August 18, 2014 – From its highest point, Thomas Farm resembles a crazy patchwork quilt: vermilions clash with violent oranges, while sprinkled here and there are smaller patches of blues and violets. Closer to the fields, an expanse of yellow becomes a meadow of tall sunflowers bent with the weight of their buds. However, the majority of patches are filled with dappled rainbows of dahlias.
“We have been successful with flowers, because for a while now it has been difficult to find organic flowers at the level we grow them,” says Kari Thomas, co-owner of Thomas Farms along with her husband Josh. “But it’s been growing. When we first started selling dahlias, they were not that common and now it seems like everybody and their brother is growing dahlias.” Kari and Josh took over Josh’s father’s 46-acre Aptos farm in 2006, primarily growing organic flowers, but also a variety of organic produce.
Some may scoff at the idea of organic non-edible flowers, but for the Thomases organic isn’t just for food. “We have to protect the groundwater and the animals and all the life around us,” comments Kari. “The wildlife that comes out here is amazing. We actually had a mountain lion kill a deer up here. We’ve seen foxes, wild turkeys, bobcats, lots of birds of prey, and quail.” Not even organically-allowable pesticides are used, unless a pest threatens to wipe out an entire crop.
Sheer numbers keeps the farm in business; while some plants may be lost to gophers or bugs, there will always be more than pests can eat. “They have to carry their weight financially to justify so much space,” says Kari. “We’ve spent a lot of money on dahlia bulbs, but this year we didn’t buy any. We just divided the ones we already had. As far as Darwin goes, some of them won’t make it. It’s survival of the fittest.”
The recent drought has not been kind to Thomas Farms. Although it’s located in the hills of Aptos, the soil is sandy and hardly retains water and when it does rain the steep incline leads to washed out crops. “This is a very difficult piece of land to grow on,” explains Kari. “It is very beautiful, it’s a great location, it’s right next to our original farm. So there are a lot of reasons why we stay here, but this year we don’t have any water and the soil is like sand so it just kind of disappears.” The farm has two wells, but one of them needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, because of the drought, the demand for wells is so high there is a waiting list for drilling new ones. Now that the Thomases are next in line, the parts required are out of stock.
Thomas Farm started primarily through local farmer’s markets, but has since expanded in recent years into the wholesale market. “Wholesale is our friend because they tend to pay us later,” Kari says. “With farming, it’s boom and bust, so during the slow months the checks that are coming in from earlier in the year are really nice to sustain cash flow.” The farm now provides bouquets to a changing array of six to twelve grocery stores, including Whole Foods, Deluxe Foods, and Monterey Market in Berkeley. Some stores have even begun carrying their dry-farmed tomatoes.
Now, after repeated requests, Thomas Farm has planned its first Dahlia Town U-Pick event so visitors can experience the colors of the farm for themselves. “We get so many inquiries about tours or visits we decided we should do this,” says Kari. “We have actually had people just show up! We were like, ‘We’re not really set up for that!’ I’d like to see families with kids running around. That’s what we like to do here anyway.” The event will be held on August 24th at the farm. A picnic lunch, prepared by Carried Away in Aptos, along with a bucket to fill with flowers will be provided for $40 per adult. Kids are free, and children’s lunches will be available for $5. Individual plots will be roped off for picking, but the entire farm will be open for exploring.
Thomas Farm – 1690 Pleasant Valley Rd, Aptos