In 2013, Fred and Jinger Dixon started the Dos Pueblos Permaculture and Moringa Farm along the largely untouched Gaviota Coast. What began as a soil and greenhouse restoration project has grown into a permanent agricultural food forest. Only a few minutes away from Santa Barbara, it is an easy escape for campers looking to stay close to home. Private Beach Farm provides something for everyone, from surfing at a beach with views of the Channel Islands, to making dinner in an outdoor pizza oven with friends, or learning about sustainable farming practices.
The greenhouse is lined with small structures made out of a combination of dirt, repurposed old-growth redwood and recycled windows. The structures are decorated whimsically with colorful glass bottles, string lights, potted plants and leafy vines. A stillness and warmth fills the greenhouse during the day, with the occasional sound of a train whirring past the beach. Campers will fall asleep to a chorus of chirping frogs, and wake to a rooster crowing in the greenhouse next door.
From glampsites to indigenous lands, wineries to working farms, Fred and Jinger are part of an emerging community of landowners and camp hosts who have generously opened their land to the next generation of campers. Dive in to learn more about Private Beach Farm, their permaculture and Moringa farm, and a peek at their camp in our interview below.
Hipcamp: Why did you join Hipcamp, and allow campers to stay on your land?
Jinger Dixon: The landowner had the property for ten years and it was a trashed dump of almost 30 years of neglect. A lot of the greenhouse windows were smashed out, it was trashed from here to the beach. Our first year here was spent cleaning up the trash. The second year is when we started working on the permaculture farm. This is a soil restoration project, so it’s not really a for-profit farm. We're trying to restore the land to a healthy condition, and at the same time we’re planting a permanent agricultural food forest with perennials. Once we get the whole thing planted and established, it will continue to regenerate the soil and it will improve over time. Part of the reason we're doing Hipcamp is to try to help fund our project of restoring the property. I always tell our guests that I really appreciate them coming out because it helps us continue with what we're doing to bring back the ecology.
Fred Dixon: The money is going right back into the property.
JD: Right now we have six kids that we are sponsoring from all over the world. They come in from everywhere. They'll spend one to three months here and learn about permaculture.
FD: Sometimes it's hard getting them to leave!
JD: I think it helps them to view agriculture in a different way. It sets them on a path where hopefully they will take that information and they'll spread it in every direction they go. It's all a positive experience for them, its positive for us, and its positive for the landowner. It's kind of a win-win-win for everybody.
HC: Were you working in permaculture farming before you came to this property?
JD: We were doing homesteading in urban environments. We taught people how to do front yard and backyard raised-beds, backyard chicken coops, water catchment, and aquaponics systems. It's really amazing how much food you can produce in just one small tract home by transforming it. If you can get a whole block to start doing that, they could feed a whole neighborhood. When this property came up we wanted to do something on a much larger scale. It started because these fields were so overworked and dried out that they were blowing dust all over the farm. So, I told the landowner that I could do some permaculture farming. He was so excited he kept saying, “Do more, do more!” So it all worked out well. It’s nice to have this larger project that we can use to help teach other people to do it, too.
HC: Why camping inside of a glass greenhouse?
JD: It's just a unique place. It's an unusual thing, most people don't have greenhouses. This was the worst greenhouse of all when we first started. You actually needed a machete just to get in the door. Weeds were going right through the roof and it was just full of junk. It was the greenhouse with the best view, so we thought to make this more of a community space. We wanted to make it more interesting than just doing rows of crops in here. It seemed like a better use of the space and it seemed to work out as a perfect camp spot. Campers can close both doors at the end and have their own private experience in here, and then venture out. This gives them a home base where they can let their dogs run around.
HC: What kind of activities do campers participate in at Private Beach Farm?
FD: Disc golf. It's going to be awesome! And to go see Santa Barbara.
JD: We're working on disc golf, it's coming soon. Sometimes campers come out to surf. We have a very famous surf spot that's impossible to get to because you have to cross through private property to get to it, and no one will let you. So by coming here, they can get right to the surf spot. A lot of people just like to be on a farm, they like the animals. I would say hiking, fishing, and surfing are the things people like to do here.
HC: This area has a long history, from being home to the Chumash tribe for 10,000 years, to being the world’s largest orchid farm. How did you go about finding this property, and know you wanted to manage a farm?
FD: We found it through word of mouth. Our neighbors that lives across the way moved out here first. They're our friends and we saw pictures on Facebook of these greenhouses. They knew that we were doing urban agriculture and said we would be a good fit here. We came a few months after them, which is four years ago now. It's been really magical.
JD: We came out here just to rent a greenhouse and to grow our own food. We got it fixed so quickly, and planted so quickly that the landowner started asking, "Oh can you fix this one? Can you fix that one?" One thing led to another, and the next thing you know we're managing 50 acres of permaculture.
HC: What is your day-to-day routine as a Hipcamp host and permaculture farmer? Do the routines compliment themselves, are there differences?
JD: A lot of people that come here are interested in permaculture and I'll give them a permaculture tour if they're interested. I explain to them where we started. I have some cool pictures of the field when it looked like the sand dunes of the Sahara, and I'm putting one plant in the ground. Now the whole thing is covered in green and trees, so you can see how far we've come. I usually have five to ten volunteers that are working at any given time. We work from 9-3 everyday, planting, seeding, watering, weeding, planting trees. It’s your typical farm duties from raking animal pens to turning compost piles.
FD: Day-to-day routine is to knock one thing off the list and add two more things to do. It's great, but it never stops. But, a lot of the Hipcampers like it. They like to see it and get involved to whatever extent they're into it.
JD: There is also a greenhouse with an industrial aquaponics system. We grow a lot of the wwoofer food in there. I usually tell Hipcampers about that, and I'll give them a tour and explain how the whole system works.
HC: In your listing, you mention that Private Beach farm is a Permaculture and Moringa farm. Can you talk to me more about what Moringa is? Can campers get a glimpse into the permaculture farming process?
FD: Moringa is our real passion. Nobody knows about, and nobody is growing it. There are probably only four or five farms in the country.
JD: Moringa is a tree that is native to Africa and Asia. We mostly grow the Asian variety, Moringa oleifera. It's pretty much the superfood of all superfoods. If you look up what the most nutritious plant on earth is, it will say the leaves of the Moringa tree. Since we were looking for drought tolerant crops to grow and we had the greenhouses, I decided to try it. It grew really well in the greenhouses so we started expanding on that.
The leaves contain 46 antioxidants, 36 anti-inflammatories, 20 amino acids, and all the vitamins and minerals of a multi-vitamin. You strip the leaves from branches and dry them in the shade, then grind it into a bright green powder. You can add it to your smoothies or we also make a tea with mint that we grow here on the property. You can also eat the fresh leaves in your salad.
The seeds from the tree are also highly nutritious. The seeds are 40% oil and it doesn't go rancid so you can press the oil and it keeps indefinitely. Once the seed is pressed that seed cake can purify water. You can eat the seeds fresh or you can grind them into a powder. We also made a soap. We have a couple of craft fairs each year, with a bunch of really cool artisans from Santa Barbara. We always have a booth there and I sell out of Moringa every year, people line up to buy it!
HC: Can campers buy or try Moringa here?
FD: Yes, we're in the middle of winter but we still have some. You won't see the big plants everywhere, but you'll see little seeds.
JD: Moringa is the second fastest growing plant next to bamboo. Last year was a slower growth year because we had so much fog and we had so much demand that we couldn't possibly keep up. It's a good problem to have, but you want to be able to grow as much as you can sell. I save just a certain amount for my regular customers who have been coming to me for the last few years. It's a really fun plant to grow, it's definitely unique.
HC: Can you talk to me more specifically about the history of the structures here, like the glass greenhouse?
FD: There's a book called the Royal Rancho about the history here. The Chumash Indians lived here for 10,000 years. There were two tribes of Chumah living on either side of the creek. In the 1500's, the explorer Cabrillo from Spain came and found them. Cabrillo named it Dos Pueblos, meaning Two Towns. In 1950, an oil man named Sam Moser bought the place. Shortly thereafter, these 18 greenhouses sprouted up. Sam Moser died in 1980, and his wife didn't want anything to do with this place and it just sat here.
JD: He built the biggest and most extravagant orchid farm in the world because his wife loved them. This was the world famous Dos Pueblos Orchid Farm. For 30 years it was abandoned and when we got here it was like the desks were still in the offices with orchid brochures on them. The drawers still had paperwork from their customers, it was so weird. And his portrait was hanging on the wall, sitting in his armchair with a cigarette.
FD: It literally put Santa Barbara on the map for orchids. You can still see a sign on the office when you park, that says "Dos Pueblos Orchid Company." A lot of people call this place "The Orchid," it's just kept the name. Orchid fever is the running joke around here. Everybody who comes out here, including us, gets orchid fever when you see this place. You're like, "Oh my god, I'm not leaving!"
What sparked the idea to build a pizza oven and wine bar inside of the greenhouse?
JD: We wanted to teach the kids that we work with about sustainability. There were collapsed structures that were covering the whole area. They wanted to bulldoze them and send them to the landfill. I thought no way, that's old-growth redwood! Everything you see in the greenhouse is made out of it. I talked the landlord into letting us dismantle the buildings by hand. We threw away one dumpster of the plastic that was lining the roofs. Everything else we kept, all the metal, all the fixtures, all the wood. We repurposed it and kept it all on the property because we have no budget. It didn't cost anything except the price of nails.
The pizza oven is made from dirt on the ground and concrete blocks from the smashed up floor from the old structures. It shows that the resources are all around you, and people are so used to throwing away the old and bringing in the new. Our goal was to work with what we had. This is all the trash, just rearranged.
FD: It's been fun. When we got here, I just decided I was on vacation. We both are. We live in paradise and our bills are very minimal, so we have time to do this stuff.
HC: I'm curious about these unique Adirondack chairs and the way the wood is designed on some of these structures. Did you come up with the designs yourself?
FD: I'm actually not a very good traditional carpenter so I made them so I wouldn't have to cut any angles. It only takes me half an hour to make one. I can't do anything square or straight, and that's perfect for this wood.
JD: The first cabin on the end, Fred made. With the second one, he started showing the wwoofers how to do the techniques, and then they started to takeover and started building them. On top of the Wine Bar there's a little model and I asked one of my wwoofers, who was getting really good at carpentry, if he could make one that looked like the model. He did the whole thing by himself. He really matured as a carpenter just working here. He went on to do very fine, handmade furniture. He kind of discovered his own talent just by getting to explore and play a little bit here.
HC: What is the best time of year to visit Private Beach Farm?
FD: Right now! It depends on what you're looking for. I like the colors right now and the weather. To me this is best time of year, we don't have as many weddings going on. If you look at our description online you'll see all the dates that we have weddings scheduled.
JD: We have good weather all year. We had a lot of rain this winter, but the last few winters it has been nice and warm all through the season. Even in the rain, the greenhouse gives you some shelter. If you're going to go camping in rainy weather, at least you're in somewhat of a protected structure. It's a lot nicer than not being able to leave your tent.
HC: Do you have any favorite camping moments or stories from Hipcampers so far?
JD: You check them in, they're overwhelmed and happy and they go do their thing. At the end they always say that they've had a great time.
FD: Everybody is really respectful. The surf guys were the best. They kept saying, "This place is siiiick!"
JD: It was six dudes came out to surf on a weekend, and they left the place cleaner than they found it.
FD: I think in general, Hipcampers are just good people.
JD: The campers are good, quiet, respectful, and nice people. Not partiers. That’s the only thing I was worried about. It's not a good place if you just want to come here and get lit and have a wild camping party. But, It doesn't seem like that’s the clientele at Hipcamp. We haven't had any bad experiences.
HC: I read that your property sometimes has events with more than 100 people, what kind of events do you host here?
JD: There are a lot of weddings. We also have a craft fair usually twice a year and it’s in a greenhouse here. It's usually in December and around Mother's Day, but we can post the dates online for campers.
FD: The nine greenhouses over there are individually rented, so there's people doing different events. There are also a lot of artists out here.
HC: What do you have planned for Private Beach Farm in 2017? Are there any exciting improvements or events you hope to make happen this year?
JD: The only thing we were talking about is opening up more than just one campsite in the future. Maybe adding another site somewhere out on the bluff. There are spots we would like to develop to allow camping.
FD: There are really nice spots to camp out on the bluff that are very primitive. You cannot build anything in this particular area, the Gaviota Coast. It's a protected coastline, which makes it really nice for campers.
HC: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about becoming a camp host? And for someone who is a camp host?
JD: For someone who's considering it, I would say that it has been a really good experience for us. The clientele has been so respectful and nice. It’s fun to meet everybody because they're from all over.
FD: The people at Hipcamp have been good to us, too. It's a positive experience. It depends on the property, but the advice I would give to current hosts is to allow people to bring their pets. A lot of people love bringing their dogs camping. We allow it, but we certainly have our guidelines and rules that we are strict about, especially leashes. I would say hosts should at least consider inviting pets.
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Lisse Lundin is a photographer and Parks & Recreation major based in San Francisco. You can follow along with her adventures via Instragram.