Sunset hails SLOW FLOWERS and the special people who grow them
June 16th, 2012
The editors at Sunset asked me to update the story about Tara Kolla, Los Angeles-based flower farmer, urban farming advocate and owner of Silver Lake Farms. In The 50 Mile Bouquet, she is profiled on pages 47-49 in a story called “Flower Patch Politics.”
It was great to have an opportunity to reconnect with Tara and learn about what she’s been up to since we visited her last November. It was no surprise to discover that Tara is up to her ears in beautiful blooms, selling them at farmer’s markets and fulfilling custom orders for regular clients who love her organic approach.
As these things go with magazines, my interview with Tara was completely rewritten into a narrative format. You can see the published piece it above, or on page 18 of the June 2012 issue, on newsstands now.
But there is a lot to learn from this talented woman. And so here, since space is not an issue, is our original Q&A:
ONE TO WATCH
Flower Patch Politics
In 2009, when Los Angeles officials shut down Tara Kolla’s backyard flower farm, citing a 1940s truck gardening ordinance that limited off-site sales of homegrown crops to vegetables, not blooms, she joined forces with fellow urban farmers to fight back. Passionate about sweet peas and the many other flowers she grows, Tara and her supporters successfully changed the city’s policy – and now the spunky owner of Silver Lake Farms has returned to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market where you can find her every Sunday selling bountiful, organic and seasonal bouquets. Her advice for other urban flower farmers:
What has been the response of your customers to your policy fight?
Some customers think I’m new because I’ve just returned to the market. Those aware of my struggle are delighted for me. It makes them feel good that L.A.’s politicians used common sense to change an antiquated law. Flower fans are now begging me to come to Santa Monica Farmers’ Market on Wednesdays – I hope that happens soon.
How might other would-be flower growers address their own community’s rules, if they face similar restrictions?
My issue was not about growing flowers, but about being prevented from selling them off-site! If someone’s facing similar opposition, I suggest creating a support group – we called ours Urban Farming Advocates. Request a meeting with local officials and be prepared with evidence as to why urban farming is advantageous for the community and why cities should support and encourage urban farmers.
Do you think the updated truck gardening ordinance means more floral variety at local L.A. farmers’ markets?
Eventually, but it is all dependent on land, time and money. I never thought I’d get rich doing this and I continue to run other facets of my gardening business to support myself, including a CSA and designing organic vegetable gardens.
On the zoning front, what still needs to be done in L.A. to support local farmers?
We need backyard beekeeping to be legalized — for ensuring that food crops have pollinators and for producing organic honey. We also need home-based farm stands, meaning you could sit outside your house at a table and chair and sell your garden’s extra oranges or avocados to passersby. Kids and their lemonade stands are legal, but a farm stand with flowers, fruits or vegetables is not.
Could you argue that L.A. hasn’t kept up with other cities in the west when it comes to nurturing urban farming?
No, I think L.A. does care, but it needs to get some codes sorted out. For example, I also grow micro greens. I can sell them to chefs who shop at the farmers’ market, but I can’t go direct to restaurants because then the health department has to get involved. This is new ground and we still have some archaic laws that don’t make sense for today.
What flower variety do you think is going to be the next big thing at farmers’ markets?
In terms of a cut flower, I think it’s cotton. I first saw cotton in the flower markets in Paris. It’s not just white; you can find cotton in sea mist green or light tan – and they look great in mixed bouquets.