Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. The easiest way to visit Los Angeles (domestically) is flying into the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. And now it is easier to rent a car from BUR at the car rental facility. It has been awhile since I’ve needed to attend to business in Los Angeles. Southwest Airlines flies almost every hour directly to Burbank from Sacramento. It is a small airport and easy to access by train or automobile.
The car rental agencies used to be located at the end of the United terminal with a small lot for cars. Some of the rental agencies required you take a bus to their lots. Now everything is located together in a new multi-story facility. It is a bit of a hike to the facility, but much easier once you are there.
I once took a human-centered design workshop and they challenged our groups to redesign a process that didn’t work well. We chose the car rental experience. We redesigned it into something that is like the experience today of taking Lyft from the airport (except with ride-sharing you don’t get to keep the car). My experience with Alamo was almost stress free. They no longer print the contract out on an old printer with carbon forms. They sent me off with my contract and I was met by a greeter who directed me to my economy car. It took longer to walk to the office than it did to rent my car and be on my way. One more reason Burbank is the best airport if you are visiting Los Angeles.
Have you been to Universal Studios or one of the other movie studio tours? I came awayf from my first studio tour marveling at how so many facades and stage props are so fake looking and yet look so real on film. I am happy to report that after seeing The Biggest Little Farm and then touring the real Apricot Lane Farms (the focus of the documentary), it is a match!
Located close to Simi Valley and the suburban development of Moorpark, you drive only a few minutes through orchards and hoop houses to reach Apricot Lane Farms. The contrast with the neighboring farms is most stark when you stand at Alan York Point (named for their mentor). On the next farm over there is nothing but bare ground as they clean up after an organic raspberry operation. The erosion on the hillside, the bare soil exposed to the Santa Ana winds, compared to a regenerative farm that is bursting with life.
Apricot Lane Farms is both California Certified Organic and biodynamic certified. They grow and sell seasonal stone fruit, citrus, avocados, pasture-raised eggs, vegetables, herbs, marmalade, lamb, pork and beef through four farmers markets a week, a couple of individual grocery stores, and a couple of chefs. They do not currently have a selling problem; they have a supply problem. And they uniquely have a Los Angeles based market that can pay for the increased quality ($16 typically for a dozen eggs). They want to expand to three more farmers markets.
Co-owner Molly Chester experienced some health issues that led her to become a traditional food chef in Hollywood. She is still the most active partner in farm operations (John Chester is a film maker foremost). Her interests led them to Apricot Lane Farms and together, with their mentor Alan York, adopt these five pillars.
Apricot Lane Farm’s 5 Pillars:
Soil health is the foundation for everything else…
Growing the healthiest food
Treating animals ethically and evolutionarily appropriate
Regenerating the land
They quickly discovered that uncovered soil is dying soil, so the cover crops are key and tilling has been almost entirely eliminated. In the garden, they sometimes cover the ground with plastic. Today, the only bare soil is the roadways, and the soil fertility in the pastures and orchards has recovered. At the beginning the soil was testing 1-3% organic matter and after 8 years the soils are testing between 3-6%, and the vegetable beds at 11%. For each percent increase in organic matter they are sequestering 21 tons of carbon per acre per year.
Trevor is the manager of the farming operation, and John Chester described his job as integrating the six farming enterprises. There is essentially the pasture, cow, chicken rotation; the orchard, duck, sheep rotation; the pigs stand alone, and the truck crops. The composting operation undergirds it all. And 15 bee hives spread around the farm are among the pollinators. Ten percent of the farm is set aside for habitat (mainly in and around the pond) but they are expanding this to 15% and already count over 100 bird species and 215 native plant species.
It is a unique operation because it does have revenue from entertainment (movies, shorts, children’s books, etc.). This is why the buildings are built to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. And they have a 12 person people mover for tours.
Apricot Lane Farms uses less water than the conventional counterparts. When they purchased the farm, Ventura County was in severe drought and everyone in the basin had their water use curtailed by 25%, but then they’ve been able to use 15-20% less. In addition, the are able to infiltrate rain water back in to the aquifer. This past winter when they received an above normal 24 inches of rain, they had no run-off except on the roads.
I easily geek out over agricultural stuff. You may be interested to know that the food grown on a regenerative farm is also more nutritional and tastier. It is also good to know that farming can be part of the climate solution.
You may have watched The Biggest Little Farm documentary in theaters, on a plane or now streaming from Amazon, or Google Play. You can actually visit Apricot Lane Farm in Moorpark, California. They have a couple of public tours each month and typically sell out quickly, so for your best shot, sign up for the newsletter to receive ample notice of the next set of tours.
I had the opportunity to participate in a private tour organized by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for their employees. The goal was educational because Apricot Lane Farm is an example of a regenerative farm. Conventional farming uses chemicals to achieve yields, and tills with tractors, and leaves ground bare. These practices mine the soil and lead to release of carbon into the atmosphere. Sustainable farming is a step in the right direction. Like organic farming, it stops some activities and maintains others. It does not do as much environmental harm as conventional farming but it doesn’t revitalize life in the same magnitude as regenerative farming.
Regenerative farming is about returning life to the soil and in so doing, growing food that is bursting with health and nutritious minerals, and doing so in a way that sequesters carbon and uses less water.
This Kiss the Ground video explains it better than I can:
This is the first in a two-parter about regenerative farming and Apricot Lane Farms.
It all started with my friend Cameon mailing me the People Magazine article on the 50 best pies in the United States with one pie place listed for each state. She knows I #brakeforpie. I was already going to Los Angeles for work, and for a visit with friends, so I was intrigued that the best pie in California was at The Apple Pan, according to this author.
It turned out that my schedule determined that I’d need to arrive at Burbank airport, pick up my rental car and make a bee line to the Apple Pan for a late lunch. I arrived about 2 p.m., and even after the lunch rush, the counter was almost full. I did score a parking spot in the lot behind (with about 6 spaces).
They only take cash so they invited me to place my order and then go to the ATM 42 steps away. My friend Jen said the steak burger is good, so I ordered one with a side of fries with a diet coke. The sodas come in cans with a paper cone with ice in an old fashioned holder–very odd and I prefer fountain soda. Next time I’ll drink water and order coffee with the pie. The food is very good quality and even though it is a Los Angeles institution, the prices were in line with other diners.
The woman sitting next to me ordered an amazing looking egg salad sandwich. I asked if I could take a picture of it. This led to a lovely conversation. She drops in for lunch whenever she is in this part of West Los Angeles.
I had dug through my travel files to find my issue of the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine Winter 2016 issue that focuses on Los Angeles. As I read it more carefully on the Southwest flight to Burbank, I kept running across mentions of The Apple Pan. Sammy Harkham calls the Apple Pan his personal favorite. He focuses on the burger: “The burger is, hands down, the best fucking burger in the world.”
Kim Gordon also calls out the pie: “Besides the amazing burgers and hefty tuna sandwiches, the pies at the Apple Pan parade through my mind like old friends: cherry, boysenberry, especially strawberry cream, with that barely sweet whipped-cream top.” The strawberry cream pie is available May-September, the banana cream pie is always on the menu. You’ll have to try it for yourself.
I’d seen photos of The Nuggets on-line as I planned my visit to the Caitlins. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the region, but I knew that I wanted to walk out to this lighthouse and the rocks that go by the name of The Nuggets, or Nugget Point or Kaka Point.
The parking lot at 11:00 a.m. contained a handful of cars. Along the trail I encountered only about two dozen other people in small groups over the 3 miles roundtrip. There were times along the walk that I felt a beautiful solitude. Noise also played tricksy as I was sheltered from the sound of wind and surf by the ridge, until I stepped out (almost to the lighthouse) and it returned with a roar.
I truly enjoyed the experience and could have stayed longer at points along the way. It would be a great picnic spot with some advance planning.
The Caitlins are not as frequently visited by foreign tourists as other parts of New Zealand. There are not many motels and restaurants are Mom & Pop places. This adds to the Caitlins’ charms. You can drive for miles through villages, farmland and wildlands, with occasional beach sitings, but nothing very commercial in sight. This is what people think of when they imagine New Zealand.
It is not hard to reach. If you fly to Auckland you can catch one of the frequent daily flights to Dunedin and within an hour you are in the heart of the Caitlins. This area is just off of Highway 1, the main route from Dunedin to Invercargill.
After an excellent day of albatross and penguin, I stayed at a motel in Mosgiel, a suburb community closer to the Dunedin airport than downtown. This provided a full day of fun in the Caitlins. You could easily spend two days in the area if you like to hike or want to spend more time on one of the beaches.
My goal for the day was the lighthouse at the Nuggets. (wait for next post!) I toodled around following local signs and stopping to admire views along the way. It was a lovely, lovely day.
I saw my first Yellow-eyed penguin from the hide at Bushy Point, but I was at least a hundred meters above the beach and even with binoculars it was hard to appreciate their unique size and markings. Several times I tried going on a Penguin Place tour and couldn’t fit it in with the Little Blue Penguin experience at the Royal Albatross Centre. I was determined to make it work this time!
Located on a private sheep farm on the Dunedin peninsula, Penguin Place is dedicated to the conservation and welfare of Yellow-eyed penguins/hoiho. Their efforts to restablish habitat and educate the public also benefits Little Blue penguins. I went in the winter months (April-September) so they only offer one tour a day at 3:45 p.m. In the summer months (October-March) there are 90 minute tours running from 10:15 a.m. to 6:16 p.m.
One advantage of going in the winter is the tour group is more likely to be small. There were just a half dozen of us as we bumped in the bus, through the sheep ranch, and toward the trails that lead to the network of hides.
We had plenty of time to ask our questions as we waited in the hide and looked out at the beach waiting for a Yellow-eyed penguin to return. A large sea lion was hanging out on the beach probably sending “stay away” vibes to penguins. We were not disappointed though. There were two Yellow-eyed penguins who stayed on land all day. One was just a few feet from the hide and another was some distance below the hide but away from the beach and visible to us. We also saw several single and pairs of Little Blue Penguins in their wooden hutches along the trail.
All of the money from the penguin tourism goes back into rehabilitating penguins in the hospital and conserving the breeding grounds. In spite of the extensive efforts by people and the NZ Department of Conservation, the numbers are shrinking. When I first took an interest in hoiho there were 400-600 breeding pairs on the NZ mainland, and now there are just 266 breeding pairs. There is also a sex imbalance with three males for every female. It is hard to state with certainty what is causing the decline but it is likely warming oceans and changing food supply. Participating in this guided tour is a small way to do your part for the species. And we need to all make changes to address the climate crisis.
Before I visited the Royal Albatross Centre I thought of the Albatross as a super big gull. They are so much more AWE-some. They are super big with wings that fold twice. They spend most of the lives flying at sea. The young take a year to mature and when they are ready to attempt flight they just step off a cliff without any training or practice! These are just a few of the wonderful albatross facts I learned on the tour.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. She said that if we were lucky we would see an adult coming back to feed their chick.
The Centre does a marvelous job of educating people about the unique grandeur of the Royal Albatross. Both the Centre and the bird deserve the adjective “Royal.” They provide many different ways to communicate the size and majesty of this bird. You can see the folding 3 meter wing span in the skeleton, and the stuffed albatross are weighted to approximate an actual bird’s likely weight. One of my favorite fun facts is the full grown chick actually is too heavy to fly, so the parent begins to force them to walk to dinner to get them to lose some of the baby fat.
There are a variety of tours, with the most basic hour long tour at the top of an hour, starting for $52NZ per adult. It is a steep climb up to the glassed in viewing platform or hide. Along the way there are a variety of gulls nesting on the hillside and sheep mowing the grass. I did see people with some mobility challenges making the trek and taking their time. The visitor centre also has a gift shop and cafe. There is ample parking but it is located at the very end of the peninsula, so allow 45 minutes to an hour to get there on the narrow, windy road with traffic stops for roadwork. It is worth the effort.
As I planned my day in Dunedin I read about a restaurant and garden Glenfollach. I went online and made a reservation without realizing that it was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand. I requested a booking before noon so I could enjoy my lunch and drive on to the end of the peninsula for the Royal Albatross Centre. When I first arrived there were only a few people already enjoying coffee and the view. By the time I left the restaurant and deck were full of families celebrating fathers.
Because of Fathers Day there was also a 3 course meal option. It sounded super so I ordered it, along with a ginger ale and tonic and enjoyed the attention to details in the venue decor and table setting.
To say my meal was delicious is inadequate. Every course was very interesting and combined flavors and textures beautifully. I was so thankful to enjoy another great New Zealand meal.
There is a beautiful garden to enjoy if you do have a long wait for a table. Booking ahead is advised. Glenfollach isn’t more than 15 minutes into the Peninsula, so accessible from downtown Dunedin.
My travel rule of thumb: visit a botanic garden, especially if it is free. When traveling on business a good garden makes an excellent place to get some steps in and breathe fresh air. Not all gardens are created equal. This summer I had the opportunity to go to the Missouri Botanic Garden and it is world class. And I started my NZ trip with a stay at the world class private garden, Paripuma. Alas, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is looking frumpy. It was winter and they have had their hands full with rebuilding glasshouse structures after the earthquakes; nevertheless, even before “the big one” I felt the garden was more Ode to Mother England than a celebration of New Zealand. In the photos above you see lots of lawn, some legacy trees and a lot of (yawn) planted annual beds.
Even with that critique, there is hardly a prettier downtown than Christchurch ANYWHERE in the world. Well, maybe Adelaide, Australia. They have optimized the Avon River and the parks and gardens in a way that you must make time to walk through.
The garden that I’ll be sure to visit again is in Dunedin.
This garden is built on a steep hill (much like Wellington’s) and yet maximizes the attractions with different gardens and lots of plant variety and statuary. Plus I LOVE a knot garden! I just wish there was a viewing platform for the knot garden.
They welcome children in Dunedin and design for their enjoyment: a train, free food for ducks, playground equipment, and space to make your own fun. It was Father’s Day Sunday in New Zealand on the day of my visit and I saw loads of families taking advantage of the garden on an almost spring day.
It seems an almost silly thing, but I found this little stick structure and ended up sitting for a little while admiring it, wondering who built it and admiring their handywork.
The best gardens help you forget that you are in a city and take you into nature. Dunedin Botanic Garden does.
Both gardens are free to enter. Both have cafes where you can get a coffee or tea or something more substantial to eat. Both make their cities more livable and enjoyable.