Food & Drink

Peacock Farms spreads its wings in Arroyo Grande

Peacock Farms in Arroyo Grande is also home to Peacock Cellars, where tours and tastings are available by appointment.
Peacock Farms in Arroyo Grande is also home to Peacock Cellars, where tours and tastings are available by appointment. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Peacock Farms is known for selling tomatoes year-round at local farmers markets, but since starting locally in 1998, the business has unfurled into several other concepts, including a pumpkin patch, farm stand, wine label and wedding venue.

A fifth-generation farmer from California’s San Joaquin Valley, Jessica Peacock grew up on her family’s small farm in Dinuba. The Peacocks began selling at San Luis Obispo County farmers markets in the mid-1980s; she was a fixture at their booth starting at age 5.

“When it came time to go to college, (my choice) was definitely going to be Cal Poly,” Peacock said. While there, she took over the Peacock Farms farmers market booths and wholesale deliveries to restaurants. “It was how I put myself through school,” she said.

It was at Cal Poly that Peacock met her future husband, Logan Nichols, “a natural at farming,” she said.

While she was staffing her family’s booths during college, Peacock noticed that “the markets were flooded with tomatoes in summer, but there was a shortage in winter.”

Seeing an opportunity, she did an internship at a tomato greenhouse operation in her sophomore year at Cal Poly. Then she and Nichols started thinking about starting their own business.

The concept looked great on paper, “But who’s going to lease land for greenhouses to a couple of college students?” they wondered. As luck would have it, a friend’s uncle was willing to do so, and the Arroyo Grande outpost of Peacock Farms was established in 1998 with a single greenhouse.

Peacock wrote her senior project on the fledgling business, and a year later, Nichols wrote his on the feasibility of expanding it. Peacock and her husband, who graduated from Cal Poly with agricultural business degrees in 2000 and 2001 respectively, now operate several tomato greenhouses on the leased acreage. It’s also home to wine grapes, other row crops and a prolific seasonal pumpkin patch.

A fixture at several farmers markets in San Luis Obispo County, the Peacock Farms booth is always easy to spot. You’ll see mounds of tomatoes bursting with ripeness, and a crowd of people waiting to purchase them.

The tomatoes are “picked the day before the market,” Peacock said, “and they’re vine-ripened year-round.”

The Peacock Farms booth is also very popular for its bins of soft tomatoes. The reduced-price goodies are a little beyond the peak of performance for salads and sandwiches, but they’re perfect for sauces and soups.

Other produce is available as well, including stone fruit from the family’s Dinuba farm.

At the Saturday morning market in San Luis Obispo, Peacock always has two very willing helpers: her children, 6-year-old Wyatt Nichols and 11-year-old Rebecca Nichols. “They’re a huge part of what we do, and they love being a part of it all,” their mother said.

Peacock and her husband got the idea for another aspect of their business while driving to their tomato greenhouses. Along Los Berros Road in Arroyo Grande was a circa 1900s farm house and abandoned walnut orchard that had seen better days.

The resourceful duo worked up a business plan with the property functioning as a family farm and a wedding venue. With that in place, they were able to connect the financial dots and buy the land in 2004.

With a lot of hard work, they breathed new life into the house and property. Now, it’s their family home, a neighborhood farm stand, an additional greenhouse site and The Gardens at Peacock Farms wedding venue. Amenities include an idyllic orchard for the nuptials, as well as a bridal suite appointed in picture-perfect vintage decor.

In 2009, the couple decided to add estate winemaking to the mix. The Peacock Cellars label includes chardonnay, pinot noir, tempranillo, barbera, sangiovese, syrah and red wine blends. It’s also available for purchase (although not tasting) at the farmers market booth “because we are growing what we sell,” Peacock explained.

Like many wineries, Peacock Cellars has a wine club, but this one hosts events of a different variety than most.

“At our wine club parties, we do things like can tomatoes or make peach jam,” Peacock said. “I want to bring people together as a community, to show people how I grew up and for them to know that little farms like ours still exist.”

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

Peacock Farms

2018 Los Berros Road, Arroyo Grande

805-474-5600, 805-431-0226 or thegardensatpeacockfarms.com

A farm stand and pumpkin display are at the Los Berros Road location. Peacock Farms attends the farmers market in Cambria on Friday, and the San Luis Obispo and Templeton farmers markets on Saturdays.

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