In my lifetime California has turned from a conservative leaning state to a solidly liberal state. We have two presidential libraries–one for Richard M. Nixon and one for Ronald Reagan and there are still many Republicans, Libertarians, and other conservatives living in California. They are out-numbered by Democrats 2 to 1, and also outnumbered by people declining to state a party (independents). The Republicans might have remained more competitive if Governor Pete Wilson had not decided to villify Latinos and lost their votes (most are not immigrants either) for the forseeable future. One of the remaining conservative enclaves is Simi Valley in Ventura, CA. It is just down the road from Apricot Lane Farm. Traffic being tricky, I opted to arrive super early and stop somewhere close to the farm for breakfast. All reviews pointed to the Egg House.
As I drove down Los Angeles Boulevard I noticed storefronts for evangelical churches, but otherwise this part of Simi Valley looks like a suburb almost anywhere in California. The Egg House is not impressive from the outside. It is in a building where you might find an Ace hardware store, but it does have parking. The inside was a lovely surprise! It is super clean and reminds me of the hip diners around Nashville. Maybe this is where country music artists live when they are in Los Angeles?
The waiter brought me my diet coke (I’d already had coffee) and a complimentary piece of coffee cake. The frosting was super sweet, but the base cake was yummy. My scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked, the bacon was crisp and the pancakes were very tasty. They might have a little cornmeal in the batter. My service was super and if you are visiting the Presidential Library then I highly recommend the Egg House for breakfast or lunch.
Have you been to Universal Studios or one of the other movie studio tours? I came awayf from my first studio tour marveling at how so many facades and stage props are so fake looking and yet look so real on film. I am happy to report that after seeing The Biggest Little Farm and then touring the real Apricot Lane Farms (the focus of the documentary), it is a match!
Located close to Simi Valley and the suburban development of Moorpark, you drive only a few minutes through orchards and hoop houses to reach Apricot Lane Farms. The contrast with the neighboring farms is most stark when you stand at Alan York Point (named for their mentor). On the next farm over there is nothing but bare ground as they clean up after an organic raspberry operation. The erosion on the hillside, the bare soil exposed to the Santa Ana winds, compared to a regenerative farm that is bursting with life.
Apricot Lane Farms is both California Certified Organic and biodynamic certified. They grow and sell seasonal stone fruit, citrus, avocados, pasture-raised eggs, vegetables, herbs, marmalade, lamb, pork and beef through four farmers markets a week, a couple of individual grocery stores, and a couple of chefs. They do not currently have a selling problem; they have a supply problem. And they uniquely have a Los Angeles based market that can pay for the increased quality ($16 typically for a dozen eggs). They want to expand to three more farmers markets.
Co-owner Molly Chester experienced some health issues that led her to become a traditional food chef in Hollywood. She is still the most active partner in farm operations (John Chester is a film maker foremost). Her interests led them to Apricot Lane Farms and together, with their mentor Alan York, adopt these five pillars.
Apricot Lane Farm’s 5 Pillars:
Soil health is the foundation for everything else…
Growing the healthiest food
Treating animals ethically and evolutionarily appropriate
Regenerating the land
They quickly discovered that uncovered soil is dying soil, so the cover crops are key and tilling has been almost entirely eliminated. In the garden, they sometimes cover the ground with plastic. Today, the only bare soil is the roadways, and the soil fertility in the pastures and orchards has recovered. At the beginning the soil was testing 1-3% organic matter and after 8 years the soils are testing between 3-6%, and the vegetable beds at 11%. For each percent increase in organic matter they are sequestering 21 tons of carbon per acre per year.
Trevor is the manager of the farming operation, and John Chester described his job as integrating the six farming enterprises. There is essentially the pasture, cow, chicken rotation; the orchard, duck, sheep rotation; the pigs stand alone, and the truck crops. The composting operation undergirds it all. And 15 bee hives spread around the farm are among the pollinators. Ten percent of the farm is set aside for habitat (mainly in and around the pond) but they are expanding this to 15% and already count over 100 bird species and 215 native plant species.
It is a unique operation because it does have revenue from entertainment (movies, shorts, children’s books, etc.). This is why the buildings are built to be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. And they have a 12 person people mover for tours.
Apricot Lane Farms uses less water than the conventional counterparts. When they purchased the farm, Ventura County was in severe drought and everyone in the basin had their water use curtailed by 25%, but then they’ve been able to use 15-20% less. In addition, the are able to infiltrate rain water back in to the aquifer. This past winter when they received an above normal 24 inches of rain, they had no run-off except on the roads.
I easily geek out over agricultural stuff. You may be interested to know that the food grown on a regenerative farm is also more nutritional and tastier. It is also good to know that farming can be part of the climate solution.
You may have watched The Biggest Little Farm documentary in theaters, on a plane or now streaming from Amazon, or Google Play. You can actually visit Apricot Lane Farm in Moorpark, California. They have a couple of public tours each month and typically sell out quickly, so for your best shot, sign up for the newsletter to receive ample notice of the next set of tours.
I had the opportunity to participate in a private tour organized by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California for their employees. The goal was educational because Apricot Lane Farm is an example of a regenerative farm. Conventional farming uses chemicals to achieve yields, and tills with tractors, and leaves ground bare. These practices mine the soil and lead to release of carbon into the atmosphere. Sustainable farming is a step in the right direction. Like organic farming, it stops some activities and maintains others. It does not do as much environmental harm as conventional farming but it doesn’t revitalize life in the same magnitude as regenerative farming.
Regenerative farming is about returning life to the soil and in so doing, growing food that is bursting with health and nutritious minerals, and doing so in a way that sequesters carbon and uses less water.
This Kiss the Ground video explains it better than I can:
This is the first in a two-parter about regenerative farming and Apricot Lane Farms.