Ellwood Canyon Farms-Young Farmers Driven By A Passion For Organic
Jack and I stood atop the western most ridge of his Goleta ranch, looking over the fields and out towards the ocean. The clouds and fog of this gloomy June day barreled in from the coast, shrouding the hills and valleys that surrounded us. “Does this fog usually burn off?” I ask as we look toward the sky.
“Well, that depends,” Jack says to me, “it could clear up in 5 minutes, a couple hours, or maybe not at all.” As we walk back to Jack’s pickup truck, he stops and says, “I hear next week is going to warm up, with clear skies, so that’s good.”
Before arriving at Ellwood Farms, Just a short drive from highway 101 heading east, away from the Pacific Ocean when I begin to see hand painted signs leading me forward. White signs with red painted letters boldly stand out amongst the backdrop of Chaparral and sandstone hills, leading the way to Ellwood Canyon Farms. Following a rough and winding road past about 5 of the Ellwood signs, I am now driving along the side of a flat 3 acre field with rows of black plastic, raised beds and small pepper plants, I have arrived.
With salty mist covering the windshield, I park amongst rows of farm vehicles, vans and cars and walk following the last painted sign that simply reads “Ellwood Dock,” with an arrow pointing up the hill. I walk past more machinery and vehicles until I arrive at a high roofed, open-air building with a concrete floor and see a young man with chin length, dark hair loading boxes into the back of a truck.
Reaching out to shake my hand, he swipes his hair out of his eyes and says, “Hey man, I’m Wilcox.” We exchange greetings and briefly talk about the weather, and he walks up the hill to get Jack, as I stand and wait.
Standing in dust and dirt covered brown leather boots, green canvas pants and a faded black t-shirt with a single breast pocket stitched with a Carhartt tag, Jack Motter says to me, “Welcome to the farm,” with a smile upon his face.
“Thanks for making the trip down,” Jack says, “Let’s go up to the office and look at some maps of the property and talk before we take the tour.”
Jack comes from a farm family in the Imperial Valley of California, growing a handful of conventional commodities on 2500 acres, sugar beets being one of them. Jack Motter and his business partner, Jeff Kramer have been lifelong friends, both leaving the low deserts of Brawley, CA to relocate to the canyons of Goleta. Jack originally came out to Santa Barbara for college and fell in love with the ocean, surfing and the coastal climate.
The property that “Ellwood Canyon Farms” now sits on is actually in Winchester Canyon, a neighboring canyon to the west. Jack began farming a small plot of land in Ellwood Canyon after graduating college, this is where he got his start in the soils of Santa Barbara County.
“We are farming the climate,” Jack says as we stand over a printed layout of the property. With the steep canyon hills and low flat valleys, the temperature range can vary greatly from top to bottom. It is really about working with the plants and climate and finding what works best.
Jack has over 12 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in the field this season, in addition to handful of roma and cherry tomato varieties. The cloudy and cold weather that they have been experiencing has slowed the fruit down greatly, already delaying their first harvest by a couple of weeks.
“The Berkeley tie dye variety has been the best producer in this weather,” Jack said as we bend down to look at the fruit sets. Some of the other plants have already lost their first set of flowers due to the lack of sun and heat.
“Heirlooms are very susceptible to all disease,” Jack said, “And we have already seen some plants fall to curly beet top disease.” This is a disease that is quite common, and spread from plant-to-plant by the beet leafhopper. It causes the leaves of the plants to curl in on themselves, getting crunchy and brown and eventually succumbing to the disease completely.
Jack has about 5 plantings of heirlooms in succession planted all around the farm. This is his largest year yet and has a lot invested into the success of his tomato crop.
The truck stopped, perched on a hill above the original Ellwood Farm acres as we could peer down and see the lone eucalyptus tree that Jack choose to use in his label.
“What do your parents think about you running off from the family farm to become an organic guy on the coast,” I said to Jack as we sit.
“Originally they thought I was crazy, but they actually have been huge supporters of mine,” Jack said back to me. “They just want me to be successful.”
Jack is patiently waiting for the skies to clear and for the sun to shine upon his fields once again. Ellwood Canyon Farms is currently growing a few crops for the local farmers market and some wholesale, commodities such as zucchini, cucumbers and beets and waiting patiently for the bounty of the upcoming tomato harvest.
This is the story of a young farmer, entirely driven by the passion for organic, product quality and relationships. This is the story reflected in every tomato growing in the soils of Ellwood Canyon Farms, this is the next generation of organic agriculture.