By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Bluebird Canyon Farms grows much more than the organic produce its sells at the Laguna Beach Farmer’s Market.
Through its Growing Skills internship program, the farm develops young people into self-sufficient, balanced adults.
Farm owner Scott Tenney started helping young people after seeing how many lacked basic skills to live independently and hold down a job. He and his three full-time farm hands primarily teach young men from 18 to 26 years old and individuals with developmental disabilities.
“They didn’t learn how to work in the way the generation before them did,” Tenney said. “We believe you need to know how to do things, how to fix stuff, things that are increasingly being lost.”
Students learn life skills including how to change a tire, cook a meal, use a chain saw, raise crops, and build a piece of furniture. So far 50 people have gone through the program, Tenney said.
When Tenney and his wife, Mariella Simon, bought the 13-acre property at 1085 Bluebird Canyon Road in 2010, they undertook a massive rehabilitation that included repairing erosion and removing tons of dead trees and brush. They also remodeled the structures formerly occupied by the artist collective from the 1960s to the 1980s.
“What’s interesting to me is to be an example of how to create resiliency,” Tenney said. “A lot of what we eat [as a society] is shipped in.”
Although the majority of Bluebird Canyon residents appear to support having an organic farm in their neighborhood, some are troubled by the auxiliary operations on the property such as classes in sustainable cooking, aquaculture, beekeeping, chicken husbandry, and emergency response planning. A trained chef also hosts a monthly farm-to-table dinner lecture series that hosts 20 to 25 people interested in learning about the farm’s practices.
In November 2017, city staffers learned the Bluebird Canyon Farms was hosting classes that exceeded the bounds of its business license through code enforcement action. According to Tenney, there was at least one neighbor who believed the city shouldn’t have issued a business license in the first place without a public hearing.
“I don’t think it rises to that level,” Tenney said.
The Planning Commission held a public hearing on June 19 to consider issuing Bluebird Farms a conditional use permit that limits the size of activities on the farm and the hours they’re held. The commissioners approved the permit after hearing public comments.
Bluebird Canyon resident Catherine Talarico said she’s supportive of the farm’s daytime tours, especially those that teach young children about urban farming.
“My concern is about noise, traffic, fire, and safety from the ongoing events,” she said. “We are a boxed canyon so there is one way in and one way out.”
Curt Sandman and Jennifer Barron live in a house directly across Bluebird Canyon Drive from the Farm. They said for the last few years they’ve been plagued by a dusting of yellow bee excrement on their decks, railing, furniture, spa, and windows.
“We’re not anti-bee. We have a very large yard with a variety of plants that have benefited from the bees for the last 34 years,” Sandman said. “Our concern is the barrage of bees, sometimes swarms. This may not seem like a nuisance to those of you who are not a target, but for us it is.”
Barron said she and her husband spend about $20,000 every other year to have the exterior of their home restained, and they have to frequently clean up bee poop in between.
“I do believe we need to have rules and regulations about these bees, because it is very damaging to our property and our lifestyle and I don’t think we deserve this,” she said.
The conditional use permit approved by the Planning Commission allows Bluebird Canyon Farms to expand its apiary from the current 13 hives to 30 hives. The existing beehives are surrounded by vegetation about 300 feet above Bluebird Canyon Drive and are only accessible from a steep hiking trail.
Tenney said the beehives play an important role in the farm’s operation as pollinators. They’ll also help stave off the collapse of bee colonies that’s been widely reported in the United States.
Sarah Ross, the farm’s greenhouse technician, is a perfect example of how Bluebird Canyon Farms prepares its interns for future careers. The Mission Viejo resident lives with sensory disorders that prevent her from working in a typical commercial environment. She started working at the Farm as an intern when she was about 22 years old after earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental science from UC Irvine.
“I don’t see much difference between the [Growing Skills] program and working here now,” she said. “I have control over my environment here and it allows me a lot less stress.”