On Monday, June 26th owner Lucila De Alejandro announced that Suzie’s Farm will close. Having started in 2009 with a mere three acres, the farm offered a CSA (community supported agriculture program) and sold produce at many venues throughout San Diego County. Over the last eight years, the farm expanded to cover 140 acres and grew over 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables. In 2011 they introduced chickens to the property and sold fresh eggs.
Located in the Tijuana River Valley, a mere three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, the region was once filled with dairy and vegetable farmers. In the 1980s, however, the United States had a milk surplus and the federal government paid farmers to either slaughter or export their cattle. Real estate developers recognized an opportunity and bought much of the farmland to construct suburban homes.
Suzie’s Farm was one of the last remaining active farms in the South Bay. Encouraging San Diego County residents to learn about how food is grown and get to know their farmer, Suzie’s hosted many popular events on the property, including Pumpkin Palooza, children’s summer camps and cooking classes. Each weekend they had a farm stand and gave tours.
But Suzie’s faced many challenges. In a goodbye video on their Facebook page, De Alejandro explained, “We were buoyed with support from our San Diego community and we started to offer farm tours. We were able to enter into farmer’s markets and our CSA grew as did our notoriety. What didn’t grow were our profits. If you have followed along on our blog for the last eight years, you’ve known the struggles that we’ve had financially to make Suzie’s Farm be a profitable business here in San Diego County, especially where we are, which is not in an agricultural area of San Diego.”
Part of the property was located on land that allowed only city water rates. Therefore, Suzie’s was charged the same rates as residences rather than agricultural. Then, De Alejandro would see individuals leaving the property having picked many bags of food for free. Equipment was stolen over the years. Even their tepee vanished one night. Restaurants would make one small order, announce they served Suzie’s organic produce, but then would never order from them again.
In a phone interview, De Alejandro said, “They would leave us on their menu and not correct the menu. There’s a current restaurant in San Diego County that has never ordered from us, but when you go into their restaurant they have our name all over.”
Last year, Suzie’s Farm already teetered on the brink of calling it quits. Each week they were losing money into the five-digit figures. Then, some of Suzie's clients, a trio of brothers whose parents had started a certified organic farm in the Sacramento Valley, came forward and provided them with finances and expertise. A year later, the farm was still unable to become profitable.
De Alejandro slowly let go of 100 acres throughout 2016. She leased additional land from the County of San Diego and now has given notice that Suzie’s will vacate by December. De Alejandro hopes to have a few last plantings through the summer.
She and her husband Robin Taylor will continue to operate their sprout and wheatgrass company, Sun Grown Organic Distributors — a 5-acre property that began in 1984 and moved to the Tijuana River Valley in 1991.