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Valley Center

At the end of a winding asphalt road, past boulders and gated ranches, past riotous tumbles of magenta bougainvillea, past dirt roads that disappear into orange groves dappled with midday sun, you'll find Peter Schaner. On the back porch of a rambling farmhouse, Schaner sits in a wooden chair and shoos the five dogs milling about. He tends to Joseph, the youngest of his eight children. He talks about his life as a farmer.

In a quiet corner of Valley Center, far away from the Harrah's casino and the rows of new tract homes along Cole Grade Road, Schaner, his wife Kayne, and his brother-in-law John farm 22 acres of hillside and bottomland. "We grow for the farmers' markets," Schaner explains. "We've got about 90 varieties of fruit trees. Any time of year, we can pick fruit. We use the bottomland for veggies."

Schaner has a farmer's hard hands, a trim salt-and-pepper beard, shrewd but kind eyes. Watching him talk, you get the sense he could handle a tricky irrigation problem, a stubborn goat, or a recalcitrant child with the same quiet competence. "Right now, we're harvesting onions and garlic, Valencia oranges, sweet lemons, and avocados," he says. "We're planting the summer crops: eggplant, squash, tomatoes, basil."

Schaner's days follow a farmer's schedule, a farmer's order. "Mondays, we do planting and weeding and cultivating and pruning. Basic farming duties. Tuesdays, we do market prep: picking and packing. On Wednesdays, I go up to the farmers' market in Santa Monica. We have a great relationship with a lot of the restaurants who buy from the market.

"Thursdays, we do more farming. Friday is market prep. On Saturdays, John goes to the farmers' markets in Pacific Beach and Del Mar."

Schaner and his family raise animals as well. "We keep goats for milk, turkeys for meat for other people, and steer and pigs for meat for ourselves. We have chickens for eggs."

He didn't just fall into farming. "I was born and raised in Placentia," Schaner says. "On a small family farm. It's still there, right in the middle of the city." After earning a biology degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Schaner moved to Valley Center. He bought the original 12 acres in 1984, then added the other 10 in 1991.

Schaner worries about the growth in Valley Center. "It's still pretty rural," he notes. "But we've seen how it's getting built up, especially along Cole Grade Road. People who move in and buy houses a lot of times don't understand agriculture. For instance, we use chicken manure to fertilize. It's smelly. New people might not like the smell.

"If you stop growing your food locally," he continues, "then you end up getting it from Third World countries. Their methods of growing aren't as structured or careful. They use pesticides that we've banned. They don't have agencies to enforce rules. So the quality of what you're getting is risky."

Schaner sees the farmers' market as a symbiotic relationship between farmer and consumer. "When you grow for direct-to-consumer as opposed to the packing house, you actually see the people who benefit from your work. Both parties appreciate and support each other. You see the full circle. It's a complete relationship."

When you leave Peter Schaner, he sends you away with bunches of spring garlic and sweet red onions and a bag full of dark green avocados. The musky smell fills the car on the winding road back home.

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