February 12, 2019 – One of Santa Cruz’s longest-running and most beloved organic farms is taking a break in 2019.
“Our hope is that after dealing with some structural, financial and personal issues we will be back again in 2020,” farmer-proprietor Jeff Larkey wrote in a message to the farm’s customers posted on its website. “It’s been a great and long run but it’s time for some changes.”
As part of the break, Rt. 1 will not be offering a CSA this year and will likely wind down its farmers’ market stands by the end of February. Larkey has also transferred operations of the 14-acre Ocean Street extension property he has farmed since 1981 to Groundswell Farm.
But Larkey, who was one of the vendors at Santa Cruz’s first farmers’ market in the late 1970s and started Rt. 1 in1988, is hanging on to the 40 acres he farms at Rancho del Oso north of Davenport. At that property, he is continuing to cultivate his citrus, avocado, apple pear and plum orchard. And if possible, he could begin planting row crops again on part of the land in mid to late summer.
“I’m calling it a hibernation,” Larkey says, but notes that when the farm comes back, it will be restructured and smaller, to make it stronger financially.
“Downsizing, taking some time out and making room for newer farmers is wise, I think, and feels good,” Larkey says. “I know I’m not the only one in this boat, but the overhead required these days for a mid-sized and highly diversified farm is astounding.”
Larkey said that among other factors, having highly diverse products makes meeting regulatory requirements very complicated, and without a large scale, very expensive. “We have to be larger or smaller to make it work.”
The new farmer and beekeeper who Larkey is making room for at the Ocean Street Extension property is James Cook of Groundswell, who also farms a property along Moore Creek Preserve. Cook had already kept bees on Ocean Street land for 12 years, and has farmed a small amount of the property for the last two years.
“It’s very unique,” Cooks says. “It’s paradise down there.”
“I’m an urban niche farmer,” Cook adds, and notes that it’s rare to find farmland close to home, right in Santa Cruz—not to mention rich, fertile farmland located on the river and zoned for commercial agricultural use.
The property is in an area called Italian Gardens—a reference to the truck farms that were established there in the 1800s.
In 2015, Larkey almost lost a 6-acre chunk of the land containing a valuable well when the owners put it up for sale. But the late Jack O’Neill, inventor of the wetsuit and a big supporter of local and sustainable agriculture, stepped in and purchased the acreage so that it would remain farmland, then leased it back to Larkey.
Cook says that with the new property, he’ll diversify a little, but not too much. His main row crops are peppers and tomatoes, and he also grows shallots, beans, onions, squash, sweet potatoes and some strawberries.
His passion is his bees—he keeps 20 to 60 hives and loves the challenge of raising them and the contribution they make to the local ecosystem.
Meantime Larkey, who sells much of his produce locally through a CSA, farmers’ markets and direct sales to restaurants, says it’s too soon to say whether he’ll return to offering a CSA or his popular farm dinners.
But however the two-time winner of Edible Monterey Bay’s reader-selected Local Hero farmer of the year award chooses to distribute his fruits and vegetables, his loyal customers are sure to find them.