In this day of the $6 cup of coffee, when bragging rights mean knowing not only the varietal but the beans’ latitude, anything exotic gets the antennae waving. Which may explain why Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics is inundated with requests to visit his north Santa Barbara County farm, where he is the only person cultivating coffee in California. He’s been turning down the requests—until now. This month the curious can sign up online for an agritour and the chance to see how Ruskey coaxes a plant inextricably tied to Latin America and Africa to flourish on U.S. soil.
The coffee-growing experiment is part of the UC small farms initiative, which supplied Ruskey with bushes and an expert, Mark Gaskell, who has worked in Central America. While coffee is normally grown at altitudes approaching thousands of feet, Ruskey’s farm sits at 650. The beans thrive in his coastal canyon largely because of the lack of extreme cold or heat and the low winds.
He now has 470 trees in the ground, which would fill half an acre if they had been planted in a continuous block. By chance, he planted the young trees among mature avocado trees and found that the two were good companions, as the coffee benefited from the rich soil generated by the avocado trees’ mulch.
…his mature trees are mostly Typica, the Arabica type from which most others developed, and Caturra, a mutation of Bourbon discovered in Brazil. He also has 100 young trees of Geisha, a rare Panamanian strain of Ethiopian origin, legendary for its superb quality.
He is sufficiently convinced of the feasibility of his project that he and Gaskell are working to organize a Santa Barbara coffee growers association with several other farmers who have planted or committed to planting coffee trees.