For the Summer issue of San Diego Food System Spotlights: Local Grower, the San Diego Food System Alliance partnered with the San Diego County Farm Bureau to interview David Gutierrez of FlavoredLayers Farms. We asked David about the history of his business, vision, and the biggest challenges.
1) Please share the history of your farming business. How did the business get started? Why are you committed to it?
Historically, I have farmed small-scale operations in soil with the hope of one day launching a larger scale, sustainable farm operation of my own. In the past, I have collaborated with other farmers and organizations to help them launch their own farms, community farms and farmers markets. The goal was to educate myself on what it would take to launch and operate my own farm while contributing to some important projects at the same time. When I thought I was ready, I began to look for land in San Diego County.
Being new to San Diego, I immediately began to research different farm alliances and organizations that could direct me towards local farming information, resources, and potential collaborations. Unexpectedly, I came across a Veteran based, hydroponics farm training program offered at Archi’s Acres Farm in Valley Center called Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (now called AISA). I was very curious to understand the value of farming organically with hydroponics; especially as it related to reduced water usage.
After graduating, I was introduced to a Veteran who had recently launched a hydroponics farm in Valley Center growing 2.5 tons of Basil monthly. He left the company after one year and I re-launched the farm under a new entity called FlavoredLayers Farms ™. I learned a lot from my ex-partner and give him loads of credit for what he was able to accomplish on his own.
The reason we created FlavoredLayers Farms is because we believe that wherever there is need there is responsibility. FlavoredLayers Farms ™ is committed to growing quality, organic herbs and produce while elevating our farm with art, music, and other like-minded individuals. We believe that local farms are an important part of the fabric and food security of any community. We also believe that farms bring together all types of people and creativity. So we are working hard to harvest and optimize that creativity as part of our farm business model. Our farm will always be the sum of its people parts.
2) What is your vision for your business?
Our ongoing operational vision is simple – Consistent quality and quantity aligned with a healthy and reasonable expansion strategy (operational size and sku). Additionally, we are constantly remixing our processes to conserve resources and to minimize/recycle waste. We have found other farms that want our used nutrient and soil for their compost systems. We are aggressively investigating solar and wind strategies and currently working on a goat strategy as a means to keep our field mowed. It is amazing how much waste is generated on a farm.
We are also putting time and energy into delivering on the second part of our mission statement. Having worked with artists and having produced live art events around the country for over a decade, we are determined to showcase and optimize musicians, artists and other farmers. One thing I have learned over the years is that two things always seem to find each other – Art & Agriculture. In its elemental form, is there really a big difference between Artists and Farmers? Just the other day, the farm crew was discussing how cool it would be to turn one of our greenhouse tunnels into an event space.
We will start by launching a small music event on Friday/Saturday with our beautiful sunset as the backdrop. We are working on a sponsor so that all Artists will be paid and will go home with a ton of high quality video/picture content of their gig for purposes of self-promotion. We will be engaging the San Diego Media Arts Center who will provide their students a live event to hone their skills under the tutorage of a professional cameraperson. We will eventually employ these new digital media artists as a means of launching an online content channel on YouTube that will showcase the County’s creative agricultural scene. Our goal would be to eventually dispatch and interview other farms and agricultural entities in the County.
3) What are the biggest challenges for your business? What do growers need to succeed?
Right now, the biggest challenges we face in our business are expensive labor costs and competing with Mexico. Which is why we believe it is important for every farm to convey its story onto its product. A good story will get you the right customer. Find a customer who loves and relates to your story, which must have your product as a result, and is willing to pay you what you need to make to stay alive. This way you can ignore all of the other noise of competition and price fixing in the market. Finally, love what you do and put your employees first.
4) What would you like San Diegans to know?
San Diegans need to understand that local food production is diminishing. We are so lucky to have local food production on a level that many other counties and states in the country do not have. Do not let it get away. Building new and large communities in areas of the county that are traditionally set up to grow food is not only pushing out farms, but making availability to water much more difficult. I was talking to a well service company in Valley Center who said that an accelerating amount of farm wells are drying up. Did you know that over 40 large avocado farms shut their doors last year?
5) Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Thank you for the opportunity to share our farm with you and for what your organization is doing for farming in the County.