Monthly Archives: January 2014

When “Diversify Your Portfolio” Means Adding More Daisies

I first saw her when I happened across the book The 50 Mile Bouquet. It described her as a woman running a flower farm in her backyard in Los Angeles. My heart raced. I backed away slowly and put her out of my mind for six months. But when I was back in L.A., I looked up Silverlake Farms online, and there was a phone number to call, right there on the homepage. I hesitated. Should I tweet at them first? Should I try to sneak in as a WWOOF volunteer?

Forcing myself to dial, I mentally prepped my pitch to the intern I expected to reach. But Tara Kolla, flower farmer and entrepreneur, answered right away. Not only did she answer, when I told her I was a fan and wanted to see the farm, she said Sure, no problem, when’s good for you? When I hung up I did several victory wriggles of excitement.

The idea of selling local, cleanly grown flowers just hasn’t left me alone since last winter, when I found myself anxiously but helplessly buying bouquets (ranunculus from Norway, poppies from Japan, who-knows-where-from Trader Joe’s mixed bouquets) to break the gray monotony of, well, everything in the winter. I wanted to see if this was a realistic idea, and “backyard” sounded like the best place to start.

 

Silverlake Farms gets extremely tempting on Instagram
Silverlake Farms gets extremely tempting on Instagram

 

Tara is a calm, strength-radiating, funny, and generous wonderwoman. She showed me her backyard setup—just getting ready for the next planting—and over a good British cup of tea and a blood orange shared her experience with me, doling out tips and names of other people to know. I scribbled quickly and gratefully. Her experience, which has been that she needs to be working several small businesses at once, was no surprise. Diverse income streams are a smart move and an increasingly necessary one during these years of economic suckiness. It seems like the idea of running just one small business might be a dream, a thing of the past.

If you want to know more about her cut-flower business, her help-you-grow-your-backyard business, or the multi-farmer CSA she runs, you can read to your heart’s content on the Silverlake Farms site or any of the many articles written about her already. Did I mention she helped change the urban agriculture laws in Los Angeles? To say she’s got hustle would be a gross understatement.

At no point did Tara promise me that going into the urban farming business would be a rose garden. In fact, like any kind of farming, you probably have to be a little crazy to choose it in the first place. But if I ever do start up my own backyard enterprise, I’ll have her to thank. Here are my snapshots from the visit, which I have to say cannot do her genius any justice. After all, it’s January! You’ve gotta check out her site and her Instagram for a real treat.

In Which I Re-Insert Myself Amongst Fellow Natives In Los Angeles And Learn How They Are Going To Save The World

Ahh, nothing like winter in Los Angeles. Nights are cold and clear, there’s a faint whiff of fireplace smoke in the air, but the days are warm, sunny, and feel much longer than their east-coast counterparts. This particular return to my native L.A. has been a great chance—because I have more time and no terrible head-cold, for once—to explore some of L.A.’s off-the-beaten-path-of-consumerism aspects.

Over the weekend, I had a nouveau hippie double-header. On Friday night I went with friends to a Salon at a co-op house called Synchronicity. It really took me back to the days I went to parties at the college co-op houses, and the salons friends and I started in Chicago and New York years back. Overcrowded couches, kitchens with lots of signs about chores and rules taped on them, a guy doing fire poi in the backyard. I tried taking good pictures but mostly failed. But this photo from their site should give you a good idea:

Synchronicity gathered in their Los Angeles backyard

Synchronicity houses 12 people, some gorgeous citrus trees, a jacuzzi, and a recording studio in what looked like a converted garage or guesthouse. Apparently the house’s success has inspired at least half a dozen other co-housing groups to blossom on the very same block. The vibe was upbeat, some of the music was freaking fantastic (what were those sisters’ names?!), and one of the house members, a music teacher at a citywide organization, was on cloud nine because his housemates were holding a bake sale to recoup what he’d lost when his wallet was stolen.

The next day I got to see a Synchronicity-type setup on an even larger scale. I signed up for one of LA Eco-Village‘s regular Saturday tours. I brought a friend (who lived in one of the aforementioned college co-ops) with me, as did almost everybody else on the tour. I guess we were nervous about being kidnapped? Actually, I’d been really eager to see the place after reading Jennifer Chen‘s article about it in Bust magazine (sorry, no online article available). I’d had no idea it existed!

LA Eco-Village has a forty-unit apartment building, a second smaller building, a learning garden, and a mission to support all its’ residents efforts to live with as little ecological impact as possible. The tour, the group’s history, their mission and challenges were all fascinating and complex. Which explains why the tour is two and half hours long. Here’s a photo slideshow of some of the delights that caught my eye:

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The big, difficult question is whether one would live in a place like this. The price is right (rents are stabilized), and these are full apartments, so for better or for worse there’s more privacy and no regular communal cooking. There are monthly meetings that use a consensus process, and new residents face a two to six month getting-to-know-you process, which is probably also both for better and for worse for all involved.

It was an uplifting, inspiring example of the kind of mini-reality (communal, spontaneous, democratic, beautiful, affordable, green) you can create, though, when you refuse to simply slot yourself into the systems and choices (real estate, lawns, grocery stores, cars, individualism and accumulation) that you’re given. The woman who led our tour studied bio-ethics—she’s no slouch!—and has spent some sixteen years working with her neighbors to make LAEV’s dreams into realities, one small initiative at a time.

The result is impressive, and yet they are one oasis in a vast, polluted city. When my friend and I wandered through Koreatown to find lunch, I felt like I was transitioning between parallel universes, and I felt deeply grateful  that I’d been allowed to visit.