They take up only about 10 percent of the space and use only about 10 percent of the water of a traditional garden. They're aeroponic/hydoponic vertical growing systems called towers that are becoming increasingly popular with restaurants and schools, and individuals wanting to grow their own food in limited space.

As of late last year, the Santa Ynez Valley has its first retail tower farm. It's called The Farm - Los Olivos, located in Los Olivos, of course. It's a Tower Garden by Juice Plus + operation, owned by Todd Mehl.

He and his fiancée/business partner, Maria Arroyo, moved to the Valley from Santa Barbara several months ago in search of more space and less traffic. The business came with them.

"The transition to the Valley has been amazing," Mehl said. "The business goes where we go. We're already working with restaurants in the Valley that might want to have their own towers. We're talking to schools." They're also looking at possibly doing their own tower farm in Los Alamos that would service several restaurants.

"Eight years ago I was turning 40 and was a complete knucklehead athlete that never ate any fruits and vegetables. I thought I just needed to take a multivitamin. I know now that's not the answer," Mehl said.

He started taking Juice Plus +, a whole food supplement used in smoothies, and said he began feeling improvements in his energy, sleep patterns and such.

"Three years later, Maria and I were living together and decided to start growing kale because we were using so much of it in our smoothies. We bought a raised bed garden from Costco and never ended up using it because I was afraid of it," Mehl laughed. 

At the same time, Juice Plus + was getting into the tower farming business. Mehl and Arroyo ended up buying two for their home, and Mehl went on to join the company. There are now 60,000 Tower Garden by Juice Plus + systems in use in 27 different countries, he said.

The Farm - Los Olivos sells towers, seedlings and the nutrient mix that's added to the water. For the individual with limited space, possibly even just a patio, Tower Garden could be the solution to having fresh vegetables and herbs available all year round.

The small home version is about 4 feet tall, with 20 growing slots. It weighs 28 pounds empty. Filled with 5 gallons of water, it's close to 190 pounds. It runs on a small fountain pump, with the water circulating through at 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off, costing about $1 a month in energy.

Tower Garden sells 150 plants ready to grow in the towers, or seedlings to start at home and then transplant, many of which are available at Mehl's Los Olivos location. One tower at The Farm - Los Olivos grows all the ingredients for his favorite smoothie -- kale, spinach, cilantro, parsley and Swiss chard. Other options include broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, even strawberries. 

Commercial towers can go up to 8 feet, with 38 slots. The Belmond El Encanto hotel in Santa Barbara, for instance, has 10 of them. 

"Every chef I've worked with has been blown away by the quality, texture and flavor," Mehl said.

At the heart of it, said, Mehl, is a mission to inspire healthy living.

"Part of that is helping people take control of their food supply with Tower Garden. What's neat is -- a kid who grows kale, eats kale," he said.

For more information about The Farm - Los Olivos, visit www.toddmehl.com

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