Farm Tours Offer A Close-Up Of San Diego Greenhouses, Citrus Groves, A Dairy And More
June 13, 2013 1:12 p.m.
Lindsey Hogg, event and marketing coordinator for the San Diego County Farm Bureau
Al Stehly, third generation farmer and the grove manager at Rockwood Ranch, a 35-acre organic operation featuring avocados, mandarins, lemons and vineyard in Valley Center
Related Story: Farm Tours Offer A Close-Up Of San Diego Greenhouses, Citrus Groves, A Dairy And More
CAVANAUGH: San Diego County is particularly well-suited for the farm to table food movement for the simple reason we have a lot of farms! Even though San Diego is largely known as an urban county, it turns out we have the most small farms of any other county in the nation. And we're ranked as the 12th largest farm economy. So where are all these farms, and how is all this farming taking place? The San Diego Farm Bureau is offering a behind the scenes look at how your food and flowers are grown. It's their fourth annual farm day tour, and it's coming up this Saturday. My guests, Lindsey Hogg is event and marketing coordinator at the San Diego County farm bureau. Welcome to the show.
HOGG: Thank you for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And Al Stehly is growth manager at Rockwood Ranch. Welcome to the program.
STEHLY: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Lindsey, I think many people are still surprised to learn that there's so much farming going on in San Diego. Is that why the bureau came up with this idea of farm day tours?
HOGG: Well, I think that the original farm tour day was -- began when just a handful of people would call and ask the bureau for a tour, if they could come and see a farm. And they wanted to bring their kids to see a farm, or they grew up on a farm, and they wanted to somehow gain access to a farm. And there really wasn't an outlet for these people to get onto these private farms. So we did some brainstorming and came up with farm tour day. And that's how the first one was born, now we've got hundreds of people who are getting to enjoy these farms. And all of these places are not open to the public. They're not places that you can see just driving past. You would be a trespasser. Instead today you get to be a guest, and you get to see everything that's going on on all these farms.
CAVANAUGH: And can you remind us what the farm bureau does?
HOGG: In its heart, it's an advocacy group. We advocate for farmers, we give a voice to farmers as a whole. So instead of it being one small voice of a farmer, we can be a large voice to the public, to legislators. And to everyone else who needs to know what's going on, and letting them know that farming is still a big part of San Diego and California.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this farm tour day, I'm saying it wrong, farm day tour.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: You say it's gathered people and interest over the four years that it's been in operation. How many people have been interested in taking these tours?
HOGG: Well, we have over 600 people coming this year. We had almost as many last year. And so each year, it's been growing and growing.
HOGG: And a lot of the people who come each year have come in the past. And they bring their friends and tell their neighbors. And they're really excited about it. So that's what keeps people coming back. There are so many farms to see that each year is different. And we've got a lot of people who are interested in the farm to table movement or gardening in their own backyards. And all of those people are the kind of people coming out for this.
CAVANAUGH: There are three separate tour, right?
HOGG: Right. Three tour, one in Fallbrook, one in San Pasqual Valley, and one in Valley Center.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Which is yours on, Al?
STEHLY: I'm in San Pasqual. It's about 160 acres of citrus, 60 acres of avocados, and grapes.
CAVANAUGH: So how is your ranch getting ready for this?
STEHLY: Well, we're cutting -- it's an organic farm. So we're cutting weeds and looking for tripping hazards. And generally just --
CAVANAUGH: Shining the place up.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: What types of things will people be able to do and see on these tours?
HOGG: Well, all of the tours have a little bit of everything on it. So every tour has flowers, whether it is a large-scale greenhouse in Fallbrook, one of the largest in the country, actually. So you can go in and see all the intricacies and all the details that go into making these big huge rooms into the public environment for growing bromilliads. So there's a dairy in San Pasqual Valley. So you'll climb on a wagon and get a tour of the dairy. Then there's grow crops and vegetables and all the stuff you grow in your own backyard. They're using the same tips and tricks that you could use in your own backyard. And we have of course citrus and avocados on the tours to highlight all the San Diego crops.
CAVANAUGH: Do you have to be in good shape?
STEHLY: No, no.
[ LAUGHTER ]
HOGG: No, but you have to be willing to be out in the sun and do some walking.
STEHLY: Right, yes.
HOGG: So we are telling people to wear walking shoes and sunscreen.
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to ask you both, Al, what do you think surprises people when they tour San Diego farms?
STEHLY: Well, probably that there are farms.
[ LAUGHTER ]
STEHLY: And then the diversity, are the abundance of farms and the diversity. We've got over 200 different crops in San Diego County. And even from crop to crop, from one citrus grove to the next, you're going to find different techniques. So even when we call tour veterans, the ones who have been on the tour before, they're coming back because they're going to see different crops, or the same crop in a different way.
CAVANAUGH: And Lindsey, what kind of feedback, what surprises people about what they find out about how farms really work?
HOGG: From personal experience, I'm fairly new to agriculture. And I think the most surprising part is that you can stand in places and look out at San Diego, and it's the same San Diego I've always looked at. But you have no idea that all of those trees are actually growing avocados that you're buying in the store. But that those buildings that you don't necessarily know what they are are huge propagation greenhouses that are growing these flowers that are going all over the world. And so it's just the vastness of how much is going on and how much is right in front of us that we don't even necessarily see or notice.
CAVANAUGH: And I mentioned that we have a lot of small farms in San Diego County. How big are the operations that people are going to see on these tours?
HOGG: They absolutely vary from a -- we've got a family of six, and they have a bunch of grow crops, tomatoes and berries and squash, and they sell at farmers markets. And that's their livelihood, and that's -- they're running that whole farm as a small family. That's one of our farms. Then we also have an international exporter of flowers that is a huge operation. So we kind of try to show on each of the tours a smaller family operation, a larger operation. We try to give a taste of all the different aspects of agriculture on each of the tours.
CAVANAUGH: Al, how connected are San Diego farms to San Diego dinner tables?
STEHLY: Well, it varies. Course we'd like all of our products to go as close as possible, narrow our footprint. But it is impossible. We're just too big.
STEHLY: So -- but we're consumers, the farmers. We're residents, as are our employees. So we're very proud of the fact that when we go to a restaurant and it says this is a local product, local wine, whatever. As farmers, we do the same thing you do, and we frequent the places that do connect us.
CAVANAUGH: But we have -- we do ship a lot of avocados, for one thing; isn't that right?
STEHLY: Well, yeah, we're one of the largest growers of avocados in the world. We can't possibly consume them all in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: Although we try.
[ LAUGHTER ]
STEHLY: Yeah! Most of them do go fairly close to home. Some things like avocados ship real well. Other things have to go closer like strawberries. You just can't ship that that far. Or if you do, the quality goes downhill.
CAVANAUGH: What about our flowers? Do they also get shipped across the nation?
HOGG: Absolutely. One of our tours, Euro-American, it's an international operation. So they ship to many countries, and all over the U.S. And a with couple of our -- we have smaller nurseries as well that they grow the baby plants essentially at the site in San Pasqual Valley, then they go out to the nurse rears across Southern California, and from there they go into all the different -- the buyers themselves.
CAVANAUGH: That's interesting. Al, some people might say we don't have a lot of water here in San Diego County.
CAVANAUGH: And the water we do have is pretty expensive. So why should there be farming going on in San Diego County?
STEHLY: Well --
[ LAUGHTER ]
STEHLY: Well, we're not a socialist state yet. So we don't dictate where farms go. So the market dictates that. And the market right now on water is saying, well, maybe some of your farmers should move out. Myself, I grow avocados on my own property. We're shrinking that. We've taken out some trees and planted wine grapes. Going to make wine instead of.
CAVANAUGH: Because avocados take more water?
STEHLY: Wine grapes take hardly any water. But the farmers are here for the same reason most of the people are here in San Diego County. Because of the weather. It's really good for crops. And again, that's why we can grow so many different crops. The weather is so predictable.
CAVANAUGH: I know that last year, we were talking about Eric Larson of the farm bureau, and he was saying there were some farmers who are having to have some of their acreage, they were just letting their plants die, their trees die because they just didn't have enough money to -- it didn't make any sense for them in a business sense to keep them watered, to keep them producing.
CAVANAUGH: Have you seen that as well?
STEHLY: Right. As recently as yesterday, I got a call from one of my client, she wanted to shut her water off.
CAVANAUGH: I see, and also, I'm very excited people are going to be seeing these farms. But there are challenges that you guys face. One of them is water, one of them is labor.
CAVANAUGH: And I know you feel that farmers have a unique perspective on the immigration debate right now.
STEHLY: Yes. We need labor. Farming is labor-intensive work, now matter how you do it. We still need a reliable, consistent labor supply. The statistics in our own internal surveys show that maybe 50-80% of our documented workers are not using -- are using fraudulent documents. So we have a problem out there. And everybody knows it. And so in agriculture, we're very much in favor of immigration reform.
CAVANAUGH: Because a real crackdown would leave --
STEHLY: Will leave the crops in the field. It's very tight right now. There's record unemployment. Yet we can't find enough people to harvest.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. So the issues of water, enough labor to get your crops out of the farm and into the marketplace. But farming is your family business, Al.
CAVANAUGH: A third generation farmer in California, second generation here in San Diego County. Your daughter is running a vineyard in San Diego County. So what is it about farming that keeps families, despite these challenges, on the land?
STEHLY: Well, that in itself is a challenge, to run a farm and a business as a family as you might well know. And I think you have some classes on this campus on that exact subject. So we try to run it as a business. We have business meetings. Try not to talk about business at family events. But the reason I'm doing it is because I love it. I got my degree in accounting. I thought I was not going to be a farmer. I didn't really want to be a farmer. And then I'm outside every day, and when it becomes repetitive, farming, and boring, I'll quit. But it never is. And it's always different every year, every day.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Lindsey, hearing Al talk on one of these tours, it's probably going to inspire some people to try to start growing something on their own. I wonder, have you heard of people being inspired to perhaps start their little patch of land on their own and start growing some produce or vegetables on their own?
HOGG: We have a lot of people who really love the tips and trinnings that the farmers give. As you can tell. The passion that these farmers have, and the livelihood, they've worked their whole lives for these farms. And it's rarely a 40-hour a week, are it's an 80-hour a week. And these are the people who are going to be giving these tours. So their passion is going to be passed onto everyone who attends the tours. And I've actually just recently talked to a couple people who are already starting that process. And they're interested in what that looks like in San Diego County. So they're coming on the tour to directly learn from farmers and hear from them what they've done, and about the challenges and take a step there, and they'll be forming relationships with those farmers, and that could be a big step for those people that we've already talked to. And we've got a lot of garden clubs, and there's a group of foodies up in Orange County, and we've got over 40 people coming down from that group that want to come and participate in this. So there's a lot of people who are passionate about what they eat and where it's grown and how it's grown, and those people are coming out and they're hearing from the farmers about why they do what they do, and why it's so important.
CAVANAUGH: That's a little bit of advice you can pass onto somebody who's just starting out maybe with a small patch of land?
STEHLY: Join the farm bureau.
[ LAUGHTER ]
STEHLY: You'll get the information. It's really hard. It's like starting any business. If you were going to go start a radio station, you would join an association that would advise you, and that's what the farm bureau does for farmers.
CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Lindsey, can people still sign up for farm tour day?
HOGG: Absolutely. And we would love it. One of our tours is close to selling out. But we have spots on the other two. And the place for that is SDfarmbureau.com/farmtour.
CAVANAUGH: And Al, what do you and the, farmers get out of farm tour day?
STEHLY: We enjoy it so much! At the end of the day, we're just so tired from talking all day long, but just ecstatic just having a great time. The questions are diverse and well thought out. I met somebody on the first tour who is now a farm bureau member, started her own farm. I saw her at a meeting, and I said what you are doing here! She said I joined the bureau, I'm a farmer. So it's inspiring for us. And we get to meet one-on-one with the people who are buying our product, which doesn't always happen. A lot of times, unless we do farmers markets, we farmers are separated from the consumer, other than our own friends. So it's a chance to meet one-on-one with consumers and our neighbors.
CAVANAUGH: And have a good time in the outdoors.
STEHLY: Yes, yes. Thank you both very much.