by Inaara Thawer
For many years, John Chester, a filmmaker, and his wife Molly, a traditional foods chef, lived and worked in Santa Monica, California. Through her work, Molly realized that the nutritional content of her food was impacted by the distance from its source and the caliber of the farm’s agricultural practices. In light of this, the Chesters embarked on their journey to start their own farm in 2011. Their goal was to grow healthy produce in harmony with the natural environment. They moved from Santa Monica to a patch of land in Moorpark, California where they started Apricot Lane Farms.
When the Chesters began work on the land, the soil was completely degraded thanks to unsustainable farming practices over the past 50 years. Under the mentorship of Alan York, the team was able to restore the ecosystem and its biodiversity.
Currently, the farm grows over 200 varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs. They also raise poultry and livestock, including cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea fowl and pigs. The team incorporates various farming methods and philosophies that best suit the environment. In doing so, they sustain synergy between the farm’s agricultural practices and the revived ecosystem’s flora and fauna.
Over the past decade, ALF has obtained multiple farming certifications. They are one of California’s Certified Organic Farms and have obtained international Biodynamic Demeter certification standards. Additionally, the farm is Regenerative Organic Certified. This means that they meet the highest standards for soil health, animal welfare, and farmworker fairness.
Over the years, the farm has grown to encompass over 250 native plant species. Though not all of them are harvestable crops, they do serve to sustain the ecosystem and create a habitat for various animals, including badgers and barn owls, all of which help maintain the natural environment. This also includes the pond, which is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Similarly, the market garden is a CWH that attracts various insects, including pollinators such as bees and butterflies. These further sustain the farm by maintaining production levels and supporting endemic species through pollination.
Apricot Lane Farms focuses on soil health to maximize the nutritional value and flavor of its produce. With an emphasis on the quality of the soil, the well-being of the ecosystem is put first. The Farm Fertility Center is one of the key spaces on the farm that is focused on this initiative. The space features a large worm bin with Red Wiggler worms that mimic the soil’s natural building process. The worms create vermicompost (i.e. worm-poop compost) using food scraps, manure, and wood shavings. This is then poured into brewing tanks to exponentially multiply fungi, bacteria and protozoa levels. As a result, these microorganisms enrich the soil by increasing organic matter and nutrients.
One such example of how ALF’s nutrient-dense soil improves the flavor and taste of the produce is their avocados. The avocado orchard features 15 varieties of the fruit, allowing for year-round produce throughout the year. Additionally, the team harvests their Hass avocados at peak season and cold-presses them into cooking oil.