The Hungry Gardens urban farm has been providing fresh-picked, organically grown heirloom produce and teaching its neighbors about gardening and beekeeping since early 2020 in nearby Sun Valley. We visited the farm recently, sampled some of the very delicious fruits and vegetables and were very excited to learn about this healthy resource just a few minutes northwest of Burbank.
“Hungry Gardens specializes in growing unique vegetables that are not available commercially but have historical and indigenous value, grown locally,” explained founder Joni Albers. “All vegetables are grown using organic and biodynamic methods to provide the most nutrient dense food for area neighbors and families.”
After first growing produce on about 4000 square feet, Hungry Gardens has recently announced an expansion, adding approximately 26,000 square feet (more than half an acre), in partnership with retirement community Villa Scalabrini.
The original gardens provided “proof of concept for all of the varieties that we are growing,” Albers said, as she talked about the growth of the urban farm, “With our expansion, we will be able to service a larger market with a greater volume.”
“Our farming practice utilizes regenerative methods that promote continual improvement in the soil profile, water retention and use, and soil biodiversity. Additionally, eating local-grown produce reduces your carbon footprint and supports the surrounding ecosystem. Not only pollinators and birds, but the soil ecology is vital to producing the most nutritious produce possible,” Albers added. “We will be restoring the soil and continue to build it as we grow veggies, fruits and herbs for families in the area.”
The soil on the newly added lot was hard and compacted and basically devoid of nutrients, so Albers first planted a cover crop of oil seed radish, alfalfa, hairy vetch and mustard, that she recently tilled under to introduce necessary nitrogen to the soil. Albers has big plans for the expansion, adding walkways and planting flower beds and long rows of heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, pepper, cucumber and okra.
“Villa Scalabrini Retirement Center is proud to partner with the Hungry Gardens by making a parcel of our property available for such an innovative project,” commented Villa Scalabrini CFO Ardy Afshar. “In doing so, we are glad to offer our residents, their families and the community at large an opportunity to observe the cycle of growing healthy, organic food. We are excited for our residents to enjoy wholesome, nutritious and unique produce, the fruit of expert urban farming with an emphasis on climate change.”
Part of the new garden lot that abuts Villa Scalabrini will be reserved for the residents of the retirement community, Albers said. She plans to hold community workshops for the approximately 100 residents, who will be able to access the garden directly from their homes.
Hungry Gardens provides curated seasonal Farm Boxes for $45 and individual selections of fruits, vegetables and herbs that can be ordered online through their website here. All produce will be available for pickup at the urban farm, which is located near the intersection of Glenoaks and Sunland Boulevards, two days after ordering. Hungry Gardens delivers to local residents of Sun Valley and Shadow Hills.
“The items in our Farm Box range depending on the season. There are typically around 10-12 items, but no two boxes are ever the same. The box is what full of what is freshest and in season. All the produce is heirloom, and often we do mixes of our products,” she explained. “So, for kale for example, we have ten heirloom varieties including Casper, Toscano, Scarlett and Dyno. My favorite kale variety is the Casper, because it looks unique, and also has an incredible texture and is sweet and tender.”
Some of the items recently available in the Winter Farm Box include: a kale mix, Rainbow Swiss Chard, salad greens (a mix of 7 to 10 heirloom greens like Flashy Trout, Hendersons, Saison, Parisian Romaine, Giant Red Mustard, Pea tendrils, Nasturtium), Parisian Carrot, Purple Podded Peas, an exotic radish mix (Green Shawo, Easter Egg Radish, Watermelon Radish, Purple Diana), Oranges and Lemons, Jelly Melons (a type of horned cucumber with a very unique flavor), green onions, a mix of cold-weather greens (Shanghai Greens, Pak Choy, Purple Lady Choy), heirloom celery which comes in four colors (pink, red, white and green), a mixed bouquet of herbs (three varieties of sage, lemon thyme, winter savory, oregano and rosemary), hot peppers (Brazillian Starfish, Tobasco, Crème Fantasy and Lemon Drop Peppers) and Pumpkin Sweet Peppers.
“Our signature product is specialty heirloom tomatoes and peppers. The summer tomatoes become available June and run through September/October. Some examples include the White Tomesol – a white tomato whose flavor is far from vanilla, one of the most complex of any tomato. The black Seaman, has that traditional tomato-ey acidic flavor that everyone equates with summer – the quintessential summer tomato, and the black cherry tomato, one of the sweetest.”
In 2020, Hungry Gardens grew 45 varieties of tomatoes. For 2021, the urban farm is planning to raise more than 65 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and 35 varieties of hot peppers.
“We also have tomatillos. Tomatillos are not commercially cultivated, you can’t buy them, and not many people grow them, so we are one of the only places you can get them. This season we had the Queen of Malinaco tomatillo, a Peruvian variety that has sweet citrusy pineapple, great for salsas, to top eggs or ceviche.”
“We always have special and unique products. For example, In the Spring and Summer we have Red Noodle Beans, which are up to 18 inches long, they are red and when cooked they turn purple. Kids love them.”
Heirloom seeds are also available for order via their Etsy shop, with Murasaki Peppers, Lemon Drop Hot Peppers, Oaxacan Green Corn, Berkeley Tie-Dye Green Tomato, Napa Chardonnay Blush Cherry Tomato and a large variety of eclectic seeds available. They also sell seedlings and more at local farmers markets.
Currently, Hungry Gardens is taking pre-orders for heirloom tomato seedlings – see this webpage for more information.
“Our tomato seedlings come with a scannable code with info and videos on how to grow – whether you are a container gardener or have an in-ground garden.”
Hungry Gardens also supports local urban beekeepers, helping interested people start keeping a hive and providing beekeeping services for Sun Valley, Shadow Hills, Sunland-Tujunga, La Crescenta-Montrose, Burbank and North Hollywood areas. More information can be found on their website.
“We also do beekeeping services for our area and help people start hives. For those who want to start a hive, they own the hive and we service it,” Albers explained. “We offer science based beekeeping which is based on a lot of data, so it is taking population counts, monitoring pollen intake, honey, brood, how many eggs are being laid, verifying that the queen is in place, that there is no disease of issues with the bees and expanding the hive as needed. We also help our customers do honey extraction for themselves.”
“For people who can’t have a hive, we provide the ability to sponsor a hive. Sponsoring a hive allows you to be a part of a larger cooperative network of hives, where you have to access to honey and are supporting bees. The sponsorship helps cover materials, maintenance, trainings and education of others. We have area residents that volunteer their acreage to host these hives.”
The urban farm also holds free Garden Days for people of all skill levels, from beginners to experts. Albers has capped the number of attendees to 10 – 15 people during the coronavirus pandemic for the Saturday workshops. She teaches how to build compost bins, start tomato and lettuce seeds, gopher proof, prep beds, mulch and weed suppression using natural materials, compost tea brewing, plant food prep and curing garlic and onions, among other techniques.
While Hungry Gardens doesn’t have any Garden Days on the docket for March, they will be held in April. More information on the workshop and how to sign up is found on the website here. Garden Days are also announced on their Instagram @thehungrygardens.
“We will be announcing a list of events starting in May for different workshops and trainings that will be available for gardeners, but also a series of classes such as Yoga/Tai Chi/Cooking/Health/etc by area professionals that will be hosted at the new farm,” she said. “We will be posting the classes on our website starting in May. Classes will be $25 or less and we will offer some for teens as well.”
Albers views the urban farm as a hyper-local resource for her immediate neighbors in Sun Valley, providing fresh fruits and vegetables, teaching composting and gardening skills and fostering a sense of community.
“The space will be community-centric, and a destination for learning about the environment, our community and the people who have businesses and service our community – ranging from health to cooking to fitness,” she said. “The new lot is planned for community space and dedicated space for events – whether that be a farm dinner with a long farm table or a row of yoga mats.”
“The event area will be surrounded by vegetable gardens but also floral gardens providing a very serene and beautiful space that changes with the season,” Albers added. “We are wanting to expose our community, not only to fresh, local, biodynamic produce and growing practices, but also to the amazing talented professionals that live in this community and we are looking to partner with people and organizations committed to growing our community.”
Editor’s Note: While there’s always a lot going on in Burbank, myBurbank’s “Get Out Of Town!” highlights some of our favorite activities and events outside the town borders.