I recently traveled to the Central Coast to recruit an Organic farm to our group of markets. I had the pleasure of getting a tour of Rancho La Familia from the female farm owner herself, Virginia Cortez (pictured below). Her 48 acre farm is located near the heart of Santa Maria (160 miles from Los Angeles).
Virginia's father first started farming in the Central Coast as a sharecropper. He was fortunate to have a supportive landowner who encouraged him to purchase some of the land and start his own farm. Virginia has kept farming in the family, which includes several relatives involved in farming as well as a few of her children.
Rancho La Familia has an amazing organic selection of berries, cruciferous vegetables, onions, beets, and other seasonal veggies.
Organic berries are often tough to find, especially at local farmers' markets as growing them organically is difficult and risky venture (loss of crop if pests get out of control). They are always a hot item for those that follow the EWG's Dirty Dozen where strawberries almost always top the list of pesticide residues. So how does Virginia handle the pests she encounters? The biggest weapon is diligent monitoring of the crops to address pests at the earliest stage possible. She walks her fields every day (multiple times) to keep a close eye on things.
Her next weapon is a vacuum. Yes, a vacuum. A big vacuum. Twice a day the tractor below with the vacuum attachment gives the strawberry fields a once over.
Another technique she uses to keep some pests and critters away is interplanting with onions. The harsh flavor of the onions keeps some of them away. Organic pesticides and insecticides are also part of the regime. Neem oil is one of the more common ones used.