Meet the Grower: Lisa Troutner

If you are like me, this interview (both the responses and beautiful pictures) will make you want to jump in your car – with a latte in hand – and visit Carmel Bella Farm where Lisa Troutner distributes her produce to the local restaurants and families in the community and does small backyard consultations to help families grow their own food.

And, if Ozlem’s interview didn’t make you want to reconnect with your roots, hearing about Lisa’s background will surely have you heading over to ancestry.com to inquire about your heritage. It is both charming and inspiring. Enjoy!

1.Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Lisa Troutner, I am an organic gardener and Mother of two boys, Maverick and Tyler. I am 29 years old and live in the countryside of Carmel Valley, California near the Monterey Bay. We are technically located in the agriculture zone 9b, but it is not uncommon (and actually quite normal) to see summer highs ranging from 90 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit and winter occasionally drop into the teens.

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I planted my own, first vegetable garden a decade ago in the backyard of a tiny urban duplex while pregnant with my first child. Becoming a mother truly was a revelation for me. I had brought someone into this world that relied on me for survival, health and happiness. My priority was to support my child’s body and soul to the best of my ability, and my garden served that purpose and motivated me to learn and research even more about food and nutrition.

My family and ancestry have influenced me greatly to become the person I am today. I was raised in the small town of Aptos, California, where we lived in a cabin surrounded by redwood trees, hiking trails, creeks, a large historic rhododendron garden, and an organic vegetable garden. My father was the owner of a masonry and landscape supply yard and decorated our home with artistic, wandering, stone paths, and unique rock benches and walls, creating what feels like a secret garden. My mother was a free spirited, loving soul who always taught me the importance of healthy foods, positive mindsets, and the incredible affects of natural and herbal health remedies. Both my parents were very health conscious beings so my brother, sister and I ate natural and organic foods, generally ranging from vegetarian, vegan, to raw food preparations. I am so thankful for what they taught me. These memories of my childhood greatly inspire me to prioritize health, the planet, and to recreate a similar organic lifestyle for my own children.

My grandmother was born on a little fishing island called Korcula in Croatia. She grew up farming and eating fresh homegrown vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, natural meats, and growing grapevines for wine. She moved to California in the 50’s and I remember being amazed by her flourishing garden and enormous tomato plants. Grandma became an inspiration and a mentor to me. Her passion to grow fresh food and then create delicious meals in the kitchen, combined with her unconditional love, acceptance, and witty sense of humor, felt like magic to me and has a large influence on my style of gardening today.

I love it when my boys come into the yard and meander through the plants, picking ripe fruits and veggies and eating them fresh and raw. This makes my heart sing. Half my kale plants are munched and carrots are pulled out left and right before they are ready, but I couldn’t ask for more; my children are eating pure organic foods straight from the source. This is incredibly satisfying for me as a mother and I couldn’t be prouder.

The garden is a continuous learning experience and there is always something new to discover. Listening to my favorite songs, while tending the garden before sunrise, followed by an organic, freshly harvested, homegrown meal is to me, one of life’s greatest gifts. My goal is to inspire others to garden, spark organic awareness; share the incredible benefits of gardening, and support people and the planet in having a healthier future.

2. There are endless pictures of GORGEOUS brassicas on your Instagram page. What do you do to manage pests such as cabbage worms/moths?

The brassicas have been so fun and interesting to watch this season. They are actually one of the more challenging crops for me to grow here, due to consistent fluctuating hot and cold weather conditions, so I am in the garden checking on temperatures and crops regularly in the cold months. I do companion planting, and entice beneficial insects into the garden. This winter season, you will find lavender, rosemary, onions, beets, leeks, and peppermints scattered throughout the garden mingling and assisting with the brassicas production.

In addition, I find it very beneficial to inspect plants regularly and make an effort to do so every morning. At first signs of an infestation, I will hand pick thoroughly, than try to check throughout the garden for any other pests. Next, I follow using a water spray to ensure that any residue, larvae and or eggs from the pests have been removed. I continue to keep a close eye on that plant and watch for signs of damage or further infestation the next few days. When a plant becomes too unhealthy or weak, I usually remove it from the garden and toss it to the hens. I find that keeping a weak plant attracts and increases more pests and will spread the infestation more quickly to the healthy plants. In addition to companion planting, beneficial insects and hand picking, I use floating row covers which also help for keeping birds at bay, and to protect crops from harsh weather conditions.

3. What inspired you to start your harvest artwork?

Last year, I connected with my garden in a way I never imagined. I am always looking for new challenges to take on and I love to find unique and creative ways to express myself. So, as tomatoes were starting to cover every counter top and fill every basket and bowl in site, I thought to myself; what can I do to uniquely flaunt and appreciate these beauties while having a creative and spiritual outlet? I started making food art creations with freshly harvested heirloom tomatoes while listening to my favorite songs (music and singing is very special to me as well); I felt at peace and in awe of how gorgeous nature’s abundance was.

My first real artistic creation that I shared was simple; a large heart made with heirloom tomatoes that said the word “love” inside of it. I felt oddly inspired and incredibly fulfilled by sharing this with the world. The response I received from all my wonderful new friends on Instagram was so amazing and heartfelt. This new type of artwork became an expression and outlet for me and was a way for me to share the incredible connection I was having with nature and my garden. I wanted to inspire others to plant, grow and eat pure organic foods, and show them how magical and fun it could be. Though each piece is intricate and very time consuming, I find the process extremely healing and fulfilling. My garden has inspired my food art and truly motivates me every single day to be a better person and mother.

4. I love your pomegranate tree! I’ve been debating buying one. How long did it take you to get fruit? Does it have any unique needs someone would need to be aware of before growing it?

I am still new to the pomegranate tree, and so I am definitely not an expert, but it has quickly become a favorite. Generally, it is similar in its needs to the other fruit trees we are growing, but it does require a little more patience than most. I’ve learned that the fruit bearing varieties grow best in agriculture zones 8-10, and prefer dryer weather, while disliking humidity and overly cold conditions. Our tree is sensitive when a hard frost hits, but it is still pretty young.

We opened our very first homegrown pomegranate today (baby tree) ??❤️ Did you know they are one of the world’s most ancient foods ? as well as one of the world’s most celebrated foods!??On top of that, an incredible SUPERFOOD! ??? what a fruit!!!! they are also in the BERRY family!?I had no clue! ?These fruits have an incredible history! Oh, and the pomegranate was berry tasty??????✨???#antiinflammatory #kitchengarden #berry #pomegranate #homegrown #fruit #tree #organic #organicmama #organiclifestyle #naturelover #treehugger #barefoot #fruitlover #gardenlover #backyard #garden #urban #farm #farmtotable #harvest #bbafgogreen #goodforyourheart #carmelbellafarm #antioxidants #goodforyoursoul #harvesttime #nopesticides #californiagardening #ancientfoods

A photo posted by Organic Garden Food Forest ?? (@carmelbellafarm) on

Most varieties are self-pollinating and will bear fruit without a cross pollinator. However, you can encourage fruit production by planting another tree nearby; I will be doing that this year. ☺ These trees generally take 2-3 years before bearing fruit and the first harvest tends to be scarce. We actually had the rare occurrence of our tree producing fruit after one year, but it was a very small crop of only 3 pomegranates. In addition, the fruits themselves take 5-7 months to mature, from flowering in the spring and being ready for harvest in the fall. I do regular light pruning, fertilizing, and mulching to help support the tree so it can divert its energy into fruit production.

5. Your latte pics always make me want to take a sip, and I’m not even a coffee drinker. My husband is though, so I’ve got to ask: do you have a favorite coffee roaster?

I don’t drink coffee daily, but I sincerely appreciate the art and taste of a rich espresso topped with some of my homemade frothy vanilla bean cream. Because I always look for organic businesses and I love to support small scale, sustainable companies, I am fond of Verve Coffee Roasting. They are craft roasters located in my hometown of Santa Cruz (and now multiple other locations), and their company supports sustainable family famers all over the world. They were voted one of the best coffee roasters in the nation in 2016. They like to emphasize the sweet, rich milk chocolate flavor notes in their coffee beans and I love it. My signature coffee drink is my “Vanilla Bean Macch-uccino”.  I steam and froth organic milk of preference, with organic vanilla, organic cinnamon, and a tiny touch of stevia or local organic honey, then pour the hot-spiced vanilla, cream over a fresh shot of espresso, and voila!

I like my coffee to taste, rich, smooth and creamy and I always make mini cups so that its stays hot and fresh.

6. How would you describe Carmel Bella Farm to someone who doesn’t know about it?

Carmel Bella Farm is a small sustainable farm located in the gorgeous Carmel Valley Mountains, of the Los Padres national forest, bordering Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea. I began planting my garden approximately 4 years ago and took over every inch of the 2,000 sq. ft. fenced in front yard space. My garden has been built using all recycled, foraged, or donated eco friendly materials. I am a do-it-yourself kind of girl and am typically in the dirt from sun up to sun down. The garden is a collaboration of natural resources and includes approximately 20 wooden raised beds, permaculture beds, garden beds made from river rocks, vertical structures and rustic vintage wooden furniture pieces that have blossoms and blooms bursting out of them. Working with resources that I find or am given makes the garden a constant adventure, project and challenge. I virtually plant as much as I possibly can into every space that’s available.

On the other side of our fenced in garden, I have a decent sized, glass greenhouse where I grow some of my fall, winter and spring crops and get seedlings ready for transition. On the backside of the house, which has more shade, is my wood porch where I assemble my food art and where I have multiple fig trees, a pomegranate tree, 7 blueberry bushes, strawberries, 2 baby cherry trees, 2 baby nectarine trees and 2 baby apple trees.

We have approximately 35 laying hens, providing us daily with fresh organic eggs. In addition, they are an amazing source of organic fertilizer and a wonderful contribution to natural pest management in the garden. Their coup is inside our fenced in space with an inlet to the garden when pest control is desired and an outlet to a large grass acreage meadow where they are able to free range, with our trustee 150 lb. pup Marley on predator watch.

Carmel Bella Farm sits on 46 acres of historic, white oak studded land, with a large beautiful meadow and a small babbling creek running through it when the rain comes. We have incredible hiking trails on our property that lead to an expansive view of Carmel Valley and the Los Padres National Forest. It is a magical place with nature and abundant wildlife and it keeps me close to my roots. My dream is to develop a property closer to town where I can open it to the public as an organic farm destination and share the love.

7. Your tomato production is INCREDIBLE! Your sun-dried tomatoes make me wish I could reach through the screen and grab one! Can you please tell us your favorite varieties for canning, drying and eating fresh off the vine?

I love growing foods that are connected to my ancestry, and Italian heirlooms are one of my all time favorite things to grow. I find that most of them tend to thrive in my environment, as parts of Italy have a very similar agriculture zone to here. The San Marzano tomato is one of my favorites in the kitchen. It has few seeds, is very sweet and meaty, is wonderful for canning and cooks down to the perfect sauce texture, and is quite delicious fresh too. Over all, a winner here! However, I really enjoy combining multiple different heirloom varieties into my sauces as I find all of the flavors meld together, complimenting and balancing one another.

For drying, I am very fond of the well-known Juliet tomato which is a hybrid variety that produces mass quantities on large indeterminate vines. They are similar to mini Roma Tomatoes. They have the perfect texture and size for my preference when dried and they taste exquisite both fresh and in sauces.

? Such a divine little snack…. Anyone else preparing for wintertime ❄️? When fresh, delicious, homegrown, off the vine tomatoes will no longer be ?… I’m making sure I’ll have the next best thing at hand when the cravings set in ?! One of my all time favorite additions to a yummy #gardentotable app are these #ovendriedtomatoes ? I highly recommend to anyone who has a tomato overload! I’ve been having some serious bumper crops ? with some serious lack of time ~ this recipe saves me… so incredibly basic… these beautiful, delectable little gems are sooo tasty and so diverse once they’ve been dried… wonderful addition the fall/winter kitchen ?????❄️?? . . Recipe only calls for 3 ingredients: * your favorite variety of drying tomato (grape, plum and cherry tomatoes are pictured and work excellent), organic white vinegar and water. After drying I love to add organic garlic and basil and then fill the jar with a light, yummy tasting olive oil ??? . . Feel free to PM me any time for recipe details if interested and I will post if there’s a demand. ? I’ll be sharing my favorite dishes that incorporate these beauties throughout the next season…. because they’re just too good, not to share! ?Happy harvesting! ??????#appetizer #farmtotable #easygourmet #gardentotable #homemade #homegrown #bbafgogreen #eatorganic #eattheworld #growagarden#thehappygardeninglife #foodblog #garden#homemade #summer #happy #girl #organic #foods4thought #instagood #healthy #easysnacks #masonjar #diy #vegan #organic #heirloom #recipe #organicfoods #instagood #ballcanning #farmersmarket

A photo posted by Organic Garden Food Forest ?? (@carmelbellafarm) on

Fresh off the vine I have so many favorites, so I’ll try to narrow it down to just a few. ☺  I love the complex, rich flavor of a Paul Robeson tomato, intensely sweet and earthy with a beautifully deep, dark, and dusky-hue. I also love the Hawaiian Pineapple tomato with its luscious, tropical flavor, and the small, but ever so rich Black Cherry. In addition to my Croatian heritage, I have a small amount of Cherokee Indian in me, so the Cherokee Purple is a definite favorite of mine to grow as well. I find the Cherokee purple to be more finicky of a variety to grow here than most, being overly dry for its preference. However, there’s always a very special place in my garden for these plump, rich and incredibly sweet tomatoes.

8. How do you stake your tomatoes? It looks like you grow lots of indeterminate tomatoes that are SUPER tall.

Yes, I grow all indeterminate varieties and paired with the long growing season we have here, these plants get up to 12 feet tall! I strive to use all recycled or scavenged eco-friendly materials in my garden. I typically use 12 foot tall panel fencing, large steel stakes, and wiring to create a trellis wall for my heirloom tomatoes to climb.  To build the trellis I stand on a large ladder with my sledgehammer (it seems like I always choose the hottest day of the year!) and pound the steel stakes deep into the ground in a line to use as supports for the wire fencing. I then attach the panel fencing tightly with wire. It can be extremely challenging and a little dangerous and daunting for one person, but once it’s done it’s done. I am in my garden daily so once my fencing is up and I have planted, I begin training each plant as often as needed, weaving them through the fencing supports.

9. What do you use to feed your plants?

My favorites foods for my plants are organic chicken manure from my backyard flock, organic fresh and used coffee grounds, organic ground eggshells, organic compost tea and wild fish parts or fish emulsion. I feed my plants depending on what I have an abundance of, what crops I am growing, and where they are at in their growing cycle.

Thanks you so much, Lisa! You certainly are achieving your goal of inspiring others to garden. We appreciate you sharing your knowledge and passion with us! 

Head here to purchase Lisa’s garden artwork, read more about the farm and/or connect with her!

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8 thoughts on “Meet the Grower: Lisa Troutner”

    1. I know! All of her pictures are super inspiring! If I wasn’t running out of room already, I’d be buying more tomato seeds for sure. haha! 🙂

  1. Oh my goodness…….what a wonderful and incredible young woman! I have faith in our world again! And I want some of these delicious vegies! Thanks so much for sharing this story…….. Jonathan

    1. You’re so welcome, Jonathan! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Stop by her website and sign up for a garden consultation to grow some of those gorgeous veggies, if you’d like! 🙂

  2. Wow so inspirational. Your artwork is in a class of its own , absolutely striking. We want more ! Thank you for sharing your awesome interview! Liana

    1. Lisa sure is an inspiration! Thanks for taking the time to say so, Liana! Stop by her website, if you’d like to purchase some of her artwork!

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