2010 Fairy-Tale Farm is In the News!

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel article found at: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_16109132

Living a Fairy-Tale: Santa Cruz family ‘grows’ community at their downtown area farm

By Justine DaCosta
Posted: 09/18/2010 01:30:39 AM PDT
Saskia Wade will help set the tables at her family’s Harvest Festival. (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

Nestled among multiplexes not far from downtown Santa Cruz is a garden where 10-foot-high sunflowers overlook the winding vines of pumpkins and the soft ferns of overgrown asparagus. A few chickens wander through the aisles full of tomatoes and tomatillos, part of the 50-by-50-foot garden, which is shaped like a star, a red, circular wooden platform positioned in the center.

“It’s a magical garden,” said owner Debora Wade, pointing to a giant sunflower whose head has begun splitting into two sections. “It grows weird things.”

This is Fairy-Tale Farm, a community gathering spot where monthly dinners promise plates full of fresh, locally grown food. Debora and her husband Karsten began hosting dinners in the garden a couple of years ago as a way to bring the community together. With live music and dancing, and several courses and dessert, people can come and get a real taste of what’s local. Karsten, a community organizer for a software company, was a professional chef in another life, and whips up gourmet meals that include Thai, Mediterranean and French cuisine. He enjoys cooking for people, and seeing them gather together for a meal.

“It gives us a lot to look forward to,” Karsten said. “There’s a lot more feeling of connectedness.”

The Wades have lived in their modest, yellow home, adjacent to the garden, for about eight years, but the land that’s now the garden became theirs two years ago. They had long admired the large, un-manicured backyard next door, and cringed at the idea of a multi-unit building filling the land, which had already happened to some other lots in the area across the river from downtown. When new neighbors moved in, the couple decided to take a chance. They asked if they could purchase a portion of the yard, and the answer was yes.

The Wades sold their car to help pay for the property, which was several hundred thousand dollars. It was a blank canvas, and Debora, an artist with very little gardening experience, began planting the seeds to their future. Initially, the couple thought they would grow vegetables to sell, but quickly learned that wasn’t a profitable option for them. Instead, they thought, let’s enjoy this beautiful space and share it with others.

“I almost feel guilty owning all this property in a place where so many people have nothing,” Debora said. “I don’t deserve to have so much.”

Debora and Karsten met about 12 years ago, at a time when Debora’s Crohn’s disease had forced her onto a liquid diet. Karsten, who then worked at India Joze, would make her meals. While her health has improved, there have been struggles, and the garden has always been a place of hope and healing.

“I went for so many years without being able to eat in restaurants,” Debora said. “I’m so spoiled because we eat the best of most things.”

She has to smile when she sees her daughters Malakai, 12, and Saskia, 9, helping in the garden or chasing the chickens at an event. Their chores include tending to the garden, and the youngest has even found that picking potatoes is actually great fun, telling her mother, “This is better than Disneyland!”

Michele Swanson is a regular at Fairy-Tale Farm. She said the Wades are dedicated to bringing their community closer together.

“I went to their first dinner and quickly became a fan,” Swanson said.

The dinners are a way to meet new people, and are an alternative setting to restaurants or bars.

“Everybody comes together with a sense of curiosity,” she said.

During the summer, the farm hosts soirees, where people contribute to the event by bringing art, or food, or, in the case of last summer, a goat for the children to milk. There’s also figure drawing in the garden. Fairy-Tale Farm brings together a cross-section of people who may never have otherwise met but who enjoy the same experiences.

Community support can start right at the dinner table, and for Swanson, eating outside with the people who live in her town is a way to embrace old ideals that have been lost over time. Add to that the ambiance and food, and one’s belly and soul will be well-fed.

“Being outside, with the stars above your head and a great meal under your nose,” she said. “What could be better?”

Pulling together a dinner for 30 to 40 people requires a lot of work; Fairy-Tale Farm hosted weekly dinners this summer, and Debora said she’s looking forward to being exhausted just once a month for while. But it’s all worth it, because the Wades see that they planted a seed, and from that grew a community.

“There’s magic to the Fairy-Tale Farm,” she said.