Jeff Barnouw | Amphitheatre Drive
|Ray and Clarissa Balcom. Photo Jeff Barnouw.
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You will find a wide variety of exotic produce at our Farmers Market every Saturday if you stop by the Ray Subtropical Farm booth. Ray Balcom and his wife Clarissa back up the name “Subtropical” by getting their land to bring forth a wide variety of exotic produce. A “Certified Producer’s Certificate,” posted near the stall lists 125 varieties along with the number of plants, bushes, trees, or square feet under cultivation. The overall variety is a result of Ray’s and Clarissa’s desire to offer something different, many diverse new tastes to wake up one’s palate.
There is, for example, the Surinam (or Eugenia) cherry, which looks more like a wavy pepper. We’re a long way from Surinam, but their trees like the (micro) climate so much they produce 4 or 5 crops a year. There are three kinds of sapote, black (something like a chocolate persimmon, scarcely related to the more familiar Fuyu and Hachiya persimmons), white (like caramel vanilla pudding, says Ray), and chico (which he likens to a pear soaked in maple syrup). The Balcoms have 18 Mulberry trees but no silk worms. They have several unfamiliar kinds of grapefruit on display, hybrids that resulted from cloning at UC Riverside.
Some customers buy plants to propagate their own produce, such as the Dragon fruit or Pitahaya a friend of mine is nursing along. That plant is related to the tropical guava, which comes in white (South African) or red (Malasian). And last but certainly not least the eggs: from chickens, yes, but also turkeys (2 for $3) and ducks
($1 ea). Does that seem steep? Clarissa tells me they make no money on their eggs. A sign reads, “You just pay for the cost of the organic non-GMO feed,” which isn’t cheap. They had 9 duck eggs for sale on March 16. Would I know the difference if I were eating a duck egg? Yes, she says.
Ray and Clarissa are keen on ecologically responsible farming. They generate their own power; the farm is “off grid” and self-sufficient. They have run the farm for 15 years, after 8 years of searching for the right property. Ray was an environmental scientist who for one stretch was a waste water inspector for San Diego County. A few of the requisite skills carried over to farming.
When they’re not raising fruit, vegetables, and a son who has just been accepted at several UC campuses, they have been experimenting with rammed earth construction. In their version this involves using local soil with a 10% addition of Portland Cement, stronger than adobe or brick and reinforced throughout by rebar.