DESERT LOCAVORE: Selling the farm experience - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

DESERT LOCAVORE: Selling the farm experience

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Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Recently, I crashed a school field trip at Agua Linda Farm.

As I sat in a grassy field eating an apple, I watched the antics of energetic, young children who had already finished their lunch.

Five chased a turkey. Seven sat in a tree. Two tracked grasshoppers on their hands and knees. One walked alone with a stick, apparently lost in thought.

Everyone looked so happy.

Stewart and Laurel Loew, who run the place, aim to bring the experience of rural living to a culture two generations removed from the farm.

“We’re trying to influence the next generation in knowing what a farm is,” Stewart said.

The couple preaches the joys of a traditional lifestyle partly out of self-interest. Stewart — the great-grandson of Marcus Loew and Adolph Zukor, who started MGM and Paramount Pictures, respectively — grew up at Agua Linda Farm, and the acreage holds memories of a happy childhood and visits by celebrities including Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s not a place Stewart wants to give up.

“Education is good for business,” he said. “We’re planting seeds of thought in adults and children.”

But a good part of the couple’s motive is outreach about a lifestyle they love.

“We’d like to get people thinking of farming as an option and seeing the possibility of working outside, working with the family, and making the dirt around them work,” Stewart said.

Stewart spent time in New York City as a prop boy for David Letterman and “Saturday Night Live” before he decided to make a life for himself on the farm.

“Here, you’re not cooped up in a cubicle office that is fighting for air vent space with the guy next to you,” he said.

When he returned, the farm’s vine-ripe produce caused older people to exclaim that they’d forgotten how good a homegrown tomato could taste.

“They realized just how fast that culture disappeared,” Stewart said.

Laurel had state certification as a schoolteacher, and she began entertaining school groups with her mystery box, which held a variety of items that — surprisingly to some children — came from farm crops, including a pair of denim jeans.

These days, the couple offers monthly farm-related talks and tours for adults in the spring, as well as a Day on the Farm event for children that allows them to help feed animals, gather eggs and groom a horse.

Each October, Southern Arizonans go to the farm to relax and pick pumpkins.

“We’re trying to develop a farm experience rather than just a pumpkin patch,” Stewart said.

Last October, the farm entertained 2,200 children on field trips. This October, that number jumped to 3,000. Stewart said he believes writers such as Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollen have helped raise awareness of the merits of small-scale farming. But he said the future is still far from certain.

He likes to say, “Buy local, or it will be ‘Bye-bye, local.’”

AGUA LINDA FARM

Location: Exit 42 off Interstate 19, follow signs

www.agualindafarm.net

(520) 398-3218

Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, noon to 3 p.m. Sundays

Harvest: year-round, produce varies

Local sources: Tucson Community Supported Agriculture pickup spot, 300 E. University Blvd. (visit www.tucsoncsa.org for more information)

Farming practices:  “Agua Linda Farm is a sustainable, direct-to-consumer operation reminiscent of the diversified family farms of the past. We use natural pest and weed controls, and our beef cows are grass pastured and are antibiotic- and hormone-free.”

UPCOMING EVENTS

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 17-19 and 24-26

• Agua Linda Farm’s fall festival features a petting zoo, a hay bale maze, picnic food and hayrides to a pumpkin patch where families can pick their own pumpkins. Visitors can buy garden produce from the farm shop and see where the farm grows its crops. Hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $7 a car.

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