IRVINE, Calif. -- Eunice and Olive, two resident chickens at the Farm + Food Lab in Irvine, just returned to a nice clean roost thanks to a volunteer team from the community-based, global design and architecture firm, Stantec.

Throughout the year Farm + Food Lab hosts countless volunteers who come to help maintain the site and to learn sustainable gardening techniques from what is being billed as a “zero waste urban farm.”

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Stantec team member Jeff Crawford said he jumped at the chance to get his hands dirty and give back to the community. 

“I do enjoy gardening,” said Crawford. “It's always been a passion. So, when I saw this is one of the three activities that our Irvine office was doing this week this is the one I jumped on. We’re actually getting to see the full cycle from how produce is grown here locally, but also to be a part of the sorting and distribution of that food at local food banks.”

While the Farm + Food Lab produces food for local farmers markets and food banks, it is also an educational center that sees thousands of students come through every year. 

“This place serves as an inspiration for the community to get inspired, for people to get empowered with knowledge that they can grow their own food,” said Senior Director of Solutions for Urban Agriculture, Nathan Gipple. “We can grow temperate plants, things that require a little bit of chill, we have tremendous flexibility.”

The Farm + Food Lab encapsulates the full agricultural cycle from seed to composting and for visitors there are also plenty of fascinating plants to discover, like the “popcorn Acacia,” which gets its name from, well, you guessed it…

“You break up the flowers a little bit. Take a smell, and it smells like buttered popcorn! Who knew?” said Gipple, taking a whiff. 

Land is hard to come by in urban environments, so the gardeners here practice a space saving technique known as “espalier.”

“Espalier being a French technique where you basically train the tree to grow in two dimensions,” explained Gipple. 

Farm + Food Lab also wants to show that there are possibilities for urban agriculture that almost anyone can do. 

“It's finding those under-utilized areas of the urban fabric and just getting people to take ownership of them and really benefiting from that incredibly fresh, nutrient-dense foods,” said Gipple.

Added Crawford, “There are plenty of companies that are willing to donate money. At Stantec, we really believe in rolling up our sleeves, getting our hands dirty and actually doing hands-on community service. So, it's meaningful to get out here and work on a project like this.”