Temecula, CA-based Organic Farm Puts Taste First, Thrives on Collaborative Relationships with Area Restaurants
April 26, 2012 | Doris D. Quintanilla
Across from some of Temecula’s finest vineyards, lies a “not so pretty” farm where luscious apples, carrots, and strawberries grow. Owner and operator David Barnes says Crows Pass Farm is not a show farm, but a working farm that relies on the strong business relationships that it has cultivated over the years with neighboring restaurants.
Founded in 1991 with his wife Tina, Crows Pass Farm is a 40-acre certified organic farm that grows fresh strawberries, Meyer lemons, oranges, tangerines, baby chard, baby carrots, mushrooms, spinach, and turnips and more.
It was on a trip to Indonesia with Tina following their graduation from college that Barnes first began to seriously consider organic farming. While there, a representative from the country’s agricultural department took the couple to see land that was farmed organically and land that was farmed with conventional chemicals.
“One side of the island was lush, and the other side couldn’t grow rice anymore because of the [chemical] fertilizer,” Barnes recalls. “[The chemical fertilizer] rid organic nutrients from the soil. That kind of opened my eyes to organic farming.”
Though, in the end, Barnes says the couple’s decision to farm organically simply boils down to the fact that the food just tastes better. Barnes says that he did not pay too much attention to the health and nutritional aspects of organic when he made the decision, and to this day they are not the driving factors.
Initially, to earn money, the couple sold their produce at farmers markets in the San Diego and Old Town Temecula areas. However, with the most profitable and busiest markets taking place on the weekends conflicting with the couple’s desire to spend more time raising their children, the Barnes’ decided to focus their efforts on catering to the needs of area restaurants.
The farm’s financial success now stems primarily from its sales of produce to approximately 40 different restaurants located in the Southern California region, from Temecula to Los Angeles to San Diego.
Their first restaurant client, Michael Stebner, came to them through a farmer’s market in Coronado, says Barnes’ wife, Tina. Ten years later she says, Crows Pass still maintains a “great working relationship” with Stebner, now Executive Chef for True Food Kitchen.
“He gave us a list of like-minded chefs in the area and suggested we stop in and introduce ourselves and our produce,” she says.
Tina credits building their business and specializing in restaurant, chef-direct relationships to word-of-mouth.
Barnes noted that Crows Pass Farm also works collaboratively with its restaurant clients. “We certainly sell what we can grow,” Barnes says. “But we take requests.” Peppercress, and mulberries are some of the products the farm’s restaurant clients have requested in the past.
And if Crows Pass Farm is not able to grow a product that its clients request, Barnes will procure it from other farmers in the area so as to “provide [restaurant clients] a diverse variety of the freshest produce year around.”
At the urging of friends and colleagues, Crows Pass Farm also recently began to sell at the Temecula Farmer’s Market. A big factor that they missed out on by moving away from participation in weekly farmers markets was the sense of community that involvement brings, Tina says. They now participate at the Farmer’s Market every Saturday at Old Town Temecula from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Barnes says that greatest challenges that the farm faces stem from rising labor, insurance and input costs.
“The cost of what you do is rising faster,” and even the addition of new restaurant clients would not make a huge impact on the bottom line, he says. “You still have a higher cost of growing.” The only surefire solution available to maintain margins, according to Barnes, is to raise prices.
In an effort to control and reduce fertilizer input costs and farm sustainably, Crows Pass has developed unique working relationships with its neighbors and clients. Barnes says that a neighboring horse ranch “donates” horse manure, which acts as a great natural fertilizer for the farmland. Another neighbor, and client, is a restaurant and seafood distributor that provides the farm with trashcan loads of fish remains that function as organic fertilizer that further strengthen the farm’s soil. “It saves them [the clients] some bucks,” he says. “They have to pay to have that garbage picked up, but instead we pick it up and use it.”
Despite the challenges associated with rising costs and running an organic farm, Crows Pass strives to benefit and contribute to the local community. Barnes says Crows Pass is currently in midst of setting aside around two acres of land on which volunteers will grow and cultivate food to donate to local groups such as senior citizen homes and children’s homes. He and Tina hope to implement the program this summer.