For those committed to consuming local foods, coffee is often the place we choose to cut ourselves some slack. The U.S. imports nearly all of its coffee. The notable exception is the Kona coffee grown in Hawaii.
But a small-scale farmer in coastal Southern California is trying to change that. Jay Ruskey operates Good Land Organics, based in Santa Barbara, where he grows avocados and specialty crops like cherimoyas, dragon fruit, caviar limes, and most recently, coffee.
His research partner in the enterprise has been University of California advisor Mark Gaskell, an expert in subtropicals and specialty crops, who is assigned to UC’s division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR). The two have been experimenting with coffee production for nearly fifteen years…often without success.
That’s changed. They’ve experimented with inter-planting the coffee among the avocado trees. Benefits: shade, and no additional land, water or fertilizer required. Result: success.
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“My job is to help small farms with problem solving, so I’m always looking for these kinds of synergies,” [Mark] Gaskell said of the interplanting technique. “Commercial water rates are high, so ‘How are we going to get the most efficient utilization of land and water?’ is at the back of every grower’s mind.”
The potential has Ruskey excited, for good reason. He’s now selling coffee-plant starts to other avocado farmers, as well as selling green and roasted beans to clients in the U.S. and abroad. In 2014, Ruskey’s coffee was rated among the top 30 in the world by Coffee Review.
A wonderful, beautifully written piece about the power of innovation, research, and partnership.