“Between the two of us Anjou and I have 75 years of being vegan under our belt. There came a point early on when we felt such a strong disconnect between our vegan values and our use of fertilizers from the meat, dairy, and fishing business that we just couldn’t do that any more. We are proud to say our farms have been veganic now for about 30 years.” -Jaime, The Date People
Originally from Michigan and Florida, Jaime and Anjou own Southern California based farm Rancho Gecko and are universally known as The Date People.
The Date People is a small sustainable farm and wildlife refuge in the Southern California Desert with five acres planted in date palms producing 12 heirloom date varieties. The fruit they sell is never heated, frozen or altered from its natural state in any way.
We were excited to have the opportunity to have some dialogue with Jaime about their farming history, dates and perspectives on veganic agriculture for our ongoing series on veganic agriculture and farming.
Interview with The Date People
The “History” section at your website has some great background information about your journey to becoming involved in organic farming. But why specifically dates? How did it unfold that you now exclusively farm dates?
Jaime: Upon arriving in Southern California in 1980 I immediately fell in love with the date palm and this interesting, unique, and highly skilled form of agriculture. I had loved eating dates, but had no idea they they grew into 60 foot tall palm trees!
I worked the date gardens seasonally for the next 5 years for two different organic growers before starting my own organic farming operation in 1985. The fact that dates are a specialty crop and that I had acquired the specialized skills required to grow them gave me an edge in the market place. We have farmed a few peaches and lemons along the way, but dates have always been our mainstay.
You have been involved with farming long before establishing Rancho Gecko – since the late 1970’s in fact right?
Jaime: Yes, that’s correct. I started doing migrant farm work in 1978, and began this farming business in 1985. The original name was Cahuilla Gardens, after the native tribe on whose reservation the grove was located on. In 1990 I got a call from Anjou who was living in San Diego and wanted to get out of the city to “get in touch with the earth”. We’ve been together ever since, hence our name The Date People.
At what point did you both begin getting involved with vegan farming specifically?
Jaime: Between the two of us Anjou and I have 75 years of being vegan under our belt. There came a point early on when we felt such a strong disconnect between our vegan values and our use of fertilizers from the meat, dairy, and fishing business that we just couldn’t do that any more. We are proud to say our farms have been veganic now for about 30 years.
Did you face any specific challenges in establishing a vegan farm?
Jaime: Growing veganic has for the most part been pretty easy. We have used fewer outside inputs and I know we have had better karma as a result of not being a part of the suffering caused by the animal industry. At first we had a hard time coming up with a high nitrogen fertilizer to take the place of those by products of animal exploitive practices. We have used compost, organic cotton seed meal, and other plant based materials. We also have dug bat guano from abandoned turquoise mines in Arizona, but due to the high demand for this in the cannabis industry we have more recently been purchasing wild harvested organic sea bird guano. We feel using guano does not compromise our vegan ethics in any way. We are lucky to have a good, affordable source for this at the nearby port of Los Angeles.
What is the vegan and organic farming community like in California? Have there been changes in the community since you founded Rancho Gecko?
Jaime: Here in California the organic farming movement has grown at an incredible rate over the past 4 decades. It’s been very exciting to watch it unfold, and we are so grateful to have played a small part. At this point virtually every major supermarket has a significant organic produce section and organic is a household word.
Veganic farming is still in its infant stages at this point but is poised on the threshold of an idea whose time has come. We are hopeful veganic agriculture will take off the way organic did. There has recently been great interest in the vegan diet and I don’t see that slowing down any time in the future. As people become more and more aware of climate change, environmental destruction, animal cruelty, and the negative health effects caused by animal industries, this movement can only grow stronger with time and the demand for veganically grown food will grow with it.
How has local response been- for example to the reality that you are successfully doing vegan farming?
Jaime: We live in a rather remote area of Southern California. The vast majority of neighboring farms here are very large, and we haven’t had a lot of response from the locals. We ship the majority of our dates to the vegan community around the country. It’s kind of like vegan community supported agriculture by mail order. Response from our customers has been great. Lately there has been increasing interest in Veganically grown.
Are you actively involved in veganic farming networks locally, nationally or globally?
Jaime: We support and are supported by Seed the Commons in San Francisco. This activist group is focused on the sustainable food movement and is cutting edge in all things vegan and veganic. We follow their activity with great interest.
What are your thoughts on the future of veganic farming?
Jaime: Time will tell. I have great hope that veganic farming will catch on the way organic did.
When I read pages at your website, I absolutely get the sense of your values as farmers and humans. I also get the sense of an activist spirit- a sense of protection for the Earth and fellow creatures that goes beyond any sense of that protection being for profit- rather, a true spirit of environmentalism. Can you share more about your commitment not only to the ‘organic agrarian lifestyle’ but also sharing about it and advocating for it?
Jaime: Food is fundamental. We have to get that right for starters if we want the other important issues such as health, environment and a smooth functioning society to fall into place. Modern day industrial agriculture has gone seriously astray. Agrichemical/biotech corporations are destroying our soil, water, climate, biodiversity, health and are genetically contaminating the food supply of all future generations.
We have to do something. Growing food in a sustainable way is direct action. Whether it be a farm, a garden or a few veggies in containers we all need to get our hands in the dirt. At the very least, if possible, grow one vegetable plant as a symbol of solidarity with the food movement. By supporting small sustainable farms you are part of the solution.
Visit The Date People online at http://www.datepeople.net/
Feature & Interview by Annika Lundkvist at Pacific Roots Magazine Editorial Desk