“When I moved onto the farm, it was me and my wife Jessica trying to find a change of life,” says David Solomon, manager of Stone Farms in Escondido. “I was in advertising. She was doing international sales. I couldn’t handle being in front of a desk — I felt like I was getting atrophied.”
This life-changing moment happened back in 2004, when the farmland in question still belonged to Milpa Organica. After “La Milpa” went out of business in late 2010, nearby craft-beer juggernaut Stone Brewing Company stepped in to take over the farm. Now David helms 19 acres of organic crops that range from arugula and potatoes to lemongrass and dragon fruit, produce that supplies the brewery’s bistros and select beers. Last June, the farm opened to the public. The property includes a store with four taps; in other words, you can sip a stout while touring the edible beds. Which is exactly what we did!
It was a cloudy Saturday in late October when we visited the farm, located about 16 miles from the coast and nestled between boulder-studded hills. The Indian runner ducks were quacking up a storm, and Stone’s Dandelion IPA was on tap. But Ryan and I were here to see about another kind of beer: the new Suede Imperial Porter. A collaboration between Stone Brewing, 10 Barrel and Bluejacket breweries, Suede incorporates local avocado honey and dried jasmine, and calendula flowers snipped right from Stone Farms, a few miles away from the brewery. The aroma is undeniably floral, and notes of jasmine and honey slide onto your palate in advance of the traditional coffee and cocoa. Calendula adds a bright bitterness.
The Farm Tour
Drinking from a pint glass of Dandelion IPA, David showed us around the farm, a paradise of agricultural diversity that also includes bull’s blood beets, rhubarb, spinach, broccoli, hydroponically grown microgreens, cabbage, butternut squash, lemongrass, shiitake mushrooms, echinacea, and herbs.
A crew of just seven people makes it all happen. What helps is that they’ve decided to play — and compost — by their own rules. “I like to say me and my crew reinvented farming for ourselves,” David says. “If you do farming, you have to adapt it to your own needs. I don’t want to break my back, I don’t want to get overwhelmed or burned out. It’s about learning what you really want to do and cutting out the unnecessary.”
A sense of generosity and community is a theme throughout the farm. “It was obvious we wanted to open it to the public,” says David, a lifelong vegetarian who was born in Caracas and raised in Los Angeles. “I didn’t want it to be a closed farm — one of my biggest things is inspiring people to do their own gardens. I want you to grow your own vegetables. Do you know how empowering it is to say, ‘Hey, I grew this tomato. I grew this cucumber, this salad’?”
A few years ago, the same philosophy inspired David and Jessica to leave La Milpa and move to Michoacán with the goal of raising an edible forest and building dome houses (using principles David learned at Cal-Earth) for impoverished communities. They stayed just a year because, he says, “They weren’t really accepting of us. They thought we were crazy: ‘These guys are weirdos, these guys must be CIA, DEA.’ The whole year it was this constant battle — I really wanted it to be an uplifting thing. So we said, ‘Okay, let’s go back to California and let’s try it all over.’”
By the time David and Jessica returned to San Diego, La Milpa had closed and Stone was expressing interest. And so a beautiful collaboration began.
About the sowing, germinating, thinning, weeding, harvesting processes he’s been honing for almost a decade, David says, “It’s a dance. We learned from our mistakes.” He names one of his farmers, Santiago Vazquez, as a source of unending hands-on wisdom. His nickname is the Maestro.
“He taught me so much, and he keeps teaching me so much,” David says. “Simple things, like how to harvest. People don’t realize harvesting is an art form — leaving enough leaves so there’s constant production. How to harvest salad — if you cut too low, you ruin the plant, if you cut too high, then you’re attracting insects.”
Post Title: Crops and Hops: Inside Stone Brewing’s Organic (and Public!) Farm
Blog: The Horticult | Address: thehorticult.com
Author: Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit | From: La Jolla | Blogging since: March 2013