Chino Farms

February 8, 2012 · 13 comments

Last summer, I was invited to dinner at my friend’s parents’ house atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  As if that weren’t enough of a treat, I was served the sweetest corn on the cob I had ever had the pleasure of gnawing on, the ear’s yellow teeth yielding to my bite with a sugary pop.  I simply had to know where my gracious hosts had acquired such golden bounty.  Chino Farms, came the response.

Soon after that delicious evening, I found myself tracking down this tiny farm run by the Chino Family.  My hosts had told me that, back in the day, the Chinos had acquired the land in Rancho Santa Fe for a bit of a bargain:  the land wasn’t considered prime real estate — it was a little too swampy, slightly too far from the ocean, and not on one of the nearby hills that overlook the sprawling valley below — but the soil was perfect for growing any number of delicious fruits and vegetables.

I later learned from a meal at the fabulously fancy George’s at the Cove and online sources that San Diego foodies and restaurateurs alike rely on produce from Chino Farms.  The only thing folks seem to grumble about is the price.  Undeterred, I arrived one Tuesday morning in October.  That sugary corn was still in season, as were little strawberries that were the juiciest, most strawberriest of my life.  It was all the Mister and I could do to not devour the whole punnet on the ride home…

The stand is a little out of my way, otherwise I would have returned before last week, my second visit.  I vow to go more often, because the drive is a lovely one — a winding road with a 45mph speed limit (my favourite speed — fast enough to get from A to B, but slow enough to enjoy the scenery!) past Del Díos Lake, and through a valley of lush semi-tropical California vegetation that reminds me so much of Spain.

Twenty minutes later, past the lake, I turned onto the driveway leading up to a wide wooden shack.  It is a simple structure, but the fruits, vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers on display are the jewels in the crown.  Here’s what I admired / bought on my visit last week:

Maybe it’s the New Yorker in me used to a higher cost of living, but I was pleasantly surprised how reasonable prices are.  Considering that everything is grown locally and without the use of pesticides, I think prices are quite fair.  All of this cost me $17 –  not that much more expensive than in a supermarket chain:

Clockwise from top: broccolini, sage, parsnips, purple broccoli, Meyer lemons, oranges, carrots.

Later that evening, I cut the carrots and knobbly parsnips into strips and roasted them in the oven (400˚F for 20 mins.) with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sea salt.  They were a wonderful accompaniment to the sautéed broccoli and broccolini which enjoyed a squeeze of lemon — the lemons, incidentally, were perfectly sour, but also incredibly sweet.

Banjo is curious about citrus fruits (presumably because they are like brightly coloured balls with a crazy smell) and eyed the quartet on the counter for a while before gingerly licking the peel.  I cut one and licked the flesh inside and squealed –  better than any sour candy.  Dessert was an orange each; and I can’t remember a sweeter one.

Over dinner, I turned to the Mister and declared that, with produce like this, it would be so easy to be vegetarian.  I’d rather spend the money saved on meat and put it towards fruits and vegetables that have been grown with love.  You can taste the difference.  He concurred.

As for the sage, with its heady medicinal perfume… it was thrown in a little frothy butter the next day and served on top of a bowl of pumpkin ravioli.

Come Friday, I might return for a beets to make borscht, along with some buttery lettuce, nasturtiums (edible flowers!), more citrus and knobbly parsnips… Watch this space!


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina February 11, 2012 at 09:38

O the pain! O the pain! They don’t have a website and this made me hungry!!! Great post and great pics Lauren!


2 Lauren February 13, 2012 at 09:27

Thanks, Tina! Time for me to wipe the drool from my chin too…


3 San February 13, 2012 at 03:42

Your Blog is really nice! great ideas around here, and beautiful pictures by the way! i’m intrigued about what you say here “semi-tropical California vegetation that reminds me so much of Spain”, I’m from Spain and I will love to see a place like that so far from here. It’s true that we have (kind) of the same weather, with the mediterranian sea. ;)


4 Lauren February 13, 2012 at 09:38

¡Muchísimas gracias, San! Encantada a conocerte :) Where are you from in Spain? You’re right that the climate here in San Diego is very similar – particularly to Andalucía, where I grew up. But I think the plants and trees here are strikingly similar too. There are more palm trees and cacti here, but the colour of the earth, the trees and bushes are all familiar to me. Mira:

Un besote a mi patria y un abrazo a mi nueva amiguita,

Lauren (Lorena)


5 San February 14, 2012 at 07:24

woww!! really beautiful I would really reeaaaaaally loove to go there…….Soo… you speak Spanish??? yo soy de Barcelona, asi que tengo la playa muy muy cerquita!! encantada de pasarme por aquí, lo haré más a menudo! Gracias! ;)


6 Lauren March 2, 2012 at 14:28

Porsupuesto, hablo español — aunque mi accento sea un poquito andaluz los hispanos me entienden aquí en los EEUU. ¡Ojalá tuviera la misma suerte hablando con los americanos en mi accento inglés, jajaja!

Todavía no conozco a BCN pero me gustaría visitarla un día. Cuando sea, nos irémos de tapas :)


7 Arlene M Coleman February 19, 2012 at 16:03

What a wonderful post. Your pictures make me long for Summer and Fall. We have a wonderful place here – Solebury Orchards – where we can go for fresh produce and either purchase or pick your own. I like going to pick blueberries, peaches, and apples to make pies to stock up for family dinners during the winter months. They don’t grow their own veggies but are usually well stocked by other local growers. Great fun!! I tried roasting vegetables for the first time yesterday – will certainly be doing it again!:)


8 Lauren March 2, 2012 at 14:30

Thanks, Arlene! Your pies sound just wonderful. I was never “into” apple pie until I discovered MOM’s pies in Julian, CA. I just love their Apple Boysenberry Crumble Pie… it’s to die for.

So glad you were successful roasting your root veggies! Perhaps you’d like to share your recipe for apple pie in a guest post?


9 Jasmine March 1, 2012 at 13:04

Yup, now we suffer for the desperate want of these delicious things. Jewel? Yes, they look worthy of the title! AS a vegetarian, i would like to say YES to all of the above. ;)


10 Lauren March 2, 2012 at 14:12

Oh, you MUST go to Chino Farms the next time you’re in North County. I think they are open Saturday mornings.

When we finally have our own place, you and your other half must come over for dinner! This might be a few months away yet… but do you like Indian cuisine? It’s my favourite way to prepare vegetarian food.


11 Dave June 6, 2012 at 18:56

My wife is very tight with the Chino family. In fact, everyone in her immediate family has worked at that vegetable stand at one point or another. I wish more farms existed like Chinos.


12 Lauren June 6, 2012 at 20:57

What a coincidence! I wish there were more like it too.


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