PAUMA VALLEY — After 10 years in the organic farming business and some bumps along the way, Tierra Miguel Foundation, a nonprofit farming operation, has firmly established itself as a community-supported agriculture operation and recently took on the role as researcher for agricultural practices.
Community-supported agriculture is an untraditional business model that asks shareholders to pay up front for produce that will be grown during the year. This takes some of the financial risk out of farming operations.
In turn the community- supported agriculture operation, or CSA, provides its shareholders with education about growing practices, a connection with their food source, and regular deliveries of fresh produce.
“I expect I’m going to get a nice selection of certified organic produce,” Chuck Lowery, delivery site coordinator for North County produce drop-off, said. “I won’t routinely get the same things I get in the store.”
The motivation for Lowery to be a shareholder in Tierra Miguel Foundation is his commitment to support local farmers and future faming in Southern California.
“It’s somewhat more expensive than buying food at the grocery store, but not out of line with the market,” Lowery said.
“People can go to the farm, see high-quality locally grown produce, bio-dynamic practices and enhanced organic practices,” Beth Ann Levendoski, Tierra Miguel Foundation president and CEO, said.
A visit to Tierra Miguel Farm in Pauma Valley can teach visitors about bio-dynamic practices that work in harmony with the earth to improve the nutritive quality of produce.
There are farm tours the first Saturday of each month and special events during the year. Visitors can learn about farming, put in hands-on time working in the field, and share a meal with farmhands Levendoski said.
“It really does require some understanding by us as consumers of food and gives us compassion to the circumstances of farmers,” Lowery said. “We can see things through different eyes.”
The demonstration farm is 55 acres, with 12 acres planted at a time Levendoski said.
A few select crops are planted and harvested each season and additional organic produce is purchased and included in the distribution to shareholders to ensure variety. Tierra Miguel Farm serves shareholders in San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino.
Currently Tierra Miguel Farm grows 80 percent of the food its shareholders receive, Levendoski said. In tough growing times the farm may buy a greater amount of food to distribute.
Hard times came with the wildfires of 2007, and a transitional two-year period of selling and then leasing the farmland Levendoski said.
Tierra Miguel Foundation sold the farmland to the Pauma Band of Mission Indians in 2007. “During that period we could maintain crops, but could not plant anything new for one and a half years,” Levendoski said.
Bob Bornt worked as a consultant for Tierra Miguel Farm through some of the farm’s tough times. “They were struggling with the farming side,” Bornt said. “There was collapsing of the soil, it was in a mess. I helped reorganize the business plan.”
“They were having to buy produce all the time,” Bornt said. “Their amount of production was minimal.” Bornt criticized Tierra Miguel Farm for buying produce outside of San Diego County and not supporting local area farmers.
Through those tough times, community outreach, education and delivery of produce to shareholders continued. In the past 10 years, Tierra Miguel has delivered more than 1,000 tons of fresh produce to individual shareholders, schools and restaurants.
Now, with the farming mechanisms of land and an estimated farming cycle in place, Tierra Miguel Farm looks forward to its new role of collecting data for agriculture research Levendoski said.
Tierra Miguel Farm recently received a grant to collect information on food production, distribution, availability, and its impact on health in San Diego. This data will help determine San Diego built environmental action items, such as where to locate small farms and community gardens.