Open Farm Tours (OFT) returns Oct. 8 and 9, offering the community a chance to visit organic farms, meet local farmers and learn about how their food is grown.
The event, which has been held for the past nine years, is more than doubling the number of farms participating compared to 2021. Penny Ellis, a founder and organizer of OFT, says they only had seven farms last year, and even less in 2020.
“Farms weren’t signing up—for good reason,” she said. “But we still wanted to do this, we thought it was important to keep something going. Honestly, I feel like one of the reasons we’re in this pandemic is that people haven’t been great at connecting with nature, our food, and how we fit into the ecological system. Which is what our event is all about.”
OFT invites the community to visit 15 different organic farms, ranches, nurseries and wineries across the Pajaro Valley. Each farm has its own offerings, from U-Picks and tastings to compost demonstrations and cow feeding. Most farms have retail items to purchase and some offer food and drink.
Four farms are joining OFT for the first time this year, including specialty produce-growers Mariquita Farm, and organic co-op Esperanza Farms in Watsonville, as well as eco-arts farm Terra Cultura in Aromas and Pajaro Pastures Ranch in Corralitos.
Pajaro Pastures is run by Ryan Abelson, who founded the ranch in 2012. He produces pork, eggs, lamb and beef utilizing regenerative and sustainable methods. In addition to daily OFT offerings, Abelson has scheduled two special tours that include a farm-to-table dinner later in the evening.
“This is the first time we’re doing something like this,” Ellis said. “It was all Ryan’s idea. It should be a great addition to the event.”
Also new this year, OFT is partnering with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a nonprofit aiming to build sustainable food and farming systems for family farms, communities and ecosystems through policy advocacy and on-the-ground programs. CAFF was named a 2021 California Nonprofit of the Year.
The partnership will help OFT expand next year, allowing it to reach into nearby San Benito and Monterey counties. Having the support of a nonprofit like CAFF is game-changing, Ellis said, as it presents opportunities for funding and networking.
“The great thing about CAFF is that they are a network of not just farms, but also businesses and other organizations who work at promoting regenerative and small family farms,” she said. “It’s more of a cooperative of different people who have all these different specialties. I’ve been doing these farm tours pretty much on my own for nine years, so it’s great to have an organization like CAFF to work with.”
Open Farm Tours will be held Oct. 8 and 9. A fundraising reception and happy hour will be held this Sunday from 4:30-7pm at Whiskey Hill Farm in Watsonville. The tiki-themed event will feature presentations, food and drink, a tour of the farm’s tropical forest greenhouse, and more. Tickets to the reception are available on Eventbrite.
“We are so excited to have so many farms participating this year, so people can get out and learn about how they’re growing our food,” Ellis said. “We are so lucky to live here with so many wonderful places to get out and see.”