At the Jonathon Club downtown, some people took it hard when a paddle tennis court on the fifth-floor was changed to gem lettuce, Swiss chard, and micro greens.
Executive Chef Jason McClain was thrilled. This should be no surprise. His father is a retired landscape architect and flew in from Alabama to build the garden. They installed rows of galvanized horse troughs in which vegetables and herbs now grow.
Members in the club enjoy walking on the artificial turf track near tubs filled with citrus and fruit trees. The menu lists “our home-grown items”: broccolini, baby carrots, yuzu, blueberries, figs, snap peas, and heirloom tomatoes.
Jason McClain, executive chef and Jonathan Club, discusses the rooftop garden with urban planners and other expert visitors on November 11th.
“I mean, you cut a tomato and it’s like a real tomato. The juice runs down your arm. It’s never been refrigerated,” stated McClain dressed in his chef’s whites. The busload of visitors took a daylong tour of the urban agriculture and local food systems.
“It’s just magical. You’re in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. It’s really great at 5 o’clock, when the traffic’s going and you hear the obscenities, and I’m up here snipping arugula.”
The visitors included growers, urban policymakers, consultants, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit representatives. They explored the vegetable beds and asked questions, as they tasted the fresh produce in the garden.
Waiters served a drink called Autumn Escape. It features garden-grown rosemary, fresh pressed pineapple, cinnamon, lime and club soda and offered spoon-size tastes of lemon verbena crème caramel and small Warren pear financiers, decorated with leaves of freshly picked arugula.
The visitors were serious and took noted about all the practical advantages and disadvantages. The garden produces up to $150,000 worth of produce annually. It costs around $40,000 to build. It provides work for a local urban farming venture called Farmscape Gardens. This organization plants the Jonathan Club’s seeds compost the beds and rotate the crops.
The tour was organized by Seedstock, a Los Angeles-based company that offers consulting services and disseminates information about sustainable food projects. It hosts an annual conference on sustainable agriculture, which begins Wednesday at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. This year’s theme is “Reintegrating Agriculture: Local Food Systems and the Future of Cities.”
As they left the 120-year-old private club and headed back to the bus, tour members talked about what they had seen. Didn’t the galvanized tubs burn up in summer? Did that tree really produce edible olives?
Niki Mazaroli, program officer at the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas, said one of her foundation’s aims is to help struggling people reach self-sufficiency. She said she hoped Jonathan Club members with means might look at the garden there and get inspired to invest in the sort of urban agriculture projects that create livable-wage jobs.
That was the kind of effort underway at the next stop — a farm on the grounds of Pasadena’s Muir High School that was as wild and lush and loud as the Jonathan Club garden was tidy, crisp and quiet.
At Muir Ranch, roses bloomed and sunflowers blared and squashes bigger than bowling balls grew under enormous leaves.
Mud Baron, the goateed project director, wore flip-flops, sunglasses and a brown cap that said “GROW!” in big green letters. On the belt of his jeans was a leather holster keeping his pruners at the ready.
He spoke of the farm’s community-supported agriculture program, in which people subscribe to get weekly flowers or boxes of fresh produce. How much of what’s in the selection comes from the farm, but he also buys from other local farmers, thus helping support them. How, contrary to its reputation, Pasadena has many people in need, including many Muir families. How getting young people interested in the garden was one way to push them toward better futures.
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