Meet Urban Ecologist Kathleen Blakistone of Moonwater Farm
By Regan Kibbee
Kathleen Blakistone first became interested in gardening when her son was in third grade at McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica. She joined a group of parent volunteers, known as the “Gardening Angels,” under the tutelage of Bonnie Freeman. Freeman led the Santa Monica School Garden Project, which created sustainable student gardens on 12 public school campuses.
“Bonnie really inspired me to want to learn about growing food,” Blakistone says.
Blakistone is a native Californian who majored in political science and urban studies at UCLA before moving on to a successful career as an executive in packaging sales. After volunteering with Freemen, she enrolled in the Master Gardener program offered by the University of California Cooperative Extension.
In 2001, she and husband Richard Draut purchased their home in Venice. The property is on Sixth Avenue in the Seagirt tract, an early subdivision created for the hired help. It included the original 900-square-foot house, built in 1921, and a 550-square-foot rear house added in the 1950s.
Draut, a designer/builder and woodworking craftsman, creatively renovated the two houses while maintaining the original structures and outdoor spaces. The couple took out the lawn and replaced it with native plants, among the first in their neighborhood to do so. They later added edible landscape and a coop with several chickens.
When they found bees had gotten into the wall of the rear house, they bought bee boxes and hired a removal expert to transfer the bees rather than exterminate them. (Draut promptly got some training in beekeeping.)
The couple has hosted various events at their home, including a stop on Venice ARTBLOCK, an annual open studios tour featuring the work of a grassroots collective of local artists. Their neighbor, Chilean-born artist Francisco Letelier, gladly leveraged their garden as an additional place to stop for guests visiting his studio next door.
Eventually Draut enrolled in the Master Gardener program himself. He also became really enthusiastic about aquaponics, growing plants and raising fish together in one integrated system.
Blakistone and Draut dreamed of expanding beyond their small home garden.
“It became clear that if we wanted to grow food commercially, we needed some land where this was legal,” Blakistone says.
In February of 2011, they read an LA Times article about a small agricultural enclave in Compton called Richland Farms, described as “a garden paradise.” By June they’d made an offer on a third of an acre, and it was theirs before the end of the year.
“We wanted to leverage growing food in water and, as we’d made our bid and closed escrow on the spring and fall equinoxes, and the cycle of the moon is so incredibly important for when you plant and when you harvest, we chose the name Moonwater Farm,” Blakistone says.
The couple spent about 18 months restoring the house and garage. Next they worked on the yard and have since put in a stable and chicken coop.
“It’s all been done with recycled materials,” says Blakistone, who jokingly calls it “the house that Craigslist built.”
Moonwater Farm incorporates principals of permaculture, a philosophy of working with nature rather than against it. They reclaim rain water from the roof to recharge the groundwater and are constantly regenerating the soil by composting. They also have an aquaponics system.
The farm now includes perennials such as fruit trees, artichokes, rhubarb, herbs and medicinal plants, as well as traditional row crops like cabbage, broccoli, squash and fennel.
The couple hosts youth workshops “so kids can get a sense of what’s possible, not only by working in the soil but also working with the animals and doing woodworking,” Blakistone says. The local Boy Scouts troop came for “cowboy training.”
Blakistone teaches an afterschool Urban Agriculture & Wellness class at Samuel Gompers Middle School in Watts and has a good relationship with the TRIO Scholars program at Los Angeles Southwest College, which assists potential first generation college students as they progress from middle school to college.
On Sunday, June 5, the Los Angles Food Policy Council is hosting a Good Food Gathering at Moonwater Farm. Proceeds will support the council’s mission of building a system for all Los Angeles residents “where food is healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable.”
From July 18 to Aug. 5, Blakistone is offering a camp for kids in grades 5 to 8.
“The focus will be urban agriculture and we’ll also have art, music and horseback riding,” she says. “All kids are welcome.”
Learn more at facebook.com/MoonWaterFarm.