This month's SV SPOTLIGHT is on Venice local Steven Williams of SELVA International. A man with insurmountable passion for the ocean and all land that leads to it, I am stoked to have had the chance to sit with him and learn more about how he gives back to the planet in his work, play, and activism.
From working with SELVA International to running Surfrider Foundation LA’s Ocean Friendly Gardens program, he continues to connect the dots between people’s daily habits to their impact on our watershed to how it ultimately reaches and effects the end of the line... our ocean.
It is evident in his actions that he lives and leads by example and continues to be a positive influence and inspiration in our community.
Join us as we get to know Steven Williams a little more and learn how we, too, can make our Venice gardens a little more green...
Steven Williams (right)
What are your accreditation’s/certifications?
SW: Licensed Landscape Contractor
G3 Sustainable Landscape Professional
Earth Flow Permaculture Design
CA Native Plant Society Native Plant Ambassador
SV: What do you do and how long have you been in this field?
Sustainable Landscape Contractor for Selva EcoGardens | 4 years http://www.selvainternational.org/ecogardens.htm
Chair Ocean Friendly Gardens Program for LA Surfrider chapter | 7 years
Conservation Biologist at RCDSMM | 15 years
Prior work for National Park Service in Bay Area, Santa Monica Mountains and Channel Islands...mostly habitat restoration.
SV: Why did you start a career as a Sustainable Landscape Contractor?
SW: So as an adult I could continue to play outdoors in the dirt, and get paid for it. I felt a connection with the natural environment as a teen, and became concerned about what humans were doing to it.
SV: Nice. As kids we are so connected to the planet. It's refreshing to hear you've maintained that sense of awareness as an adult.
What is your idea of, or how would you define, “sustainability” in regard to gardening?
SW: EcoGardens are a version of Ocean Friendly Gardens that require a native plant palette. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, EcoGardens build healthy soil, sequester carbon, save water, infiltrate stormwater runoff and look amazing. Many of these plants don't require additional water after a couple years. I'd say that is a pretty sustainable garden.
SV: ...“sustainability” in regard to Venice?
SW: If you look at the Singapore Sustainability Index, which quantifies the "sustainability" of cities, you will see that it is heavily weighted toward creating biodiversity from converting traditional landscaping to native habitat.
Venice is quickly losing the ability to do this by paving over usable soil with new development that spans from sidewalk to alley.
SV: ...“sustainability” in regard to the planet?
SW: We are living in dark times regarding the fate of this planet. We need to get that clown out of the cockpit and turn this ship around.
SV: Ha! Amen!
What would you say most clients worry about when deciding to make the transformation from an all-grass turf to something more conducive to our natural SoCal climate?
SW: Time and Money. We know because we researched it.
SV: Los Angeles County has many sub-climate zones. What zone is Venice in and how might this differ from a clients home in Pasadena when you’re planning a lawn transformation in these zones?
SW: Venice is in the West of Lincoln Zone (actually West of Walgrove)...its own sub-universe. I don't get out to Pasadena much...I prefer to work local to minimize my ecological footprint and road rage. But yes, you do have to consider micro-climates when considering best plants for your design.
SV: That's a helpful tip for those trying to do a little research before contacting sustainable landscape contractors like yourself. Also, to stay out of your way while operating a vehicle. ;-)
What are some tips for someone in Venice with a large yard who wants to begin the slow transition into a drought-tolerant and native lawn?
SW: You can chip away bit by bit, but it will look better if you are working from an ultimate design. Truth is, it will probably be best if you just do it all at once. And, you can get the turf removal rebate as well.
Before eco garden lawn conversion:
After eco garden lawn conversion:
SV: What tips do you have for locals with smaller yards or planter boxes for growing food or herbs to harvest for the coming spring/summer months?
SW: Go for it! Growing your own food is a great use of space. Look into a worm bin...worms eat my kitchen scraps...their poop is amazing fertilizer for veggies!
SV: Ah, yes. Worm poop... where all the magic happens. But, seriously, that's a great tip!
Why would you discourage homeowners from using AstroTurf?
SW: Why not?! For the reasons listed here on SELVA's site: http://www.selvainternational.org/artificialturf.htm
SV: Why not rocks/gravel as a landscape?
SW: It fails to meet first criteria of the Watershed Approach, which is another term for OFG: 1. Build Healthy Soil.
Gravel causes compaction and disrupts organic matter decomposition in soil; results in less permeable "dead" soil.
Lots of good stuff on this here from our friends at G3: https://greengardensgroup.com/watershed-approach-to-landscaping/
SV: WOW! Those are some legit reasons and I can see why you would want to keep this stuff out of people's yards!
You captain the helm of Surfrider LA’s Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG). What is the mission of this program?
SW: Reduce runoff pollution by absorbing rain into gardens.
SV: What brought you into this position with OFG?
SW: A guy named Paul Herzog
SV: What have you learned from this position with OFG and how has this facet of community volunteerism transformed your life/career?
SW: I have had the privilege of meeting and working with such a passionate and motivated group of volunteer activists at Surfrider. They are energizing, and a fun group to hang out with!
SV: Yes they are! 24/7 stoke with that crew!
What are some of your other go-to local or non-local affiliates, orgs, or partnerships?
SW: 3 yrs of Community Partnership grants with Surfrider OFG, Selva, and LADWP. We also hire Venice Youth Build to help and learn on these projects.
SV: What local shops do you typically support for all materials used in sustainable and ocean-friendly gardening?
SW: Quality Tools for sod-cutter rental.
SV: Venice is a coastal-lying region. What daily changes might you advise a client to make to help keep the Santa Monica Bay, and California coastal estuaries, healthy?
SW: To the best of your ability, reduce your consumption of plastic bags and plastic wrapped items. This includes coffee caps, straws, to-go packaging and all other things we can refuse to purchase or accept from others. Take a stand...it might be a little inconvenient and uncomfortable at first, but you will feel good about it and figure how to make it work without all that garbage.
SV: Yes!! Refuse single-use plastics... a very important subject! I couldn't agree more.
Considering climate change and sea level rise, what tips do you have for locals and non-locals alike to help mitigate their impact in regard to this massive and important topic?
SW: Ride a bike and public transit when you can.
SV: Great advice! Luckily our area is very bike friendly and, if you're a visitor, we now have the Metro Bike Share stations in Venice!
I know you activate heavily in the community to ensure environmental and social equality. What do you think Venice could do to ensure sustainable growth while still supporting inevitable change?
SW: LA City Planning needs to abide by their Venice Specific Plan and Local Coastal Program building guidelines. I don't think we need to build highrise density near the coast...Venice should be a coastal sanctuary where folks can unwind and breathe by the sea...and see in all directions more than a block. A sea/see refuge.
SV: Oooooo... love that. "a sea/see refuge."
How would you advise other Venetians to support this small community to ensure sustainable growth and development?
SV: What types of foods and herbs are you growing for your farm-to-table lifestyle at home?
SW: We just planted tons of varieties of vegetable seeds in raised beds and in ground in the side yard. Front yard is sheet mulched and ready for native plants.
SV: I look forward to pics of this crop!
Do you ever conduct educational garden walking tours around the neighborhood?
SW: We have a garden in the upcoming MarVista Green Garden Tour.
SV: Favorite recreation(s) in Venice?
SV: Favorite local digs and dives?
SW: Hal's, Surfside, Larry's, Hinano's, once in awhile good music at Townhouse. Yeah, I like live music but Venice is basically a live music desert these days. There is a big void to be filled.
SV: I know you heavily support the artist community and even DJ at various locations like Gravlax - a certified (OFR) Ocean Friendly Restaurant in Culver City. Where else might we find you on the 1’s & 2’s?
SW: That's about it for now...i just like playing my records and they are chill about it. a Venice location would be cool...but I play a lot of old dirty rock music and everyone wants hip hop.
SV: Ha! I'd be down for a local joint to spin some dirty rock music on a weekend!
How might a prospective client find you to book a consultation?
SW: There is a link at bottom of this page
You can contact Steven at SELVA or attend any of Surfrider LA's Ocean Friendly Gardens events and learn how to convert your lawn into an eco garden while getting your hands dirty!
Also, check out this dope new promo video for Surfrider LA's Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and see if you can spot Steven sipping his morning cup of joe as he awaits a morning paddle out with the Surfrider LA crew and friends *we spy Bureo.