A Real Agventure in Ventura, California

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Fresh produce is the name of the game around Ventura, California.
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A little boy reaches into an apple crate.

Ventura, California – In Ventura County, farm tours and even picking your own fresh produce from the fields have become increasingly popular activities with visitors to the area.

Located about an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, Ventura and the surrounding countryside hosts over 25 farms that welcome the public – many at no cost – and offer a range of activities from farm tours that encourage visitors to roam the fields and pick their own crops, to petting zoos, to getting a firsthand look organic farming practices. Ventura is surrounded by verdant green fields reminiscent of a time gone by. Nearly all the farms are working family farms, making time for visitors by advance appointment, or with regularly scheduled hours.

Farm visits have something to offer both the eco-aware consumer interested in sourcing food that is locally grown, as well as families and individuals keen to escape an urban environment and connect with nature.

Ventura County is unique in coastal Southern California for having saved large expanses of the rich farmland surrounding its urban centers. For every acre of urban development, there is one acre that is still farmed and another two acres in open rangeland in the area.

Ventura harvests a bountiful range of produce year round – lemons, oranges, avocadoes, strawberries and seasonal vegetables from artichokes to pumpkins. There are also olive orchards which produce a green and grassy tasting extra virgin olive oil, honey producers and lavender farms.

The 300-acre McGrath Family Farm has been established in Ventura Country for five generations, growing a diversity of year-round fruits and vegetables. It is situated just off the 101 Freeway and is certified organic. As well as a commitment to sustainable farming practices, the McGrath family has a deep interest in sharing their knowledge of farming, nutrition, health and sustainability with the public. “We want people to know where their food comes from,” says owner Phil McGrath. “Agricultural education is part of all our farm tours, and it’s a great way for us to preserve our farmland as well.” For children, there are also hayrides, and the farm has ducks, geese, pigs, goats and turkeys – which youngsters are allowed to pet.

Tierra Rejada Ranch has 80 acres of pick-your-own vegetables. There are tomatoes, green beans, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and a wide range of salad vegetables. Every October, the farm has a Harvest Festival, where families can enjoy hayrides, pumpkins and visiting with farm animals.

Underwood Family Farms is another pick-your-own produce farm growing berries and a range of vegetables. They offer a wide variety of activities for families and even host birthday parties at their Family Animal Center.

One of the oldest farms in the area is Faulkner Farm. Part of UC Hansen Trust, this working farm is widely known for its agricultural educational activities and research trials. It is also famed for its Fall Pumpkin Patch – one of the largest in the area.

New Oak Ranch is typical of some of the smaller farms in the area offering a tour for visitors. On the Ojai-Santa Paula Road, it has 24 acres of lavender, Ojai Pixie tangerines, olives and walnuts.

Popular with families, Rancho Camulos is one of the oldest, continuously operated farms in California and offers docent-led tours through its historic grounds. The tours are offered several days a week and last about one hour. Dating back to the California Rancho era, the farm cultivates crops of citrus nuts, apricots and peaches.

Ventura County also has a Wine Trail. Maps are available from the Ventura Visitors.

The Ventura Visitors & Convention Bureau publishes a free guide to the Ventura County Farm Trail. Here is a sampling from the guide:

Beylik Family Farms

890 Oak Ave., Fillmore, CA 93015, (805) 524-5533; contact: Scott Beylik

Hydroponically grown tomatoes. Tours may be arranged on Saturday or by appointment. Group size limited to 20 to 25. The tour lasts 30 minutes to an hour. There is no fee.

Brokaw Nursery Inc.

1419 Lirio Ave., Saticoy, CA 93004, (805) 647-2262; contact: Larry Rose or Shelly Berg

Avocado and citrus propagation. Agricultural tours only, and two weeks advance notice is required. The nursery is open from 9a.m. to 2p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Up to 30 guests are welcome on the no-fee tours, which last about 40 minutes.

Calavo Growers

655 West Main St., Santa Paula, CA 93060, (805) 525-4461; contact: Mike Derr

Avocado packinghouse. They offer 20 to 25 minutes of orientation, then a walk-through of the plant to see how avocados are packed. Up to 40 are allowed in each group, and a five-day advance notice is requested. Tours are offered from 8 a.m. to 3p.m., Mondays through Fridays. There is no fee, and the tour lasts about an hours.

California Strawberry Festival

College Park, 3250 South Rose Ave., Oxnard, CA 93033, (805) 385-4739; contact: Patrick Mullin

An annual event, the festival is held the third weekend of May.

Central Market

Central Avenue & 101 Freeway, Camarillo, CA 93010, (805) 983-1211; contact: Phil McGrath

Family owned and operated, Central Market offers locally grown vegetables and citrus in season. Wagon rides are part of the fun from mid-February through Halloween. Special quantity rates for produce apply.

Deardorff-Jackson Co.

1120 Mountain View, Oxnard, CA 93030, (805) 487-7801; contact: David Cook

As growers and shippers of celery, cauliflower and strawberries, the company offers agricultural tours only, with a two-week advance notice required. Call for details and availability. There is no limit on a group size, and the no-fee tours last about an hour.

Faulkner Farm (UC Davis Hansen Trust Agriculture Learning Center)

14292 West Telegraph Road, Santa Paula, CA 93060, (805) 662-6948; contact: Susana Bruzzone-Miller, RD

The staff is presently growing crops for educational field trips and other demonstrations. The research area of the farm is being utilized for various variety and irrigation trials. The Trust is also continuing the long-standing Faulkner Farm tradition of a fall pumpkin patch.

Fillmore Insectary

1003 Sespe Ave., Fillmore, CA 93015, (805) 524-2733; contact: Monty Carpenter

The insectary rears beneficial insects that are released in citrus groves to control red scale and black scale that get in citrus. Visitors can see the culture rooms and learn about the rearing process. Tours are provided for groups from three to 40 with at least two days advance notice, and an appointment is needed The insectary is open from 8 a.m. to 4 .m. Monday through Friday. The no-fee tours last 30 to 45 minutes.

Fillmore Fish Hatchery

Located east of city limits on Fish Hatchery Road, 805-524-0962

The hatchery is open 365 days a year. Visitors watch as fish are fed 2,000 pounds of food per day. This is a state-run working facility. Visitors can view the long fish ponds on self-guided tours. No fishing allowed. Open daily, the hatchery’s hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Friend’s Ranch

15150 Maricopa Highway, Ojai, CA 93023, (805) 646-2871; contact: Emily Ayala

The ranch offers four different tours of citrus groves every spring by appointment. They also invite the public to stop by their packing house from 7a.m. to 2p.m. every Tuesday and Friday when staff members are present.

McGrath Family Farms

1012 W. Ventura Blvd., Camarillo, CA 93010, (805) 983-1211; contact: Paul Thurston

McGrath Family Farms is a 300-acre organic vegetable farm, established in 1871 on which an extensive array of seasonal vegetables is grown. Minimum tour group size is 20, with a maximum of 80. The cost is $7 per person and the average tour time is an hour, Tuesday through Thursday. Spring is optimal season, winter is weather permitting, and fall is all about pumpkins.

Naturipe Berry Growers

950 Industrial Ave., Oxnard, CA 93030, (805) 487-3915; contact: Jack Suhama

Strawberries are in season from April throughJuly. The no-fee tours can be arranged with two-weeks advance notice.

New Oak Ranch

9599 Ojai-Santa Paula Road, Ojai, CA 93023, (805) 640-1189 or (805) 640-1189; contact: Karen Evenden

They have 24 acres of lavender, Ojai Pixie tangerines, olives and walnuts. Tours are available by appointment.

Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market

300 E. Matilija Street, Ojai, CA 93023, (805) 698-5555; contact: Cynthia Korman

Open every Sunday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. to 1p.m., the market offers locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables harvested daily. Visitors may also find jams, honey, beeswax candles, fresh seafood, breads, olive oil, free-range eggs, nuts and dried fruit, fresh-cut flowers, orchids, drought-tolerant native plants, homemade soaps, cheese, seedlings, herbs, olives, dog treats, lavender and organic meats (duck, chicken, pork, lamb and goat).

Ojai Olive Oil

1811 Ladera Road, Ojai, CA 93023, (805) 646-5964; contact: Ron or Alice Asquith

Olive grove tours and a tasting room are available every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call five to seven days in advance for weekday tours.

Oxnard Lemon Co.

2001 Sunkist Circle, Oxnard, CA 93003, (805) 483-1173; contact: Frank Diaz

Packing tours available by appointment for groups of five or more, ages grade 3 and above. The one-hour tours are offered at $5 per person.

Pleasant Valley Flowers

3132 East Pleasant Valley Road, Oxnard, CA 93033, (805) 986-2776; contact: Mary Ellen Lane

Pleasant Valley Flowers represents the culmination of more than five generations of experience in the nursery business. Wim Zwinkels, president and founder of Pleasant Valley Flowers, has brought a unique and innovative approach to the business of growing flowers. Please call in advance for tours. Tours are offered only from June to September. The $50 fee may be waived for small groups; groups are up to 30 people, and the tour lasts from 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Rancho Camulos

P.O. Box 308, Piru, CA, (805) 521-1501; contact: Jack Infranca

One the oldest, continuously operated farms in California, Rancho Camulos offers hour-long, docent-led tours through the historic grounds, which include discussion on the agricultural past and present. Throughout its long history, Rancho Camulos has had a diverse and rich agricultural history. The first oranges grown and shipped commercially from what is now Ventura County were from the Camulos Ranch in 1876. In addition to the annual crops of citrus, almonds, walnuts, apricots, peaches, wheat, corn and barley, grapevines were also cultivated at Camulos for the production of wine and brandy. Regular tours are Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, with a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children. There is a fruit stand on premises.

Regalo Olive Oil

Omaggio Farm, 283 Carne Road, Ojai, CA 93023, (805) 272-5811

The farm produces estate-grown, cold-pressed, pesticide-free, hand-harvested extra virgin olive oil, and tours are available only by appointment.

San Miguel Produce

4444 Naval Air Road, Oxnard, CA 93030, (805) 488-4407; contact: Terry Humphrey

Th epremier grower/producer of cooking vegetables offers tours focusing on handling of products, cooling method, inventory, packing and shipping. The company requires two weeks advance notice for the no-fee, hour-long tours; please call for availability and reservations for groups from five to 20.

Santa Paula Christmas Tree Farm

18540 East Telegraph Road, Santa Paula, CA 93060, (805) 525-8268; contact: Ralph or Thursel Roatcap

They offer farm tours throughout the year between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. for groups of eight to 10 people. Please call five to seven days in advance to make reservations. The no-fee tours last about 45 minutes. (For seasonal tours, call for availability.) The farm is open for tree cuttings from 9 a.m. to dusk from the Friday after Thanksgiving through Christmas. You choose and cut the tree, supplies are provided. Free candy canes are offered, and the Fillmore Western Railway stops at the tree farm during the Christmas season (there is an additional fee for the train ride).

Santa Paula Citrus Festival

Harding Park, 1330 E. Harvard Blvd., Santa Paula, CA 93060, (805) 933-4226; contact: info@ci.santa-paula.ca.us

The 42nd annual event celebrating the legacy of citrus will be held July 17-19: Friday 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday noon to 11 p.m. This family-friendly event includes a parade, food competition, car show, vendors and more.

Tierra Rejada Ranch

3370 Moorpark Road, Moorpark, CA 93021, (805) 529-3690 or (805) 523-8552; contact: Russell Blades

The ranch contains 80 acres of pick-your-own vegetables and fruit: tomatoes, green beans, artichokes, cucumbers, apricots, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and a wide range of salad vegetables. In October, there are pumpkins, hayrides and farm animals to pet. While not a formal tour, the staff can accommodate large groups. The ranch is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., daily from March 1 to December 1. The Fall Harvest Festival is open every day during October. There is no fee for any of the activities.

Underwood Family Farms

3370 Sunset Valley Road, Moorpark, CA 93021, (805) 529-3690; contact: Lee, Terri or Denise

Underwood Family Farms is a grower of a wide variety of fresh vegetable and fruits. They offer activities including pick-your-own produce, birthday parties at the Family Animal Center, school tours, gift baskets and a Fall Harvest Festival in October. Tours are based upon availability and include pick-your-own produce for $6/person, a two-tour combo (berry or vegetable or animal) for $12/person, and a three-tour combo (berry, vegetable and animal) for $14/person. All tours under 20 people will be charged for at least a 20-person price. Underwood Family Farms closes the weekend before Christmas through March 1

Ventura County Certified Farmers’ Markets

Contact: Janis Flippen (jflippenpr@roadrunner.com)

Held at various locations throughout the week, this local farmers’ market network features the freshest fruit, vegetables, nuts, eggs, bakery items, fresh cut flowers and potted plants. At the downtown Ventura location, chef’s tours are available (arranged in advance) featuring Slow Food Guru Chef Tim Kilcoyne of the SideCar Restaurant.

Ventura County Wine Trail

Self-guided tour using maps available at the Ventura Visitors Center, 101 S. California St., Ventura, CA, 93001, (805) 648-2075

Stops include: Rancho Ventavo Cellars, Bella Victorian Vineyard & Winery, Cantara Cellars, Stafford Premium Wines & Camarillo Custom Crush, Herzog Wine Cellars, Old Creek Ranch Winery and Casa Barranca Winery.