Laurel Mehl has lived on her family’s farm since she was born in 1958. Starting with her grandfather, the family has farmed their land for over seven decades. Now her Coral Tree Farm, on two acres east of I-5, is at peril.
One of the farm’s few neighbors on the short, cul-de-sac street, Park Lane, filed a complaint with the City of Encinitas. “A suburban mom probably didn’t like unknown people driving up the street where her kids were playing, ” said Mehl. “It’s a conflict of cultures.”
So far, the city is backing the complaint of non-conforming use. The city planners believe that at some time since the city’s incorporation in 1986, the farm ceased operations for more the 120 days, thus losing its grandfathered agricultural status. The property’s zoning is now residential.
The farm is clearly old Encinitas agriculture. The original 7.5 acres were planted in Heritage avocados when Encinitas started piping in water in 1922. The Mehls have old photos of the original farmer on the ranch, with his big barn and horse and buggy.
A visit to the property shows an obviously well established farm that has, besides avocado, 124 fruit trees, numerous blueberry bushes, and passion fruit vines; ten vegetable boxes grow carrots, chard, kale, potatoes, pumpkins, and tomatoes. Mehl says that two times a month, local school kids come to help at the farm, getting their hands in the dirt.
Her few customers legally park in the cul-de-sac — a public street. “We’re only open two days a week, ” Mehl contends, adding that the farm doesn’t use immigrant labor, nor any pesticides or chemicals. “Everything is grown organically.” she says.
Most of Mehl’s customers are locals who purchase food for their families. However, she currently grows heirloom tomatoes, peppers, beans, and leeks for the Encinitas Whole Foods Market, but there are no big trucks arriving for deliveries.
When hearing about Mehl’s plight, local attorney Catherine Blakespear, a fourth-generation Cardiff resident, member of the city’s traffic and safety commission, and candidate for city council, offered to represent Mehl pro bono.
Blakespear has since met with the city’s planning director and presented a letter, listing the evidence and historical documentation that there should be no question by the city that the farm is continuous old Encinitas agriculture.
Mehl’s family split up the 7.5 acres years ago due to a divorce. It was Laurel’s mom who sold the land — the same property where homes were built from which the residents are now complaining.
“They can’t make me build houses on my land,” says Mehl. “I just want someone at the city to eventually tell the complainers to stop harassing us."
Disclosure: The writer was heavily involved in the 1980s Encinitas incorporation movement, having written the initial cityhood study presented to the County of San Diego. He participated in the campaign that promised local farmers who wanted to keep their farms that cityhood was the best way to protect farms from the pro-development county planners. The city’s founding documents recognized the importance of maintaining agriculture in a community once known as the “Flower Capital of the World.”