Seabreeze Organic Farm
A food-producing CSA in Carmel Valley
Forty years ago, when Stephenie Coughlin opened Seabreeze Organic Farm, it was among several privately owned, food-producing farms that dotted the Carmel Valley landscape. Now, she says, Seabreeze is the last one still in operation.
As we begin walking the almost-2-acre property, the sun slants through leaves and branches and we hear the sweet lilt of birds and the drone of bumblebees. The garden extends from her home (two quaint World War II Camp Callan houses melded together as one that sits on a bluff overlooking Torrey Pines State Park and the ocean) toward a color-filled slope of blooms, along vegetable plots, to a little gate just beyond a mulberry tree, which opens to a nasturtium patch (“we make capers out of nasturtium seed”) and a little path that wends its way toward Penasquitos Preserve and Carmel Mountain Conservancy.
When I comment on the amount of work this farm must be, Stephenie says, “Look me in the eye and show me some sympathy” but you can sense how much joy this habitat gives her. “Not that I’m complaining,” she quickly adds. “I love it. It’s a happy place that just brings your blood pressure down.”
She explains that this is a CSA (Community Sponsored Agricultural) farm, meaning they do not sell to the general public. Produce goes directly from the grower to the consumer by subscription. “Farming is so expensive, we don’t put anything in the ground until it’s been sold.”
We head back up the slope and I see arugula, leeks, scallions, sprouts, kohlrabi, tomatoes, Swiss chard, kale, celery, sweet turnip, squash and European lettuce. Stephenie says that there isn’t much they don’t grow. She pulls out a squash, breaks it in thirds, and gives us each a third. “You can’t do that on a commercial farm,” she says, and I’m guessing she’s alluding to their use of chemicals. I’m surprised at the sweetness of the zucchini. “There is real food here,” she tells us. “It has depth to it.” And color, I think, as I look at the deep red tint on the chard. She explains that a lateral growing garden on our left uses less water and rabbits can’t get to it. “We get assaulted from the air and the ground.”
Two or three volunteers come regularly. Today they are harvesting and cleaning beets as well as picking flowers to dry in a chest that Stephenie converted into a dehydrator by replacing a drawer with a pull-out screen and adding a light. “Once a week, Camp Pendleton marines come with their families to help out too.”
I hear a clucking sound and learn that the farm keeps a handful of chickens “who live better than some humans” and that eggs are another produce available to members. We pass by a little cottage. Turns out, that’s a gallery, exhibiting Stephenie’s watercolors. Apparently, she not only has the farm to keep her busy, she also paints and teaches art classes in the property’s greenhouse studio. “We do cooking classes, too,” she says, “and backyard concerts every once in a while. And weddings.”
A volunteer-built, one-bedroom strawbale house used as an Airbnb—“a space that brings a taste for glamping and ecological awareness,” says the description on the AllTheRooms site—also brings in a little extra money to keep the farm chugging along.
Stephenie sighs as she looks out at the flower field. “Little by little the wildlife is coming back,” she says and notes that eventually she would like to set up a foundation for a military retreat. “It will be a world gone by if I don’t turn Seabreeze into a foundation.”