Farm, microbrewery, winery and market all to sprout with Carlsbad grant

Farm, microbrewery, winery and market all to sprout with Carlsbad grant
Plans for the 100-acre agricultural site next to the Carlsbad Flower Fields include a farm, floral trade center, marketplace, culinary center, microbrewery, and winery. Photo courtesy of Chris Calkins

CARLSBAD — A new public farm accompanied by a corresponding winery, microbrewery, market and more will be built in Carlsbad thanks to a city grant that will help cover the start up costs of the agricultural endeavor.

Carlsbad Ranch Company, L.P., the owner and operator of the Carlsbad Flower Fields, has brought plans before the city to plant several crops and construct a floral trade center and marketplace in the vacant northern half of its property along Car Country Drive and Cannon Road.

The company has proposed planting wine grapes, hops, mandarin oranges, olives, blueberries and pitaya over nearly 100 acres on its property.

It plans on selling its crops wholesale and making food products such as wine, beer and olive oil on site, allowing visitors to tour the farm and buy products grown and made there.

In doing so, the project strives to allow visitors to “get closer to the experience of where food is grown and how it’s produced,” said Chris Calkins, CEO and President of Carltas Company, which owns Carlsbad Ranch Company, L.P.

Not to mention, the farm and marketplace would be an extension of the neighboring Flower Fields, but with the advantage of being a year round attraction.

“This is something nobody has done,” he said.

Though the project has been in development since 2009 and has a pending application before the city Planning Department, Calkins presented the plans before City Council at its Sept. 10 meeting to apply for more than $1 million in agricultural grant funds.

The city collects ACMF (Agricultural Conversion Mitigation Fees) from developers whenever coastal agricultural land is converted for urban uses to the tune of $10,000 per converted acre, according to city planner Kevin Pointer.

Those funds are then distributed as grants for projects that restore coastal environments, beaches, and lagoons, improve lagoon nature centers, and/or purchase and improve agricultural lands.

With about $516,000 in collected funds and $616,000 in left over funds from the Carlsbad Beach Nourishment project, staff presented the six projects that applied for the $1.1 million in grant funds to City Council.

Staff recommended that all of the available ACMF money be used to fully fund five of the projects and partially fund one of them.

The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation requested funds for a nature center replacement project and the restoration of a lagoon ecological reserve, and the Buena Vista Audubon Society requested a grant for a kiosk upgrade along with sign installation.

Yet, staff recommended that 92 percent of the available funds be used towards the three project proposals from the Carlsbad Ranch Company, L.P., for its farm and marketplace.

These proposals asked for funds to help offset the costs of building a road for visitors to access the farm and marketplace center, purchasing coolers and display equipment for the floral trade center, and the installation and cultivation of its crops.

“I noticed that a huge, disproportionate amount is going to Carlsbad Ranch Company,” said Council member Keith Blackburn at the meeting.

Pointer explained that after the city advertised for projects for these grant funds during the spring of this year, the six projects were the only ones that applied and all of them met the grant requirements. Hence, staff advised funding all projects fully, except the floral trade center equipment which was recommended to receive over half of the requested funding.

Calkins explained that the revenues from the production of the farm and marketplace in the first few years could not cover its start up costs.

“To do something like this, there is an investment that has to be made that isn’t going to be economically supported by the elements being put in here,” he told Council after giving them a presentation about the planned project.

“Give us the subsidy that we need to establish and to prove that this concept works.”

He acknowledged that a small farm like the one he proposed would not be able to cover its costs by the sale of its crops alone, as is the case with the Flower Fields.

Hence, the project is designed to attract tourists and bring in other complimentary businesses that could make up the difference.

Though drawn to the qualities of the project, council members questioned the economic viability of the project years down the road when it would not be applicable for any more one-time ACMF funds.

“You said, ‘It will be built by economic value we hope,’ and then you something like, ‘This is just experimental,’” reiterated Blackburn. “You started showing me something nice and then you starting causing me some concern.”

Calkins responded, “Can I tell you that the crops will be successful? That we’ll have a market? That you will have water for us?…I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that our best projections is this can be successful.”

Ultimately, City Council decided to support the project given Calkins’ company’s success with the Flower Fields, and voted unanimously to approve the distribution of ACMF grant funds to the six recommended projects.

With the grant money awarded for the project, Calkins said that the Carlsbad Ranch Company, L.P., will be planting blueberries next month.

The company plans to start construction on the floral trade center and marketplace on April or May of 2014 and open the spaces in February 2015.

The farm’s first mature crop harvest is expected sometime in 2017, he stated.

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