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Farmers Market:
Farmer Couple
Leslie Robson | Lois Lane

Norma Lopez. Photo Leslie Robson.
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Norma and Ruben Lopez love what they do. With sustainability as their mantra and a great appreciation for what well cared for soil can do for produce, the couple have been farming on 15 leased acres in Valley Center for four years. Behneman Farm, originally 100 acres, was owned by Norma’s side of the family since 1971. Norma worked with her aunt at farmer’s markets for years prior to beginning her own farm with her husband.

The young couple began farming by working the land with a trial-and-error outlook, visiting other farms and letting successes and failures inform their decisions about what they grow. They farm by hand, trying to not disturb the soil too much, tilling with forks, weeding by hand, feeding the soil with homemade year-old compost. They do not use a tractor, which can compact the soil, and use drip irrigation from their well. Their labor is shared. Ruben runs the greenhouse, where veggies are started, and he does the pruning and watering. Norma is in charge of planting, weeding and harvesting. An uncle helps out when there is a need and a friend helps with market sales.“ We feed the soil, so it can feed the plants,” explained Norma.

All types of vegetables grow between and under the fruit and avocado trees. Bees pollinate and produce honey. The avocado trees don’t thrive with well water, due to the high mineral content, so the couple must buy municipal water, which, along with electricity to run the water pumps, is their biggest expense. A large portion of the avocados are sold to a packing house, with the rest being sold at seven farmers markets around San Diego County, including of course Del Mar as well as Carlsbad and Lucadia. Besides avocados and honey, lucky shoppers can find all kinds of citrus and stone fruit, heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers, greens and herbs, garlic and onions, squash and corn, and many other seasonal items.
Due to the extremely high cost of certification for a small farm like theirs, Ruben and Norma are not certified as an organic farm, although they do not use pesticides or herbicides. Aphids are controlled by ladybugs and hornworms are manually removed at night with the aid of a black light.

When asked what the biggest challenge, besides the cost of water, is in their business, Norma said, “there are so many rules and regulations in San Diego County compared to neighboring counties, and the filing of paperwork is so expensive.” But the rewards for now are great. “We aren’t going to get rich, but we just love it. From feeding the soil, to planting, to harvesting, the whole process - it’s what we love.”

You can visit Behneman Farm at the Del Mar Farmers Market every Saturday between 1:00 and 4:00 and talk to Norma about her beautiful produce, her farm and her soil.


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