“Working with The Land Conservancy is a dream come true. To be able to farm and lease land so close to home makes it much easier for me.” –Jacob Smith, Avila Valley Barn, Farm Operator
One of our region’s most notable farm stands has grown in recent years to become the iconic Avila Valley Barn. This family-friendly attraction lures hundreds of tourists and locals each weekend with its impressive array of locally grown produce that compliments the Barn’s other attractions: home-made pies, barnyard animals, tractor rides, and U-pick festivities as well as a full deli and ice cream shoppe.
What many people may not know, is that each season delicious fruits and vegetables sold at Avila Valley Barn are grown on an agricultural preserve owned by The Land Conservancy.
At the southeast end of Avila Valley, we have permanently protected nearly 100 acres of agricultural land and natural areas for wildlife along San Luis Obispo Creek. Collectively, these three conserved properties make up our Lower San Luis Obispo Creek Floodplain Preserve, which includes nearly 90 acres of farm fields and orchards. Roughly the size of 62 football fields, these agricultural lands produce close to 400,000 pounds of produce ranging from apples to pumpkins. All of this fresh produce is sold just a short distance away at Avila Valley Barn.
Previously farmed by the late Dr. John P. DeVincenzo, Debbie and Bruce Smith took over leasing these farmlands when they transitioned from long-time employees to owners of the Avila Valley Barn and Gopher Glen Apple Farm in 2009.
“In the early 1980’s Dr. John P. and Bobbie DeVincenzo set out to create a U-Pick farm where now sits Avila Valley Barn. The orchard was designed with dwarf trees so that no ladders would be needed thus opening it up for U-Pick. Berry vines, peach, and apple trees were planted. John and Bobbie’s hard work, extreme determination and vision were the foundation of what we now enjoy at the Avila Valley Barn,” said Debbie.
The dream was set in motion for a place where agriculture and the community can come together. A multi-generation farming family, the Smiths are pleased that their own children are now an integral part of the business. Farming operations were recently turned over to 26 year-old son Jacob and the deli and catering business aspects have be taken over by twin brother Jesse who just this past year completed his education at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in the Napa Valley.
Jacob’s vision for the farming operations, includes coverting to a holistically and sustainably managed farm where biodiversity and soil health are of the utmost importance. Apples, peaches, apricots, pumpkins and numerous other row crops are currently grown on The Land Conservancy’s agricultural preserve.
“I believe farming for healthier soils is much more important than farming strictly for profit margins or production numbers. What profit is there to be had if in ten, twenty, or 100 years our soils are over worked and require more and more inputs? Farming for soil health ensures the longevity, productivity and profitability of the land much longer into the future,” said Jacob. “We have a great relationship with The Land Conservancy coupled with sharing the same hopes of keeping this beautiful valley in agriculture makes it a wonderful opportunity for all of us.”
This property will be retained for both agriculture and riparian corridor habitat and managed in a way that will prevent any use of the property that will significantly impair or interfere with the conservation values of the property. As part of our mission to protect local lands for the benefit of people, The Land Conservancy strives to support farmers and ranchers who provide food for our community. We ultimately want to cultivate a stable relationship with a grower so we use incentives such as lower lease rates and longer terms on the lease.
In return, we encourage growers to practice sustainable agriculture using less resources (such as chemicals or machines) to minimize topsoil depletion and groundwater contamination while keeping the family farms productive. These favorable incentives alleviate some financial pressure on the farmer. There is less demand to produce higher yields and costs tend to be lower if practicing sustainable farming. In turn, the grower can pass along the savings and benefits of healthy produce to local consumers.
For a business that started with one table and an umbrella in 1985, the Avila Valley Barn has come a long way. We are honored that our conservation lands have played an important role in that history. Visit the Barn to experience what authentic modern-day farming is all about. Avila Valley Barn is located at 560 Avila Beach Drive in San Luis Obispo and is open daily from 9 am–6 pm. For more info about Avila Valley Barn, click here.
To meet local grower Jacob Smith on the family’s apple orchard, join us for a member event on Saturday, October 12th from 9:oo-10:00 am. While you’re there, you can pick yourself a bag of complimentary apples! For more details about this event, click here.