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Urban farm halted over zoning laws

August 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A pair of restaurant owners dreamed of growing their own tomatoes and other veggies, right next to their place of business. But their dream may be dying on the vine, due to local zoning laws.Chefs often grow a few spices, or other food items, on or near their restaurants. But the two men who own the Bluebird Cafe in Culver City are dreaming of bigger fields.

"We are spearheading a movement towards growing and eating and selling," said Vincent Trevino, one of the owners of the cafe.

Trevino and Chris Marble had been growing tomatoes and other produce on property they own in Fallbrook. But since Fallbrook is all the way in San Diego County, they looked for a closer farm. They found one right outside their door.

The owner of the property gave his approval and in weeks. Trevino and Marble had planted 600 tomato plants, 40-fruit trees, sunflowers, spices and a host of other edibles. Neighbors say it is much nicer than before.

The restaurant owners ran into a problem with zoning in Culver City. Laws prohibit farming for anything other than personal use. Trevino and Marble wanted to sell what they don't use in the restaurant.

"Tomatoes, as we know, sell for ... $3 a pound? I mean, it's expensive. Tomatoes are expensive," said Marble. "They are grown out of the state now. They're grown in Mexico. There's nothing grown here."

Mark Scott is Culver City's new city manager. He sympathizes with the dilemma, but until the council changes the old zoning code, the farm can't stay.

"To the extent that our community is interested in growing some food locally ... we want to be supportive of those kinds of initiatives. But we also need to make sure that whatever is done can be done safely," said Scott.

The two restaurateurs say bay area communities have changed their zoning to allow for more urban farms. They say food that doesn't travel so far is better for you. The restaurant owners may have to convince the council it's good to grow right here at home.

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