6 Riverside County Farms Strengthening the Local Food System
June 13, 2016 | AJ Hughes
Riverside County, and the City of Riverside in particular, possesses a rich agricultural heritage dating back to the 19th century. However, in the 20th century as population growth fueled by families in search of affordable housing led to increased residential, industrial and commercial development the county’s agricultural roots, and production, began to fray. Lately, though, there has been a renaissance of sorts as local farmers strive to meet growing demand from local consumers. The GrowRIVERSIDE movement, through conferences and community-building efforts, has also helped to build awareness and interest in local food among Riversiders.
Below is a list of six Riverside County farms that produce a wide array of products for the local market ranging from oranges, goat’s milk and pastured lamb to value-added goods such as soaps and lotions.
In the early 2000s, Hassan and Deborah Ghamlouch purchased this fourth-generation family farm from Deborah’s parents. At the time, the farm only grew oranges and avocados, but in the early 2000s The Grove obtained organic certification expanded its produce lineup.
Now, fruits and vegetables grown at The Grove not only include oranges and avocados, but also grapefruits, lemons, limes, kumquats, pomegranates, guavas and more. In addition, the Ghamlouches have added 50 beehives to the property.
The switch to organic growing and the diversification of its crops are only two factors contributing to The Grove’s recent success—the other factor is a strong relationship with customers in the local market. According to Hassan, 80 percent of the farm’s revenues come from selling at area farmers’ markets, while the other 20 percent comes from sales to restaurants and other local retailers.
Griffith Family Farm–Riverside
Only a few years ago, Griffith Family Farm was not much more than a neglected grove of Navel Oranges. Then the recession hit and Brian Griffith, the son of the property’s owners, lost his teaching job and decided to throw himself into farming. He has since brought the grove back to life added acreage and other produce varieties including Valencia oranges, pomegranates, persimmons, avocados, lemons and honey.
Griffith Family Farm’s produce can currently be found in ten different farmers’ markets and Brian has gone from being unemployed to a job creator and he’s never been busier.
“There’s so much to it, so many details,” he told Grow Local Riverside. “We’re out of bags at one place; it’s time to re-certify the scales and one has a dead battery; we’ve got to get two trucks loaded tonight. There’s a million little details constantly running through my head,” he says. “And I love it. It’s great.”
Besides working his own grove with his vintage 1937 Ford tractor, Griffith collaborates with other farmers and landowners in the effort to preserve the growing land that remains.
“I’m an advocate for finding the money in keeping it green,” he says. “I helped save a 10-acre Valencia grove last year [and] found a way to put some money in the owner’s pocket. I convinced my next door neighbor to let us farm his 2.5-acre plot, and then the neighbor next to him joined in.”
The future of Riverside’s agriculture, says Griffith, lies in diversification.
“We can’t all grow avocados. There are so many products that are profitable, so many things that grow well here. It just takes research, and the great thing about that is, we live in a multicultural society so you can talk to people from the Phillippines, Guatemala, Mexico…..we’re growing Kabocha squash next year.”
Sunny Cabana Farms–Perris
Sunny Cabana Farms located in Perris is operated by Kayla Causey. The story of the farm began when Causey, a Cal State Fullerton lecturer, and her husband decided that they wanted more elbow room than their Orange County suburb could provide. So, in 2014 they moved to Riverside’s spacious Glen Valley area near Perris and began to lay the groundwork for a farm that would provide locally produced food and value added products to area residents.
Five chickens who already lived on the two-acre plot gave Causey a head start. Since then, Causey and her husband have added dairy goats and Kunekune pigs (a heritage breed) as well as more chickens. The farm’s also grows oranges, lemons, pomegranates, pears, grapefruit and apricots. Currently Causey milks seven dairy goats, which provide milk and kefir for her family. From the goat milk she also makes cheese and a variety of soaps and lotions.
The farm currently sells many of its products from its onsite farmstand and via CSA. Sunny Cabana also sells a number of valued-added items made from goat’s milk – including soap, lotion and lip balm – that are available for purchase online as well as at its onsite farmstand.
For Primal Pastures, “local” means all seven counties in Southern California and even beyond. This approach gives the Murrieta farm a customer base of more than 21 million people.
Run by Paul Greive and three of his in-laws, Primal Pastures supplies a range of pasture-raised meats, which include chicken, pork, lamb, beef, honey and seafood.
Customers have the option of picking up their meat directly from the farm, or having it delivered to their homes via FedEx “green technology” cooler boxes.
While Primal Pastures’ retail reach is extensive in Southern California, it recently started focusing on selling poultry to local wholesale buyers. Thus last year, Pasturebird was born. Its target customers are local restaurants and wholesalers.
Kepner Farms–Lake Elsinore
Pastured lamb and poultry have also found a home at Kepner Farms, founded by Carl Kepner in 2010.
While Kepner has eyed possibly selling meat at a farmers’ market in Temecula, he sells most of his lamb and chicken at farmers’ markets in Irvine, Manhattan Beach, Westlake, Larchmont, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
Two Pasadena membership-based co-ops—Our Little Market and Culture Club 101, also sell meat from Kepner Farms.
Kepner Farms has evolved over the years—Kepner started with aquaponics and then switched to growing produce in soil. Then he found a niche with pastured lambs and chickens. He recently started raising Pekin ducks, not only for their eggs but also for their necks, backs and feet, which are key ingredients for broth.
Scott Berndt started out by growing tomatoes in his backyard, and after receiving access to more land from his real estate agent, Fox Farm was off and running. It consists of fruit trees and vegetable crops.
Fox Farm supplies food to the Riverside Unified School District for its school lunches and sells greens and produce to local restaurants. To address the volume of supply needed by chefs, several months ago Berndt built a cooler to store produce purchased from other local farmers to then sell to restaurants.
Berndt has been involved with the GrowRIVERSIDE conference and movement, and serves on the board of the Riverside Food Co-op. Through these efforts, he and other area farmers are working together to increase the local food supply in Riverside and the surrounding area.