Find out how sponges grow at The Luffa Farm in Nipomo

Many people think luffas are sponges that come from the sea. Not so! Luffas are in fact a kind of squash that grow on a farm. We have our very own luffa farm nestled in the western hills of Nipomo.

The family-run Luffa Farm at 1457 Willow Road has been open to the public for 11 years, selling luffas and hand-crafted products that are made out of the “backyard” herbs growing on the property -- lavender, spearmint, peppermint, rosemary, mulberry, chamomile, eucalyptus and rose bushes.

Owner Deanne Coon took me on a tour. In two hothouses grow several rows of plants, the gourd-like luffas, in different stages, some with pretty yellow flowers. They grow up to several feet long.

When Coon moved to Nipomo from Fremont, she had no idea the farm would grow to its current size and popularity. Like the movie “Field of Dreams,” Coon said, “You build it and they come.”

They originally put the luffa plants outside, but the winds and gophers made mincemeat of them. Once they put them in greenhouses and brought four large cats onto the property to keep the gophers away, the plants began to thrive.

People heard about the farm and started showing up. Now Coon, her husband and staff guide tours, work the luffa plants, keep the shop, and hand-craft the soaps and skin products made from the luffas and herbal plants.

Coon speaks lovingly to the luffas like they are pets, calling them “guys” and grooming them - tweaking off a dead leaf or pushing a vine through an opening. “We play music (the luffas like music) – jazz, rock n’ roll,” whatever pleases the worker.

Currently the luffas are beginning to grow on the vines. Best viewing is from May to November, when the plants will grow so lush it will be hard difficult to move between the vines.

“These guys have actually been around since Egyptian days,” Coon said. “They are a real plant with ‘attitude,’ . . . definitely one of the most intelligent plants.”

Luffas are used in numerous ways: bathing, cleaning pots, cleaning cars, windows, painting walls, stuccoing, and as facial foundation, but not to eat. They are washable in the dishwasher or washing machine, but not the dryer.

Back in the day, backyard herbs were used for healing before modern medicine began producing medicines in pill form. Lavender, a natural relaxant and insecticide, is used for migraines (just sniff it). Spearmint helps with focusing and concentration, staying awake, and energizing.Peppermint is good for sore muscles, pain-relief and as an anti-inflammatory. Chamomile is an anti-depressant and helps with healing and relaxation. Rosemary relieves fatigue, lethargy, aches and pains, and respiratory congestion. Eucalyptus aids respiratory problems, muscle pain, stress and rejuvenates.

These days 7,000-8,000 people a year visit the farm, some via tours that start as far away as San Diego, including school and senior citizen tours. A group tour for 8+ people is $5, including cookies and tea. For $14 a tour includes a catered lunch.

Besides luffas, there are hand-made soaps, lotions, sachets, bath fizzlers, eye masks and neck wraps. For more information and hours, call 343-0883, or go to http://www.theluffafarm.com.