They turned 4 Los Angeles yards into low water mini farms — and the lettuce is phenomenal

Low Water Mini Farms | BY REUBEN BRODY |

It’s a warming Sunday morning on the Atwater Village Farmers Market, and near the doorway on Backyard Avenue a chipper voice is beckoning consumers.

“Pink vein sorrel!”

The voice belongs to Mike Wooden, the owner-farmer of Huarache Farms. He stands behind a desk, sporting glasses, sandals, operating shorts and a straw hat, which has a gap in its crown from rubbing towards low-slung orange branches.

In contrast to different stands, full of bunches of dirt-covered produce, Mike’s spot is lined with leafy greens and sprouts which have been trimmed and washed; they relaxation in massive plastic bins with silver tongs for scooping. Small black placards with white handwriting inform consumers of names, costs, dietary worth and use.

Wooden’s low water mini farms are as nontraditional as his market setup. It’s a group of 4 backyards: three in Sierra Madre and one in Glendale that run on a mix of hydroponic techniques, wicking beds and vertical bins that use recycled water.

A woman tosses harvested sunflower sprouts into a large plastic bin.
Mandy Wooden, co-owner of Huarache Farms, tosses harvested sunflower sprouts right into a container after washing them.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Instances)

“He’s a complete meals nerd,” says his spouse and enterprise companion, Mandy Wooden, commenting on how Mike will test the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s checklist of most nutritious vegetables and fruit to resolve what to develop. “I simply eat what I really feel like consuming,” she says, though her weight loss program remains to be fueled by their farm collective.

It’s now Friday, two days earlier than the market, and Mandy is rinsing and spinning sorrel in an enormous salad spinner that’s in style on farms in France. She is at dwelling, each actually and figuratively: Huarache’s headquarters is Mandy’s childhood dwelling.

Additionally dwelling to 2 boys ages 10 and 15, the place has a lived-in, “Swiss Household Robinson” really feel. A jungle of sugar cane surrounds the trampoline and the treehouse. A tall banana tree supplies some shade for the swing set, which seems like a Eighties public park swing set as a result of it’s one; Mandy’s father was as soon as a handyman for Los Angeles’ Division of Recreation and Parks, and he ordered it from the town’s vendor.

Mike and Mandy met in 2005 at Citrus Group School in Glendora. Interested in Mandy’s curly hair, he sat beside her and, in an try at coquetry, opened an H.P. Lovecraft guide.

He was learning forestry, and his professor instructed that one of the best ways to protect the biodiversity of forests could be to cease large-scale industrial farming. Smaller, extra diversified farms would enhance the surroundings and scale back wildfires.

A hand holding out freshly harvested sunflower sprouts.
Mike Wooden, co-owner of Huarache Farms, harvests sunflower sprouts rising on the Sierra Madre location.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Instances)

Mike went on to Cal Poly Pomona to review agriculture and have become all for aquaponics. He constructed an aquaponic system within the yard and reworked Mandy’s pool right into a freshwater pond for tilapia. The pond reverted to a pool after Mandy — needing a swim on a 100-degree day — smacked a fish by chance. “That was it,” she says.

This was 2014, and Mike was elevating chickens too. He grew meals to feed his 20-odd fish, and the rooster feed included cayenne pepper, which reddened the yolks. Clients liked this. Mike expanded to 100 chickens. A cacophony of clucks led to neighbor complaints, adopted by a quotation from the town.

Mike had been rising his animal feed hydroponically and figured it will be extra ecologically environment friendly to develop vegetation for folks as a substitute of rising feed for animals to turn out to be our meals. “It’s simpler to deal with vegetation than it’s to deal with animals,” he says with a chuckle. “They’re way more forgiving.”

From 2017 to 2020, Huarache Farms grew into the cooperative it’s at present. Mike met Edwin Tomyoy, a chef who used to promote with him on the farmers market. Tomyoy helped Mike transition to veggies; they amicably parted methods through the pandemic. In 2018, whereas at his children’ college, Mike met Dan Farnam and Bryan Blackburn, whom he refers to because the vegan dads. They bonded over greens, farming and operating. The dads requested if Mike would assist them construct a hydroponic system, then requested if he’d promote their extra produce.

In 2019, Mike added two extra backyards for low water mini farms: Sunland Farm in Glendale and the Wooden Farm (no relation to his title) in Sierra Madre. He additionally met Isaac Qureshi and Erika Cling, who had Sustaina, a enterprise platform. They helped Mike create an accounting system to precisely cut up the funds between him and the varied backyards; a few of them would get 60% as a result of they tilled whereas Mike offered, others 40%. By means of Sustaina, Huarache additionally launched a Group Supported Agriculture field, which delivers round Sierra Madre. As a result of folks had been searching for various grocery choices at first of the pandemic, it went from delivering 5 CSA packing containers every week in 2019 to greater than 70 in 2020.

A man in a straw hat leans over a planter bed to harvest hydroponically grown kale.
Mike Wooden, co-owner of Huarache Farms, harvests kale, grown hydroponically at its Sierra Madre location. In foreground is mustard.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Instances)

By 2020, his greens had been successful on the farmers market, and pandemic-addled clients searching for a break from self-isolation volunteered to assist harvest. After the harvests, they’d host a dinner. Mandy was now on board full-time, having stop her clerical job at a hospital to assist streamline issues and get her “arms soiled.”

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