Crafting wild fermented foods packed with flavor and probiotic benefits is our passion, and we couldn’t do it without local growers who are as dedicated to quality as we are. You can’t make delicious food without great ingredients, yet farmers often don’t get the recognition they deserve. At wildbrine, we think farmers are rock stars, so we’d like to shine a spotlight on one of our favorite organic produce partners: Lakeside Organic Gardens.
Based in Watsonville, on California’s Central Coast, Lakeside is the country’s largest family-owned, 100 percent organic vegetable grower and shipper. Founder Dick Peixoto fell in love with farming at an early age, tending green beans on his family’s 55-acre farm in the Pajaro Valley and visiting local ranches with his father—a pesticide salesman. Once he began farming on his own, Dick became frustrated with the conventional side of the business; what he really wanted was to take care of the land and grow his crops without synthetic pesticides or chemicals. Many of his grower friends told him he was nuts, but Dick didn’t listen. In 1996, he went all in with organic farming, and that’s when Lakeside Organic Gardens was born.
Today Dick and his family—including his children, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and cousins—farm 3,000 acres of land over two locations in the Pajaro and Imperial Valleys. All of Lakeside’s farmland is organic, planted with more than 50 varieties of non-GMO produce (as required to be certified organic), including artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chicories, lettuces, herbs, spinach and radishes.
Farming organically isn’t just about foregoing pesticides and chemicals. Without the protections those materials provide, farms are vulnerable to a variety of crop-destroying insects, pests and diseases. That means organic farmers have to find creative ways to keep their produce healthy. To Dick, good farming is all about the soil, so he plants nitrogen-rich cover crops and uses crop rotation techniques to make sure the soil has the proper nutrients. When bad bugs show up, the Lakeside team plants flowers to attract beneficial insects, or brings in “good” bugs—like ladybugs—to discourage the invaders.
The company has also gotten creative with less-than-perfect produce that can’t be sold in grocery stores. Instead of tilling the veggies back into the soil as many farmers do, Lakeside makes them available for “ugly produce” subscription boxes. “Something that might have a blemish or an imperfection now goes into these boxes that are delivered to customers’ doors,” explains Marilese McWherter, Lakeside’s Creative Marketing Manager. “It’s helping to feed America, which is a really cool thing.”
We’ve been buying red and green cabbage from Lakeside Organic Gardens for a little over two years now, and we’ve come to admire them as people and as farmers. Our companies share a love of the land, a strong belief in supporting local growers, and a fierce dedication to providing folks with delicious, healthy food.
“The biggest thing we love about wildbrine is that they embrace organic, just like us,” McWherter says. “And they’re family owned and operated, and love cabbage!”
We couldn’t agree more, and we couldn’t be happier to have Lakeside as an organic produce partner. You can taste the Peixoto family’s dedication in every jar of wildbrine’s kimchi, sauerkraut and salsa.