The Kibitzer


Something to Chew On

By Billy Fried

I’m deep in Ibiza, the White Island, one half—along with Formentera—of Las Pitiusas (the Pine Islands), also part of the Balearic Island archipelago, 100 kilometers off the coast of Valencia, Spain. But with a distinctive Catalan influence. That should tell you something of how storied this place is.

I’m in training for my upcoming kayak camping trip around the island with my daughter. My day consists of riding a bike from her country home to the port town of San Antonio, where I hit the gym. The ride starts on a single track through a pine forest. The essence of pine permeates the air, and it takes me back to a college summer spent in Cape Cod, where I regularly cycled in pine laden splendor to freshwater ponds for refreshing swims.

Except the homes here are all whitewashed, and the red earth is more fertile. I reach a dirt road now, bordered by stone walls, and pass a succession of citrus, olive, almond, fig, and carob groves. And random stone fruit like peaches, plums, nectarines, and kumquats. And sheep, chicken, goats, ducks, and an Ibicenco breed of dogs known as Podenco. I stop, and the ducks run to greet me. There are natural, aromatic herbs growing wild along the roads. Locals harvest them into Hierbas, their post meal digestive. They make sea salt and olive oil and wine here. Everyone has a sizeable edible garden. As I near town, never slowing because of a series of roundabouts, I reach the community carob processing plant, redolent with a smell I can only describe as rank cheese. But it’s all wonderfully artisan, and it makes me wistful that all of Orange County’s abundant agriculture is gone to make room for something more lucrative—population growth.

It feels good to be in a place that is food secure. Food is life. It’s the binding agent of community. We celebrate and build rituals around it. But in Laguna, we import 100 percent of it, thus we are extremely vulnerable to any supply grid interruptions.

So, I was delighted to see Mariella Simon and Scott Tenney’s Bluebird Canyon Farm receive Planning Commission approval to host ongoing small batch educational events, themed around farming and food production.

Have you been to this marvelous permaculture farm, with the latest regenerative growing practices, chickens, bees, and zero chance of profit for the owners? That was never their intent. Instead, Mariella and Scott spent a fortune and overcame a literal thicket of obstacles to convert a fallow, sloping, inhospitable piece of land into our only thriving urban farm, an incredible community resource. They sell their organic produce at the Farmers Market, but also want to share their formidable knowledge and skills to help us be resilient and thrive. They’ve listened to neighbor input and arrived at compromises on the size and frequency of events, safety, noise, parking, and fire mitigation.

But, like most everything in Laguna, the permit is opposed by some neighbors, who see it as a commercial enterprise that threatens the quiet enjoyment of their home. They expressed concern with egress in the event of fire. But the farm already agreed to no on-street parking. But what if something else happened, like the gas pumps went dry? Or an earthquake? Instead of evacuating, neighbors would be stranded, and relying on whatever food they had stored. Having an adjacent farm is an invaluable emergency food resource. I’d feel lucky, not threatened, to live nearby.

But one family stated they will appeal the decision. And as frustrating and time consuming as it is, that’s the great thing about our democracy. So, expect it to be heard again. And if you care, you should be heard from, too.

Speaking of being heard again—and again and again—it looks like the 10-year odyssey to subvert Louis Longi’s 30-unit artist live/work complex in the Canyon has finally come to a definitive close. At last week’s City Council meeting, the neighborhood opposition group threw a Hail Mary, arguing that the approved permits were void because they should never have received an extension, despite the fact that persistent opposition was the reason those extensions were needed. Council agreed and denied the appeal. It’s time for the shovels!

I’ve been on the losing side of so many recent battles—making short-term rentals legal for residents (not landlords), cannabis dispensaries, pedestrian plazas, roundabouts, raised crosswalks, Act V parking, shared eBike kiosks—I’d come to believe my values were just not aligned with the city’s. So, these two exciting initiatives to broaden the culture and diversity of our town feel especially sweet. But as always in Laguna, sweet can turn sour in an instant.

Until then, I’ll savor the wins with the pungent smell of carob.


Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5 and can be reached at [email protected]





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