Fairview Orchards: Growing Into Their Roles
Ojai couple emphasizes taking care of the soil, trees and business
When Sean and Tien Jenkins took a weekend jaunt to Ojai, as so many people do, they spotted a “for sale” sign on a drive and took a look at the property just out of curiosity. They were smitten by what they saw in the neglected farm.
“We had a four-foot-by-four-foot planter box that Sean built for me in Agoura,” Tien says, describing the extent of their farming experience prior to Fairview Orchards, while sending Sean into hysteric laughter about the seemingly crazy but wonderful next move they made in 2013 by leaping into caring for hundreds of trees on a dozen acres.
Today the couple runs Fairview Orchards, a 12-acre certified organic farm nestled beneath the Topa Topa Mountains with a grand valley view. They still have a small garden for their home use.
Sean’s parents live on the property and “enjoy the peace and quiet in Ojai,” says Sean. The young couple—Sean is 40 and Tien is 35—say the idea of a multi-generational farm and raising children in Ojai really appeals to them.
As I toured the property, the farm was abuzz with life. Hawks and crows flew overhead and we saw all the pollinators one can imagine.
The couple ships small-batch orders of what the season has to offer of citrus, avocados, pomegranates, persimmons, aloe vera and olives ready for curing.
“People come here and they’re just, like, ‘Wow! What is that?’” Tien says of some of their less-common crops, including the Buddha’s Hand citrons, finger limes and jujubes.
While they place importance on the health of the soil and care for the land “like a farmer would in the early 20th century—before Monsanto and factory farms,” says Sean, they also utilize 21st century technology (more on that later.)
The couple sustains their farm and fosters relationships with a broader community and customer base by offering their crops through their website. They pick fruit as it’s ordered, then ship it out in recycled packaging within 48 hours.
Locally, they donate their produce to HELP of Ojai and have relationships with Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods, Farmer and the Cook, Sakura Ojai and Ojai Beverage Company.
While Tien tends to the land daily as a farmer, she’s also a jack-of-all trades when it comes to running the business side of the farm. Sean still works in finance full time, but does work the land, too. His role on the farm is often to research and “nerd out” on specific projects. They work together to figure out what, how and when to implement their plans for the farm.
Between their ethical inclinations, a smart business model and the statewide drought, the couple put sustainability at the top of their list and replaced the old irrigation system within the first year. They’re now watering 800 more trees using the same amount of water as before and are completely solar-powered, says Sean.
When it came to replacing the irrigation system, he chose a micro-sprinkler that is automated by a computer system, and went so far as to travel to Israel to see it in action at the manufacturer’s demonstration site.
Experimenting with permaculture, they’re also learning through the successes and failures of planting varieties they’re not sure about, which adds to the knowledge base they’ve gained through experience and research. They pointed out a papaya tree as an example of these experiments. The seeds were from a fruit they’d enjoyed from the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market. The squirrels were usually getting to the fruit before they could, the couple tells me.
Having spent years living and working in the Bay Area, where the couple met, they say they had a well-established appreciation for farm-to-table food stemming from Tien’s experience in the food industry there.
Working in the front of the house for Pizzaiolo in Oakland, Tien saw firsthand how Chef Charlie Hallowell developed seasonal menus based on fresh, local and sustainable ingredients, then transformed those simple ingredients into “delicious bites,” something he learned from doyenne Alice Waters.
“It gave me more insight and appreciation for restaurants and food,” Tien says, adding that it translated into a greater connection into the community the restaurant served.
“Being introduced to food in that sense, it inspired me to go all in,” Tien says, explaining that the combination of these factors and their shared dream to someday own an organic farm led them to take the leap when they felt they had stumbled across the right place.
With no formal education or experience with growing food, Sean and Tien are grateful for Javier Arenas, their foreman and fifth-generation farmer from Zacatecas, Mexico. “We couldn’t do this without him; he’s really taught us a lot,” Sean says.
They also value the information they’ve received from local longtime farmers.
“There’s a common mentality, at least in a community like Ojai, where everyone is very sharing,” Sean says about the wealth of information they’ve been given. “I think that’s the nature of farming, you have to be farmers and stick together, even though you have your own businesses,” Tien adds.
Owning a farm is like having a child, the couple says. “You worry about everything… all the time. The drought, climate change, international produce imports, sun damage [to the fruit], pests and the price of shipping and materials.”
“We do what we can and hope for the best,” they say.
They’re on the right path, says Will Carleton, farmer and owner of Las Palmalitas Ranch in Carpinteria, which processes their excess lemons and avocados. He provides guidance for the couple on composting, organic processes and when to pick their fruit for the best price. “Having a husband-wife team is great. You can share the burden and also be able to work together. I wish I knew more people like them,” he says.
Sharing their farm with others seems to be at the heart of the Jenkinses’ operation. In the future, the couple would like to see more guests enjoy their property and has talked about maybe finishing their barn and hosting events catered by Tien, who likes to “focus more on making simple food and not being so fancy about service; it’s more about the ingredients that you can enjoy with people,” she says.
“It’s amazing to see how people connect to the land and produce when they see it up close.”