Surrounded by golden oak-studded hills with a brilliant blue sky overhead and a soft breeze, we wander up and down neatly planted rows chock-full of juicy red raspberries and strawberries glistening in the sun, ripe for the pickin’. And, yes, we are picking. Here at The Farm•Stead (2323 Old Coast Hwy Rd., Gaviota, 310/918-9400, farmsteadca.com), nestled between Buellton and Gaviota, you can pick your own organic produce, depending on the season, from berries, husk cherries and string beans to tomatoes, pumpkins and cut flowers.
This little corner of heaven has a rich agricultural history. Homesteader Natale Giorgi settled here in 1898, first operating the farm as a dairy, and then transitioning to grain and row crops. The farm stayed in the Giorgi family for generations, and was sold in 2011 to a neighboring family with a deep love for the land and a vision of letting it remain agricultural and sustainable for future generations.
Farm to Abel
Abel Basch came on in July 2014 and quickly filled well-worn boots as the new farmer. His 10-acre farm oozes rustic charm and is a picture-perfect model of sustainability. Everything grown on the farm is certified organic, and it’s all (except what you pick) sold at the Farm•Stead shop, which is housed in a vintage weathered-wood and tin barn. The expanded weekend market offers more local products such as homemade baked goods, honey, eggs, granola, cold brew coffee and olive oil (open daily; check their website for current offerings).
Farmer Abel, sporting a perpetual smile and tattered straw hat, is a passionate practitioner of permaculture, which he studied at a five-month program in Israel. He believes in the philosophy’s practices of working with, rather than against, nature. “For instance, we’re growing cilantro year-round—it attracts beneficial insects. You don’t have to use pesticides.”
Everything is put to good use on the farm. Leftover veggies are tossed in a tub that visitors can use to feed the resident Kune Kune pigs, Sicilian mini donkeys, llamas and Nigerian dwarf goats, which graze happily on the hillside behind the farm shop. Abel also puts up the farm’s bounty of berries in preserves (strawberry-with-a-hint-of-mint jam, anyone?) and confesses, “I was up until midnight making ketchup last night!”
After filling your baskets in the U-pick rows, visiting the animals and stocking up at the farm shop, you’ll want to wander around a bit. As Abel says, “Walk around the fields and check it out…it’s your food!”
Clusters of other farms in Santa Ynez Valley offer U-pick options. Just down the road from The Farm•Stead is Santa Barbara Blueberries at Restoration Oaks Ranch (1980 US Hwy. 101, Gaviota, 805/686-5718, santabarbarablueberries.com), where you can pluck raspberries and blueberries and pick up some organic produce at their farm stand while you’re at it. Blueberries start ripening in June and July, but if the weather is especially cooperative, they may open as early as April and go into August or September. On a good day, you can easily pick a couple pounds of blueberries in 15 minutes. Take ’em home and check the ranch website for mouthwatering recipes like lemon raspberry muffins and blueberry bourbon barbecue sauce.
Summerset Farm (3450 Baseline Ave., Santa Ynez, 805/245-0989) is a picturesque produce stand and U-pick berry farm where you can help yourself to herbicide- and pesticide-free raspberries, blackberries and strawberries in their seasons from June until the end of October. Proprietor Sally Maher gives pickers their baskets, points them in the right direction and encourages, “Take two for yourself and one for the basket…and if you’re really enthusiastic, you can pull some weeds for me.” Fall brings a giant pumpkin patch with pumpkins, squash and gourds galore against a backdrop of golden sunflowers.
After a day down on the farm, you’ve earned your bragging rights to spotlight your tomatoes in a fresh salad, serve up that berry pie or cobbler, swirl them into a smoothie or devour them straight up—the added satisfaction that you’ve done the picking yourself makes them taste all the sweeter.
This story originally appeared in the winter 2015/16 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.