Now, he can combine those two passions by using homegrown produce at his restaurant — a first in Santa Cruz County.
“I am the first person to have a dedicated off-site garden [in Santa Cruz County],” Acton said.
Since he opened Boulder Creek Pizza and Pub two years ago, Acton said he quickly developed a desire to use his own freshly grown ingredients for his dishes, but had no space for an on-site garden at his restaurant.
“I wish I could just bring my food into the restaurant,” he said, “but you are not allowed to just bring food into restaurants, you have to come from verified food sources.”
Acton then began working with Phil McCauley, a health inspector for the Santa Cruz County Department of Environmental Health Services, and the office of Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson with the intention of starting an off-site garden at his Ben Lomond residence.
Acton said that, although McCauley thought it was a great idea, he was reluctant to move forward with Acton's plan at first because there was no previous approval program in place.
To create the pathway to approval, McPherson’s office collaborated with the Health Services Department to create a checklist called the “Best Management Practices Agreement for Produce Garden Self Registration.”
This outlines requirements for soil, site, and water, as well as proper methods for growing, maintenance, harvesting, worker sanitation, inspection, and distribution practices for produce.
These guidelines are based on Napa County’s guidelines for restaurants interested in locally sourced produce, McCauley said.
“All food has to come from an approved source when we are dealing with a retail food facility like a restaurant,” McCauley said. “This is just another avenue for approving sources of food.”
The Director of Environmental Health Services, John Hodges, said that he encourages the idea — so long as it’s compliant with state law.
“We try to support all efforts to bring good nutrition and locally grown products to market,” he said. “However, we like to make haste slowly because we want to make sure there is adequate protection.”
In order to conform to California laws, Acton’s gardens must be fenced so large animals cannot get in and everything must be varmint-proof with gopher wire cages and garden beds.
Acton has a big garden and a small garden, both of which display a variety of herbs, squashes, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuces. He has six different types of basil, eight kinds of squash, and over 45 varieties of tomato.
Acton’s love of gardening came from working in the garden when he was growing up in Brentwood. He said his green thumb can be attributed to his stepfather, who is a third-generation farmer from San Jose.
“They had a big farm and we had a huge garden,” Acton said. “My mom, my [step]dad, and my grandma are super-good farmers, they can grow anything, anywhere.”
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