A steady stream of succulent seekers flowed through Growing Grounds Farm in Santa Maria on Saturday, looking for unusual and unique varieties of the plants that require little water and practically thrive on neglect.
Shoppers came from as far away as Arroyo Grande, Lompoc and even Cuyama Valley to take advantage of the Growing Grounds’ annual “Summer Succulents” sale, and it appeared most were not disappointed by the thousands of plants available at the garden on West Foster Road.
“I’m always on the lookout for unique succulents that you can’t find at OSH or Home Depot,” said Beth Hastings of Orcutt, as she looked over a selection in small pots with Genesis Hastings, also of Orcutt, and Gayle Hess of Arroyo Grande. “I’ve never seen some of these before.”
Connie Clancy and Penny Lee, both of Lompoc, were looking for larger specimens for their yards.
Lee said she just cleared out an area and was looking for succulents to plant amid the gravel and lighting.
“I have a lot of wheelbarrows, and I wanted to do a succulent garden with them,” Clancy said.
The money raised from the succulent sale, as well as the “Everything Edible” sale in spring and “Grow Native” sale in fall, supports the garden operated under Transitions-Mental Health Association, said Anna Weins, assistant farm supervisor.
Modeled after its sister farm in San Luis Obispo County, the 5-acre farm grows several types of fruit trees, cut flowers and a variety of vegetables, most of which are started in an onsite plant nursery.
The farm employs about 50 adult clients a year who have mental health issues, providing them with vocational training that will help them obtain permanent employment.
“I think for people who haven’t worked in a long time — or never worked — one of the greatest challenges is self-confidence,” Weins said. “We provide a low-pressure opportunity for people to improve their self-confidence, to learn and to take on more responsibility.
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“It’s a great place for people who don’t have a lot of skills,” she added. “There are a lot of things they can do here."
Clients can do weeding, irrigating, planting, harvesting, transplanting starts in the nursery, feeding the chickens and cutting and arranging flowers — “basically help with all the tasks of running a small farm,” Weins said.
“The work helps them learn to show up on time, to be dressed appropriately for work and hone their work ethic,” she explained. “They grow confidence and believe in themselves so they can move on.”
Larry Sanders is among the farm's success stories.
Sanders, who runs the farm stand where fresh produce is sold every Thursday, said he’s been at Growing Grounds for three years.
“I think a lot of people arrive here not in the best of condition, and this is the only place that will give them a job,” said Sanders, who said he was formerly a computer programmer at Cuesta College, spending all day sitting indoors under fluorescent lights for 10 years before losing his way.
Then he found Growing Grounds, adding when he showed up dirty, unshaven and with long hair, they weren’t sure if they wanted to hire him. So he volunteered for three days, then they offered him a job.
“I’ve found I’ve become a better gardener for my own life,” Sanders said, noting the importance of getting fresh air, sunshine, good food and exercise. “You have to beware of the weeds in your own life.
“Anyone and everyone can benefit from being on a farm,” he said. “You begin to see yourself as a seed. We’re the seeds, and they’re helping us to grow.”