On Land Once Owned by University of California, Riverside, UCR Student Launches Avocado and Citrus Venture
May 19, 2016 | Anne Meyer Byler
On agricultural land once used by the University of California, Riverside (UCR) for the development of the hybrid Gwen Avocado, Michael Johnson, a student who coincidentally happens to be attending UCR, has launched a burgeoning local food and farming venture.
Johnson has since rechristened the two acre plot of land, which his father purchased from UCR in 1995 as ‘Coronet Corner Grove.’
As a kid, he grew up working and playing on the farm land to which his father added oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, kumquats and loquats to complement the avocados already growing there.
The farm slowly became a part of him and in 2012, when he was just 18, Johnson saw an opportunity to take advantage of the growing demand for local produce and create an economically viable farming enterprise. So, he launched ‘Coronet Corner Grove’ and began handing out business cards and selling his produce at the Riverside Certified Farmers’ Market.
Now, in addition to selling at the farmers market, Johnson sells to the Riverside Food Co-op, area restaurants, and a local organic supermarket.
As he is attending UCR full-time, Johnson does most of the farming in the grove on a part-time basis and receives help from his father.
“I work in the fields nine months out of the year while being a student and holding a side job. Then during the summer three months, I grow avocados,” he says.
Michael prefers selling to restaurants, the co-op, or the organic supermarket as it requires less of a time investment than going to the farmers’ market.
“For the co-op and restaurants, I can pick them (avocados) a week before I drop them off, so they’re ripe or almost ripe, then shine them up and drop them off at the agreed time,” he says.
One other line of business that Coronet Corner Grove engages in is the sale of baskets of citrus fruit, which Johnson offers for $10-$40 per basket during the avocado off-season. During citrus season, Johnson typically delivers them to doctor and dentist offices as thank-you gifts from clients.
Johnson notes that the current drought is having an impact on avocado production at Coronet Corner Grove. He says his water bill hasn’t increased much because he is careful to stay within legal limits to avoid any fines, but as a result the trees are producing less fruit, which is cutting into profits. Johnson says this was why UCR originally did not want to keep the land as the University realized that it was much more cost-effective to grow its avocados nearer to the coast.
Johnson’s father allows him to keep much of what he makes from his avocado and citrus sales in order to teach him about business and allow him to save up some money for law school. He will graduate this year from UCR with a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy.
“I find it kind of funny that UCR essentially gave me my first business, and now I am receiving a Bachelor’s degree from them as well,” he laughs.
But Johnson doesn’t see his involvement with the grove stopping anytime soon.
“It depends where I end up. If I’m local, I can still continue,” he says. “If I’m not we might hire someone to do it during the off season and I’ll continue during the summer.”