Llamas and tires and berries, oh my!
(Did you catch the reference? Lately we’ve been watching The Wizard of Oz a lot at our house.)
We visited a farm today and there were llamas and tires and berries (oh my).Well, one llama. (But this is more llamas than I usually see each day/week/month.)
We saw big tires. These tractor tires were probably four feet across.
Berries? Fields of them. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Welcome to Stehly Farms Organic in Valley Center, CA, north of San Diego.
I was giddy with glee at the farm. It’s always fun to go somewhere different, and to learn about how they do what they do. I had tons of questions for the owners. Why do they do this? When do they pick that? Do they use machines for picking? How many acres are there? David, who oversees the vegetable growing at Stehly, laughed and called me a questionsaholic, which I accepted as the compliment he clearly intended it as. Yep, I have a thirsty mind and I drank in all the sights, smells and sounds at the farm. I grew up in Los Angeles, so it’s safe to say I wasn’t nose to snout with pigs. There were no tractors or rows of corn. So farms fascinate me.
These days I participate in a local community garden, and it gives me a lot of satisfaction to grow a few tomatoes and to watch in wonder as friends grow vegetables and flowers from A to Z. I find it challenging to deal with the weeds in my garden bed, and to know how much water the plants need or which soil amendments to try. And this is in a 5’ x 10’ garden bed! I can’t imagine how much work (both physical and mental) goes into running an organic farm. I was happy as a pig in muck. How often does a suburban gal like me get to see goats and sheep? Or pick her own oranges and blueberries?
This was a school field trip, a day of fun mixed with a few lessons about farming. The kiddos watched co-owner Noel Stehly demonstrate Hass avocado grafting. He showed how to graft a piece of bud wood onto the seed tree to turn a non-producing avocado tree into one that produces. It was science meets live theater: we learned something and it was entertaining, too. Moments like this bring science lessons to life. I love the passion you see and hear when the Stehlys are talking about what they grow.
Wherever I go, I have lots of questions about why things are done as they are, and about who, what, when and where. So before co-owner Jerome Stehly had taken his first breath I was throwing questions at him about the farm. How big is it? It’s approximately 278 acres, with 200 of them being used to grow crops. I asked about what their biggest crop is (it’s avocado) and how many people work full-time at the farm. I had questions about the berries and critters and coyotes and what it takes to get a lemon to market. We sampled fresh squeezed Valencia orange juice (delish) and watched a boxing machine fold and hot glue cardboard rectangles into boxes, lightning fast. We watched animals and learned techniques for picking oranges and how they water 200 acres of crops. (Not with a watering can.) Each tree has its own sprinkler head. There are wells at Stehly Farm (1200 feet deep) as well as springs. There are plenty of machines at the farm but every single crop is picked by hand. The animals on the farm help out a lot. It was a science lesson in practice. The owl boxes at the farm house owls, who keep the gopher and rat population down, which allow the crops to grow. The sheep graze on weeds. Good insects eat bad insects who otherwise would eat up all the crops. (Boy, there’s a lot to this farming biz!)
Want to know what they grow there? This is not a complete list but here are some of their crops: asparagus, avocados, blackberries, blueberries, chard, corn, dragon fruit, garlic, grapefruits, kale, lemons, limes, onions, oranges, pomegranates and strawberries.
I want to do paintings from the photos I took at Stehly Farms today. It was a fantastic experience: being out in nature, seeing things grow at this huge scale, and learning from the people who oversee it. It takes science to grow things but it also takes a lot of heart. It takes passion and commitment and energy. What a delight to spend part of a day on a real farm. I think this city girl actually may be part farmer. Now where are my overalls?