After working as a restaurant cook for 25 years, Javier Magana knows his way around food. Lately, he’s been taking that knowledge to a new level — ground level.
For the past five years, Magana has been a farmer. Officially, he sells under the name Red Barn Farms, but most people just call him “Suave Jave.”
Magana sells his freshly picked produce at a few San Luis Obispo County farmers markets and to several local restaurants and caterers. He’ll also be one of the producers featured as part of the recently launched CSA (community supported agriculture) program from Central Coast Grown; he leases six acres of farmland from the nonprofit organization’s City Farm in San Luis Obispo.
Magana’s career switch was precipitated by a car crash that sidelined him from restaurant work. “I just started planting in our yard,” he said.
To help him regain his health, Magana’s wife, Julia Gomez, started juicing the fresh produce he grew at home. Her approach worked, leading the couple to launch their own business, Julia’s Juices.
Julia’s Juices were originally available just at local farmers markets. In addition, the couple opened a storefront in Grover Beach a year and a half ago and began serving a broader menu of healthy fare.
To supply the growing juice business with fresh produce, Magana dug into farming full-time.
At first, he ramped up his backyard operation in Arroyo Grande and named it for the red barn on the property. A year ago, he started renting land from City Farm, located just off the corner of Los Osos Valley Road and Highway 101.
Magana grows a wide variety of produce on the six-acre leased parcel. Among his crops are kale, celery, lettuce, leeks, spinach, zucchini, peas, green beans, beets, tomatoes, chard, cilantro and parsley. Recently, he’s added broccoli and cauliflower to the mix, as well as blueberries, which have surprised him with their success in the clay-rich soil.
Though his operation is not certified as organic, Magana farms as such — just as he did in Arroyo Grande.
“You can see weeds, but weeding is part of my work,” he said.
Gesturing towards the neat rows of new and almost ready to pick produce, he added, “These are my babies.”
That produce is as fresh as fresh can get, in part “because I don’t have any room for storage, so everything is picked that day for delivery,” Magana explained.
Among his steadfast customers are Russ and Heather Thomas of Two Cooks Catering, LLC, in San Luis Obispo. The husband-and-wife team walks the walk as far as using local, organic, sustainable and fresh ingredients in their catering business, so Red Barn Farms fits them to a T.
“We’ve known the family for years and know he doesn’t use any sprays,” Heather Thomas said. “Javier will also deliver to us if we’re placing a big order, and if we’re feeling up for a field trip, he lets us pick some of our order ourselves.” (If the couple chooses to pick up the order, it’s not a long drive; Magana’s farmland is just across the highway from their commercial kitchen.)
The Thomases utilize Suave Jave’s produce year-round. Currently, “We’re using baby lettuces for our green salads,” Russ Thomas said. “With the kales, we’ll sauté them up and add them to some of the burritos we sell to Coastal Peaks (Coffee in San Luis Obispo).”
To use the gold beets, “We roast them, then chill them to go into our green salads, and also as an ingredient in our gold beet tartar appetizer,” Thomas added.
His advice for cooking zucchini and other summer squash is simple: “Grill them up!”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red Barn Farms
For information on City Farm’s new CSA program, go to http://centralcoastgrown.org/city-farm/csa-farm-stand/.