Good Food

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How this Los Angeles ad exec became a full blown organic farming nerd

Donat_Farm_Malibu

(Photo: Tiny Rebellion/Lucas Donat)

 

A lot of child actors follow a predictable path: partying, bad press, then a slow fade into obscurity. But Lucas Donat, AKA Mark Thorn in the 1978 horror flick Damien: Omen II, isn’t typical—in a lot of ways.

After founding the thriving Santa Monica-based ad agency Tiny Rebellion, which works with companies pursuing positive change, Donat and his family settled on a dreamy plot of land in Malibu. And instead of installing an infinity pool and some cabanas, Donat and his wife decided to actualize a very different dream: They turned their backyard into a farm.

(Photo: Tiny Rebellion)

Ad exec-farmer Lucas Donat (Photo: Tiny Rebellion)

Nowadays, they’ve got a whopping 35 different tomato varieties, 23 avocado trees, and a chicken coop, and Donat has become the kind of guy who geeks out over his “worm juice” (read on). “It’s back-breaking work,” he says, “but it’s such a joy.” Aspiring gardeners, and Lindsay Lohan, take note.

How much farming know-how did you have before you started? Not enough, but part of the experiment is learning what to grow and how to grow it. The tomatoes were vexing me for a while. I was spoiling them too much with rich soil. I consulted a gardener friend who I very much respect, and he told me you want angry, rocky soil. That grows the sweetest fruit.

How much of your diet is made up of  food you grow? A half-acre can produce an enormous amount, but it depends on the season. Through late spring and late winter, most of our fruit comes from the garden—our first fruits are the apricots, and our last fruits are persimmons and apples. In winter months, we augment from farmer’s markets. But vegetables like chard and kale come from the garden almost year-round.

Wow. And you have a chicken coop. Do you eat the chickens or just their eggs? Just the eggs. The chickens eat a lot of the scraps and bugs from the garden, as well as organic chicken feed. They end up producing really bright, dense, rich orange eggs….You hold these tiny chicks in your hands and you get attached to them, but it’s hard because they live outside and anything can happen. You lose them to a coyote, or they get sick, or the runt gets ganged up on.

Raising_Chickens_farm_Donat

(Photo: Tiny Rebellion/Lucas Donat)

 

I know you collect rainwater. What for? Actually, we ran into some trouble with that. When we built the house, we built it with a rain catch system. So all of our water was purified, filtered rain water. We did it successfully for a couple of years (during the dry season we’d live off city water for three to four months). But the city and the neighbors had a hard time processing that….

That sucks, but you still have the worm bin, right? The worm bin is amazing. There are so many different things that we compost—everything from leftover lettuce and spaghetti to banana peels or a chunk of potato. It makes magically wonderful and nutritious soil. The bin produces “worm juice,” a black liquid full of nutrients. We spray it on leaves, or dilute it and pour it on plants’ root systems. All of the roses just got a hit.

Nice! Gardening is pretty soulful work. Has it changed your business perspective at all? There’s a lot we can learn from systems of nature—I find myself referencing it a lot at work, to the point where I have to pull back. We talk a lot about sustainability in business practices, because businesses require enormous inputs to operate, and a lot of the time, the yield is toxic. To offset that, companies will trade a carbon footprint credit, or donate back to an environmental cause… But it’s the core business model that’s the issue. —Jamie McKillop

For more information, and to view a video tour of Donat’s garden, visit www.lucasdonat.com

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