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Tuesday
Feb232010

Garcia Organic Farm Visit 

I had been looking forward to visiting Garcia Organic Farm for months. Leticia Garcia, one of the friendlest and most helpful vendors at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, invited me to come visit their farm after I asked where it was located a few months back. Visiting their stand is always a highlight of my farmers market shopping trips, so going to the farm sounded like heaven to me. Letty always greets her customers with a huge smile and calls them by name. Jose, who picks the fruit at the farm and accompanies Letty to the markets,  is always so helpful with recommendations when I just can't decide what I want to bring home. I notice that when I'm shopping at the Garcia Organic Farm stand, I'm in great company. I have heard chefs from the finest restaurants rave about their produce while I shop next to them at Wednesday market. I could not wait to see where all this amazing produce grows.

We finally decided to schedule our visit for President's Day, and after meeting Letty in Temecula, we followed her up the road for about 20 minutes to the farm. The drive was so beautiful. The road wound through a canopy of trees, peaceful sprawling ranches, sunny hills dotted with citrus trees. Every once in a while, we'd splash though a creek that crossed the road. We climbed up and swooped down and zig zagged our way to the farm, and once we got there, it was even more beautiful.

We made a quick stop to say hello to Jose who was busily completing an order for one of our local schools. The school had ordered over 1000 pounds of kumquats so that each student could take home a pound. We, of course, had to make sure he was packing acceptable fruit, and tasted one or two. Delish!Armed with a cardboard box and a pair of clippers, Letty led us up a palm tree-lined path, pointing out citrus and avocados all along the way. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I had a vague picture in my mind of ordered groves of trees in neat lines, like commercials I'd seen on tv. What I learned along the path is that they truly use the topography of the land to plant the trees in the finest conditions instead of shaping the land to accommodate their chosen crop. Grapefruit trees that like water, but not too much, are planted on a natural hillside so that they're happily watered, but not sitting in wet soil. I loved this 'organic' part of the farm's layout.

 

 

Before we got too far, we passed a small grove of short trees. When Letty introduced them as the Kaffir Limes, I was so excited and happy. Supposedly, the leaves of this tree go for about $25 a pound. Ani Phyo, one of my favorite raw food pioneers often calls for fresh Kaffir Lime leaves in her recipes. It has been one of the only ingredients that has eluded me. I had checked with my pals at the Co Op, Whole Foods, the Asian Market. All to no avail, but here was this cute little grove of Kaffir Lime trees. My husband walked right up, pulled off a leaf & put it into his mouth. We all laughed, but all he could say was "These are amazing! They taste like Thai food." Letty clipped off a small branch and put it into our box.  

We continued up the hill into an amazing and overwhelmingly delicious collection of trees. Kumquats, grapefruits, those incredible cara cara oranges, valencias, all types of mandarins -- kishu minis, honeys, satsumas -- sweet persian limes, key limes, meyer lemons, fuerte avocados, hass avocados and guavas. Every time I thought I had seen my favorite, Letty pointed out something that I loved even more. We even picked one lone mango and several macadamia nuts. 

We learned so much as we admired the views and picked and snacked on juicy citrus. Letty's in-laws own the CCOF farm. Her father-in-law, Juan manages the nursery where all the trees were purchased. His wife has a beautiful collection of palm trees and roses that they also sell. All the crops are picked by hand, usually by two workers unless there is a large order. Much of the fruit is shipped out, and the over-abundant crops are sold wholesale. But lucky for us, some of the produce is carefully loaded onto a truck for the two and a half hour drive to our Santa Monica markets. Garcia Organic Farm goes to the Wednesday market, the Saturday Market at the Promenade and the Sunday Main Street Market.

Here are just a few things we learned about the farm and about the farming of these specific crops. The land is irrigated by their own three fresh water wells. We learned that the palm trees that line the property aren't just beautiful. They shelter the avocados trees from potentially harmful gusts of wind. If a snail problem occurs, killer snails are brought in to get rid of the pesky ones. Some of the trees contain traps for fruit flies and these are monitored by inspectors who frequently visit the farm. (You may have noticed that the stands that sell fruit at the farmers markets have netting over them these days. This is not always the case. The nets are a mandatory protective measure against a specific fruit fly, and must be utilized until September.) If those harmful flies are found in the traps, the whole farm gets shut down. Sadly, my beloved persimmons are out of season, but we saw a grove of them. (No leaves at all. Just bare branches right now -- it was hard to believe that those trees bore such amazing fruit.) Letty's husband Armando has given tours to several restaurant owners and culinary schools who have visited the farm. Josie restaurant even named a salad in honor of their exceptional produce. 

I'm pretty convinced that the difference between Garcia Organic Farm produce and the other stands that I've shopped comes down to the family pride and integrity of the people who tend the crops and the land. Letty speaks with such confidence and pride about all aspects of the farm, and the vibe we all felt was charged with a happy, positive, tranquil energy.

I feel so fortunate that we were invited to share the visit as a family. Each of us has a much greater understanding and appreciation for the farm to market process. For me, going to this farm was the equivalent of my kids meeting their favorite professional athlete. At the end of our visit, our cardboard box was brimming with fragrance and flavors and we were all so happy. I passed along some of the sunny goodness to some of you last week. We had spent the previous day at a hotel, swimming in the pool and basking in the sun. When I asked my kids what their favorite part of the weekend was, they both enthusiastically answered: "the farm!" 

You'll continue to enjoy the work of Garcia Organic Farm when you order from Sage Kitchen. Now you know that every bite of avocado, and each splash of citrus was grown with great pride and thoughtfully prepared for you with appreciation for the growers behind all the goodness. If you have the chance, please make sure you stop by the Garcia Organic Farm stand next time you're at the Farmers Market. Pick up some of the very best produce you'll ever taste and say hello to Letty, Armando and Jose!

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