Tuesday, November 30, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 39
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Cuyama Homegrown produces high-quality, farm-fresh fruits and vegetables year round

CALEB WISEBLOOD

The tried-and-true—and still apropos—idiom “the bee’s knees” is a bit of an understatement when describing the husband-and-wife duo behind Cuyama Homegrown


DYNAMIC DUO
Husband and wife Jean Gaillard (right) and Meg Brown (left), owners of Cuyama Homegrown, purchased their ranch in New Cuyama in 2001, where they grow fresh fruits and vegetables throughout each season of the year.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CUYAMA HOMEGROWN

“It’s the most pure honey you could ever dream about,” said Jean Gaillard, co-owner of the farm with his wife, Meg Brown, while discussing the two bee hives on their property.

One of the secrets to maintaining this so-called purity within the hives’ product is a lack of human interference, Gaillard explained.

“We don’t add sugar water, so the bees totally rely on their honey,” he said. “What they collect will help them to survive in wintertime. So whatever you extract is a top quality honey.” 


Down-home
Find out more about Cuyama Homegrown on Facebook, or follow the farm on Instagram (@cuyamahomegrown).

But honey isn’t the only thing to buzz about at Cuyama Homegrown, where Gaillard and Brown produce a wide assortment of vegetables and fruits throughout the year. The latter usually end up in Brown’s famous farm-fresh jams. 

“March through December, I’m doing jams,” said Brown, who was surprised she and her husband could actually agree on which jam is Cuyama Homegrown’s best: the pear lime jam.

Additional jams are made from apricots, peaches, plums, and other fruits grown at the farm. Brown also specializes in pickled fruits and vegetables, including pickled beets and pickled artichoke hearts.


JAM FAM
“March through December, I’m doing jams,” said Cuyama Homegrown co-owner Meg Brown, whose personal favorite is the pear lime jam. Additional jams are made from apricots, peaches, plums, and other fruits grown at the farm.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CUYAMA HOMEGROWN

“I have this ancient pickle book that I got from my mother. I don’t know where she got it because it’s older than she was,” said Brown, who believes both she and Gaillard have their mothers to thank for their career paths.

“Both of us grew up with mothers who were serious gardeners. That’s where it all came from,” she said. “When I was growing up, I did not particularly enjoy being dragged out to the garden to pick peas and beans. But you can pick up a lot by osmosis.”

While Brown grew up in upstate New York, Gaillard was born and raised in Belgium, but he left the country shortly after college to pursue owning his own farm someday.

“I found out that it was almost impossible to start a farm like this in Belgium, where farmland is very expensive. It’s a little overpopulated country, so that means every year it’s losing a lot of farmland to urbanization,” said Gaillard, who worked as a rural engineer after earning his bachelor’s degree in agriculture.


TAKE YOUR PICK
“The day people order their produce, we’re picking it from the ground that same day,” Cuyama Homegrown co-owner Jean Gaillard told the Sun. “It hasn’t been stored for two weeks. It’s totally fresh. I believe that’s a real big plus.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF CUYAMA HOMEGROWN

Gaillard met Brown after separate work opportunities brought them both to West Africa. 

“He was there doing his engineering work. I was there working in agriculture development. But we met through horses,” Brown recalled.  

As members of the same horse club in Niamey, Gaillard and Brown bonded during various trail rides and other club outings. Shortly after the group embarked on one particularly majestic moonlit ride to a small, seemingly hidden oasis, Gaillard was inspired to ask Brown if she wanted to join him in attempting to re-create the adventure. 

“He said, ‘Why don’t we go out there again?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to get there.’ ‘Oh, I think I can figure it out,’ he said,” Brown laughed. “So off we go with no water, no money, no nothing, just us and the horses. We could not find it, and we were totally lost. We eventually found our way back to his house.

“That was the first and last time I trusted him to take me anywhere,” she added.


WE CAN PICKLE THAT
Aside from jams at Cuyama Homegrown, co-owner Meg Brown also specializes in pickled fruits and vegetables, including pickled beets (left) and artichoke hearts (right).
PHOTO COURTESY OF CUYAMA HOMEGROWN

Except California, where the couple eventually relocated after getting married. The pair purchased their land in New Cuyama in 2001. 

Nineteen years later, the circumstances of the ongoing pandemic and shelter-in-place orders haven’t drastically altered the couple’s work schedule, farming from home on their 80-acre ranch.

“Even before COVID, we really didn’t leave the ranch that much. There’s too much to do, really. We go into town maybe once a week or once every two weeks for shopping,” Brown said, citing monthly treks to either Santa Maria or Taft for supplies. 

One thing both Cuyama farmers pride themselves on is their use of environmentally friendly practices and technologies, Brown explained.

“Cuyama Valley is designated as a severely water-deficit basin. We try to be as conservative as possible with water management,” Brown said. “We have to be very careful with our water; our well drops every year. It doesn’t seem to recharge. 

“It takes a couple of years after a good rainfall for it to even kind of have a slight increase,” she added. “But overall, it’s dropping.”


WHAT’S THE BUZZ?
“We don’t add sugar water, so the bees totally rely on their honey,” Jean Gaillard said, discussing the two top bar hives on the couple’s ranch. “What they collect will help them to survive in wintertime. So whatever you extract is a top quality honey.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF CUYAMA HOMEGROWN

In their orchard, the couple uses special tubing to send irrigation directly to their crops’ roots, “instead of sitting on top and not being absorbed,” Brown said. The hoop tunnels on the farm also help conserve water.

Over the years, Cuyama Homegrown has come to provide products for local businesses, including Cuyama Buckhorn and Condor’s Hope Vineyard, but it also takes custom orders from the public while supplies last. Anyone can join the farm’s client list by contacting Gaillard and Brown through their Facebook page.

Depending on the season, the farm produces lettuce, radish, kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, onions, garlic, beets, squashes, melons, eggplants, pumpkins, and cucumbers, while its neighboring orchard grows peaches, apricots, plums, apples, figs, pears, persimmons, and much more. The couple also raises poultry, and their eggs are offered for sale through Cuyama Homegrown as well.

When it comes to Cuyama Homegrown’s produce though, one of the biggest benefits for consumers, in Gaillard’s opinion, is the freshness aspect.

“The day people order their produce, we’re picking it from the ground that same day,” he said. “It hasn’t been stored for two weeks. It’s totally fresh. I believe that’s a real big plus.” 

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is jammin’ at cwiseblood@santamariasun.com.










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