of our Open Space. Twenty-seven acres of the area was being used as an organic farm. The one acre surrounding the Congdon House was vacant. Marks leased the land from the City. That one-acre lot soon became known as The Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization that worked with the farm to bring agriculture into the 21st century. In 2018, the City Council unanimously voted for The Ecology Center to take over all 28 acres and to become a model for the future of community farming. Marks had realized his dream.

The Ecology Center has been recognized by the California Association of Nonprofits as a California Nonprofit of the Year for all that it has done for the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Juan Capistrano is extremely fortunate to have a large working farm right in the middle of the community. Before COVID-19 changed our lifestyles, one could go to The Ecology Center, walk through the rainbow arches, stop and pick your own vegetables. The ability to walk through the farm is not possible during the pandemic. But that does not mean that you cannot experience farm-fresh vegetables.

The farm stand is still open for anyone to stop by and purchase farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. 

The Ecology Center still has what they call Farm Share. You sign up online for either an individual or family-size box, which has 8-10 garden-fresh fruits and vegetables every week or bi-monthly. The boxes are filled randomly, so every one of them is different. The amount of produce is for two or more people, depending on appetites, for a week. The other item that you can order is pizza—organic pizza with fresh vegetables. There is only one recipe each Tuesday and Thursday, and it changes according to the produce. Sounds like a great way to get your children to eat those veggies! 

All information for The Ecology Center, Farm Share and pizza of the day can be found on their website: theecologycenter.org.  Hours and prices are listed. And, of course, all is subject to change in this pandemic world.

Spend a Moment In Time going to The Ecology Center and see how the dream of one person became an important community development. We are lucky to have such a treasure in our community that not only shows us the way to the future, but recognizes our past history and culture.     

Jan Siegel was a 33-year resident of San Juan Capistrano and now resides in the neighboring town of Rancho Mission Viejo. She served on the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for 13 years, has been a volunteer guide for the San Juan Capistrano Friends of the Library’s architectural walking tour for 26 years and is currently the museum curator for the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society. She was named Woman of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Volunteer of the Year in 2011 and was inducted into the city’s Wall of Recognition in 2007.

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