Route 1 Farms

According to owner Jeff Larkey: “My efforts to provide fruits and vegetables to the local community go back to the beginnings of the organic farming and gardening movement that began to take shape in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. My first efforts were merely to grow my own food but soon changed. Also at that time, the first certified direct farmers market in Santa Cruz county was organized and opened in 1979 at the Live Oak school at Capitola Rd. and 17th Ave. Shortly after, in 1981, I and 4 other people started growing on some abandoned fields on Ocean Street extension which had historically been called the “Italian Gardens”. This proved to be an ideal spot to experiment with great soil, a great climate and very nearby retail markets for the food being produced. By 1988, I was the only farmer left on Ocean Street and looking to scale up in order to be consistent and stay competitive with the new larger operations that were popping up, or with even larger operations converting from conventional farming to organic. I found a partner and more land on the north coast and we continued to grow until we had about 150 acres in four locations under cultivation. By then we were shipping a fair amount of product out to long distance markets through brokers, as well as keeping our local markets. Our strategy was to grow a wide diversity of crops which mimicked the early successes at the Italian Gardens. It was a very large scale garden format. It worked like a charm with the diversity of crops requiring little in the way of pest and disease management.”

Jeff continues: “Things change, as always, and as my partner quit the farming biz in 2002 I began to downsize the operation for the sake of sanity and simplicity. It was a wise move I think, as organic agri-biz took off and it starting to resemble the conventional big ag constructs I was trying to get away from in the first place. Although size has its efficiencies, in order to keep it in tune with my views about sustainability it worked best at the mid level. Not too small but not too big and utilizing local resources as much as possible. At present I am farming 40 acres at Rancho Del Oso along Waddell Creek in the north county and at the original 10 acres of land on Ocean St. along the San Lorenzo River. I have tried to stay true to the principles that first drew me to organic farming and feel I have been privileged and blessed to have access to such choice locations to do this kind of work. Sometimes this idealism creates financial challenges but there are just some things that I don’t want to be participating in. I continue to grow the most nutrient dense fresh fruits and vegetables around, while maintaining respect for the soil, the people and the planet. We use high quality compost, crop rotations and seasonal cover cropping as a way to keep our soil and ecosystems balanced and healthy. While we always like to try new crops, consistency and quality are what we value most.”