Growing Food, Health, and Happiness During a Pandemic

Inspiration and education is available all over the county
By | April 22, 2020
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Photos courtesy of Diana Lovejoy, Marigold Farms, Inc., and Michael Wittman.

Ventura County is home to nearly 850,000 residents who, in the past few weeks, have seen a dramatic shift in their daily lives due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many are out of work, or working from home, while others face the real possibility of contracting the virus due to their work obligations. These days, searching through news and social media can cast a dark shadow on a bright spring day, but there are individuals, groups, organizations and businesses in our community who instead shine light and encourage hope.

Interestingly, the sudden restrictions have caused many to turn to what we might consider homesteading practices: home baking, revitalizing gardens and using natural resources in daily life. In Camarillo, Horizon Homesteaders, led by Karen Meissner, meets monthly to help educate one another on the various aspect of homesteading in rural, suburban, and urban settings. The group invites speakers from all over the county to teach the importance of self- sufficiency through homesteading, including such skills as making sourdough bread and growing organic gardens.

Before the shutdown, the homesteaders partnered with Marigold Farms, Inc., a non-profit which offers programs to teach and inspire people to reconnect with nature and grow environmentally friendly organic food.  Since many of these programs were event-based, the charitable organization has pivoted to growing organic seedlings to give away to Ventura County residents and offering education through its social media platforms. More online programs are in the works and will be offered after May 1.

Marigold Farms Inc. will be offering porch pickup of starts in Simi Valley through April, in Mira Monte in May, as well as a pickup with Horizon Homesteaders in Camarillo throughout April and May.

The Organic Garden Club of Ventura County also encourages residents to grow at home. Club president Diane Lovejoy says, "If everyone in the world planted an edible garden where they live, we would save the planet and our own lives!”

The club’s website offers resources and some helpful advice on where to begin for individuals who are new to gardening, including a wonderful post on victory gardens. Also called, 'War Gardens' or 'Gardens of Defense', victory gardens were edible gardens that the government encouraged residents to grow on private properties and in public parks during World War II to help with individual food supply. Perhaps the increase in demand for at-home gardens during this pandemic harkens back to an ancestral instinct.

According to Lovejoy, “The Organic Garden Club offers solutions for the nationwide health crisis by teaching healthy living techniques. We have been teaching the community to regenerate the soil, to harvest rainwater, and to create a better environment where they live for 30 years. Our members can show folks how to grow their own organic food by providing examples of sustainable urban living which reduces their carbon footprint. Organic gardening can save the planet, our bodies, minds, and spirits.”

In Ventura, SEEAG (Students for Eco-Education & Agriculture), a local leader in agriculture education which conducts learning programs in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, has introduced an at-home student learning program, “Let’s Grow A Garden.”

"Although schools are closed, we still wanted to reach students as part of SEEAG's Child Wellness Initiative," says Mary Maranville, SEEAG's founder and CEO. "'Let's Grow A Garden!' gives kids the information they need to plant their own vegetable garden at home. As with all our programs, our goal is to help kids understand where their food comes from and to use that knowledge to make healthy food choices.”

The program is being co-sponsored by Agromin, an Oxnard-based manufacturer of earth-friendly compost products made from organic materials.

If you are lacking space at home, you can join a community garden, where social distancing can be easily accomplished while growing healthy organic produce.

In Ventura, Alicia Carman, president of Green Cure Community Garden, knows that gardening goes beyond just growing food, “I think at this time, it’s more about the therapeutic benefits! It takes your mind away from the stresses and you focus on the simple pleasures.”

GCCG garden member Lisa McCullough is happy to get back into her garden and tells us, “I’m in the process of weeding and replanting. Happy to have a little of everything –lettuce, arugula –ok, way more than I planned for) —rosemary, mint, tomatoes and a blackberry vine...so far. This weekend I’ll fill the rest of the garden with whatever I can fit. I had forgotten how much fun gardening can be –yes, even weeding is rewarding— and to harvest something homegrown is a wonderful feeling.”

Dennis Aubrey, landscaper, is all about the sharing of abundance within the community. “In the Santa Rosa Valley, our neighborhood shares produce. We trade, I have avocados and others may have citrus. Lemons and tangerines are my favorite trade,” he says.

In Thousand Oaks, Michael Whittman of Bluesky Biochar, is growing a backyard food forest which includes a variety of fruits and vegetables including seven kinds of potatoes, garlic, sixteen fruit trees, a variety of tomatoes, strawberries and many more edible plants.. Whittman has traveled all over educating many individuals, groups, organizations and businesses on the benefits of biochar and has opened his home up a number of times to host tours of his backyard. (See video below.)

If you are up for one more challenge, solar cooking offers a way to disconnect from the "system" and use natural resources to slow cook the beautiful food that you are growing or sourcing from local farms. 

Patricia Browne, homesteader in Camarillo, has been doing solar cooking demonstrations for years. 

“For many of you during this time of change, new habits are coming. With so many folks 'Staying Well at Home' in Ventura County, this may be an excellent time to start what has been my habit for the last 11 years. I have cooked everything from quiche to breads, stews/soups, roasts, pies, and fried foods with the 2 commercial models I have.” Browne has confidence that anyone can do this with ease, "My mentors on solar cooking (Ron Whitehurst & Jan Dietrick of Rincon-Vitova), put their food out in the morning at 9 am and take it back in completely cooked at 4pm. So very easy!” She says. 

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