Food is Medicine is Community

By Giving List Staff   |   November 17, 2023

The Community Farm is surely the jewel in the crown of communal self-reliance. Here we have a plot of food-producing land in residential environs, adjacent to neighborhoods and tended by the people who draw sustenance from it. Leslie Person Ryan is the CEO of Santa Barbara Agriculture and Farm Education Foundation (SBAFE), which owns Sweet Wheel Farms. She is also an idea engine in mud-caked work boots. “We’re very much looking forward to being the first closed-loop food system, where the food is farmed and then delivered in the same community,” she says. 

When a community can collaboratively support and reliably draw from a food-producing parcel of land right in their midst, the benefits are many, and transcend food security – though the ready availability of healthy, chemical-free food is a boon to any community. Particularly those communities which, through an accident of cartography, may find themselves isolated by unforeseen circumstances.    

The Sweet Wheel Summerland Farm, owned by the Santa Barbara Agriculture and Farm Education Foundation, is a life-saving project farm growing food without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, chemicals, in pure soil. The farm donates weekly to food fragile from Carpinteria to Goleta. Photo credit: Nicole DeBevoise

Summerland is a rustic California village planted along a stretch of sun-splashed Pacific hillside. When torrential rains caused a cataclysmic flooding event in 2019, Summerland found itself temporarily isolated, the town’s single supply artery, U.S. Route 101, made impassable by a tsunami of sludge. This amounted to a stunned epiphany for Summerland’s residents, one that played out over six fraught days and nights; Summerland had no nutritional autonomy – no actual grocery store in the town’s precincts. 

Having very recently leased and planted local land at the top of the hilly community, the folks at Sweet Wheel Farms sprang into action. In the course of ramping up and organizing production and distribution of fresh vegetables – opening a green food cart in downtown Summerland and getting acquainted with the community as never before – the need laid bare by the storm became clear to those at Sweet Wheel Farms. There in their own community was a distressed cohort that was medically and financially fragile.  

“Sweet Wheel Farms has been really amazing for my family,” a recipient says. “I stopped at the vegetable cart because my youngest wasn’t really eating well, and my middle daughter was having stomach issues, a lot of brain fog.The woman there told me about   the Summerland Farm program that helps families in need. I said ‘…can we go ahead and get on your guys’ list of families?’ Summerland Farm has been essential for us.” 

For food insecure families in the area, and those whose medical conditions make processed and chemically-laden food a non-starter, there is Sweet Wheel Farms. Hippocrates – the nominal “Father of Modern Medicine” – boiled human health down to its essence when he said, “Let thy food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” 

Today Sweet Wheel Farms continues to deliver anonymously to locals who need organic food, and it continues to expand and evolve reaching from Goleta to Carpinteria. There are community volunteers swarming the wheat harvest, an ‘Active and Retired Military Farm and Nutrition Pantry,’ Heirloom seed-saving – and thronged schoolkids eagerly getting their hands in the dirt, learning agriculture in the field amid laughter and google-eyed curiosity. By arrangement with local schools this is a teaching farm – a 6.8-acre classroom that can’t help but bend tomorrow’s grownups helpfully earthward. 

“Sweet Wheel Farms has an educational component and a public service component,” Ryan says. “Food should be a basic human right.”


Sweet Wheel Farms / S.B. Agriculture & Farm Education Foundation

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(805) 453-1465
CEO: Leslie Person Ryan


Our mission is to educate, promote and increase awareness on how our food is grown, propagated and distributed to minors and underserved, unrecognized, and fragile populations, particularly in the food desert areas of Santa Barbara County. We donate food to those in need, supporting individuals and other charitable organizations with natural and organically farmed products. The Summerland Sweet Wheel Farm will be a place to preserve, protect, and enhance life and spirit through organic farming and green space.

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I have had cancer for twelve years. I have had the benefit of being a participant in the Farmed Food Solution Programs from the Santa Barbara Agriculture and Farm Education Foundation. Since COVID, I have not been able to purchase all of the fresh, organic food that I am supposed to be eating. The food that I receive from Sweet Wheel Summerland Farm is better than any food that I could buy or get. This has made a huge difference to stay on my feet and help my body continue to fight cancer. Thank you Sweet Wheel Farms.
Sandy Kelsey, Participant

No Farms; No Food.

Santa Barbara Agriculture and Farm Education Foundation has implemented a $3,000,000 campaign for better irrigation systems, innovative delivery, food and grain storage, and eco-utilities. The farm campaign seeks to deliver not only to Santa Barbara County, to be the first closed-loop food system; but, to be a national leader in donated pure foods. With a gift to the foundation, you can remedy community health and food insecurity with chemical-free food.

Key Supporters

Santa Barbara Permaculture
Kiss the Ground
California Women in Agriculture
Santa Barbara Farmers Market
Santa Barbara Food
Action Network
Santa Barbara Beekeepers
Pierre Claeyssens Veterans
Central Coast and Southern CA Farm Equipment Collaborative