Smile Politely

The Summit

The Summit Urban Gardens is comprised of two organic, sustainable home gardens in northern Champaign. The business, run by gardener Teka Lutrell and his partner and “public outreach person,” Sollena Morginn, delivers “ultra-fresh, ultra-local” vegetables to the doorstep of residents of Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy.

“Ultra-Fresh” means that all produce in the order from The Summit is harvested, washed, packaged, and hydra-cooled on the morning of your delivery. The produce that customers receive was growing in the garden just hours before it is delivered.

“That’s a big difference from going into the grocery store,” Sollena said, where produce has been sitting for weeks at a time.

“We do not use ‘locally grown’ to describe our gardens and home delivery service,” Teka said. “To ordinary grocery stores and farmers’ markets ‘locally grown’ means that the produce is grown anywhere within the entire state or within a few hundred miles of where it is sold. We use the phrase ‘Ultra-Local’, as our produce is grown within the same city area that our customers live.”

Teka and Sollena moved from Mesa, Arizona to Champaign eight months ago to attend to Teka’s ill mother, and now, after her passing, are running both houses and gardens, trying to spread their vision to interested local community members.

Teka brought his unique gardening techniques with him from Sebastopol, California, a city in Sonoma County, approximately 52 miles north of San Francisco. He originally began gardening in the ’70s.

Teka’s vegetables grow in beds that are planted via the Organic French Intensive Method. This technique uses open pollinated seeds, which are used so that the garden produces an abundance of food and seeds that will grow into next year’s garden. No machines are used.

The bed designs are unique: 12 inches of soil piled and fenced in to contain and help oxygenate it, and to keep people from stepping in it, which compresses the root-filled soil.

The trellises that help guide and protect some of the crops are handmade by Teka. He uses concrete mesh, used in highway construction, to provide structure for his tomato vines. These stand at 7 ½ to 8 feet tall and can reach up to 16 feet. Sunflowers are abundant in the garden and provide a natural shade for the crops.

His sustainable “conscious gardening” approach has the long-term aim of nourishing the soil so that it is rich, alive, organic, deep, and loose — soil that can sustain a drought and that you no longer have to dig.

“In California they don’t rake things up for 40 years,” he said. “Nature’s been digging the soil for thousands of years.”

Teka’s garden doesn’t use pesticides or any harmful fertilizers, instead relying on sticky pheromone traps to deter pests and an “urban compost” to enrich the crops’ soil. Teka purchased old leaf compost from the city of Urbana to make a “compost tea” that he uses to nourish to soil.

There’s an unexpected abundance to the gardens, which utilizes space very effectively. “You can get a tremendous amount of food in small places,” Teka said. “I don’t grow them too crowded. I grow them intensively, but it’s just right.”

Teka spent seven years running a California juice business that offered a variety of fresh juices delivered right to the doorsteps of residents and businesses in Humboldt County. He and his seven employees began juicing at midnight and juiced until sun-up, when they would begin their deliveries. He says he sold over 10,000 gallons of his green multi-veg juice, a mix that he has reproduced for availability through Summit Urban Gardens’ home delivery service.

Sollena is trying to expand the vision and bring it to the local community. “It’s an education. We want to gently help support people,” Sollena said.

She is focused on the raw movement with her endeavor called Vibrantly Raw, which aims to “help inspire people to discover how one can live in optimal health through a raw, vegan lifestyle.” She’s trying to counteract a system that she calls “askew” and get more people interested in eating fresh, nutrient rich products.

“Anything in a can has oxygen. It’s dead. Canning is for survival,” Sollena said.

Originally from Connecticut, Sollena spent 25 years as a respiratory specialist and a massage therapist before moving her focus to a holistic and preventative health care approach. She says she now eats about 90% raw and she cleanses 3–4 times per year: “What you’re taking in is what you’re putting into the world.”

Teka and Sollena are hoping that their business ventures catch on in the area and they can expand their ideas to other like-minded individuals. They hope to soon provide biodegradable bags in their deliveries and to create their own compost tea next year. Teka envisions a network of “ultra-local” growers who have their own whole family survival plots — an idea that may seem weird to some people.

“Weird is good. We’re trying to move the world forward with peace and kindness. Food is your medicine. I think this could really take off,” Teka said.

If you’re interested in getting deliveries from the Summit Urban Gardens you can contact Teka. Sollena’s next Vibrantly Raw meet up takes place September 15. For more information see her calendar page.

The produce is the freshest and best tasting I’ve had. Liz and I have shaped our weekly meals around the Summit’s offerings and we plan on sharing some of those recipes and photos in future Vegan Ease columns. During our visit to The Summit we were able to try raw corn straight from the garden with nothing added except unrefined coconut oil and a bit of Celtic Sea Salt. This was more flavorful than other corn I have had, which loses 20% of the nutrients during cooking.

Teka also brought us several “garden burritos.” He grazed about the garden picking lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and herbs to roll into a fresh, nutrient rich burrito that energized us. We also tried some quinoa Rejuvelac, a fermented, probiotic-rich grain drink that looks like a non-dairy milk and has a similar taste to coconut kefir. Sollena says she drinks 8 oz. of it before meals. Teka and Sollena’s dog Kobie even joined in the fun and seems to be just as excited about the garden and fresh food as everyone else.

For a closer look at The Summit Urban Gardens:


Photos by Liz Benoit & Jeremiah Stanley.

Related Articles