Urban farmer gives nod to the past, with an eye to future
Chickens cluck, bees buzz and a variety of crops line a 1.5-acre plot in Encinitas called Farmer Leo’s. With development swallowing up the area, the farm is in many ways a throwback to the city’s agricultural roots.
But the farm is also on point with present trends. The produce and flowers are grown organically and by hand — no tractors or machinery. And as with other urban farms, cars zoom by and homes aren’t far away.
The mix of urban and rural suits Ryan “Farmer Leo” Goldsmith, who started the farm at 1920 S. El Camino Real.
“I’ve farmed in rural areas, and no one really stops by,” Goldsmith said while pointing out fall crops he recently planted. “But I meet all kinds of people here. I like both; one foot in the city and one foot in the country.”
He signed a lease for the vacant plot last year. Since then, with the help of two farmhands, he’s turned the once-hard ground into a fertile plot for everything from basil to cucumbers to pumpkins.
Goldsmith, whose childhood in Dana Point was mainly spent at the beach, never thought he’d become a farmer.
However, an interest in locally grown food prompted him to study ecology in college. He then put this knowledge to practice by volunteering on farms in Australia as part of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).
Later, he graduated from UC Santa Cruz’s Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture program. After that, he ran a catering company, but he missed running his hands through the soil.
“Eventually, I couldn’t take the fluorescent lights,” Goldsmith said. “It was this time of year, and I was cooking for a wedding. I was like, ‘I’d rather be growing this.’”
He added: “Farming lent me this appreciation for organic agriculture and a slower pace of life.”
He’s planted and tilled from Sonoma County to a quarter-acre plot in Leucadia, from which he moved when this opportunity arose. Through trial and error over the years, Goldsmith said, he “finally gained enough confidence to create this farm.”
Farming, he acknowledged, is no easy way to make a living. For most, land and water are increasingly expensive. These days, he said, it’s all about adding value where possible. For instance, he hosts bi-monthly dinners, made with his crops, on his farm.
Goldsmith said making it as a grower largely comes down to old-fashioned farming traits: hard work and resourcefulness.
And it helps that more people are buying organic, he said.
He sells his produce from a stand that’s a stone’s throw away from the crops. The farm is also a CSA (community- supported agriculture): Residents pay a fee up front and can pick up fresh bundles of produce every week.
His produce can also be found at the Leucadia Farmer’s Market and restaurants like Fish 101.
Resident Ray del Rosario is the chapter director of Slow Food San Diego, an organization dedicated to sustainable growing practices.
Rosario said Farmer Leo’s and other small farms are gaining popularity because residents like knowing where their food came from. He added that many appreciate that these operations have a low carbon footprint.
“This isn’t food that’s trucked in from some far-off place,” Rosario said. “They like getting produce from someone they can talk with.”
Similarly, Goldsmith believes more and more locals are becoming passionate about urban agriculture. More than four dozen supporters, he noted, came out to back Coral Tree Farm and Nursery, the other CSA in Encinitas, at a City Council meeting last week.
Ultimately, the council voted to let the farm keep selling boxes with produce without a special permit, striking down an appeal from neighbors concerned with traffic.
Although farming has largely disappeared from Encinitas, Goldsmith believes that’s poised to change. As evidence, he cited the city drafting an urban agriculture ordinance that aims to ease permitting for recreational and commercial farmers.
Also, the city is home to agriculture-friendly groups like the Leichtag Foundation, he said. Since taking over the 67-acre Ecke Ranch two years ago, the foundation has transformed the space into a hub for commercial and educational agriculture.
“I aim to be a part of the agriculture renaissance in Encinitas,” Goldsmith said. “I believe this is a place where farming can and will continue to be supported.”
Visit farmerleo.com for farm stand hours, CSA information and upcoming dinner dates.