Couple transforms home to miniature farm

by Steven Felschundneff |

Often when Stan Abramowicz and Teresita Caspillo would tend to the garden out front of their Tenth Street home neighbors would comment, “Your yard is so unique, you should call the COURIER.” And one day they did.

Growing vegetables instead of tending to a lawn is not that uncommon—in fact, there is a nationwide movement to promote the idea, which was recently featured in the Farmers’ Almanac.

But the home based farm tended by Mr. Abramowicz and Ms. Caspillo is unique in that they have comingled vegetables and fruits from her native country, the Philippines, with varieties more common in the United States.

The Filipino vegetables include camote, which covers a wide area of their yard. “It’s like a sweet potato but people also eat the leaves,” Mr. Abramowicz said, adding “it kind of took over the back yard.”

However, in winter, after a little frost, all the camote dies back—such are the cycles of any garden.

The backyard is terraced with a rock retaining wall meticulously built by Mr. Abramowicz’s father, who was an engineer. He spent five years working on the wall, which involved fitting the individual rocks together perfectly and then beveling the concrete edge.

Going through the list of current plantings, Ms. Caspillo points out a variety of string bean that is unique to the Philippines, as well as luffa, which grows on a vine and is popular for exfoliating skin. There is also bitter melon which she says is beneficial to diabetics.

“And it’s bitter,” Mr. Abramowicz said, “but it is supposed to be healthy.”

The long list of edible fruits includes blood orange, navel orange, two types of avocado, loquat, plum and fig. There is a walnut tree that Mr. Abramowicz’ parents planted, which he has almost completely given up on because the squirrels eat the entire harvest.

“They use the interstate highway system,” he says about the squirrels, while pointing to the utility lines crossing his property.

Not all of the front yard is dedicated to cultivating food—there are also large rose bushes, plumeria, periwinkle, marigold and celosia. The backyard is where the serious vegetable  gardening takes place.

Aesthetically, the combination of flowers and vegetables is quite pleasing, with sweeping waves of crimson celosia offset by the tall stalks of green onion. The couple fertilize the garden but do not use any pesticides. As Mr. Abramowicz puts it, “you don’t need chemicals if the plant is healthy.”

Ms. Caspillo, who moved to the US in 1998, had a corn and vegetable farm in the Philippines where she was also a grade school teacher for 32 years. She has four grown children, three of whom are still in the Philippines.

Mr. Abramowicz received a degree in agronomy, a branch of agricultural science that deals with the study of crops and soils, and spent 25 years working for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department as a correctional farm supervisor at the James Muscik facility in Irvine.

The 100-acre facility, euphemistically called “The Farm,” closed in 2009 but for years low level offenders toiled the land growing food and raising chickens that, for a time, fed the county’s other jails.

“I loved working with the inmates and they loved working and we put millions of dollars back into the system as opposed to warehousing people,” Mr. Abramowicz said.

Mr. Abramowicz grew up in Claremont and his parents built the home on Tenth Street in 1961. In 2004, he returned to to care for his folks as they aged, and has lived in the house since 2008.

There was a great big liquidambar tree covering half of the front yard. However, the roots were tearing up the sidewalk, so they cut it down. When the workers ground the stump, it created a bald spot in the middle of the front yard. So, the couple decided to plant some flowers and the garden just grew from there. With the tree gone there is more sun, which has been beneficial to the other plants.

“The roses really took off with more sun,” Mr. Abramowicz said, “And we just kept planting one thing more and one thing more. She loves it, I love it, we are connected to the ground and we are definitely healthier.”

“Planting is my passion,” Ms. Caspillo said.

“You get your exercise. I’ve got to go out there to get those weeds, and it’s not like it’s a chore—it’s therapeutic,” Mr. Abramowicz said.

In September, the winter garden goes in, with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce propagated from seeds, which are transplanted once the seedlings become large enough. 

“Sometimes with my Filipino friends, I give them some vegetables, and they say ‘Oh we have not seen this since we left the Philippines,’” Ms. Caspillo said. The neighbors have also received the bounty of their harvest, which currently includes a tomato variety that has survived several winters.

Because of the pandemic, the couple don’t travel or get out much except to see friends. So, the garden and maintaining the house have become their main pastime.

“It gave me so much satisfaction, working on the farm and doing things and then I retired. But, I still have the knowledge, I still have everything in my head, so it is still growing,” Mr. Abramowicz said.




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