Giving 'Local Coffee' a New Meaning
There’s something innovative brewing in Ventura County, thanks to the efforts of a Goleta-based coffee grower.
Nearly nine years ago, Jay Ruskey, a subtropical fruit grower whose primary crops are cherimoyas, caviar limes and other citrus, planted coffee trees at his farm Good Land Organics. Located in the coastal foothills of Santa Barbara County, Good Land Organics is far from the “Bean Belt” usually considered optimum for coffee growing: within 20° latitude of the equator.
“I starting looking at coffee as a way to increase the profitability of land where I was already growing avocados,” says Ruskey. “Farmers like me embark on new plantings because there is a potential long-term market and there was a specialty coffee market emerging. Fortunately the specialty market segment has matured even further and the demand for unique-tasting coffee with an experience is getting more appreciated, which is reason you can see coffee selling for over $100 per pound.”
After extensive experimentation and research collaboration with the University of California Small Farm Program, Ruskey found so much success with 13 Arabica coffee varieties—including Geisha, Caturra and Typica—that his crop has doubled to 1,000 trees.
“Coffee experts all over the world have approached me and are curious about what and how we are doing this,” says Ruskey. “It is actually not a very researched crop and just recently we are seeing big universities get behind coffee production research.”
He created a nursery for coffee growers and offers consultations to share his knowledge with farmers like Jon Tull of Camarillo.
Tull owns a software company with several services, some related to agricultural technology, and operates Tullavo, a 36-acre avocado ranch in Somis as a production farm and technology testing ground.
“I was trying to find plants that are symbiotic and companions to other crops to increase the economic value and biodiversity of my farm,” says Tull. “Jay is my mentor agronomist. He’s helping me with the cultivation, promotion and all things coffee.”
Tull expects to put in 500 coffee plants at Tullavo this spring. If all goes well, the first harvest will be two years later, with strong harvests starting in year four.
However, there are no guarantees the trees will thrive, as the soil and weather of Somis may or may not be a good match with this new type of crop. Plus, growing coffee is a long pocess that requires proper irrigation, tree maintenance and the hope of no inclement weather, particularly a cold snap or sudden heat wave.
“It’s a combination of business, experiment and agricultural test,” says Tull. “I would like it to be economically successful, but I’m also interested in how other crops can work together.”
Tull will bring his harvested coffee cherries to Good Land Organics, where Ruskey has installed an onsite coffee processing and roasting system. While Ruskey’s farm sells its roasted beans at the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market during Christmastime, on its website (GoodLandOrganics.com) and exports beans to Japan, the ultimate goal is to expand the number of farmers growing coffee in California and to create a worldwide market.
Tull is enthusiastic about the potential of adding coffee to an area already known as a produce mecca, with a value of nearly $2 billion a year for fruits, nuts, vegetables, nursery stock, cut flowers, livestock, poultry, apiary products, sustainable agriculture, field crops and timber, according to the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s 2012 Crop & Livestock Report.
“The branding of local Southern California coffee could be a meaningful movement in this area,” says Tull.
Good Land Organics offers coff ee educational tours at its Goleta location. For info: 805.685.4189 or GoodLandOrganics.com.