Enthusiastic crowds tour Ramona farms
By Regina Elling
It was a great day to be down on the farm — especially if you were a guest on the San Diego County Farm Bureau’s Farm Tour and had chosen Ramona as your destination. Although the tours have been in existence for a few years, this was the first year Ramona was involved.
Three farm tours took place simultaneously on Saturday, June 7, as Escondido and Oceanside each had its own farms participating.
Five establishments were on the Ramona tour; the Eben-Haezer Poultry Ranch, Connelly Gardens, Page’s Organics, Sorensen Greenhouses and Hatfield Creek Vineyards & Winery.
The “happy hens” at the Eben-Haezer Poultry Ranch seemed almost as curious about the visitors as the humans were about them. As owner Luie Nevarez discussed the poultry, the egg operation and the difference between free range and organic, many of the hens walked up to the edge of their enclosures, clearly expecting handouts and not the multitude of cameras. In addition to the birds, guests saw the resident guard llamas and livestock protection dogs, as well as the residents of the small petting zoo.
The fruits, vegetables and herbs of Connelly Gardens not only attracted guests — much of the fresh produce went home with them. Visitors toured Farmer Tim Connelly’s field crops, hydroponics operation and more.
Crops from the farm are used not only in San Diego fine dining establishments, but are shipped throughout the nation. The farm was continually busy on tour day, with guests eager to explore the grounds and numerous crops. The small
flock of resident chickens was also a huge hit with visitors.
For more than 40 years, Page’s Organics has been growing organic vegetables. Although the food is wholesale to such places as Jimbo’s, Whole Foods and Ramona Family Naturals, Page’s also has a small farm stand at the home where locals can buy direct. Many of the out-of-town guests were shocked to discover that owners Tom and Mary Page operate on the “honor system” for these sales.
About 20 different varieties of heritage and hybrid tomatoes are dotted around the property, along with other seasonal crops and herbs. Many visitors were also intrigued by the solar panels, conservative water use and general respect of resources shown by the couple.
With a big smile and a steady stride, Alex Sorensen, general manager of Sorensen Greenhouses, took wave after wave of tour groups though the numerous greenhouses on the property. A third generation grower, she was happy to explain
how her family ended up in Ramona, running acres of greenhouses full of hundreds of varieties of succulents and cacti.
The farm not only ships worldwide, but imports from all over the world to meet demand. It also is one of the few operations left that grows cactus from seed. Guests couldn’t help but be impressed by the wide variety of color, shapes and textures of the succulents in various stages of growth, as well as the stories and care tips Sorensen volunteered about each type.
The grounds of Hatfield Creek Vineyards & Winery were in immaculate shape for the guests who made the winery a must-see stop. Owners Elaine Lyttleton and Norm Case opened the vineyards, winemaking area and tasting room, answering questions about the process from grapevine to bottled wine.
As guests discovered attractions on the property ranging from the love-love tree to the labyrinth, dining pavilion and the many “destination resorts,” they were left smiling with delight. The vineyard motto “Every hour is a happy hour” certainly proved to be true on tour day.
In addition to curious Ramona residents, many of the tour-goers were from far-flung areas of the county and beyond. One couple from Oceanside explained that, although they had driven through town many times, they had no idea that Ramona boasted such a range of farm types.
Another couple, from Encinitas, continually exclaimed over each scenic view throughout the tour. Many guests expressed an interest in returning to town, whether for another farm tour or to check out upcoming attractions.
This was the fifth year the San Diego County Farm Bureau has hosted Farm Tour Day. The event is designed to let the public get a glimpse of the mostly private, unseen, billion dollar farming industry of San Diego.
Although tour organizers say they don’t feature the same town two years in a row, they will more than likely be back to Ramona soon. With 226 visitors, the Ramona tour garnered more interest than the Escondido tour with 175 guests and the Oceanside tour with 100.
“We wanted to showcase the diversity and scope of the farms of Ramona, and let people get an insider’s view of what it takes to run these type of businesses,” says one farm bureau representative. “The guests were happy to be here, the owners were outstanding, and we feel like we totally met our goal.”
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