The Perfect Timing of Suzie’s Farm

10 Feb, 2013

Whoever said “timing is everything” might have been talking about Suzie’s Farm. The organic success story in the San Diego area began with Robin Taylor and his wife Lucila De Alejandro “just playing around”—but it wasn’t long before they discovered that the organic vegetables they were planting to feed their family were in great demand.

Three years and 140 acres later, Suzie’s Farm (named for a dog found on the property) is a howling success.

“We had a little extra piece of property that we weren’t using,” Robin Taylor told Organic Connections. “So we just started playing around and providing food for ourselves and our friends. We didn’t realize that we were hitting optimum time for the local market, and that we’d have to get another 70 acres just to keep up.

“The local scene here in San Diego really began taking off. Restaurants wanted more produce from their local region; people wanted to do what the restaurants were doing; and people started attending farmers’ markets a lot more. Then more farmers’ markets appeared. There are a lot of avocado and citrus growers here, but there are not a lot of vegetable growers; so we have developed into a big organic vegetable grower here in San Diego.”

From a Sprout

While the success was perhaps somewhat of a surprise, Taylor’s adaption of organic, sustainable techniques was not. In fact, he had known nothing else while growing up. “My father established a sprout business in the early eighties in San Diego,” Taylor said. “I grew up in the sprout business helping my dad throughout high school and then through college. We also lived on communes while I was growing up, so a lot of the time we were farming as kids. I didn’t realize I was learning my future career.”

It actually wasn’t until Taylor was an adult that he understood the drastic difference between the methods he had learned and the industrial agriculture norm. “I really didn’t recognize it until we started Suzie’s Farm,” Taylor recalled. “I began looking at other farms when I drove through farm country in El Centro and Yuma. All I would see was one crop for miles and miles and miles. I realized that what I’m doing at Suzie’s Farm is planting, for example, two acres with about 20 different varieties. It’s so much better for the soil, and the bug population is very different than that of somebody who’s planting a monocrop for thousands of acres.”

Those farms spray heavily with chemicals to eradicate their bug population. As with everything else on Suzie’s Farm, though, Taylor learned natural control of pests. “At first we were just ignoring it and hoping they would go away,” he said, chuckling. “And initially that kind of worked because we were on a small scale. But then as we became larger we saw aphids taking over our tomatoes and worms taking over our cabbage. We began using biologicals, like bringing in bugs to eat the other bugs. Where that didn’t work, I set out to learn more about organic pesticides. It’s evolved into a combination of both those things. For example, we get spider mites on our strawberries, so we brought in a lacewing wasp to come and eat those spider mites up. I’ve learned it on the fly, taught myself, and found some other farmers that have taught me some techniques.”

Variety Is Key

Suzie’s farm has ended up specializing in heirloom vegetables—something that never seems to go out of demand. “When we first met with Whole Foods Market here, they wanted to start an heirloom program in their stores that wasn’t just heirloom tomatoes,” Taylor explained. “They wanted to see all different kinds of heirloom vegetables. We were already doing a lot of heirloom carrots and beets, so we just added onto that line and it’s grown from there.”

Today, Suzie’s Farm is known far and wide for its variety. Taylor provided some examples. “We grow a cabbage called the savoy cabbage, and it’s definitely a much more popular cabbage than your regular green or red cabbage. In the summertime we do a lot of heirloom peppers that are very unusual, and those are also real big.”

Passing It On

As Taylor himself was taught and continues to learn from others, so is he using Suzie’s Farm to correctly educate the next generation. “We’re really trying to promote education along with our produce,” Taylor said. “Just about every week we have busloads of kids come in. They pull stuff out of the dirt and eat it, not worrying about how everything has to be perfectly clean. They see how vegetables really look; our vegetables are not sized and perfect like you usually see in the grocery store.

“It’s great to watch them discover how a carrot gets pulled out of the ground, and see bees flying around. It’s really nice to have the kids out here.”

Thanks to organic, sustainable farmers like Robin Taylor, we will continue to experience nature’s rich food heritage for generations to come.

For more information, please visit www.suziesfarm.com.

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