Central California Farm Tour with California Grown

Last month, I had the pleasure of escaping Atlanta’s brisk fall temperatures in exchange for a much needed dose of sunshine in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA! While I was there, I was honored to spend a few days with California’s Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross, and the wonderful folks of California Grown to learn all about the diversity, quality, and sustainability of California grown crops.
California's Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross, standing in a tomato green house.
Image credit: Alycia Moreno for CA GROWN
{{This post was made in partnership with California Grown! We received compensation in exchange for it. Opinions are always our own. If we don’t love it, you don’t hear about it. Thanks for your continued support! Featured image credit: Alycia Moreno for CA GROWN }}
Over the course of my visit we toured 3 incredible farms that are on the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to sustainable growing practices. Together they grow everything from tomatoes and cucumbers to exotic fruits, cut flowers, and even coffee beans!!
A banquet table at The Four Seasons Santa Barbara filled with people. A chef is at the head of a table explaining the dinner.
Image credit: Alycia Moreno for CA GROWN
In the evening after our tour, we were wined and dined with an incredible meal at the Biltmore Hotel featuring over 30 of the 400+ commodities grown in California as well as some of the most incredible wines I have ever had the pleasure of sipping.
I wish you could have joined me on the tour, but since you weren’t there I thought I’d take you on a virtual tour in hopes that you too will be inspired to learn a bit more about where your food comes from, who’s growing it, and the impact that our farming practices have on the world as a whole.

First stop, a sustainable farm that grows all of their crops in super sized greenhouses…

A row of very large industrial greenhouses in California
Houweling’s Tomatoes || To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what to expect as we loaded the tour bus to visit Houweling’s Tomatoes. I have never seen a large scale growing operation that only uses greenhouses – in fact my only frame of reference when it came to greenhouse growing before this trip was visiting my childhood neighbor’s garden where she had built a small greenhouse out of vintage doors with lots of panes of glass. It was tiny and quaint with just enough standing room for two.
A greenhouse filled with tomatoes
Image credit: Alycia Moreno for CA GROWN
Houweling’s massive rows of greenhouses were anything but quaint! They are super-sized greenhouses that can produce 24 times the amount of tomatoes that could be grown in the same footprint of field space while only using 6 times the amount of water that would be used in a field-farmed operation! All of Houweling’s hydroponically grown tomatoes are grown without the use of herbicides, are vine-ripened, and hand harvested. Did I mention how delicious they are yet?
5 cartons of freshly picked yellow, red, and orange cherry tomatoes and a carton of small cucumbers all arranged side by side in color blocks.
Houweling’s next BIG innovation in the world of agriculture was super exciting to everyone on the tour –  and honestly, it will be to anyone that is remotely annoyed by the shrink wrap on grocery store cucumbers too! Houweling’s already recycles more than 90% of their own farming waste as well as uses solar and other renewable energy sources to diminish their impact on the environment. So, I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that they are looking for ways to diminish the amount of waste when it comes to getting their cucumbers to the nation’s grocers. Through years of research and trial and error Houweling’s is SUPER close to freeing their cucumbers from plastic for good while still ensuring fresh, quality cukes to grocers around the country!

Next, we visited the first, EVER, coffee grower in the United States!

A beautiful scene high in the hills of central California. A small pond overlooks a plot of land nestled in the. Clouds engulf the hills in the distance.Ducks are swimming in the pond.
Good Land Organics || As a former barista and life-long coffeeholic I was ecstatic to learn that nestled in the hills of Goleta, California there is an organic farm successfully growing exotic fruits and coffee beans! As we drove into the hills on a narrow, winding dirt road to meet Jay Ruskey, the CEO and Co-Founder of Frinj Coffee, I couldn’t help but take in the jaw dropping scenery. It literally felt like we drove out of the beachy climate of Santa Barbara and into another more tropical climate just slightly above the clouds!
Jay Ruskey, the CEO and Co-Founder of Frinj Coffee at a cupping
These climates, Jay explained to us, are “microclimates” within the state of California that have the ideal growing conditions for coffee beans. Through experimenting with inter-planting his own various crops Jay found that coffee and avocados pair perfectly in the field, creating an opportunity not only for California farms to enter into a new specialty crop, but also to diversify their orchards without requiring additional land!
A bowl of exotic fruits at Good Land Organics farm. pomegranate, persimmon, ice cream bean, passion fruit, and finger limes.
As of today, there are 42 participating Frinj farms with an impressive 57,000+ coffee trees planted in the state of California so far and if you are wondering how it tastes…
A coffee tree with clusters of small white flowers and a few red coffee cherries.
Well friend, that was the smoothest, most delicious cup of coffee I have ever had!

Lastly, we toured a cut flower farm, talk about dreams come true!! 

A greenhouse full of red and pink Gerbera daisies
Ocean Breeze Farm || Our last tour of the trip was indeed the most colorful! Farmer Rene Van Wingerden of Ocean Breeze Farm toured us through one of the greenhouses where he grows a rainbow of Gerbera daisies as well as their cut flower packing house and bouquet production line.
A flower bouquet assembly line with buckets and a conveyor belt.
Walking into this tour I had no idea that 75% of the flowers and cut greens grown in the U.S. are from California – but Rene shared with us that the market has been hurt by the low cost of imported flowers. It’s easy to support America’s flower growers though, all you have to do is look for and ask for California Grown (or American Grown) blooms! Not only will you be supporting local farms, but your flowers will last longer because they haven’t been imported long distances!
a deep garnet hued bunch of Gerbera daisies, freshly picked and hanging in the green house

Chances are, if you are shopping in the produce section of your grocery store a large selection of the florals and the produce you are purchasing was grown in California.

Meg standing in front of buckets of daisys at a cut flower farm with a bouquet she made.
Image credit: Alycia Moreno for CA GROWN
The cutting edge agricultural practices that the state has in place are not only providing us with the food we need to survive, but they are also at the forefront when it comes to farming practices that help to ensure we are protecting the environment and giving back to the planet that we take so much from! The future of our food system is very bright and with the great state of California leading the way and setting a good example of what sustainable farming REALLY looks like it is sure to be more fruitful the ever!

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