Due to commercial development, rising water costs and industrial agriculture competition, farming in Orange County has become a disappearing heritage. But despite these hurdles, South Coast Farms this year celebrates 20 years of planting and growing certified organic fruits and vegetables in San Juan Capistrano.
Dedicated to raising healthy produce for community members, husband-and-wife team Farmer George and Rebecca Kibby have worked the land using organic methods since Day One. “It’s simple—people don’t want to eat food with poison on it and we don’t want to expose our workers to pesticides,” says Farmer George. “When you're in a situation like this surrounded by development it’s insane to think you can go out there and spray chemicals without some kind of community impact (such as the case with Non-Toxic Irvine) we have the athletic fields behind us, schools, people living here and the ocean all nearby.”
Kibby took over the farm in 1997 (he originally farmed across the street), “I’ve been farming for awhile, I came up to Orange County after farming in Mexico for thirteen years and this place was available for lease so I made a bid on it, and we got it,” he says. The farm wasn’t organic at that time, so they spent three years converting and cultivating the land from conventional to organic. South Coast Farms received its organic certification in 2002. “It’s difficult getting it to work and there's a lot of unique challenges but we believe in it philosophically,” Farmer George says.
The Kibbys derive all of their income from farming. Rebecca says they’ve significantly been impacted by the drought, because their methods means moisture is needed in the soil in order for the whole system to work. They could cheat and use chemical-laced fertilizers, but that's not the organic way—so droughts are especially tough.
Nevertheless, the Kibbys' tenacious persona, passion and grit keeps the farm prospering, along with special programs. In 2000, Rebecca instituted a CSA (community supported agriculture), a partnership between the growers and the consumers that means people who subscribe have direct access to fresh, local organic produce. And on dedicated days, the public is invited to walk the fields and pick their own fresh ripened strawberries as part of their U-Pick special. This season they’re expanding the program to more days per week. “We’re going to do a U-Pick tomato this summer,” says Farmer George. “We’re transitioning more and more crops into u-picks, it’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else.”
Their farm stand is open seven days a week and fruits and vegetables are rotated seasonally. During the winter months, you can find all the crucifers—broccolis, cauliflowers, turnips, chards, kale, lettuces, leafy greens,carrots and beets. As it gets warmer, they transition into the more traditional summer crops; squashes, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers and tomatoes. In addition to certified organic fruits and vegetables they also offer certified organic grass-fed beef from their ranch in North Dakota. “We were trying to source beef for ourselves, organic, grass-fed and we couldn’t find it readily available so I got a wild hair to buy a ranch,” says Farmer George. “Ten years later I’m still going 'What was I doing?'" The beef is only available for purchase at the farm; this year's yield was dry-aged for 42 days, creating ridiculously tender and full-of-flavor meet.
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Looking out at families in the distance picking strawberries, Rebecca and George sit in the shade of a large tree outside their customized office trailer. “That’s what we’re trying to do, that’s what our main mission has always been—to try and connect people back to their food,” says Farmer George. “It makes it easier to do that if you're connecting them to food that has amazing flavors.”
South Coast Farms, 32701 Alipaz St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-9381; www.southcoastfarms.com