San Diego County is home to the greatest number of small farms in any county around the nation, but as farmers age out – who will take over?

Garden 31 hopes to sow the seeds of a solution.

The nonprofit organization is a beacon of hope in San Diego, cultivating more than crops—it also grows futures in agriculture. At the root of Garden 31 is Chris Burroughs, whose story of personal redemption and community resilience inspired him to start the organization in 2021.

“We’ve got to care for what cares for us. This land, this earth, has been caring for us since long before (we) were born,” Burroughs said. “We see Garden 31 as a community organization based in building community and empowering people.”

A Catalyst for Change

Garden 31 aims to be more than a nonprofit; it is a movement rooted in the belief that understanding our connection to the Earth is fundamental to our well-being.

Its mission is to empower socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and strengthen communities by providing career opportunities in regenerative agriculture, food sovereignty and land conservation.

Through farmer education and career apprenticeship programs, Garden 31 caters to residents facing economic hardship, educational barriers, limited healthcare access, inadequate housing and food insecurity. These programs offer pathways to meaningful careers in horticulture and equip community members with the tools to transform their circumstances through workshops and hands-on training.

Agricultural Impacts

Nicole Santarsiero, a San Diego Mesa College student, began taking workshops at Garden 31 to learn ways to combat the effects of climate change.

“In this time that we face climate change, we talk about food security and making those things more accessible to your own communities. This is probably the best way to make it – teach yourself how to grow produce, how to make soil, care for plants, and let the plants take care of us.”

As temperatures rise and weather patterns become increasingly unpredictable, vulnerable communities face heightened risks of food insecurity, exacerbated by limited access to resources and economic fragility.

Garden 31’s focus on regenerative agriculture not only addresses immediate food needs but also serves as a long-term solution to mitigate the impacts of climate change. By promoting sustainable farming practices and fostering community resilience, Garden 31 helps upskill farmers’ ability to adapt to environmental challenges while addressing the systemic injustices faced by the most underserved communities in the region.

By empowering individuals and strengthening community bonds, Garden 31 lays the groundwork for a more resilient and equitable future in San Diego and beyond.

Close-up of planting in Garden 31

When the Community Grows, Plants Grow

A San Diego Foundation (SDF) Community Food Grant Program recipient, Garden 31 has a vision to cultivate a community where everyone has access to nutritious food, fostering an environment of growth, health and prosperity for all. The goal is to nurture greatness by empowering others, building strong community bonds and forging deep connections with the earth.

“We are super excited to be supported by San Diego Foundation and this community food grant,” Burroughs said. “As we empower people, the community grows and if the community grows, the plants grow.”

By working in tandem with community partners, Garden 31 believes it’s possible to plant the seeds of change and turn over a new leaf for the betterment of our region.

The Community Food Grant Program was funded through a partnership with the County of San Diego. In 2021, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the framework for the use of American Rescue Plan Act funding, including the framework for the program.

The Community Food Grant Program contributes to building resilient communities, a pillar of the SDF Strategic Plan, by addressing equity barriers and creating a more inclusive and accessible food system for all.

Learn More: Community Food Grant Program Partners.