In today’s installment in our Small Business Spotlight blog series, we’ll be highlighting Jessica Baiza and Rustin Fuss, who manage Branch Mill Organic Farm in Arroyo Grande, California. Learn more about Branch Mill, which also serves as a one-day retreat center and has a wonderful roadside produce stand, at branchmillorganics.com.
1. When did you become a farmer? What influenced your decision to start growing food?
Jessica: I became an organic farmer in 2015. Before then I had no idea where my food came from or what the difference was between organic and non-organic. Through this initial hands-on learning, I realized the tremendous value of caring for the environment while growing nutrient dense food for the local community.
Rustin: During my travels in 2010 I had heard about work exchange programs on organic farms. I then had some wonderful work exchange experiences at several farms. I officially started farming as a profession in 2016 working at an organic farm in Hawaii. The next farm was in Gilbert, AZ and for over a year now here at Branch Mill Organic Farm in Arroyo Grande, CA. Those earlier transformative experiences inf
me n rustin farminluenced my decision to grow food sustainably and to be a steward of the land.
2. What variety of crops do you grow?
We grow organic garlic, tomatoes, various winter and summer squash, sweet and spicy peppers, turmeric, various herbs, edible flowers, beets, reddish, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, chard, arugula, lettuce, avocado, apples, figs, loquats, pomegranates, lemons, finger limes, persimmons, olallieberries, pineapple guava, passion fruit, and specialty crops per request!
3. What is your philosophy around growing food?
We take so much for granted with all of the comforts of today. By carefully watching and caring for this food grown from seed all the way to harvest grants a reconnection with nature and an appreciation for the miracle that is life.
4. How do you see your role in the community?
By providing wholesome organic food for the community, we are increasing their health and connecting them to their local economy.
5. What has been your greatest challenge as small farmers?
Nearly all of the small organic farms that [we] have worked on have struggled financially to make ends meet. A fierce adversary in this area are also the armies of hungry gophers. Wildfires and droughts are also very challenging in this region.
6. You grow some amazing varietals of produce; do you have a personal favorite?
I have many favorites, persimmons, pineapple guava, lacinato kale, arugula, nectar carrots, and heirloom tomatoes just to name a few. I love being able to experience the rich flavors of freshly harvested organic produce.
7. Do you have any new or upcoming projects you’re particularly excited about?
Yes, we are very excited about our plans to adopt more permaculture and regenerative farming practices. We also have plans to start a nursery in the greenhouse which will include some subtropical fruit, like cherimoya, mango, papaya, banana, sapote, and pineapple.
8. If you could share any message with NutriFit clients, what would it be?
We all vote with our currency. Be sure to do some research and choose to support the businesses and farmers whose practices and values align with the greatest good for the planet and for all.