CARLSBAD — When the city of Carlsbad was established in the late 1800s, agriculture served as its principle industry. The area was known for its flowers and avocados for decades.
Though today Carlsbad is known for sprouting biotech companies rather than produce, one experimental project is attempting to bring back some of the city’s agricultural roots.
Carlsbad Ranch Company, L.P., has proposed to transform 45.6 acres along Cannon Road and Car Country Drive into a farm, orchard, floral trade center, market, microbrewery, winery, and more.
The development, named the Floral Trade Center, has gained the support of City Council and most recently was approved by the Planning Commission on Dec. 4.
Chris Calkins said that the Floral Trade Center would be a test to see if a farming operation can be profitable in an urban environment.
Calkins is the CEO and president of Carltas Company, which owns Carlsbad Ranch Company, L.P. The company also owns and operates the Flower Fields adjacent to the Floral Trade Center property.
According to him, an agricultural project like the Floral Trade Center has the potential to capture the growing public interest in locally produced foods.
But he said that the question remains, “How do you deal with increasing the value of farming activities that justify its existence in a more expensive environment, in an urban environment?”
Calkins pointed out that large farming communities are sustained by access to inexpensive labor, equipment, and water subsidies, which are lacking in urban areas like Carlsbad.
He aspires to overcome the additional expenses of growing food in an urban setting by making the Floral Trade Center a destination for tourists and locals to observe food production, processing and distribution all in one place.
“This is an experiment. We need to see that it works,” he said.
The project plans consist of growing wine grapes, hops, olives, berries, and other crops throughout the property. The crops could then be made into products including wine, beer, and olive oil at the winery, microbrewery, and other facilities on site.
Visitors to the Floral Trade Center would be able to tour the farm and facilities and buy produce and food products year round.
The Floral Trade Center would also offer space for growers to sell flowers wholesale, taking the place of the current floral trade center on Avenida Encinas that is closing in the next few months.
In September, City Council awarded about $1 million in from agricultural grant funds to help the Floral Trade Center overcome its startup costs until its crops mature and the business can make revenues off of its crops.
The Planning Commission expressed concerns that the Floral Trade Center only incorporated one access way off of Cannon Road.
But despite this issue, the commissioners overwhelmingly supported the project and its vision to bring farm to table products back to Carlsbad.
“I think it’s probably one of the most exciting projects that I’ve seen up here in Carlsbad,” said Commissioner Michael Schumacher. “I think any time you have food, beer, and wine, it’s got a pretty good chance of being successful.”
Commissioner Velyn Anderson provided the only opposition vote, citing concerns that the project would expose children visiting the farm to alcohol with the microbrewery and winery.
The Floral Trade Center was approved with six votes in favor and one against from the Planning Commission.
“Carlsbad was a farming community,” said Eric Larson, the Executive Director of the San Diego Farm Bureau, during comments at the Planning Commission meeting. “As we’ve marched urbanization we’ve lost some of that, and with projects like this it’s an opportunity to recapture some of that.”
The marketplace is scheduled to open in spring 2014, and the first harvest of mature crops is expected in 2017, according to Calkins. Blueberries and tangerines have already been planted on the property.