Pepper Creek Family Farm: Pushing the envelope of innovated farming on the Central Coast

IMG_6424The Pepper Creek Family Farm has been a fixture in the rural farming community of Arroyo Grande for over 25 years. Their grandfather, Jack VanOtterloo, found the property when it was used for raising grass-fed cattle. In 1990 his daughter in-law, Diane Boyd, transitioned the land from cattle to produce after the recession caused her husband, Mike Boyd, to lose his job as a mason. Thus began the family farm. In 2006 their daughter, Jessica Newell, joined the business full time, followed by her brothers, Eric and Morgan Boyd, in 2014 after the men were discharged from their military careers.

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Eric and Morgan Boyd found great comfort in the family farm during their transitions back to civilian life. During this time Morgan attended Cal Poly to get his masters degree in public policy, focusing on sustainable agriculture policy and veterans affairs. His brother Eric received a degree in soil science and attended a program in San Diego called Archie’s Acres (www.archisacres.com). The program, which is highly focused on supporting military service members and veterans, provides training to those interested in learning more about the production and business behind sustainable agriculture. This provided Eric extensive training in hydro-organic technology and organic greenhouse operations.

Today each family member plays a vital role in operating and growing the family farm. Diane Boyd has been a fixture in the local farmers’ market seen for the last 20 years and is currently Farmers’ Market Association Manager. Morgan is in charge of Pepper Creek production and grows on about 8 acres of the land. Jessica, “the face of the farm,” is in charge of marketing, harvesting (she harvests right before market to ensure freshness and a true farm-to-table IMG_6409experience), as well as, distribution. There is no need for cold storage since on this farm! Eric built the farm’s long tunnel hydroponics system, which when fully operational, produces 1,500 pounds of leafy vegetables per week. Along with the large production capabilities, the family says it’s a major step towards operating a regenerative farm. The hydroponics system can save up to 90% of water usage (depending on the time of year), saves four times the space and is capable of having 5-6 crops cycles per year. This allows them to pull less from their shared aquifer and provides an opportunity to sell to larger customers, such as a store like Whole Foods Market.

From its inception the farm has always been transparent in their organic and sustainable farming practices.   They use zero pesticides, no GMOs, and operate on a drip irrigation system. Occasionally they resort to natural methods of spaying chrysanthemum oil and releasing lady bugs to battle aphids. This season they are tolerating a higher-than-average gopher problem, which they recognize as a mere side effect to operating a truly organic farm.IMG_6446

So what is the family growing these days? Early Girl tomatoes (and many other varieties), corn, green leafy vegetables, avocados, pomegranates, apples, apricots, zucchini, beans, grapes, onions, garlic, various varieties of peppers, Persian mulberries, boysenberries, carrots, beets, leeks, potatoes, lemons, guavas, …and well, it goes on and on. As Jessica puts it, “pretty much anything that grows in California with the exception of just a few things.”

Today the farm is busier than ever with many exciting plans in the works. Morgan has been developing a program through Cal Poly, called FEED: Farmer Experiential & Education Development. It’s a 12-week certificate program that trains veterans and under-served members of the community on sustainable agriculture. Heavily business focused, the program will train students in creating business plans and farm plans in three primary areas of sustainable agriculture: protected systems (hydroponics, high tunnels), conventional row cropping and orchards, and free range farming & permaculture design. Morgan is the program director and this summer will be finalizing the IMG_6431curriculum with help from the College of Agriculture, Center for Sustainability and the Department of Extended Education. Students will receive morning classroom instruction with afternoon hands-on experience at the Pepper Creek family farm. With extra hands on the farm the goal for the next year will be to incorporate permaculture design principles, nudging the farm closer to being much more efficient and regenerative.

 

In addition to selling at many of the Farmer’s Markets in San Luis Obispo County, the farm also distributes directly to local restaurants. Pepper Creek products can be found on plates at Novo Restaurant, Luna Red, IMG_6389Robin’s Restaurant, Thomas Hill Organics, Ember, Artisan, The Spoon Trade, Foremost, Marisol, Lido and more.

You can find Pepper Creek Family Farm almost every day of the week at one of our local farmers’ markets. Tuesday at the SLO grange, Wednesday morning in Arroyo Grande, Thursday in Morro Bay and in downtown SLO in the evening and on Saturday in the Village of Arroyo Grande and Templeton.

For more information follow on Pepper Creek Family Farms on Facebook and Instagram. Website coming soon…