"Our garden is a reflection of my husband Marshall's green thumb and my green-minded design,” said Tama. “To maximize our opportunity to grow fresh, organic fruit and vegetables, we have utilized our front and backyard to accommodate over 25 fruit trees and various vegetables as well as drought- tolerant flowers. In doing so, we have also incorporated water-saving techniques and overall green living into our daily life."
Their solar system on the roof produces more power than they use on an annual basis. Several rain barrels have been installed on the property; a 530-gallon Slimline rain barrel fits in the side yard. It's a monster size, waiting for El Niño rains (San Diego is still offering rain barrel rebates worth up to $400, according to Tama).
Meanwhile, gray water is very green at the Varano house these days. Washing machine water is redirected to the Varanos' fruit trees and nonvegetable-type plants. A valve allows the Varanos two choices: discharge contaminant gray water to the sewer or discharge “clean” water to two 57-gallon tanks that flow to the trees and plants. All trees and plants are on an automatic/drip system, and fruit and vegetable scraps are composted.
Both Varano girls, Marina and Sierra, are active in athletics, especially volleyball. They have played on the artificial turf installed in the backyard since 2009, and no issues with quality or maintenance have occurred. Marina is an environmental studies major at U.C. Santa Barbara (why are we not surprised?). Sierra will be a senior at University City High School and co-founded an animal rights club, PEAPS Protect Every Animal, Pledge Service). Dogs Koa and Nirvana and cat Luna, are adored by the family.
Tama, a self-employed CPA, has been Parents-Teachers-Students Association treasurer multiple times for every school her daughters attended and will ascend to the presidency of the University City High association in the fall. She has been a Girl Scout leader for both girls' troops and remembers when she and several Scouts installed the Peace Pole at Standley Park. Besides that, she coached both girls in softball throughout their childhoods. Thanks to Tama's grant writing to County Supervisor Ron Roberts, four recycle bins are available at Standley Park and baseball and softball fields.
Marshall, who grew up in UC, has been a competitive runner all his life. As giving back to the community is the Varano family motto, Marshall founded and volunteers as head coach of Standley Middle School Running Club, an after-school program to encourage running and prepare the kids for University City High cross-country and track teams. He is also on the board of the local Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, having suffered from the condition in college.
Tama greeted me with the most delicious and beautiful homemade apple pie, vegan style, from her apple trees, Anna and Fuji. She has been a vegetarian for 29 years and became a vegan the last year and a half.
She preaches the truth about the best way to conserve water, something better than a rain barrel and artificial turf or drought landscaping. Meat production, she says, is the villain and involves the most intensive use of water in California. Eating less meat reduces water footprint. (See truthordrought.com for more.)
Meanwhile, fruit trees fill the property: Santa Rosa plum guava, fig, six orange varieties, two lemon and two cherry, lime, tangerine, grapefruit, kumquat, banana, avocado, peach, nectarine, Asian pear, pomegranate, Fuyu persimmon, tangerine, lychee, papaya and mango as well as passion fruit and grapevines and blackberry bushes.
The Varanos met at Ernst and Young as CPAs 25 years ago and have been married 23 years. They have lived in their home since 1996 and have become poster subjects for healthful environmental living.
One comes away highly energized after a visit with Tama. If iconic county landscape architect Kate Sessions were alive today, she would be a frequent guest at the Varano home, sampling that vegan apple pie and seeking Tama's advice.