Chris Melancon finds his niche at organic farm in Goleta
With his dog Gracie by his side, Chris Melancon is a picture of contentment as he emerges from his yurt at Fairview Gardens Farm and contemplates his work as the new executive director at the 13-acre certified organic farm.
After several different careers at various locations, the 1985 graduate of San Marcos High School jumped at the chance to return to the Santa Barbara area to take the helm of operations at one of the oldest organic farms in California. It’s located on North Fairview Avenue in Goleta.
“My vision is to make Fairview Gardens a place that inspires people of all ages to understand where food comes from, to learn how to grow their own food and most importantly, what it feels like to be an interconnected community that’s full of hope for a challenging future,” said Mr. Melancon.
To accomplish this, he sums up his goal in three keywords — feed, teach and connect.
“I want to continue to feed the community by growing certified organic produce that is sold at our farm stand and by selling it to restaurants for their menus. By teaching, I want to offer educational programs, especially for children, about the importance of a nature-based diet. We now have about 1,000 kids, who are 13 and younger, visiting the farm each year, and I would like to expand it to have workshops about growing food and small-scale farming for young adults and older adults.”
To connect, Mr. Melamcon envisions a space where people can gather and share ideas and resources with the primary objective of resiliency.
“I want to offer them an opportunity to think about our time on the farm as planting seeds for hope, and by that I mean we all can consider what our role can be to enhance the resiliency of our community.”
Seeing Mr. Melancon out in the field or tending to farm animals belies his eclectic career background range.
After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., with a degree in mechanical engineering, he served three years as an airborne ranger in the U.S. Army.
In 1992, he left the service to earn his master’s in business administration at Tulane University in New Orleans and was hired to manage software projects at Citibank.
“I went from leading 33 soldiers in an infantry battalion at Fort Ord in Northern California to leading 33 computer scientists in the corporate world. I went from preparing people to go to war to leading people who created software that made millions of dollars in a day,” Mr. Melancon told the News-Press. “It was a different kind of pressure.”
Five years later, he and a West Point classmate started their own software company in Silicon Valley, OnLink, and sold it in 2000 to Siebel Systems, which became part of the Oracle Corp.
“I decided to go back to school to study applied physics and molecular biology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. After I got my degree, I went back to San Francisco and in 2008 launched my own business for monitoring water quality, Spyglass Technologies. It was the worst possible time to start a new company,” he said.
In 2013, Mr. Melancon and his former wife co-founded LOLA Sonoma Farms near the town of Sonoma.
“It was 12 acres of dormant pasture that we turned into a small diversified farm to grow organic food for the community. We did a farmers market and had a farm stand,” said Mr. Melancon.
In January of this year, he decided to leave.
“I loaded up my Chevy pickup truck to tow my 1963 Airstream trailer, and with Gracie as my co-pilot, drove around the West Coast looking for another farm,” Mr. Melamcon said.
“In March, I was in Washington state. It was cold and muddy. I decided to call Courtney Andelman, my high school sweetheart at San Marcos who was living in Santa Barbara with her family. She told me about an opening at Fairview Gardens. I volunteered there for two weeks, and then I was offered a job in June.”
Mr. Melancon said he is excited about bringing more animals to the farm to join Marilyn, the alpaca, and Audrey, the goat, but what closed the deal for him was the “shared intention for Fairview to reach its full communitarian potential.
“The magic of Fairview is already having an enormous impact on the health and wellness of our community,” he said. “I’m here to bring the collective experiences and passions of our dedicated team to make this farm an enduring example of regenerative agriculture aimed at educating and inspiring our guests to do their part to heal the planet.”