Robert Lower founded Flying Disc Ranch in 1979. He started growing dates nearby (leasing palms) in 1974. Robert cleared, plumbed, and planted the ranch from scratch. The rows were desert before 1979. He feels like a pioneer.
Flying Disc Ranch has always been a direct market enterprise. From the beginning, we trucked our produce to food cooperatives in San Diego, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Portland. When many of the food cooperatives dissolved, we sold to health food stores and buying clubs. When they faded, we started farmers markets (our first was in Riverside, in 1972).
Robert’s techniques spring from experience and observation. He like says to say he has a relationship with each palm. Throughout the year we interact with the palms several times, climbing up into them with ladders to prune, de-thorn, pollinate, bag and tie, and harvest. When we thin the medjhool date palms (if we did not thin medjhool clusters, the dates would be one-quarter of the size!), we spend up to six hours in just one tree. Robert has been working with date palms for the longest and he can point out the idiosyncracies of each palm.
The soil at Flying Disc Ranch never gets cultivated, therefore the garden floor always stays green. The ranch is covered with a living mulch which protects it from harsh sunlight and drying conditions and also provides habitat for all the beneficial insects. Robert mows the grass about once a month with a flail mower (a tractor with a mowing implement). The living mulch absorbs sunlight more slowly, causing the dates to take longer to ripen. This makes the fruit sweeter, softer, and more nutrient-dense.
The farm has a high insect count per cubic foot above and below the soil. The insect population includes black widow, vinegar rune, brown recluse, and wolf spiders and several types of ants and wasps. The first foot of soil is alive with micronutrients. Others that help out on the ranch are owls, bats, rattlesnakes and other snakes, scorpions, hawks and peregrine falcons.
The ranch is biodynamic in the sense that it is a free-flowing ecosystem. Robert calls it “ecodynamic” to distinguish it, since we are not traditionally biodynamic but are inspired by the ideas. The ranch was certified organic by CCOF in the early days of organic certification, but Robert withdrew his certificate following CCOF’s backing of the use of growth regulators (gibberellic acid) on grapes and SO2 (sulfur dioxide) storage.
Here’s how we farm: Authentic, Permaculture, Ecodynamic. We are Vegan Nature Farmers certified in Permaculture (earth care, people care, fair share). We prefer to spend our valuable time producing the most nutritious, high-energy food possible rather than fill out a bunch of paperwork that is costly and not even that thorough (for example, Certified Organic does not test the water. You can grow Certified Organic using chlorinated water and Big Ag does, in California).
We are just as good or better than those who are Certified Organic. The fruit is sweeter – you can taste the minerals. It’s not a battle, just understand that Organic is not blessed. It’s not the best you can do. Organic permits blood meal, bone meal, and organic pesticides. Grow your own and shop at farmers markets before you shop for anonymous, Certified Organic food… any food from any supermarket (Whole Foods included) is going to have lower energy.
Taste is the true measure of authenticity.
For more information on how we are an authentic farm, check out Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine by Dr. Gabriel Cousens, p.61: Authentic Foods.
How do we remineralize our soil and grow nutrient-dense fruit? Compost. We make approximately 200 cubic yards of compost each year. Compost consists of trimmings, branches, leaves mixed with water and rock dust (see http://remineralize.org/ for more information). We apply the compost around the trunks of the date palms, citrus trees, and aloe vera.
Christina and Robert completed the 2-week Permaculture Design Certificate Course with Brock Dolman of OAEC (Occidental Arts & Ecology Center), Penny Livingstone of RDI (Regenerative Design Institute), and John Valenzuela, with M. Kalani Souza, in February 2010.
Robert Lower was born and raised in Santa Barbara, California. He began his first garden when he was four years old. He grew radishes and carrots. The fourth of seven children, growing fruits and vegetables was must for the large family. His family had fruit and nut trees and gardens. Their Greek and German immigrant neighbors showed the way. They had goats and chickens and planted trees and gardens.
Robert loved being outdoors - hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, boating, surfing, bicycling, and spending time at the beach. Farming was a natural profession for him to follow. He knew everything he needed to succeed. Dates were a challenge. Robert loves challenges and needs to be the best at what he does.
We have the help of longtime palmeros Pedro and Carolina Medina who have worked for Robert for over twenty years. Our neighbor Adolph Ramirez also helps us. Eric Lower, Robert's son, visits annually to work on the farm.
We accept WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteers during fall and spring. They assist us in the field and at farmers market, making food, washing dishes, planting aloe vera… best case scenario they are like farmers’ nannies. They help us with any and everything.