Guide to Open Farm Tours 2022: Get to know Santa Cruz County growers

Farmers at Esperanza Farm in Watsonville.
(Via Open Farm Tours)

Inspired by the Open Studios Art Tour, which kicks off this weekend, the Open Farm Tours show kids — and adults — where foods like cheese and salsa start at locations around the Pajaro Valley. 

Open Farm Tours 2022

You might know your farmer, but do you know your farm?

On Oct. 8 and 9, visitors have a chance to get their boots muddy as they discover the inner workings of farms, nurseries, orchards and vineyards throughout the Pajaro Valley. Open Farm Tours was inspired by the Open Studios Art Tour, an annual expo when artists throughout Santa Cruz County open their homes and studios to the public. With Open Farms now in its ninth year, 15 local farms will greet guests throughout the weekend with tours of their land, facilities and gardens, educational workshops, tastings, U-picks, lots of farm animals and even farm-to-table dinners.

COVID-19 brought the event to a grinding halt after it celebrated its most successful year in 2019, with 14 participating farms and more than a thousand visitors over the course of the weekend. While Open Farms was held during the pandemic, only a small handful of farms participated in 2020 and 2021, says Penny Ellis, founder and organizer of Open Farms. After leaving behind a 30-year career as a product developer in the fashion industry, Ellis started Open Farms almost a decade ago in order to work with farms and farmers and driven by interest in the environment.

“I wanted to work with farms that were concerned about sustainability of the environment,” she said. “That’s always been the bottom line for the tours.” She admits that the inaugural Open Farms in 2013 was “kind of a disaster” — a heavy downpour canceled many events and only about 80 visitors came. But it’s grown every year since then.

Now it’s back and bigger than ever — this year’s event will be the largest yet, and the 15 participants are offering a wide variety of events to attract visitors to their farms. Among the many, mostly family-friendly experiences: learn about olive curing at Dos Aguilas Farm, which produces olive oil from five varieties of olive trees; taste estate wines from Storrs Winery while strolling through the organic and biodynamic vineyards; see how different dairy products are made and visit the cheese cave at Monkeyflower Ranch; and explore the activism behind Esperanza Community Farms.

There are a few changes to Open Farms this year. There is no central festival-style event, which in past years offered attractions like canning demonstrations, live music and a petting zoo.

“I really wanted to focus more on the farms,” Ellis said. All of the visits must be scheduled and paid for in advance; since the pandemic, there are no more unscheduled visits to the farms. This improves the visitor experience and prevents issues from overcrowding — bottlenecks at certain farms have been an issue in the past, explains Ellis.

Most tours cost $10 for adults while kids are often free, and all of the proceeds from the ticket price go directly to the farms. This year there are no group tickets available, although Ellis is considering adding some next year: “Most of the farms are not generally open to the general public. It’s an unusual experience and the fee goes to support them.” She said she has received countless emails from past visitors thanking her for organizing these experiences and expressing how much they — and especially their kids — learned about where their food comes from. “Kids often don’t know things like that carrots come out of the ground, or that goats don’t lay eggs,” she said. “One kid asked me where the salsa tree was.”

Cultivating a deeper understanding of our foodways is central to Open Farms, said Ellis: “I really want people to come away with the understanding that the earth is a living organism. It’s really to the benefit of humanity to really understand how these things work and the different patterns in nature.” In the spirit of awareness, she also intentionally chose the dates to coincide with Indigenous Peoples Day, which falls on the second Monday of October.

Next year, Open Farms is set to expand beyond the boundaries of Pajaro Valley. The organization is partnering with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a statewide nonprofit organization that seeks to build more resilient agroecosystems; support environmental, gender and racial justice in California’s food systems; and create practical solutions for farmers — all goals that align with Open Farms’ own mission. The partnership will expand the event to include more farms in Monterey and San Benito counties. Organizing the event to reflect the regional food systems on the Central Coast has always been a dream of hers, says Ellis.

Open Farm Tours kicks off with a fundraiser reception at Whiskey Hill Farm on Sunday, Oct. 2, from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. At this tiki-inspired happy hour, guests can join the farming community for a tour of Whiskey Hill Farm, food and beverages, and enjoy presentations on the state of agriculture in the tri-county area from a number of respected speakers. All of the other events take place Oct. 8 and 9.

View the full collection of events on Eventbrite and in the guide below. Organized by location, moving from north to south, click on the name of the farm to see more information about each event and purchase tickets, if necessary.

Farmer Roger Wolfe shows how to cure olives at Dos Aguilas Farm in Aptos.
(Via Open Farm Tours)

Dos Aguilas Farm
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; tours at 10 a.m., 11:15 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.* *Saturday only
Where: 1855 Pleasant Valley Rd., Aptos
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Olive oil tasting; olive curing demo

At Dos Aguilas, Roger Wolfe grows five varieties of Tuscan olives in the 600-tree estate orchard: Leccino, Maruino, Moraiolo, Frantoio and Pendolino. All varietals are blended in Dos Aguilas’ award-winning olive oil. At the farm, learn about the different varieties of olives while you tour the olive grove, followed by an olive oil tasting and demonstration on curing olives. Olive oil is available for purchase at the farm.

Thomas Farm
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; tours at 10 a.m., noon & 3 p.m.
Where: 1690 Pleasant Valley Rd., Aptos
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Wreath making; farm stand with products, oil paintings for sale

Jean and Jerry Thomas are local organic farming pioneers. At Thomas Farm, the Thomas family has grown organic flowers and produce in Santa Cruz County since 1971. In 1973, they, along with five other organic growers, founded organic certifying body California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Now, son Josh and wife Kari run the farm. During Open Farms, Jean will lead tours of the farm followed by a wreath-making demo with fresh-cut flowers.

Storrs Winery
When: Sunday, Oct. 9; tours at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Where: 1560 Pleasant Valley Rd., Aptos
Price: Adults $30 (includes wine tasting)
Highlights: Wine tasting; biodynamic vineyards

Enjoy a stroll through Storrs Winery’s organic estate vineyard outside of Corralitos. Stephen Storrs and Pamela Bianchini-Storrs use a number of biodynamic farming techniques and organic practices, including owl boxes, raptor perches and a groundwater recharge pond. Discuss their select pinot noir and chardonnay clones while sampling Storrs wines.

Visitors tour greenhouses full of organic microgreens at New Natives Farm.
(Via Bredette Dyer)

New Natives Farm
When: Sunday, Oct. 9; tours at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. & 3 p.m.
Where: 1255 Hames Rd., Aptos
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Wide variety of microgreens

Farmers Ken Kimes and Sandra Ward have grown certified organic microgreens in Santa Cruz for nearly 40 years. Visit their 40,000-square-foot greenhouses to see how microgreens are grown commercially while discussing sustainable farming practices. Visitors will have an opportunity to taste some of their wheatgrass, pea shoots, sunflower sprouts, broccoli sprouts and scallion sprouts.

Luz Del Valle Farm
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; tours at 10 a.m., noon & 2 p.m.
Where: 1875 Hames Rd., Aptos
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Apple U-pick, apple pressing, chickens and horses

This historic apple orchard was originally planted in 1880, and today the fifth generation of farmers grows 22 varieties of apples. Tour the orchard and the 120-year-old barn, hang out with chickens and horses and stop by the farm stand for apples and other products. Santa Cruz Cider Company uses Luz Del Valle apples in its hard cider; the farm tour will include an apple pressing demonstration where visitors can taste the freshest apple nectar.

Pajaro Pastures
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; tours at 1 p.m. & 3 p.m.; special tour & dinner 5-7:30 p.m.
Where: 1241 Amesti Rd., Corralitos
Price: Adults $10 and kids free for tours; Adults $150 and kids $45 for special dinner
Highlights: Goat petting zoo; special farm-to-table dinner with local chefs

Farmer Ryan Abelson produces pasture-raised pork, eggs, lamb and beef using ecological farming practices at his 12-acre ranch in Corralitos. Learn about animal husbandry and livestock production while enjoying a goat petting zoo. In the evening, Abelson is partnering with two local chefs — Andy Huynh of Full Steam Dumpling on Oct. 8 and Jessica Yarr of Chicken Foot on Oct. 9 — to offer three-course meals featuring products from Pajaro Pastures and produce from local organic farms. Each ticket includes local wine, beer and cider. View the menus here.

Live Earth Farm
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; U-pick time slots 10-11:30 a.m. & noon-1:30 p.m.
Where: 1275 Green Valley Rd., Watsonville
Price: $10 per car; registration required
Highlights: Tomato U-pick; farm stand with produce for sale

Live Earth Farm is an organic, diverse, 150-acre family farm outside of Watsonville. Tom and Constance Broz grow more than 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables, offer year-round community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscriptions and attend six farmers markets in the Bay Area. At Open Farm Tours, bring home Live Earth’s famously tasty dry-farmed tomatoes for $2.50 per pound and sample other farm-grown treats.

Terra Sole Nurseries
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; open house 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 240 Pioneer View Rd., Watsonville
Price: Adults $5; kids free
Highlights: Drought-tolerant and unusual plants; succulent planting for kids

John and Sherry Hall founded Terra Sole in 2004 with the goal of growing and sharing native, drought-tolerant and unusual plants that are well adapted to California’s dry summer climate while using sustainable growing practices. Visitors can take a walk through the garden, shadehouse and greenhouse to view the unusual collection of plants, with John and Sherry on hand to answer growing or design questions.

Mariquita Farm
When: Saturday, Oct. 8; tours at 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m. & 3 p.m.
Where: 142 Linden Rd., Watsonville
Price: Adults $5; kids free
Highlights: Lavender labyrinth; specialty culinary plants; herbal tea tasting

Farmer owners Andy Griffin and Starr Linden’s special culinary herbs and plants are sought after by chefs in the region — if you see chayote, marigolds, edible lavender, specialty citrus or prickly pears on a local menu, it likely came from Mariquita Farm. Tour the lovely farm and say hi to donkeys Sweet Pea and Antonia. Enjoy a walk through the lavender labyrinth and finish your tour with an herbal tea infusion tasting and a stop at the farm stand.

Fruitilicious Farm
When: Saturday, Oct. 8; tours at 10:30 a.m. & 1:30 p.m.; self-guided tours at noon & 3 p.m.
Where: 1881 Green Valley Rd., Corralitos
Price: Adults $12 for guided tours/$7 for self-guided tours; kids free
Highlights: Rare and unusual fruits

Zea Sonnabend is passionate about rare and unusual fruits. An avid seed saver, she nurtures a grove of more than 100 varieties of heirloom apples, as well as numerous varieties of figs, citrus, avocados, pears, blueberries and more. She believes in growing organically, and is a longtime organic inspector for CCOF as well as a former member of the National Organic Standards Board. Come pick her brain, admire the fruits of her labor and take home rare assorted fruits and veggies.

Whiskey Hill Farms
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; tours at 10:30 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.
Where: 371 Calabasas Rd., Watsonville
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Distillery tours; produce tastings

At this 14-acre organic farm, owner David Blume manages both Whiskey Hill Farms and Blume Distillation. Using permaculture principles, the farm grows exotic crops like turmeric, ginger, wasabi and passionfruit, as well as conventional crops like melons and squash. Blume uses beneficial farming practices to encourage habitats that attract insects and frogs, which prey on pests. Byproducts from the farm provide fuel for alcohol production at the distillery, resulting in a closed system with no waste. Tour the forward-thinking farm and distillery and sample farm products and snacks.

Esperanza Community Farms
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: 275 Lee Rd., Watsonville
Price: Adults & kids $5; kids 5 and under free
Highlights: Activism-based farm with inclusive mission; produce tasting

Esperanza Community Farms is small but mighty. The 3-acre farm is operated as a nonprofit and fiscally sponsored by Second Harvest Food Bank. Here, the four-person team, all people of color, runs a youth-driven Farm-2-Cafeteria pilot project at nearby Pajaro Valley High School and the 9 Organic Farms Co-op. With the help of volunteers, Esperanza also packs and delivers CSA boxes to 150 local families twice a week. Discover the farm’s vision of an inclusive, intergenerational, multilingual food chain based on dignity and joy.

Farmers Carin Fortin and Delmar McComb grow a wide variety of herbs at Blossoms Farm in Aromas.
Farmers Carin Fortin and Delmar McComb grow a wide variety of herbs at Blossom’s Farm in Aromas.
(Via Open Farm Tours)

Blossom’s Farm
When: Saturday, Oct. 8; tours at 10:30 a.m., 11:45, 1 p.m. & 2:15 p.m.
Where: 2033 San Juan Rd., Aromas
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Farm animals; herbal oil distillation demonstration

At Blossom’s Farm’s new home in Aromas, farmers Carin Fortin and Delmar McComb grow a wide variety of herbs, many of which make their way into their herbal tinctures, salves, oils and bitters. They also grow “superfood” crops like gobo, ashitaba and lightroot, as well as perennial crops to conserve water. The farm is also home to chickens, cows, pigs, a bull, sheep and ducks. Take home homemade ferments, skin care products and nursery plants from the farm stand.

Terra Cultura Farm
When: Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 8-9; tours at noon & 3 p.m.
Where: 1880 Cole Rd., Aromas
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Pollinator garden; chickens; compost tea demonstration

At Terra Cultura, farmers explore the intersection of agriculture, art, community and environmental stewardship through educational programs and environmental stewardship. The biodiverse farm includes a pollinator garden, healing garden, no-till veggie row crops and solar-powered, energy-efficient irrigation systems. Learn about the farmers’ holistic approach to agriculture and how to make your own compost tea to nourish your garden.

Monkeyflower Ranch
When: Saturday, Oct. 8; tours at 11 a.m, 11:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 2 p.m. & 2:45 p.m.
Where: 1481 San Miguel Canyon Rd., Royal Oaks
Price: Adults $10; kids free
Highlights: Cheese-making facility and cheese cave; sheep and chickens

The 40-acre Monkeyflower Ranch is home to pigs, poultry and sheep, including 100 milking ewes. Under the name Garden Variety Cheese, farmer Rebecca King produces a range of dairy products, including sheep’s milk yogurt and hard and soft cheeses. Tour the dairy barn and cheese cave, and learn about the farm’s holistic animal management and land stewardship. Naturally raised meats, cheese and other farm products are available for purchase.


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