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Natural Foods Merchandiser

South Coast Farmer Ditches Books to Dig Dirt

Produce Perspectives

I recently called George Kibbie, the farmer for this year's Natural Product's Expo West farm tour, to find out why he began farming.

"You know, an ag professor at Cal Poly once asked the same question," he said. "So I told him I dreamed of making a million dollars farming like my father. The professor inquired: 'Your father made a million dollars farming?' To which I replied, 'No, but he's still dreaming about it.' "

Right then I knew he was someone I wanted to meet. The real story, though, goes something like this:

It was there that he fell in love with the fields and the people who work those fields.
Kibbie, an enterprising high school student, began farming on a half acre in Orange County, Calif., in 1975, when orange groves, strawberry stands and truck farms were very much a part of the local landscape. It's hard to believe, looking at the area today. Kibbie worked after school and peddled berries to the local Alpha Beta markets from Whittier to San Clemente, Calif. He would pick the fruit up at the fields, with workers hand delivering the trays of strawberries one by one. It was there that he fell in love with the fields and the people who work those fields.

Kibbie headed off to college and studied life sciences and then agriculture business management at California Polytechnic University in Pomona. While at Cal Poly, he worked at a dairy and again realized how much he loved working on a farm. Because he worked at the dairy, he was able to buy calves and raise heifers on the side.

He sold the cows at auction and, in 1980, bought some old farm equipment with the proceeds and quit school. He had taken to heart the Cal Poly motto: Learn by doing. And learn he did!

He grew conventional strawberries in Santa Barbara, Calif., but became interested in organic farming by watching what the local organic growers were doing. It was through this observation that he became convinced that the future was in sustainable farming.

His next venture took him from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Mexico, where he learned Spanish (invaluable for anyone in agriculture today) and more about farming. He grew vegetables south of the border for 12 years before returning in 1996 to start South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., with his 8-year-old daughter Bianca.

They started with 30 acres of conventional farmland, and then, as Kibbie put it, they set out "to make things right." They planted cover crops to build the soil, grew a few crops and patiently waited the four difficult years—while the farm income was limited but rent and other fixed costs were high—required to transition from conventional to certified organic.

With the transition behind him, Kibbie now loves the challenge of organic farming and providing great food to his San Juan Capistrano community. He grows produce selected for flavor and eye appeal, harvested at the peak of flavor, for his own farm store and community supported agriculture program.

If you're like me, you'll probably want to meet this man who considers growing food for a local community one of life's great callings and an important and noble endeavor.

March will be a beautiful time at South Coast Farms, with the harvesting of strawberries, cauliflower, lettuces, brasiccas, peas, flowers, chard and much more. So whether this is your first visit to Expo West or if you return as regularly as the swallows to Capistrano, make sure you join us Saturday, March 8, for a wonderful afternoon on one of the last remaining farms in the area. I look forward to seeing you there.

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or by e-mail at

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 2/p. 20

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