After hearing about Farmer Leo from my friends at Fish 101 months ago as someone I should know in the local foodie/farming scene, I finally had the opportunity to meet him at the Leucadia Farmer’s Market recently. Leo is very passionate about what he does and I think it’s great that he is making it work in Encinitas. We had a conversation recently and here are some highlights.
Where did you grow up? Was there any farming going on in your family?
There was no farming in my family. My folks, both born in New York City, had separately migrated to California and united in the swinging 1960’s of Los Angeles. I grew up in Capo Beach and Dana Point, which was a smallish town then. There was farming surrounding my junior high school and grazing cattle in North Laguna, which I remember being excited about.
Tell me a bit about your path to owning a farm in Encinitas. What people and places were influential in making this happen?
My first farming mentor picked me up hitchhiking near Carmel, (Calif.). I was heading home for Spring Break from Berkeley, and John picked me up in his farm truck. Turns out he was not only an organic farmer, but also going to visit his boyfriend in Santa Barbara. I subsequently spent a lot of time at his very remote farm way up Carmel Valley, and learned a lot of the techniques and style that I still practice today (both of farming and being gay, ha-ha), almost 20 years ago. Not long after meeting John, I decided to take off to Australia to pursue WWOOFing. A friend had told me about the program — 1/2 day’s work on a farm traded for the day’s food and accommodation Before departing, I applied for the Agro ecology and Sustainable Agriculture degree program, also at UCSC. While WWOOFing on one of the five farms I visited during those six months, I got notice of acceptance for the degree program. After completing the degree, which had little practical farming experience, I trained to be a chef. Eventually, I had my own catering company in Emeryville, Calif. called Daily Harvest Catering- featuring all local, farm-fresh organic produce prepared vegan.
The business was enjoyable for a couple years, but I wanted to return to farming. With two friends, who had just completed the CASFS apprenticeship, we started Sol Food Farm in Sebastopol, Calif. These two friends taught me just about everything about running a small farm. I was seeking farmland near to my home in South Orange County area, and eventually with the help of a friend in Encinitas, I began searching in North County. My first location was along 101 in North Leucadia — a nice lot between Scott’s Automotive and the Bar Leucadian. The transition to this current property happened partly due to Facebook. Allegedly, my current landlord was searching for a farmer for this spot and typed “farmer” in the Facebook search bar, and Farmer Leo’s in Leucadia popped up. This new property is fantastic, about eight times the size of the previous space and this corner of Encinitas is very special- with San Elijo Lagoon views and very few neighbors.
Are you selling to any local restaurants?
I sell to many local restaurants, including Solterra Winery and Kitchen, Priority Public House, Urban Pi, and Seaside Market currently. Farmers markets are a place where restaurants can access my produce, along with hundreds of other amazing local produce and products!
What’s in season right now?
Tomatillos are cranking. Bok Choy and related dark leafy greens are bumping. All things lettuce- from micro mix, baby salad mix, mini heads, to full-sized Romaine are all celebrating life.
We’ll be seeing more peas as well as cabbage and broccoli on the way.
I also am growing Hatch, N.M. chilies and eggplant in the greenhouse for as long as I can!
You have a farm stand, a CSA program and are at the Leucadia Farmer’s Market, are there other locations for folks to purchase your produce?
The produce stand at the farm will re-open in the spring and for now we are replacing it with the Wednesday Encinitas Station Farmers Market. CSA pick up happen at this market and the Leucadia market on Sundays. I often have labeled produce at Seaside Market.
I’ve heard a lot about your farm diners and brunches, tell me about those and do you have any coming up?
The farm meals are my favorite junction of the farmland and the community’s nourishment. The opener this past year was put on by Outstanding In the Field outstandinginthefield.com in collaboration with Whisk n Ladle whisknladle.com to produce a phenomenal feast for 140 guests. More typical is 20 to 40 guests to come to the farm, have a cocktail and tour of the fields, and settle in to a linen-covered, flower and candle-lined table in the center of the farm for a sensational 5-course meal prepared with my peak-season produce as well as other local products.
Now that the time has changed and the days are so short, I am hosting Brunch on the Farm! Visit farmerleo.com for event update, links to Facebook and other social media for updates.
Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday during the 7pm hour. David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or ( 858) 395-6905.