Cultivating Generations of Award-Winning Growers

Emma Bladergroen, Maty and Tyce Carlson picked up ribbons for their entries in the county fair, which ends Sunday.

After 15 years of entering her fruits and vegetables in the Orange County Fair and receiving countless blue ribbons, Jan Alabaster has passed the legacy of growing onto her grandchildren.

“I always look forward to teaching them how to grow things, how you harvest them and taste them,” said Alabaster who this year was awarded first place for her figs.

Maty and Tyce Carlson, 8 and 6, spend summer days romping around their grandfather’s Laguna Canyon art gallery and surrounding foliage, developing the green thumb that runs in their family. Melia Carlson, daughter of Jan Alabaster, runs her floral design business out of the clandestine garden home and secured second and third place awards for her figs this year, but her daughter Maty is the family record holder.

“All I have is first place. I’m the only one in my family who only has gotten first place ribbons,” said Maty Carlson who has received a blue ribbon every year for the largest beet and this year added her ribbon for largest lemon to the collection.

Secluded on the side of the house, the family grows nectarines, squash, apricots, peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, sweet peas, snap peas, radishes, and recently pumpkins. Grown without chemicals or pesticides, the kids help Alabaster prepare the soil for the organic mulch and planting of the fruits and vegetables.

From left, Melia Carlson, Jan Alabaster, Tyce Carlson, Emma Bladergroen, Maty Carlson

On a school trip Maty and Tyce visited Tanaka Farms, an organic farm in Irvine, where each student was allowed to pick one pumpkin and Maty was the solitary student to pick a white one. Since the tour, Maty has planted a mound of white pumpkin in her garden.

Emma Bladergroen, 8, Maty Carlson’s “best best friend” entered nectarines from Alabaster’s garden as well this year, taking second place and winning a red ribbon.  Both Maty and Emma’s fathers work for the Laguna Beach Fire Department. Tony Carlson drives the fire truck. The girls inherited their fathers’ friendship since infancy.

“They do everything together,” commented Melia Carlson, a bond further grown by their collective interest in gardening.

All together, the crew of five amassed eight of the 10 wins by Laguna Beach residents in the garden and floral category at centennial farms this year. Tod Gerts also received first and third place for oranges. But there are no doubts that this crew will continue to cultivate its winnings. 

Other fair winners form Laguna Beach include Mitch Ridder for photography in landscape and plants, Linda Grossman for photography in landscape, Art Z for photography in seascape, Michele Leighton in recycled materials for plastic, Donald Smith in collections for household, Harrison Williams in culinary arts for traditional cookie, Donna Leach in fine arts for acrylics, and Kc Horng in fine arts for watercolors.


Intern Hayley Toler attends Cal State Fullerton.

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