There are local farms out there ready to
welcome you for a visit—or even stay the night
On the farm: Top from Left: Tamara Clifford and her goats, goat’s milk cheese
being served at Lucky Goat Family Farm; Bottom from Left: kids at play
at Live Earth Farm and a plant sale at the UCSC Farm.
Photography by Patrick Tregenza and Patrice Ward
Tamara Clifford was a caterer living north of Los Angeles in Agoura Hills when she and her husband Jeff decided to buy a 49-acre ranch in the wilds of south Monterey County as a weekend getaway. But things didn’t go quite as planned. “I came up here, and I couldn’t leave,” she says. “It just sucked me in.”
The Cliffords planted fruit trees and vegetable gardens, began raising chickens and bought eight Nubian goats. Then last summer they built three casitas and opened their farm to the public as Rancho Dos Amantes.
“I’m shocked and thrilled with how busy we are,” Clifford says. “People are just in awe of gathering their own eggs or going out into the garden and picking their own radishes and lettuce to make a salad.”
The Cliffords operate one of the very few farm stay experiences in this region. Every morning Tamara and her daughter, Jessica, prepare a farm breakfast with goat’s milk yogurt, homemade granola, fresh baked bread, honey and jam from her own fruit trees. After breakfast, guests can tour the gardens and the orchard, and visit the beehives, chickens and goats.
She says it’s rewarding, yet challenging: “Not only do you have to keep the farm going, but you have to really enjoy having people around all the time.”
But that’s not why there aren’t more businesses like hers. Farm stays are hugely popular in other parts of the country and in Europe, where governments provide hefty financial incentives for farmers to open their doors to tourists.
“There are lots more farmers and ranchers who would like to have farm stays and camping, but are restricted by some pretty fierce regulations,” says Penny Leff, agritourism coordinator for the UC Cooper ative Extension. “Central Coast counties are especially tough because there are overlapping zones of coastal protection.”
Officials in Monterey County are currently working to ease some of those restrictions by expanding the list of allowable uses on lands preserved by the Williamson Act. Permitting farm stays and farm stands is a top priority.
“We see it as a way for farmers to supplement their income and teach people about agriculture,” says Christina McGinnis, the policy manager who is drawing up the new list for the Monterey County Agriculture Commissioner.
McGinnis hopes to get the new uses approved by the Board of Supervisors by the end of the year. But as we went to press, supervisors were still wrangling over provisions in the yet-to-be-finalized 2010 General Plan that would make it easier to provide tourist facilities along the River Road Wine Trail.
So in the meantime, those looking to spend the night on a local farm should contact Rancho Dos Amantes, located between Lake San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento near Bradley, or one of the handful of other local farms currently set up for farm stays. (See “SPEND THE NIGHT,” p. 56.)
In Big Sur, you can stay in a picturesque two-bedroom cottage at Lucky Goat Family Farm, where artist Lygia Chappellet and her husband Carlos Volpini have been making beautiful flower-bedecked goat’s milk cheese for 28 years.
Guests are invited to join in the morning milking, enjoy the ocean views and can arrange for cheese-making classes on request. The famed Big Sur Bakery is just a short walk away.
In Carmel Valley, John Russo, the beekeeper and alchemist behind Carmel Lavender Farm rents out an off-the-grid tiny house alongside his fragrant fields and offers classes on such topics as making essential oils, perfumes and artisanal soaps.
Near Soledad, Inn at the Pinnacles is set in Jan and Jon Brosseau’s family vineyard and well situated for wine tasting or hiking at the nation’s newest national park. Peaceful cottages at R&G Land and Cattle Co. in Paicines provide another rural getaway near Pinnacles National Park. The working cattle ranch includes 1,200 mission olive trees, that produce the award-wining Oils of Paicines. Owner Barbara Rever—a Salinas kidney specialist—built the cottages and a bunkhouse that sleeps 15 as a family retreat.
For those looking for a cowpoke experience, there’s the V6 Ranch, which boasts 20,000 acres and 50 miles of riding trails near Parkfield. A cowboy academy and activities like cattle drives fill its busy annual calendar.
Overnight camping is welcome at Crystal Bay Farm in Watsonville, in between Manresa and Sunset State Beaches, with farm-totable meals available on request.
“I started out loving farmers’ markets and this is a way to better understand where our food comes from,” says Sally Digges, a member of the Santa Cruz-based Food and Farm Tours Meetup group. On a recent Saturday morning, Digges and about 20 other members of the group carpooled up Highway 1 with farmer Jeff Larkey to visit his secluded Rancho del Oso, part of Route 1 Farms.
Larkey talked about his “eat local” philosophy, Route 1’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and some of the challenges he faces, like water shortages and pest control. He answered dozens of questions from the curious visitors.
“People enjoy being outside and meeting the farmers, seeing what they’re growing and hearing about their issues,” says Penny Ellis, who launched the free monthly tour group about a year ago and is also one of the organizers of the Corralitos Open Farms Tour.
In addition to Route 1 Farms, she’s arranged behind-the-scenes visits to Love Apple Farms, Far West Fungi, UCSC Farm, Camp Joy, the Homeless Garden Project, Shumei Farm and Ouroboros aquaponic farm in Half Moon Bay. More than 200 people now belong to the meetup group, although the average tour size is 20–25.
One way to better understand the full scope of Salinas Valley agriculture is to sign up for one of Evan Oakes’ Ag Venture Tours. Oakes was a farm advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension in Salinas and was often called on to guide visiting dignitaries. He thought it was pretty fun and decided to turn it into a business.
Now he offers 18 different programs, including agriculture, wine tasting and culinary tours. “People love the ag tour,” he says. “They want to teach their children about where food comes from.”
Oakes often starts his tours at Pezzini Farms in Castroville. He walks out into the fields to show visitors how artichokes grow and explains how to prepare them. “Tourists love the diversity of crops around here, where there are 90 different things growing practically yearround,” he says, noting that by contrast, in some states, agriculture is dominated by just a few commodity crops.
For those interested in do-it-yourself tours, Salinas Valley tourism officials are beta testing a smartphone app to launch this summer called Field2Fork. It’s a self-guided driving tour that takes people by fields, packing houses, coolers and vineyards for wine tasting. While visitors cannot enter most agricultural facilities due to health regulations, the app includes videos that take you inside the production plants.
FARM CLASSES AND DINNERS
Another way to get a quick farm fix is by signing up for a class or farmto- fork dinner, which are especially popular in our area during the summer months.
Love Apple Farms in the Santa Cruz Mountains offers on-farm classes every weekend, including gardening instruction from owner Cynthia Sandberg. Chefs and other instructors are brought in to teach everything you need to know to run your own homestead, from beekeeping and raising chickens to making sausages, sauerkraut and cheese.
Participants are free to stroll the gardens where Sandberg grows dozens of exotic varieties of vegetables exclusively for Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. Docent-led tours of the farm are also available once a month.
The UCSC Farm and Alan Chadwick Garden on the campus above Santa Cruz are always open to visitors, and free guided tours are held on the first Sunday of every month at 2pm. Learning gardening and pruning techniques from the world-class experts on campus—who hold public classes monthly—is a real bonus for those of us living in the Monterey Bay area.
In Ben Lomond, former scientist Patricia Davis is reinventing herself after working for 26 years in the aerospace industry. She has opened Quail Hollow Kitchens and teaches artisanal food preparation like sourdough breadmaking, canning and preserving and pickling—using 100-year-old recipes and techniques from her Hungarian ancestors. Participants can visit chickens and ducks she raises on her 26-acre ranch.
In the northern Big Sur area known as Palo Colorado, Peter Eichorn, whose honey and Meyer lemons are legendary, offers small beekeeping classes at his scenic paradise of organic fruits and vegetables called Country Flat Farm.
Farm-to-table dinners provide perhaps the most elegant way to enjoy the pastoral beauty of local farms. Tour the fields at sunset and feast the night away courtesy of talented local chefs and winemakers. Check the dinner schedules of Route 1 Farms, Lonely Mountain Farm, the Homeless Garden Project and Outstanding in the Field.
Finally, joining a CSA is probably the best way to ensure you’ll be invited out to the farm. Popular CSAs like High Ground Organics, Live Earth Farm, Morris Grassfed Beef, Homeless Garden Project and Garden Variety Cheese all host special events for members at least once a year.
EXPLORE: To keep on top of new farm-based events like dinners, classes and tours as they are announced, go to www.ediblemontereybay. com to subscribe to Edible Monterey Bay’s weekly e-newsletter. Also see related listings of local farm stay opportunities (p. 56), farm tours and open houses (this page), summer 2015 u-picks (p. 54), and farmbased activities for kids (p. 56).
PICK IT YOURSELF: SUMMER 2015 U-PICKS
“Nothing compares to a field-ripened strawberry, that flavor, that texture!” says Lori Fiorovich, who runs Crystal Bay Farm with her husband Jeff. “On a warm day about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, you’re going to smell that berry before you get it, and the memory is going to stick in your head forever.”
U-picks are a great, old-fashioned way to spend some time outdoors and experience a working farm. The best part is that you end up with a load of produce to take home and cook or preserve.
Crystal Bay’s u-pick evolved when its farm stand ran out of berries and people asked if they could come in and pick some themselves. It also runs a pumpkin u-pick in the fall that includes 40 different varieties of heirloom squash found on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste. “The array of colors, shapes and sizes in the pumpkin patch is beyond Christmas!” says Fiorovich.
Clearview Organic Orchards 646 Trabing Road, Watsonville – Organic apples. Open Sat–Sun 10am–5pm from Sept. 5–Nov. 1.
Crystal Bay Farm 40 Zils Road, Watsonville – Organic strawberries, red and golden raspberries, tayberries, olallieberries, blackberries, flowers, pumpkins and heirloom squash. Open Wed, Sat–Sun 10am–5pm.
Gizdich Ranch 55 Peckham Road, Watsonville – Strawberries, olallieberries, boysenberries, raspberries, blackberries and apples. Open daily 9am–5pm.
Homeless Garden Project 2394 Delaware Ave. at Shaffer Rd. Santa Cruz – U-pick CSA memberships available for $440. Members pick their own CSA share of fruits, vegetables and flowers every Friday or Saturday from May 29 to Oct 30.
Live Earth Farm 172 Litchfield Lane, Watsonville – Organic strawberries, Blenheim apricots, dry-farmed tomatoes. Check website for schedule.
Serendipity Farms 9130 Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley – Organic raspberries. Check Facebook for schedule.
Swanton Berry Farm 25 Swanton Road, Davenport – Organic strawberries, olallieberries and blackberries. Open daily 8am–7pm.
SUMMER 2015 FARM TOURS AND OPEN HOUSES
June 20 – Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House Flower, fruit tree and succulent growers in the Watsonville area throw open the doors to their greenhouses for guided tours, demonstrations and plant sales at discount prices. From 10am–4pm. Free.
Aug. 29 – Annual Ag Tour Monterey County Agricultural & Rural Life Museum offers an up-close look at modern agriculture in action. The tour begins in King City and in past years has visited a carrot harvesting operation, a duck farm, packing shed, cattle ranch and winery. Tickets are $65 and include breakfast, lunch and snacks.
Oct. 11 – Corralitos Open Farms Tour The first year was so successful, they’re doing it again. A self-guided tour of seven farms in the Corralitos area aimed at educating people about where our food comes from and the importance of small family farms. From 10am–4pm. Free.
JUST FOR KIDS
Photo courtesy of Lucky Goat Family Farm
Children in our area generally get a healthy education in good nutrition and how food is produced through the many excellent school garden, farm-to-school and life lab programs around the Monterey Bay.
For extra credit during the summer months and lots of fun, consider taking your children on a trip to the Earthbound Farm Stand in Carmel Valley where the younger set can play in a tipi, wander through the aromatherapy labyrinth and delight in a fragrant herb cutting garden. On weekends there are special events for kids (and parents, too) like bug walks, garlic braiding and wreath making.
At The Farm on Highway 68 in Salinas, children can see 30 different types of vegetables in organic cultivation. There’s storytime on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:30am and special events like puppet shows and hayrides on weekends.
In Watsonville, the Agricultural History Project at the county fairgrounds hosts 2nd Saturday on the Farmevery month. There’s a farm animal petting area and old-timey activities like butter churning, icecream making and tractor driving.
For a serious dose of farm life, consider enrolling your child in a farm camp. Live Earth Farm’s Discovery Program hosts one-week sessions, including a farm-to-table camp where kids ages 6–12 learn about farming, food preparation and preservation. MEarth environmental education program at Carmel Middle School offers two oneweek sessions called Food, Farming, Fun!, which include planting, harvesting, organic pest control and cooking with garden produce. Camp Gateway in Santa Cruz hosts two sessions in July called Ranch Builders, where budding farmers and ranchers will have a chance to learn how to build fences and stalls, feed animals and pick produce at Jade’s Ranch just outside of town. Crystal Bay Farm in Watsonville also has a farm camp for kids ages 7–14, who learn about growing food in a fun atmosphere near the beach.
And right around the corner, in October, pumpkin patches and corn mazes will start popping up on farms throughout the Monterey Bay area. They’re one of the most popular agritourism options around and a great chance to introduce even the youngest tots to the pleasures of visiting a farm.
SPEND THE NIGHT:
LOCAL FARM STAY OPPORTUNITIES
All of these farms are located in Monterey, San Benito or Santa Cruz County and all offer the chance to stay on a farm and engage to varying degrees in farm life. For farm stay opportunities outside of the Monterey Bay area, visit the website www.farmstayus.com.
Carmel Lavender Farm—Tassajara and Cachagua roads, Carmel Valley, www.carmellavender.com
Crystal Bay Farm—40 Zils Road, Watsonville, www.crystalbayfarm.com
Inn at the Pinnacles—32025 Stonewall Canyon Road, Soledad, www.innatthepinnacles.com
Lucky Goat Family Farm—47320 Highway 1, Big Sur, www.farmstayus.com
R&G Land and Cattle Co.—22100 Airline Highway, Paicines, www.ranchstay.net
Rancho Dos Amantes—222 Wendy Way, Bradley, www.ranchodosamantes.com
V6 Ranch—66450 Parkfield-Coalinga Road, Parkfield, www.parkfield.com
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.