Fingerling Potatoes, Rainbow Carrots, Romanesco and Persian Mulberries! Oh My!
June 13, 2011 | Jeremy Ogul
From red, white, orange, yellow and purple rainbow carrots to Persian mulberries, some of the most unusual and tasty produce varieties found in Southern California’s famed farmers markets are sustainably grown by Weiser Family Farms. Alex Weiser, President at California-based Wieser Family Farms, said the very success of the farm depends in large part on the sustainable practices that it employs.
Sustainable Farming Practices
“We practice a lot of cover cropping and crop rotation to improve the quality of the soil,” he said. Though challenging Weiser Family Farms also takes pains to avoid using pesticides by instead using biological inputs. “It takes more work spraying, because biological inputs are weaker. It takes more labor and more time and more applications. If you want to use something that’s gentle, often you’ll have to use something like that more often,” said Weiser. To conserve water and grow more efficiently, Weiser Family Farms has set up a drip system that irrigates approximately 40 of the farm’s 200 acres.
A Sustainable Business
The sustainable methods and practices used on the farm produce an assortment of high quality products from Red Thumb fingerling potatoes (the only fingerling potatoes that are pink inside) to spectacular fractal-shaped Romanesco cauliflower that both sell well at farmers markets in the Southern California region and are prized by restaurants and distributors hungry for fresh, local and unique produce. “It’s not about mass production,” said Alex Weiser. “We try to pick for flavor and health benefits, and we grow different crops throughout the year.” Other products grown on the farm include spinach, beets, specialty melons such as Cavaillon, Arava, Ananas, Ogen and Sugar Queens and innumerable potato varieties ranging from Russian Banana fingerlings to German Butterballs (which have creamy yellow insides) to the NBA playoff ready Laker Baker (it’s purple and gold).
Alex Weiser said that a sustainable farm also has to be a sustainable business. “We’ve sustained ourselves over these years. We’ve kept many of the same workers. We have year-round production. And we’re making a living.”
About 20 to 25 percent of the farm’s revenue comes from sales at farmers markets in Santa Monica, Venice, Topanga, Pasadena, Long Beach, Beverly Hills, Claremont, Hollywood, Mar Vista, Rancho Santa Fe and San Diego’s Little Italy and Hillcrest neighborhoods. The rest of the produce goes to distributors and to the over 50 independent restaurants throughout the Los Angeles area that serve Weiser Family Farm’s products to patrons on a nightly basis.
When asked about whether Weiser Family Farms was profitable, Alex said, “It’s a struggle. Farming’s risky. We have good years and bad years. We’ve always seemed to survive, even during the bad years. That’s why it’s good to be diversified.”
A Look Back to the Early Days
Times were especially tough in the farm’s early years for Alex’s father and Weiser Family Farms founder Sid Weiser, a high school chemistry teacher who left his job in 1977 to start an apple farm in Tehachapi, CA. Repeated bouts with bad weather in the farm’s first few years of operation almost bankrupted the family. Resourcefulness and determination led them to persevere and diversify their product offering to include potatoes and other specialty crops.
Then, in the ‘80s, along with the growth of California cuisine, (a style of cuisine pioneered by Alice Waters that makes use of fresh and local ingredients), farmer’s markets like the one in Santa Monica, CA (“ground zero in the food scene,” as Alex puts it) began to gain in popularity among specialty distributors, chefs and local consumers. Weiser Family Farms’ met this growing demand early on and has since carved out a revenue-generating niche for its diversified and seasonal product offering. Today, Weiser Family Farm’s is a fixture at farmers markets across Southern California, appealing to customers who care about the quality and freshness of food that they eat as well as the sustainable growing methods that were used to produce it.
“We’ve been sustainable for a long time,” said Alex. “I have high hopes for this year.” Things are indeed looking bright for Weiser Family Farms, and in about two weeks its first crop of Arava and French orange melons will hit local farmers market stands. If you live in the Southern California area, don’t miss out!