According to research by the University of California, Santa Barbara, more than 99% of the produce grown in this county is exported, and local farmer Alex Frecker is on a mission to change that. Starting with four acres in Carpinteria, he hopes to build relationships with customers that can lead to a total overhaul on the current state of the food consumption in Santa Barbara county.
With the exception of one Los Angeles-area farmers market, all of the fruits and vegetables grown on Frecker Farms stays in the county, going directly to Community Supported Agriculture customers, or to local vendors like the Isla Vista Food Co-op and Harvest Santa Barbara.
Owning his own farm and advocating for the local food movement is a dream come true for Alex, and he has at least one other local farmer to thank. When Alex was 12, he was introduced to John Givens, founder of Givens Farm in the Goleta Valley. Throughout high school, John was Alex’s mentor, teaching him the tenets of organic farming with its regard for the environment and emphasis on the conservation of soil and water quality. After graduating with a degree in business economics from the University of California, Irvine, Alex returned to Santa Barbara and began working full time for Givens Farm. He immersed himself in the farm’s daily activities, from rototilling and managing drip lines to harvesting and processing vegetables.
“I learned so much about sustainable growing practices,” he says. “If I had been working on a conventional farm somewhere else, I may not have come to appreciate what organic really means.”
Evidence of the many lessons learned at Givens Farm is apparent all over Frecker Farms. “John Givens taught me the value of using appropriate technology for each job,” he says, as he wraps black electrical tape around a small leak in a length of drip line. “Appropriate technology” means not using more resources than you need to accomplish a task. Alex takes this to heart; he uses drip lines rather than overhead sprinklers so that he doesn’t waste water when he irrigates his fields, and at times he’ll choose not to use machinery when doing it by hand works just as well.
“This is my processing area,” he smiles, indicating a rustic wooden table and crates under a shelter next to his fields. “That’s how far your produce travels to be processed!” This is in stark contrast to supermarket produce, which often has to travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to get to a dinner plate.
Now at the helm of his own operation, Alex is striving to teach people to care about where their food comes from, how it was grown, and who grew it. “Fifty years ago, you knew your barber, grocer, mailman, milkman and doctor by name,” he says. “I think we’ve lost a lot of that human element, especially in the food sector.”
Alex works to build relationships with his customers and find out what they want and need. “It’s so nice to step out from the grind and have direct contact with those who eat and appreciate organically grown produce. I think that my relationship with the consumer will help me to become a better farmer.”
Alex acknowledges that organically-grown produce comes at a premium, but argues that the cost difference is less than what one would assume. “What we’re seeing is the processes and techniques of small organic farming increasingly being applied to larger-scale industrial farms. This has been bringing the price of organic produce down over the last several years.” In Alex’s future vision, local and organic will be the baseline standard, instead of the exception.