On California Coast, an Urban Farm Emerges to Serve the Community and Teach Self-Reliance
April 17, 2017 | Trish Popovitch
Focused on preserving traditional Jewish agricultural techniques and furthering the concept of local community, the folks at The Leichtag Foundation incubated Coastal Roots Farm in early January of 2016 after two years of planning and preparation with lots of help from Farmer D, aka Daron Joffe. Located in Encinitas, CA, Coastal Roots is an educational hub offering food, farming and spiritual wisdom for a more sustainable life.
The Leichtag Foundation, a Jewish nonprofit philanthropic organization established in the 1990s bought the 67 acre property that houses Coastal Roots Farm in 2014. Joffe was hired to create the plan and layout of the property. “The idea was for Coastal Roots Farm to be incubated by the Leichtag Foundation but then within five years to be a viable independent community farm that served Encinitas and Glenn County,” says Sona Desai, Associate Director of Coastal Roots.
The actual farm is approximately 20 acres in size. In an attempt to model all the different types of agricultural techniques as well as the diversity of urban farming, Coastal Roots has four scales of vegetable gardening areas to illustrate the different scales of urban farming: hand harvest, small electrical tool use, larger tools (i.e. rototiller) and commercial scale tools (i.e. tractors). The different gardening techniques are utilized throughout the farm which is comprised of mixed gardens, a vineyard, a food forest, orchards, animal pasture, a compost area, barns and greenhouses.
Around half of the food goes to the farm stand that is operated as a ‘pay what you can’ system increasing availability of local fresh food to underserved communities in the area. Some of the food is sold through pop up markets throughout Encinitas or donated to local hunger relief organizations. Coastal Roots also operates a more traditional CSA program. The farm produced 2,000 pounds last month and approximately 65,000 pounds since its inception.
Coastal Roots wants to be more than just another urban farm. Education, on every level, coupled with building a sense of community is integral to the farm’s mission. “We offer hands on learning about farming, gardening, environmental stewardship for people of all ages and backgrounds. We also host gatherings where the community can come together and eat and connect and celebrate together,” says Desai.
Being a religiously based organization may seem like a hindrance when it comes to funding a staff of 12 operating on a $1.3 million budget but as Desai explains, it merely allows the farm to consider alternative revenue sources. “It’s an advantage for us in a lot of ways. There are so many projects and activities across the country seeking the same funds that are available for community farms and farm development projects. But we have a niche. Having that niche with Jewish affiliation, we’re able to attract a different set of donors. It really does work as an advantage,” says Desai.
The farm’s own social enterprises, produce distribution and community events and activities will help Coastal Roots graduate from an incubated startup to an independent urban farm and community hub. The hope is also to develop more corporate partnerships and individual donors to slowly reduce reliance on The Leichtag Foundation that currently supplies 75 percent of the farm’s operating budget.
Although Coastal Roots is proud of its Jewish roots and actively shares its Jewish wisdom and belief in self sufficiency, the farm is open to everybody, regardless of their faith. The goal is to serve the local community and to build togetherness and self reliance. Encinitas is home to a diverse population and Coastal Roots works hard to be inclusive and welcoming.
“Our intention is to be a community farm for everybody in Encinitas. We want to engage all types of people,” says Desai. “We do want people to come leave here with some type of awareness of the influence of Jewish heritage on agriculture but we definitely welcome everyone here.” Coastal Roots’ outreach efforts attract not only Jewish organizations and supporters but the self sufficiency population. “We work with vulnerable populations in the area: veterans, immigrants, refugees, at risk youth [and] single parents and that has nothing to do with religious affiliation, “says Desai.
Desai’s main focus right now is turning Coastal Roots’ general business plan into a strategic plan and using it to create a marketing strategy to increase the farm’s exposure, attract revenue sources and ensure as many locals as possible know about the farm and all it has to offer to the local community. Like many urban farms, Desai is highly aware of the integral role good marketing can play in the success of a sustainable startup. “Marketing can be so expensive and it can be really untargeted. So we’re trying to get the most bang for our buck and create a strategy that is targeted for the community members we are trying to reach,” says Desai.
Promoting self sufficiency and a more sustainable lifestyle remain the underlying goals of Coastal Roots as they develop plans to transition to independence. “I think knowing where your food comes from is something that every individual should be able to experience,” says Desai, who sees a lesson in farming as valuable to both those that have and those that do not. “It’s very easy for people to be disconnected from how difficult it can be for other communities to have access to good food. California is a large state and I think people find themselves more disconnected. So the opportunity here for a community farm to play a role in keeping a community fabric strong has tremendous potential here.”