Friends of Farming

 San Diego County

Spotlight on SD Farming

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  • 14 Jun 2016 9:24 AM | Deleted user

    ^^^ A gardener tends to her crops at the New Roots Community Farm run by the International Rescue Committee in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA. Photographer: Sandy Huffaker/IRC.

    Visitors to Farm Bureau’s City Heights Farmers’ Market in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego are often struck by two things: the diversity of produce on display, and the diversity of people walking and working the market. One can hear up to 15 different languages spoken while walking the rows on any given Saturday morning.

    San Diego County Farm Bureau partnered with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to bring the City Heights Farmers’ Market to fruition in 2008. The IRC office in San Diego serves primarily as a refugee resettlement agency, resettling about 1,000 people per year fleeing conflict, disaster, or persecution. City Heights is where many of IRC’s clients settle which contributes to the wide diversity of cultures in the community.

    Over the years, many IRC refugee clients have participated in City Heights Farmers’ Market as vendors and earned supplemental income for themselves. Along with handicrafts and artwork, many have been able to grow and sell produce at the market thanks to IRC’s New Roots Community Farm.

    The farm was initially conceived as a sort of cure. For many refugees, leaving their home countries and resettling in an entirely new environment is jarring. Bilali Muya, an IRC staffer and member of the Somali Bantu community was quoted in a 2011 New York Times article about refugee farming, saying, “There was this kind of depression. Everyone was dreaming to come to the U.S.A., but they were not happy. The people were put in apartments, missing activity, community. They were bored.” The IRC saw a community garden as a solution to improve their clients’ nutrition, mental health, and finances by allowing people to grow their own food, and create connections between neighbors.

    The IRC established the New Roots Community Farm as a community garden in June 2009 after months of negotiations with the City of San Diego and $46,000 in fees. As a result of their struggle to open the community garden, and working closely with city staff and other organizations, the IRC was able to influence city ag policy and it is now free to start a community garden in the City of San Diego. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the garden and declared it a “model for the nation.”

    At the New Roots Community Farm, which is located on the corner of 54th St. and Chollas Parkway in San Diego, 83 families grow herbs, fruits, and vegetables on 93 plots across 2.4 acres of land. Six of those growers have at one time sold their produce at CHFM, averaging $100 a day in sales. For those residents, an average of $400 a month is a significant supplemental income. The IRC offers soil and irrigation training at the garden, as well as a broader farmer training program on land in Pauma Valley. Clients who go through the training are equipped to grow their own produce and sell to local restaurants, take it home to their families, or sell it at the City Heights or nearby El Cajon farmers’ markets.

    City Heights farmers’ market has proven itself financially successful, open and running every week year-round since it opened, in a low-income neighborhood where half the residents live at or below the federal poverty line. Part of the market’s success is due to its accessibility. CHFM was the first farmers’ market in San Diego County to process electronic benefit transfer (EBT) transactions. EBT is California’s system by which qualifying individuals and families use food and nutrition assistance dollars from the state. CHFM was also one of nine pilot markets in the state to accept Women, Infants, Children (WIC) food and vegetable checks.

    Making it easy for residents to use all the resources they have to feed themselves and their families has earned the market a special place in the heart of the community. Just as the New Roots Community Farm offers opportunity and community to many people displaced from their homes, City Heights Farmers’ Market brings a diversity of people together every Saturday morning right in the heart of the neighborhood.

  • 14 Jun 2016 9:09 AM | Deleted user

    “At the Flower Fields we harvest flowers, tubers, and tourists,” Says Michael Anthony Mellano, Vice President of Production at Mellano and Co., the company that manages The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch in Carlsbad, one of Southern California’s most visible agritourism sites.

    The Flower Fields sits just off the I-5 freeway in Carlsbad, and for 60 years during the months of March, April, and May the farm’s primary crop, Giant Tecolote Ranunculus flowers, has put on a dazzling spring color show for the thousands of tourists and millions of commuters who visit or pass by the fields on their way up and down the freeway.

    The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch was an idea born of a friendship and partnership between three local families making their living growing flowers. In 1965, Edwin Frazee, who learned the art of ranunculus and gladiolus cultivation from his father, moved his flower operation to the current site of the Flower Fields in Carlsbad. The land was then, and still is, owned by the Ecke Family of Encinitas who were previously using the ground to cultivate poinsettia. Paul Ecke Jr. and Edwin Frazee became good friends, and when Edwin retired in 1993 Paul Jr. convinced him to stay on as a consultant to a new grower that would continue growing the ranunculus on the land. The Mellanos were growing their own flowers nearby in Oceanside, and Paul Jr. partnered with Mellano and Co. to manage the production of the ranunculus at the Flower Fields.

    Paul Jr. had a vision for the land to be farmed long into the future, but could see the writing on the wall in a rapidly urbanizing landscape. Field grown agriculture was becoming increasingly difficult, and Paul Jr. saw tourism as a way to bring the public closer to agriculture and diversify the farm’s income. “Farming in an urban environment is a very costly endeavor, so the profitability of the project is dependent on two major income streams and one minor: the cut flowers, the tourists that enjoy the fields and spend the day walking around flowers, then the tubers that are left over after we’ve harvested the cut flowers off the plants. The tubers are the minor crop,” explains Mellano.

    Thirteen colors of Giant Tecolote Ranunculus are still grown on 50 acres at the ranch. Cut flowers are harvested two to three times a week between March and May, dependent on the weather. The cut flowers – over 6 million stems a year - go into flower shops and supermarkets across the US and into Canada. Some are sold to visitors to the Fields through the Armstrong Garden Center that is located on site.

    Following the harvest of the flowers, the plant is maintained for a time in the ground while it is still green. “During that time the plant is photosynthesizing and building tuber mass. We’ll keep it going until the plant naturally goes dormant and shuts down. We cut the water off as it enters that state,” explains Mellano. The upper part of the plant eventually browns and disintegrates and workers use a modified potato digging machine to shave the top inch or two of soil off the bed. That layer of soil contains the plant tubers, or bulbs, which are sold through the garden center to visitors and through an online store,

    “There are several reasons why we harvest the tubers,” explains Mellano. “First, we are selling the tubers. Second, if we were to leave the tubers in the field, those would next season sprout and create another bigger plant with more flowers, but they are not as controllable. It would be difficult to get flowers from early February through Mother’s Day. Plus, you run the risk of accumulating viruses and diseases that would build up in the crop.”

    The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch is continuing to look for new ways to enhance the experience of visitors to the farm. “We’re trying to keep the experience fresh and new,” says Mellano. Thus, the North Forty. “This is a new project, distinctly separate from the Flower Fields though it shares the same site and will be operated by the same people.” The North Forty, currently in development and slated for an opening of April 2017, will be a demonstration farm. “The objective there is to more directly engage the public in edible crops. We will be growing a variety of some new things and some old things that we think consumers and the public would like to see coming out of our local environment, and get them out on the farm to see these things growing. We’ll have blueberries, olives, a patch of coffee; really new exploratory crops. A small area of hops, a small vineyard as well. On site there will be a microbrewery and winery with tastings, an olive oil company…it will have a permanent farmers’ market atmosphere, with local products, and a culinary center teaching people how to cook using the grown products. It should be a really dynamic project and really exciting for people to come visit.”

    Paul Ecke Jr. passed away in 2002, but his legacy continues in the farm he left behind. The Flower Fields website states, “Thanks to cooperative efforts between the land’s owner, the grower, The City of Carlsbad, The Carlsbad Agricultural Improvement Fund and the California Coastal Conservancy, this colorful hillside will continue to welcome visitors for years to come.” Now, added to the colorful hillside, the North Forty will too.
  • 14 Jun 2016 9:02 AM | Deleted user

    You’ve heard it said that things come and go in cycles; that observation holds true in agriculture too. San Diego County was once home to hundreds of vineyards which disappeared with prohibition and are now returning to the landscape. Now, Van Ommering Dairy is bringing something old back to San Diego County, and it’s been gone so long it feels new again: local cheese.

    San Diego County was once peppered with dairies - historically, nearly two hundred of them - supplying fresh milk and dairy products. With time came changes in regulations, the environment, the economy, and milk pricing, and dairies disappeared. One at a time they sold their cows or moved north where land and water was cheaper.

    “What made them go away was economies of scale in San Diego,” explains Dave Van Ommering, who operates the dairy in partnership with his brother, Robert. “It doesn’t make economic sense to stay in the area from a feed growing point of view. Bigger farms have acreage to grow feed for their cows.” Van Ommering Dairy has not stayed in business because of the amount of land the dairy sits on, but because of new ideas and diversification.

    Dave and his brother supplement feed for their approximately 400 cows with what grass they can grow on five acres at the dairy, and with spent brewery grain from Coronado Brewing Company. Alongside diverting one industry’s waste into feed for the cows, the biggest boost to Van Ommering Dairy has been agritourism. “Brenda and I draw income from agritourism, and my brother gets the dairy farm income. Diversification has allowed us to stay in business. It’s what keeps us going. We would not be in business any more without it.” Dave and Brenda give dairy tours throughout the year to the public and school groups. They also operate seasonal pumpkin and Christmas tree patches which have grown to draw thousands of visitors each year.

    Those visitors and the dollars they brought with them to the farm, kept the idea of a creamery always on Dave and Robert’s minds. “Visitors to the farm want to buy a product. We saw that a natural way to get more income from the family farm is to produce cheese.  We’ve been working for the last 12 years to try and start a creamery,” says Dave. “Now, it’s just one of those things where the timing has worked out for us. We knew we needed to start something. The dairy cows just weren’t enough income for our family. We want to ride this wave of consumers wanting to buy local.”

    John Hicks was trained as a brewer and worked as a winemaker in Temecula for four years, but has always been fascinated with fermentation, brewing, and winemaking. Hicks worked a brief stint in biotech but, “I was looking for something next. I started making cheese at home in my kitchen and my friends really liked it. I really loved the whole aspect, working with fermentation and that whole process. I didn’t want to go back into wine or brewing, and cheese making was a natural fit,” he says.

    To make cheese Hicks needed a steady supply of milk, and that was hard to come by. “I worked briefly with a goat dairy in Ontario, but that wasn’t a long term solution. I drove out to Van Ommering Dairy one day and started talking with Dave. He said they were interested but didn’t have the resources to get a cheese making business off the ground. We started talking about what we could each bring to the table, and what we could provide in terms of how a partnership would work out. Those talks continued and finally we got together and made a commitment to go forward with it. It was about July 2014 that we decided to go in a make a financial commitment.”

    Van Ommering and Hicks submitted plans for a cheese making facility to the county early in March, and have already secured a director’s determination from the county planning office that will allow them to make cheese at the dairy property so long as there are no retail sales on site, and cheese can only be made from milk produced at Van Ommering Dairy. San Diego County planning and development staff is currently reworking portions of the county code that pertains to agriculture. Hicks hopes changes may come that will allow them to sell cheese on site in the not too distant future. For the initial marketing effort, says Hicks, “We plan to sell at farmers markets, and we’ve talked to retailers like Venissimo Cheese, and four or five other outlets in San Diego. We’d like to get into specialty grocery stores. We will really concentrate heavily on San Diego first and build a good mass of business here. We will try to get into local restaurants that offer a good cheese board, and that highlight locally grown foods. It’s a little tough for us because there’s a good amount of people who visit the farm, but we’ve just got to stick with our marketing plans until we can get the ag code changed.”

    Hicks and Van Ommering have drawn up two scenarios dependent on financing: one that would allow them to make 35,000 lbs of cheese a year and the other about 96,000 lbs, running five batches a week. Consultants agree that by year five 100,000 lbs of cheese a year is reasonable. Planned offerings include a triple cream brie, manchego, cheddars, and eventually gouda. “The main consideration of a startup is what’s going to help with cash flow. We can’t afford to do a two year aging of cheddar or gouda at the front end,” explains Hicks. “Initially it will be mostly cheeses that we can make and sell quickly.”

  • 22 Jan 2016 4:53 PM | Deleted user

    The phrase Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, describes less a farm as much as it describes a business model. Farms that operate a CSA are sometimes referred to by consumers as “subscription farms” because consumers buy a subscription from a farmer for a set price in exchange for an agreed delivery of fresh produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The result is a direct link between farmers and local consumers. Customers who subscribe to a CSA become “members” or “shareholders”.

    For consumers, there are both tangible and intangible benefits to subscribing to a CSA program. Customers receive fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to a location convenient to them on a regular basis, which can save both time and gas. There is a reduced carbon footprint purchasing produce grown locally, and the money paid for the subscription goes directly to supporting farms often in their own community or region. These are benefits to the consumer, but what about the farmer? What makes a CSA business model attractive to a grower?

    JR Organics of Valley Center is one of the more popular CSA’s in San Diego County, with a dedicated group of subscribers. JoanE Marrero is the CSA Director at the farm and she was glad to share what makes their CSA program valuable.

    “The CSA makes everything easier to plan. We can avoid overbuying materials because we have a good sense of what our demand is. It’s easier to plan fields and plantings, and there is less waste. We financially benefit because there is no middle man and we are selling directly to the public. We can invest in the materials we need without going into debt, and plant and harvest only what we need.”

    What about demand? Are there enough people willing to embrace this model of buying produce to make it worth it? “Initially yes,” says JoanE. “But then the term CSA got a lot traction and food peddlers came in calling themselves CSA’s who weren’t actually farmers. They were just buying produce from many different farms, aggregating the produce, and delivering it without actually farming themselves. The public needs more education on the benefits of getting produce from a real farm in their own neighborhood. That said, people are beginning to realize the difference and are coming back.”

    Managing a changing membership, working directly with customers and coordinating regular deliveries takes a lot of time and effort. “The mechanics of putting together a CSA is less challenging than doing a farmers’ market, and we make twice the amount of money. Of course at bigger farmers’ markets you can do well, but you have just your packers for the CSA and one driver and delivery. Whereas for a farmers’ market you have a whole crew, stand setup, you might bring too much produce, and demand fluctuates a lot more at markets. The CSA is much more labor and cost efficient, absolutely. You can make deliveries within a couple hours; farmers markets are at least a 6 hour commitment.”

    Is it difficult to consistently put together a good quality box? “Sometimes it is difficult to put together a nice box; our production has been cut by almost a third because of the bagrada bug in the hotter months. We do partner with other local farms to get more fruit; we partner with Stehly and other avocado growers in the area, and do some small amount of contracting with Smit farms for their apples. I think that if the public was more aware of what it really means to get this type of quality produce from a local farm and not be falsely led, if you will, by these unrestricted food peddlers there’d be room for more CSA’s to operate in San Diego County.”


    J R Organics CSA (year round)

    31030 Rodriguez Rd

    Escondido, CA 92026

    Manager: JoanE Marrero
    Phone: (714) 235-3219


    Be Wise Ranch Organic Farm (year round)

    Santa Fe and San Pasqual Valley
    20505 San Pasqual Road
    Escondido, CA 92025

    Bill and Marsanne Brammer
    Phone: (760) 746-6006


    Blue Sky Ranch (year round)

    13743 Blue Sky Ranch Road
    Lakeside, CA 92040
    Manager: Taj Chaffin
    Phone: (619) 715-7143


    Eli's Farms (year round)

    2929 East Mission Road
    Fallbrook, CA 92028

    Manager: Eli Hofshi & Daniel Hofshi 
    Phone: (760) 468-0949

    Offering weekly and every other week produce deliveries to homes or offices within San Diego County every Friday. 

    Seabreeze Organic Farm (year round)

    3909 Arroyo Sorrento Road
    San Diego, CA 92130

    Manager: Stephenie Caughlin
    Phone: (858) 481-0209


    Suzie's Farm (year round)

    1856 Saturn Boulevard
    San Diego, CA 92154

    CSA subscriptions available, at Farmer's Markets, direct delivery to restaurants, buy direct at the farm. Farm tours available 2nd Saturday of the month.
    Contact: Wyndellen Wilbur
    Phone: (619) 662-1780

    Stehly Farms Oganics

    Sean Schumacher


  • 22 Jan 2016 4:50 PM | Deleted user

    In an annual tradition the California Farm Bureau Federation partners with the Sand County Foundation and Sustainable Conservation in presenting the Leopold Conservation Award to farmers who enhance natural resources and protect the environment while simultaneously producing agricultural products.  Ken and Matt Altman of Altman Specialty Plants were selected as one of three 2015 finalists.  Ken currently serves as San Diego County Farm Bureau President and Matt is a member of the San Diego County Farm Bureau Light Brown Apple Moth Working Group.

    The other finalists were Hafenfeld Ranch of Kern County and Prather Ranch of Shasta County, which took the Leopold honor.  The Altman story as it ran in Ag Alert:

    Farmers and ranchers are often called stewards of the land because of their close connection to it. They hold true to the belief that they can and must enhance natural resources and protect the environment, while simultaneously producing food, fiber and energy for a growing world population. The Leopold Conservation Award honors landowners who demonstrate such a commitment.

    What began as an avid interest in plants for husband and wife Ken and Deena Altman is now a wholesale nursery business that encompasses more than 1,700 acres in six states. Altman Specialty Plants, today one of the nation's largest horticultural growers, specializes in drought-tolerant and water-efficient plants.

    Ken Altman and his son, Matt, manage the company with a careful eye on conserving resources.

    The nurseries are retrofitted with water- and energy-efficient irrigation systems that reduce water use by 50 percent per acre, and soil-moisture sensors are being installed in container plants to further decrease water use. In addition, Altman Plants raises 5,000 plant species using integrated pest management, which controls pests in ways that minimize risks to people and the environment. The Altmans also founded the Center for Applied Horticultural Research, a nonprofit research and teaching center dedicated to advancing a sustainable horticultural sector.

    In 2014, the Altmans embarked on their biggest project yet: a water recycling system at their Riverside County site that captures irrigation runoff, treats it and reuses the water.

    "As a farm and nursery, we're reliant on water, and over the last five years, we've seen water become more and more limited here in California," Matt Altman said. "We took it upon ourselves to ensure we had access to water."

    The Altmans recycle and reuse 1 million gallons of water a day. They say they hope the public and other nursery growers are able to benefit from their approach to water management.

    "There's really nothing better than being able to do a good job with family, share your success and provide knowledge to others," Ken Altman said.

  • 22 Jan 2016 4:46 PM | Deleted user

    “I just knew I wanted to be in Julian. That was my whole idea. My whole business idea was to be in Julian. I told myself if I could make one fourth of the business that Dudley’s Bakery does, being a tourist bakery, then I’d be okay. And that was 34 years ago.” So says Mike Menghini, owner of Menghini Winery and President of the Chamber of Commerce in Julian.

    Menghini Winery sits on 30 acres of rolling hills east of Wynola and a just a few miles from Julian’s Main Street. Weathered wood buildings house stainless steel tanks and fermenters, and the tasting room was built in 1940 as an apple packing shed. It was the first commercial winery established in Julian, opening its doors in 1983, and over the years has become the de-facto location for town events. Recently, Menghini hosted the San Diego Astronomy Association for their Julian Starfest. The event drew hundreds of professional and amateur astronomers pointing telescopes up at the clear night sky.  “We’re the only piece of property in all of Julian big enough for events. So, for anything like this, we just let them use the property,” Mike explains. “I get things out of it too though, I figure if 1,500 people show up, somebody’s going to buy a glass or a bottle of wine.”

    As a winery owner and President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mike Menghini looks for win-win solutions. “Our job as a chamber, hosting events out here, is to introduce people to Julian. When they come out here for the Grapestomp or the Starfest, they don’t stay here at the winery all day; a lot of them get rooms. During any of our big events many of the hotels are booked solid, and they gotta eat so all the restaurants get taken care of.”

    Regarding the county’s adoption of the Boutique Winery Ordinance which allows vineyard owners to include tasting rooms by right on their property under certain conditions, Mike exclaims, “It’s a wonderful thing, and I think it’s the only brilliant thing this county has ever done is to make this ordinance. It does everything they want; it keeps open space, its keeping land in agriculture, and it gives people a chance to build their dream but also move up when they want to.” He is quick to note though that some wineries in the county have taken unfair advantage, and are taking a larger slice of pie than the ordinance allows. “These guys just want something for nothing. They want what we’ve got; they want more than we’ve got. Anything we do out here I still have to be under the umbrella of a non-profit; I can’t just throw events. And they’re trying to do that. They’ve already got food, I can’t do food. They’ve got music, I can’t do music without an umbrella. These people that are fighting it, they’re fight should be to make it easier to get a major use permit.”

    Mike grew up in Wyoming and in his formative years fostered a love of fermentation brewing beer and dandelion wine at home. Mike moved west to attend college and after a few stops and starts took a degree in biology from the University of San Diego. Upon graduation he and his wife, Toni, immediately began looking for a home in North County. They were looking for a house in Escondido and the real estate agent asked Mike, what he would do now that he was out of school. “I said well, I would have liked to make wine, but I’m not going back to school, and she said, well, they’re starting a new winery right here in Escondido.” The original San Pasqual Winery, now known as Orfila Winery, gave Mike his first job tending grape vines for three years before the winery was built. “I spent three years in the vineyard, which is the best thing that ever happened to me because that’s where good wines are made, not in the winery,” he says.

    He worked another year in the winery for San Pasqual before starting work at Callaway Winery, “I went to Callaway because they were bigger and they knew more about everything there is to do with wine. I really lucked out. When I got started, I got to work with two of the biggest wineries in San Diego County, and they sent me to every class that UC Davis had - both viticulturally and enologically – on their dime. Then working with Callaway was neat because they wanted to make the same wines every year. They taught me every way to fine a wine in the world – which you don’t need – those are the tools you need if you get bad grapes.”

    At his own winery, he walks a line between making his own unique styles of wines and maintaining consistency. “Without saying I’m trying to be a tourist winery, I’m trying to make something that absolutely everybody will like. They might not like my red or my white, but maybe they’ll like my sweet wine.”

    Mike’s neighbors are one of the last remaining u-pick apple orchards, and Vulcan Mountain Winery. “We’re happier ‘n punch that they moved in,” says Mike. “We’ve got another good winery as a neighbor. My wife, she looked at me right after they moved in and said, well I guess we’re going to have to up our game! These guys make good wine and they’re going to be a really good neighbor. We’re tickled to death. ”

    Mike isn’t concerned about competition, he sees it all as just good for the town and the industry. “Orfila, Bernardo, and Ferrara wineries were the only ones around when I started this. So, I’m an old timer. I’ve been around for a really long time. And I’m glad to see San Diego becoming more winery oriented; it’s going to help me. The more wineries you have…I just think that’s great.”

    Mike and Toni still own the house they bought in Escondido in 1975, and split their time between there and the winery, which suits Mike just fine. “Julian, as far as I’m concerned, is in the country but we’re not isolated. We’re an hour and a half away from the second largest city in California, which I love. I think San Diego is the prettiest town in the world. My wife used to be a flight attendant, so we’d travel a lot. And wherever we’d go I’d say to myself would I rather be there than here? No place even comes close. We got the best of both worlds.”

  • 22 Jan 2016 4:40 PM | Deleted user

    Written by Sonia Rios & James Bethke, UCCE Farm Advisors

    With the recent drought and water shortages that we are experiencing in California, conserving water is crucial, especially because of the governor’s emergency order that mandates water use reductions. Fortunately, agriculture is exempted from the order, but there are ways that even agriculture can contribute to the reduction. One such way is the use of drip irrigation (Figure 1), and throughout the last 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) has played a pronounced role in research and education in drip-irrigation technology. Indeed, almost 40% of the irrigated cropland in California is now using drip largely due to the efforts of UCCE and the private sector. In addition to increasing crop quality, it is estimated that the sum of the value of water saving and the additional income from the yield effect lies between $313 million and $1.13 billion, with an average range of $758 million and $283 million annually.

    When this new method was introduced back in the 1960’s, its adoption was not immediate. In fact, many growers saw this method to be costly and risky. In 1969, however, San Diego Farm Advisor, Don Gustafson (Figure 2), visited Israel where this innovative method was adopted. When he returned, he initiated the first drip system research trial in an avocado grove here in San Diego County, and the first drip irrigation seminar soon followed with over 600 people in attendance. A few years after, San Diego County was placed on the map at the international level as they hosted the second International Drip Irrigation Congress in Escondido, drawing over 2,000 attendees from 29 countries and 70 exhibitors.

    During the 1980’s, drip irrigation generated a great deal more interest, especially after major droughts (1977-78 and again 1987-91), and it gained the interest of the allied industries in the private sector. It was during this time Fresno State Center for Irrigation and Cal Poly Irrigation Training and Research Center opened their doors with the goal on improving irrigation technology. Adoption of drip irrigation occurred slowly, but it went from 60,000 acres in 1976 to over 350,000 in 1985. Between 1987 and 1991, California suffered another major drought, but the drought was the impetus for a 50% increase in the use of drip irrigation in fruit production and a 10% increase use in the state’s vegetable production.  In the early 1990’s, with popularity of drip systems increasing and additional technology improvements, systems became more affordable. As such, there was a significant increase in the diversity of crops that adopted the practice.

    Drip technology is now recognized as a proper water saving technique, and UCCE continues to train growers and conduct additional research that focuses on more effective water, fertilizer, and pest control management using drip.

    With the cost of water in San Diego County going for more than $600 per acre foot, drip irrigation has once again come into the limelight, especially with high value specialty crops. But what is the value of all the work UCCE has contributed to water savings and additional income due to increased yields in California agriculture? It is estimated (at a cost of $150 per acre foot) that UCCE’s contribution to the implementation of drip irrigation brings the state between $78 million and $283 million annually. Be assured that as stewards of the land, UCCE has played a huge part in the evolution and adoption of drip irrigation technology in California and will continue to seek innovative techniques to assist growers.

  • 22 Jan 2016 4:12 PM | Deleted user

    An icon is a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something. In the case of cities or geographic regions, there are icons that represent those places; the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, rolling hills and cypress for Tuscany. For years images of swaying palm trees have been used to represent Southern California and, more specifically, Los Angeles. Interestingly, palm trees are not native to California. There is only one palm tree native to the Southwest US and Baja California: Washingtonia filifera, or the California fan palm. How did palm trees, which didn’t exist in the popular California landscape until the 1920’s, become the icon whose image still represents the Southern California lifestyle?

    A century ago, the tree lined streets and avenues of Southern California and Los Angeles looked very different than they do today. The trees that made up the urban forest were primarily pepper trees, acacias, and eucalyptus. Over time those trees died off or, in the case of pepper trees, were banned. Pepper trees acted as hosts to black scale, an insect that was damaging citrus groves, and in many cases peppers were removed to protect citrus. In 1930 Los Angeles banned further planting of that tree. Acacias and eucalyptus got a bad reputation among infrastructure managers as their roots raised streets and sidewalks and cracked underground pipelines.  In the late 1920’s, city foresters started looking for less damaging trees to plant and found Washintonia robusta, the Mexican fan palm.

    Before 1920, the only palms being imported and planted belonged to wealthy collectors. The Huntington estate near Pasadena and Fairchild estate in Florida were two significant importers and collectors of exotic palms. The Huntington estate is now a botanical garden. Palms from all over the world were being placed in collections and conservatories, but significant plantings of palms didn’t occur until 1930.

    In 1932, the City of Los Angeles hosted the summer Olympics and in the run up to the games the city dressed itself up by lining streets and avenues with thousands of stately Mexican fan palms. In 1931 alone more than 25,000 palms were planted. The Mexican fan palm was not chosen because of its aesthetics but because at the time it was recognized as being both hardy and cheap, and few planners realized the relative seedlings they were planting then would grow to such great height.

    In a coincidence of timing, those palms planted in the 1930’s reached maturity and height at the same time as the Hollywood film industry. Movies filmed in Hollywood with stars like Bing Crosby featured California scenes with, you guessed it, palm trees in the setting. Thus began in earnest the creation of an icon.

    Eric Anderson is the owner of Anderson’s Seed Co. in Escondido, which specializes in offering exotic fresh harvest palm tree and cycad seeds along with seeds for cactus and succulents, California natives, and other ornamentals. Anderson took over the business from his grandfather, Horace Anderson, who was also a seedperson, and has a long history in the ornamental plant industry.

    ““The big planting came when they dressed LA up for the 1932 Olympics. Then in the 1950’s and 60’s palms went to more mass market. In the 1950’s it went from high end collectors planting stuff they sought for their own collections, to nurseries growing interior palms by the millions and then landscape palms. Before that, in the home landscape you had a lawn and a silver birch. In the 70’s, you had a lawn and a queen palm.”

    “In the Pasadena area, in the 60’s when all the nice houses got put in, they put in a circular driveway and they put a set of rhapis humilis in the middle. Then in the late 70’s landscapers from Cal Poly would go and take out those palms and start their nurseries. One nursery I know got started by removing one of those big clumps of palms and dividing it up. It took two or three years for them to come out and look really nice, but they sold for a good value.”

    While rhapis humilis and Canary Island date palms were being placed along driveways of new homes, interior palms were being cultivated by the millions. “The biggest one was the dwarf parlor palm, Chamaedorea elegans, and then the bamboo palm, chamaedorea seifrizii.  Rhapis excelsa was cultivated for higher end markets both for indoors and outdoors.”

    The 1990’s brought exciting new developments in the palm industry. A veterinarian from Vista, Dr. Mardy Darian, an exotic plant collector himself, traveled to Madagascar in search of new palms. He returned with Dypsis decari, commonly known as the triangle palm, and Bismarkia nobilis, or Bismark palm which is a fan palm with striking blue-silver fronds. “He found not only those,” says Anderson, “but literally hundreds of new species. In the 90’s there were 46 known palms from Madagascar, and only about 10 of them were cultivated. By the time a decade had passed after he started going in, they’d described over 200 new species and they still don’t have them all. And some of those are more tropical, suitable for Hawaii or Florida, but some of them are suitable for Southern California. They kind of are what’s next in the industry.”

    For palms used in the landscape, sales trends are cyclical and have gone boom and bust with the housing industry and development. Demand is steadier for interior palms, but the Kentia palm blurs that divide. Kentia palms originated from Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia and from 1920 to the 1980’s export of Kentia palm seed was the island’s primary industry. “Kentia’s are really durable,” says Anderson, “and they are one of the most beautiful palms. They have a rich dark green beautiful leaf habit, and they’re versatile; they can take abuse. You can grow them indoors in casinos, and in coastal California you can plant them outside and make a nice specimen palm.”

    Today, the new exciting palms are coming from hybridization. F1 and F2 crosses are producing desirable new palms for the landscape. “That seems to be the focus from here going forward,” says Anderson, “There’s one new hybrid people really like called the mule palm, it’s a cross between a queen and a butia. There are some nice Chamaedorea hybrids; one of them was named after my grandfather, Chamaedorea ‘Horace Anderson’. It’s more of an interior palm, though it grows nice in the landscape around SoCal.” Though not native, palms have found a welcome home in the landscape and popular culture of Southern California, and as the icon of sunny California, it’s a safe bet they’ll continue to flourish for a long time to come.

  • 22 Jan 2016 4:07 PM | Deleted user

    The history of farming in San Diego County runs hand-in-hand with the history of water development. From the building of the Old Mission Dam across the San Diego River in the late 1700’s to the anticipated delivery of desalinated water this fall, farmers not blessed with groundwater have relied on the maze of dams, aqueducts, and pipes that bring water right to the farm.  Knowing the history of the water system is important in understanding today’s water situation.

    By the 1920’s all of San Diego County’s main watersheds had dams and reservoirs installed.  The military presence needed for World War II and post-war growth swelled the local population and threatened to outstrip the local water supply.  In 1947 water arrived from the Colorado River through the first of several San Diego County Water Authority (CWA) aqueducts that would connect the San Diego region to the supplies of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).  The aqueduct connecting to the Colorado River had been completed by MWD in 1935.

    Continued growth in southern California and throughout the state meant more water was needed and in 1960 California voters authorized construction of the State Water Project, one of the largest publicly built and operated water projects in the world.  That project collects water from Northern California rivers behind dams and releases that stored water into the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta (Delta) for pumping and delivery to urban and agricultural locations south of the Delta.  Thirteen years after voter approval the first of the State Water Project water arrived in San Diego in 1973.

    Little was done between completion of the State Water Project and the California drought of 1987-1992.  That drought convinced decision makers at MWD and CWA that they needed additional sources to augment their Colorado River and State Water Project supplies.  That launched the still continuing period of local storage and supply projects, most notably MWD’s construction of the Diamond Valley Reservoir, CWA’s purchase of transfer water from the Imperial Irrigation District, and the concrete lining of canals in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys with the water saved by stemming seepage coming to MWD and CWA.

    Knowing that population growth and climatic or weather change will continue to challenge water supplies, local water projects remain a top priority with the Carlsbad desalination project, expanded use of recycled water, and the future promise held by potable reuse, which is the  reintroducing treated wastewater into the potable water system, at the top of the list. 

    On a statewide basis plans call for construction of additional storage to capture wet-weather flows.  Those storage projects were endorsed and partially funded by the voter approved Proposition 1 in November 2014.  Yet known is how the state will tackle vulnerabilities in the Delta that threaten the stability of supply from seismic shifts and environmental constraints.

    Farming will continue in San Diego County in direct relation to the reliability of the developed water supply.  Another hiatus in supply development as occurred for 20 years between 1973 and the 1990’s could spell trouble.       

  • 22 Jan 2016 3:50 PM | Deleted user

    San Diego County agriculture is not a static industry. Farmers have long adapted to changing resources, pests, and climate and population shifts, but these days it seems those challenges are coming faster than ever.

    Farmers adapt by changing methods to increase efficiency, production, reduce overhead, and add value to their product. Today, some local growers are looking to hydroponics for those benefits, and say they’re finding them. Is hydroponics in San Diego County a viable way to keep food production local, and still make the sales numbers necessary to sustain a business in dry Southern California? Three local growers say yes.

    Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using nutrient solutions, in water, without soil. Plants may be grown with their roots in the nutrient solution only or in an inert medium such as perlite or gravel. In many hydroponic systems the water is in a closed loop constantly circulating over plant roots and closely monitored. Crops typically grown like this include leafy greens, herbs, strawberries, and vining crops like tomatoes and cucumbers, and at least one local grower is experimenting with some root crops.

     “The primary benefits of hydroponic production is water and land conservation,” says Sean Keany of Sundial Farm in Vista. “Recirculating hydro systems use on average 80 percent less water and produce 10 times more produce than traditional field watering crops. The greenhouse is a key component to most hydroponic productions but not necessary, but it is the greenhouse that keeps pests and pesticide use down and saves the plants from being exposed to all weather elements.” Keany grows a variety of leafy greens as well as basil in greenhouses.

    Despite the significant savings in water costs and increased production, as well as reduced pest and disease pressures, there are far more hobbyist hydroponic growers than commercial, illustrating the difficulty in scaling up. “Startup costs are the largest barrier, I believe,” says Colin Archipley of Archi’s Acres in Valley Center. “Hydroponic systems are expensive to build and operate. Also, a lack of understanding of how hydroponic systems work.” Those points are echoed by Keany at Sundial Farm, “I think the difficulties with commercially growing hydroponically vary drastically because of the resources and knowledge that one has to begin with. It could be the electricity, fuel and power used to grow the plants. Growing hydroponically is nothing like how plants grow in soil, and it’s a big leap from field grown crops. We use benches, no soil, and greenhouse structures. It is a very urban activity.”

    Alongside heavy startup costs, hydroponics comes with a steep learning curve. Mike Castro is head grower at Home Town Farms in San Marcos. “Technical knowledge,” he says, is a primary challenge to getting started, but he adds that information is out there freely available online for people who want to learn; he sees plenty of opportunity for more growers. “Given the current issues with the drought, I think this is the wave of the future. More than anything, for every upgrade to the growing systems that we employ, markets are willing to pay a premium for quality produce.” 

    Though startup costs are significant, many local growers who have created businesses growing hydroponically managed to keep initial overhead costs down by converting existing greenhouses, which often meant replacing entire irrigation systems, and retrofitting spaces to house new equipment for holding and monitoring circulating nutrient solutions. Home Town Farms went that route, and Mike Castro expects to see more of that. “I see more growers converting to some type of more efficient ways to manage the water usage in their crops. The combination of hydroponics and shadehouse or full blown greenhouse is the future for higher production. As we continue to introduce more products into the market, and demonstrate that we can produce high quality, nutrient dense, and most importantly, excellent tasting products, the sky is the limit.”

    Recognizing the hurdles inherent to converting to hydroponics or starting from the ground up, hydroponic growing systems seek to address the most pressing challenges facing San Diego County farmers, and bring new opportunity. “We are intrigued by the integration of organics within hydroponics (hydro-organics), and harnessing the power of biological processes which naturally occur,” says Colin Archipley. Mike Castro says he enjoys “the fact that when done correctly, you get "instant gratification" based on the quick plant responses to water and fertilizer. I also like the cleanliness and lack of having to deal with weeds and the pests and problems associated.” Sean Keany at Sundial: “What I find most satisfying about growing products hydroponically is the health of the veggies for your body. I believe that there needs to be a major change in our corporate food system and the overall health and well-being of our nation, and in the process of wanting to grow something healthy we discovered all of the sustainability benefits of greenhouse grown hydroponics and it became apparent that this was the path for us.”

    Is there a future for hydroponics in San Diego, and opportunity for growth? “Yes,” says Colin Archipley, “we continue to improve and learn new things. Most of what we are learning are smaller things, like planting techniques or fine tuning the controlled environment, but it continues to decrease shrinkage, increase yields, and decrease growth time, all of which leads us to become more efficient.” Sean Keany concurs, “I see a great opportunity for growth over the years, especially in Southern California and other desert regions of the world.  With the great increase in population conserving our resources while producing higher crop yields is a must, so I see much more innovation on the horizon.”

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