By Phil Mckenna
The Gaviota Coast has been “anchored” by agriculture for centuries. Cattle grazing was the mainstay of the Spanish land grants. Dry-farming followed with crops such as wheat, tomatoes and beans. Orchards were created with large plantings of avocados and lemons from the 1950s to the present day. Unique crops such as macadamia nuts, cherimoyas, and abalone are also produced here. And did you know that the commercial production of the cymbidium orchid was pioneered at Dos Pueblos Ranch in the 1950s?
But coffee? Yes, coffee!
At 650 feet, near the Los Padres National Forest boundary, Jay Ruskey of FRINJ Coffee is exploring the nuances of coffee production, applying regenerative agricultural techniques, and mimicking the native habitat of the coffee tree. Jay began developing the first commercial coffee farm in California in 2002 on his ranch, Good Land Organics, with test plots of 13 arabica varieties planted under various conditions on the ranch.
The coffee tree grows best in rich, well-drained soil with mild temperatures, frequent rain, and shaded sun. Not all of these conditions naturally occur on the Gaviota Coast, but the fundamental characteristics, good drainage, and mild temperatures are found on the ranch. Soil amendments and irrigation can compensate for the missing necessities of rich soil and frequent rain and shade can be creatively provided. The fruit of the tree, known as the “cherry,” named for its visual resemblance to that fruit, contains the coffee bean. Too much heat and sun can cause the cherry to ripen too quickly, producing an inferior bean; sun is essential, but shade is necessary to produce high quality beans.
After years of study and experience, Jay has created a growing environment that mimics coffee’s native habitat. Two varieties of tropical trees will be inter-planted with the coffee trees and pruned to provide the coffee tree with filtered shade and a windbreak from the down-canyon drafts. The coffee tree can grow to 30 feet. In commercial production the tree is pruned to a human height to concentrate its energy and facilitate selective harvesting by hand, providing wonderful synergy with the companion planting of the tropical trees.
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy was very pleased to provide important financial assistance to realize the development of a demonstration coffee agroforest of 1.13 acres on the Gaviota Coast at Good Land Organics. This planting will demonstrate new and scalable cropping systems that have the potential to enhance and expand the viability of Gaviota agricultural operations. Through regenerative agricultural techniques, the planting will improve soil management protocols for healthy orchard ecology. Data will be produced to study practices to increase soil water retention, carbon sequestration, and nutrient exchange between diverse plant polycultures.
For the first time in history, coffee is being grown commercially on the U.S. mainland and it was pioneered on the Gaviota Coast!
A great read; The Monk of Mokha, Dave Eggers