Planting the Seed: Vista, a Growing Hub for Organic Farms and Sustainable Agriculture

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Kevin Ham – Economic Development Director City of Vista
Southern California is deemed one of the top organic agriculture hotspots around the U.S., so it’s no surprise that Vista is home to a cluster of organic and sustainable farms and markets that not only serve locals but also residents around the county and across the nation.

At Sunrise Farms, for example, employees grow, pack and ship certified organic and conventional citrus, including lemons, navel and valencia oranges, grapefruit, mandarins, tangelos, and tangerines. The company ships to distributors, wholesalers, and retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Some of the citrus is even exported to Japan.

Sunrise Farms, which has been in business for 37 years, originally started just outside Rancho Santa Fe. After the land was sold in 2006, the sales and distribution of the farm’s remaining production was relocated to Vista. Sunrise Farms, which has about 18 employees, works with growers and brings in organic citrus from all over San Diego County for distribution.

“There has been a tremendous growth in organics, especially in the last 10 years, and I can only see continued growth as people continue to focus on health and longevity,” said Ken Shull, owner of Sunrise Farms. “Sustainable and community-based agriculture make so much sense – reduced carbon footprint, guarantee of the freshest produce you can eat, and personal health.”

Matthew Frazier, vice president of Frazier Farms in Vista, agrees consumers will continue to demand organic foods. To keep up with that demand, Frazier Farms, which also has a market in neighboring Oceanside, offers several organic and sustainable foods, including a large selection of organic produce and sustainably caught seafood.

“Recently, we bought new produce cases and reset our produce department. We switched our conventional and organic spaces in order to carry a larger selection of organic produce,” Frazier said. “I would estimate we carry 60% organic and 40% conventional in our produce departments. The price gap between conventional and organic has decreased over the years and customers are demanding more organic items. There are huge demands for organic food, especially produce.”

Frazier at Frazier Farms in Vista, Frazier, whose grandfather Bill started Frazier Farms in 1971 in Escondido, said Vista is the perfect location for this style market.

“Agriculture was the foundation of Vista,” he said. “It was home of one of the first wineries and was once considered the avocado capital of the world. It was the perfect place to start a farmers market style grocery store. We thrive on providing the freshest produce available, and what’s better than finding it in your backyard?”

He said Frazier Market’s persimmons, fruit trees, oranges, strawberries, tomatoes, cherimoya, hydroponic lettuce and assorted greens, herbs, orchids, and a portion of its floral department are sourced directly from Vista farmers and growers, such as Sundial Farms, La Primavera, Sundance Farms, Beattie & Travis, and Fresh Pac.

“Vista is an old farming town. Many organic farms are spread throughout the city and surrounding areas. It is wonderful to be able to source product from your neighbors. In season, our strawberries come from a couple miles down the road. We sell orchids, flowers, and fruit trees that have all been grown less than a 10-minute car ride from the store. We are blessed to be able to source so many great items in our neighborhood and offer them to the community,” said Frazier, adding that the Vista Farmers Market on Saturdays – the longest running one in the county – is one of his favorites because it boasts a large presence of organic farmers, food stalls, and craftsman.

Sundial Farm

Sundial Farms owner Endeavour Shen and family. Photo credit: Sundial Farms.

Meanwhile, over at Sundial Farm, one of Frazier Market’s suppliers, owner Endeavour Shen and his staff of 13 harvest and sell hydroponic produce such as living Italian genovese basil, living butter lettuce, Dino kale, French sorrel, Tatsoi (Japanese Spinach, and other Asian varieties such as Bok Choy). The farm also grows about 45,000 orchid plants. The farm sells its produce to the Escondido School District, Seaside Market, restaurants around the county, as well as at local farmers market.

“We even have people drive from downtown San Diego to the Vista’s Farmer’s Market to buy our lettuce,” Shen said. “Before, people were gung ho about organic, but now consumers are getting smarter. They just aren’t looking for organic; they want to know if you are local. The reason why we’re in Vista is the city has the best farmer’s market and we have support from the community to purchase our product.”

Sundial, a 4.5-acre hydroponic farm located off Mar Vista Road, is not certified organic, but uses sustainable farming practices The farm, which doesn’t use soil, uses Vista water and filters it through five different stage using reverse osmosis.

“We use 90% less water than a standard soil farm and we use and recirculate the water and refill it every three months,” Shen said, adding that Sundial also eliminates the need for the use of harmful chemicals by promoting Integrated Pest Management (IPM) principles so that the farm’s plants have fewer pests.

For Shen, a former accountant who also served in the U.S. Navy, it’s a labor of love. “You don’t do it to make money; you do it because you love it. It’s a different type of living, but you’re creating something that’s being consumed by the world,” he said.

Sundial, which also provides educational tours to local schools, sells its orchids (which have even been used at the Bellagio Las Vegas and Grammy Awards), throughout the United States.

Other organic farms of note in Vista include:
•Pearson’s Garden and Herb Farm, which has called Vista home since 1989 and boasts the largest selection of herbs and spices in the state of California, a selection of gourmet and unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world, and water-wise, “California-friendly” blooming plants. The farm produces nearly 2,500 unique varieties of utilitarian and edible plants.
•Solutions Farms, located in the County of San Diego close to the Vista City border, provides locally-raised, certified organic produce that is being used by North County restaurants, juice bars, and farmers market buyers. It is a soilless aquaponics farm, where nutrient-rich water from fish culture is used to nourish produce, which in turn purifies the water so it can be returned to the fish. The farm is one of the largest aquaponics facilities in the West. Solutions Farm is also a laboratory for teaching important work values and preparing people for re-entry into the workforce.

“Vista has had farms since the earliest, non-native settlements. The weather, the variety of landforms, and a diversity of other values make Vista and North San Diego County a great place to grow for farmers,” said Mark Wall, Coordinator for the Vista Farmers Market. “Water is expensive, and land is getting more expensive, so there are pressures. We are lucky to have the wide variety of farmers we have, growing exotic and standard and all manner of plants, trees, fruits, vegetables, animals, and herbs.”

Wall believes it’s important to support local farmers as much as possible and that’s why the honey at the Vista Farmers Market is sold by a local beekeeper, and the eggs are sold by a local poultry keeper. Selling locally produced foods not only provides economic benefits to farms and the city, but also to the health and wellness of the community and environment, he said.

“Having local farmers provides our community with a multitude of benefits such as food security, having local food to eat, grown by experienced local farmers that ensures the future for both long-term and short term issues. The market provides a place to meet others, share things (our free book exchange is one example), learn more about farmers and food, and to create income for local farmers so that they can thrive into the

future. Some doctors now prescribe fresh vegetables and fruit for their patients, and in the past, doctors have utilized the Vista market as the ‘fresh pharmacy’ for these prescriptions.”

The Vista Farmers market is also the first in California to ban plastic bags (distributed by farmers to customers), plastic straws, and foam/styrofoam containers. More single-use plastic bans are coming soon, Wall said.

According to the San Diego County Farm Bureau, San Diego has more certified organic growers than any other county in the nation, has more small farms (under $250,000 annual gross sales) than any other county in the U.S., and is one of the top 20 counties nationwide in farm production value. Ranking 19th in the nation, San Diego County is a leader in nursery, avocado, tomato, citrus, poultry, mushroom, and strawberry production. San Diego County’s agriculture value is $1.7 billion, the 5th largest industry in the county.

“Vista is proud to play a role in the county’s overall agriculture production,” said Kevin J. Ham, Director of Economic Development for the City of Vista. “Agriculture is embedded into the history and culture of our city. It’s an attractive place not only to farmers but also to markets, restaurants and retailers who want to source their food from locally-owned organic and sustainable businesses to better serve the demands of the community at large.”

City of Vista Contact:
Kevin Ham
Economic Development Director
760-643-5244
kham@cityofvista.com

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