A few months ago we noticed that one neighbor's lawn was not like the others. Quadrants of green grass were replaced with rows of raised vegetable beds in the yard and parkway, and single-file sprouts emerged next to hand-written markers: snap peas, fava beans white radish ...
After multiple attempts to unintentionally bump into the gardener and talk veg, maybe even get some tips on how to salvage our sad attempt at a tomato trellis, we stuck a note in the front gate. "Beautiful garden!" we said. "We'd love to chat sometime."
This is how we met our urban farmer friend, Courtney Guerra, a tall and slender former AVP pro beach volleyball player who gardens in post-morning-workout yoga gear with her long blonde hair tumbling out of a large floppy sun hat. She's a down to earth, down to the earth Southern California girl who's taking the concept of "farm to table" to smaller farms and bigger tables. Home at her Flower Ave garden in Venice, Calif., her front yard veggie beds and backyard grow house brim with an unexpected variety of vegetables, herbs, and land snails (escargot), harvested exclusively for Chef Ari Taymor of Alma, a fine dining restaurant that impressed Jonathan Gold with butter-soaked carrots.
Taymor, a Palo Alto transplant, started Alma as a pop up at Flake on Rose Ave in Venice before settling Downtown. The two struck up a partnership for Guerra to grow, forage and procure the freshest ingredients for Alma's seasonal, locally-sourced menu that changes almost daily.
"I was lucky enough to go work at a restaurant in France that had its own farm, so I was able to see the way food changes when you get things that are almost alive," says Taymor.
Guerra studied culinary arts at Meadowood in Napa Valley, which is where she also picked up a passion for culinary gardening. She's cooked at Melisse in Santa Monica and keeps her knife skills sharp behind the open counter at Alma once a week after she delivers her morning harvest.
While Taymor and Guerra share a passion for the art of culinary gardening, they believe that fresh-picked, healthy food is not a novelty but a necessity that should be accessible to everyone, no matter their budget. Alma's outreach program teaches elementary, middle school and high school students in the Downtown area how to grow and prepare nutritious meals.
And when Guerra's not in the kitchen or in her garden, she's meeting with landscape designers and restaurant owners to develop plans for soon-to-come urban gardens throughout Los Angeles.
Thanks to Rich Kuras (filming, producing), Ted Beke (editing) and Ryan Horns (original music).