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Organic Gardening

Urban agriculturist, CSA coordinator, backyard grower, floral designer -- Tara Kolla has had a lot of titles. The most important one? Organic gardening activist.
Martha Stewart Living, July 2012

The half-acre yard around Tara Kolla's house is relatively large for the Los Angeles neighborhood of Silver Lake. When Kolla and her husband, Beat Frutiger, bought the house on a cul-de-sac, they didn't anticipate the rewards (and headaches) their yard would bring.

From the start, Kolla saw the yard as an opportunity: She could leave her job as the owner of a public relations agency and grow flowers to sell at local farmers' markets. For several years, everything went smoothly for her company, Silver Lake Farms, with ever-expanding crops of organic sweet peas, anemones, ranunculus, amaranths, and sunflowers in neatly grown rows.

Trouble started, though, when a few neighbors complained about the expansion of what was clearly a business (albeit a cottage one). They invoked a zoning code -- from 1946 -- that effectively forbade her from selling at markets any flowers grown on her property. The "truck gardening" ordinance allowed only the off-site sale of vegetables grown in one's backyard. Kolla is not one to be deterred by an outdated piece of legislation -- "when something irks me, I'm going to do something about it," she says. Joining forces with a group of like-minded urban farmers to propose the Food and Flowers Freedom Act, she fought city hall -- and won. In the process, Kolla became an accidental activist for urban agriculture.

These days, Kolla is busier than ever. She grows cut flowers for the Hollywood Farmers' Market with a team of young farm volunteers and an assistant. "There are a lot of young people who want to do what I do," Kolla says of her team. "And observing my business can be a vehicle for them to do it." In addition, she has organized a CSA (community supported agriculture) program in her neighborhood: Kolla acts as the liaison between the local customers and the fruit and vegetable (and sometimes dairy and egg) farmers. She's also formed a design business, creating edible gardens for about a dozen clients around Los Angeles. Friends have even offered a portion of their large property so she can grow rows of cut flowers for her market stand. Things have come full circle: Kolla has returned to her roots of growing bouquet-worthy blossoms as a cash crop, but now she's doing it all over town, while inspiring others' backyard endeavors. "People really respond to the flowers and produce we give them," she says. "I never encountered that kind of joy in my corporate life."