Local foundation advocating for family farms worldwide

Local foundation advocating for family farms worldwide

By Raiza Giorgi

When Ed Seaman took over Santa Barbara Blueberries, his family’s blueberry farm along Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Buellton, he didn’t know much about farming.

His background was in technology and marketing, but he had a passion for agriculture and an appreciation of how hard farmers work to provide food. He also saw a problem of people not understanding the importance of small farms, not only in the United States but all around the world.

“My father-in-law  met Barnabas Mwesiga years ago when he traveled to Uganda and he was chosen to take him on a tour of the country. They became fast friends and over the years have stayed in contact,” Seaman said.

Rolland Jacks of Restoration Oaks Ranch and Santa Barbara Blueberries

Mwesiga is a famous former player for the Ugandan national soccer team, and was a coach for the Sports Outreach Institute founded by Russell Carr, who graduated from Westmont College in 1956. Carr and Seaman’s father-in-law, Rolland Jacks, were longtime friends who helped make the connection, Seaman said.

“I am just a lowly former UCSB Gaucho soccer player. I doubt a professional player such as Mwesiga would remember me, but his story and his friendship with my family has left an impression, which is how we got involved,” Seaman said.

Seaman created Wild Farmlands Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, committed to supporting small, sustainable farmlands on the Central Coast. Its services include marketing and branding, public education, family-fun events and community outreach.

The foundation recently held a fundraiser for the Barnabas Project, which builds village farms and educates farmers to feed and empower the poor of Uganda and other African countries.

“People should be able to feed themselves, and we can make a difference by helping people learn how to farm. Barnabas’ dream to retire into farming and teach people to farm is unusual, and he represents hope to his nation,” Seaman said.

Mwesiga started the Barnabas because his country doesn’t have access to the global food system, and many are undernourished or starving. He is in the initial stage of his dream — a plot of land in the Mbarara District of Uganda that includes 60 small gardens, two fish ponds, chickens and a piggery. He is training local farmers how to grow and sell their food and sustain themselves and their families.

Chefs Conrad Gonzalez of Valle Fresh and Maili Halme collaborated to create a menu of Ugandan-inspired dishes for the Barnabas Project fundraiser.

The local fundraiser was a dinner to experience authentic African food prepared by Chef Conrad Gonzalez of Valle Fresh and Chef Maili Halme. Together they researched traditional Ugandan food such as Chapati, fried legumes, roasted goat with Ugandan sauces and traditional desserts.

“We spent more than a month researching and collaborating to give everyone a taste of their food,” Gonzalez said.

People also enjoyed traditional and popular music of Africa performed by Masanga Marimba. Those who attended delighted in participating and dancing. After the dinner was finished people gathered to watch a video on the Barnabas Project and toured the blueberry farm.

Chapatis can be categorized as fast food or snacks that can be bought on the street in Uganda.

“People want to know where their food comes from and the farmer that grows it. Whole Foods’ management team came to see why sales were higher, but it’s honestly about supplying quality local food,” he said.

Local agriculture contributes $2.8 billion to the Santa Barbara County economy, according to the agricultural commissioner’s office. The county has 1,597 farms, which total more than 700,000 acres. They grow strawberries, grapes, berries, flowers and vegetables. More than two-thirds of those farms are “small family farms,” which are less than 200 acres.

Farming is more than just growing food for Seaman. He believes it saves the planet because as farmers rotate their crops and disc fields, they help lessen the impacts of carbon dioxide and climate change.

“What better way to save the planet than by farming it and growing good-quality food and providing for the local economy?” Seaman exclaimed.

A traditional Ugandan dessert was paired with blueberries from Santa Barbara Blueberries at the fundraiser.

Urban-agriculture farms are especially important because they help the metropolitan population get a closer look at how farming works.

“Places like Fairview Gardens in Goleta are a perfect example, because they farm a few acres but people support them because of their proximity to their neighborhood and they can go there and learn,” he said.

Seaman said he studied a census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that reported there has been an average loss of 533 farms per year over a 15-year span.

“Loss of our quality local food supply is bad enough, but we are also displacing the most effective and loving stewards of local ecosystems, the small-scale farmer,” he said.

He hopes more family farmers and people who are passionate about sustaining local food sources will join the foundation.

For more information on Wild Farmlands Foundation or the Barnabas Project, log onto www.wildfarmlands.org.