MARIPOSA – Vines rise from big buckets lining two greenhouses at Mariposa Loofa, where about 300 loofa sponges begin as gourds and are grown to lengths of 2 and 3 feet each.
Linda and Chris Dahl own and operate the Mariposa Loofa farm, about seven miles south of Mariposa off Highway 41.
This weekend, Sept. 29-30, the enterprise is open to the public as part of the Mariposa Tomato Festival “Weekend in the Country” tour of family farms, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.Loofas are grown to produce the non-abrasive sponge commonly used in baths, and sold with household cleaning supplies. Linda, known locally as “the loofa lady,” has been tending the fast-growing annual in different locations for 35 years.
“Loofa is a very aggressively growing plant,” she says, “with vines growing as much as 1 to 2 feet a day, and the fruits mature at 1 to 2 inches a day.”
Mariposa loofa gourds get somewhat less than the ideal 120-day growing cycle, depending on how soon winter comes. After harvest, the gourds hang and dry for about two months.
“Once they have dried, we shake out the seeds, soak them in water for five minutes and then the skins slide off and you have a loofa sponge,” says Linda.
The heirloom seeds are saved for next planting season. Linda says her loofas are superior to imported product, which may contain chemicals and is usually rigid, not soft.
Loofa is a tropical plant, generally grown at sea level from Mexico to Egypt, but that didn’t stop Linda and Chris from planting theirs at 2,300 feet elevation in the foothills.
The determined duo moved to Mariposa in 2005, and are both cancer survivors who farm without chemicals or pesticides. Chris labors behind the scenes, building and maintaining the structural parts of the enterprise, while supporting Linda’s endeavors every step of the way.
Linda elaborates on the daily chores, “We spend a good deal of time during the growing season just guiding and controlling the direction of the vines, and we also do pollinating by hand to assure good pollination throughout the greenhouses.”
The green-thumbed pair also foster roses, lavender and herbs used in their line of botanically-infused soaps, hand-creams, lip balms and other all-natural products.
The Dahls will be on hand this weekend to answer questions and show visitors around the property, and products will be available for purchase during the open farm tour.