As Leslie Person Ryan was setting up the Summerland Center for the Arts (featured in last Monday’s Life section) in Summerland this past year, she realized that the small community lacked a grocery store or supermarket.
“Summerland was a food desert. Residents had to drive to other places to stock their pantries, or they relied on processed and mostly fried foods on a daily basis,” said Ms. Person Ryan.
So the innovative entrepreneur, who also owns Letter Perfect in Montecito, took it upon herself to solve the problem.
Sweet Wheel Farm & Flowers in front of the center on Lillie Avenue is now open seven days a week ? from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
“It’s an organic, locally sourced fruit and vegetable/flower stand for the betterment of the community and a solution to the food desert. We are supplying local fruits and vegetables for healthy living, in addition to offering locally curated artisan treats like the ivan.bar and honey collected just up the road from our storefront,” said Ms. Person Ryan.
The containers are displayed in a novel way ? on a Swedish three-wheel bicycle she acquired from Sherry Villanueva, of Acme Hospitality, which includes Funk Zone eateries and wine enterprises including The Lark, Lucky Penny, Loquita, Santa Barbara Wine Collective, Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, Notary Public and Helena Avenue Bakery.
Barely visible in front of the bicycle’s handlebars are a sink, refrigerator and stove and in the back is storage. Shelves at the side fold out for the displays.
“I named it Sweet Wheel,” said Ms. Person Ryan, who creates the eye-catching displays by hand every morning to make sure that each item is as fresh as it can get.”
All the produce comes from farms in the area ? John Givens Farm in Goleta, Finley Farms in Santa Ynez and Chavez Roberto & Sons Farming in Santa Maria ? and from the raised-bed gardens in the back acre of her home next door to the center.
“I’m growing passion fruit, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes and experimenting with Papas Guerras potatoes and hierba santa, an herb for medicinal purposes. My gardener, Joaquin Arias, helps me,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to have 100 percent of the produce come from my gardens.”
The spectacular flowers come from farms in Carpinteria, and she does the breathtaking floral displays herself.
“I make all my own jams and yogurt. I’m famous for my yogurt pancakes,” said Ms. Person Ryan. “I’m raising quail so I can sell their eggs, which are the most nutritious eggs there are.”
She stressed that she is able to maintain the “upmost of quality standards” while keeping costs lower than those at farmers markets by selecting Santa Barbara County farmers and distributors on her own.
Despite Sweet Wheel’s success in a short time, Ms. Person Ryan is still not satisfied with the dearth of fresh food options in Summerland. Her next project is a food truck, which she has just bought in Los Angeles and is in the process of refurbishing. A farm-to-truck concept, The Southern Sailor: A Sweet & Savory Eatery will focus on Ms. Person Ryan’s varied specialties, including authentic Mexican, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine as well as breakfast items, baked goods and artisan products.
“As Sweet Wheel Farm & Flowers becomes more established, I intend to reach out to local brands and artisans to offer even more to our ever-growing customer base. I want people to stop on their way to or from work or on a walk. I want it to become part of their daily routine,” said Ms. Person Ryan.
“We are happy to report that our cart is already garnering significant social media buzz, and we encourage everyone to help spread the good news by stopping by and sharing their experiences.”
Sweet Wheel Farm & Flowers, 2346 Lillie Ave. in Summerland, is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 770-3677 or go to www.sweetwheelfarms.com.