Name: Riven Barton
Farm: Flying Disc Ranch
Location: Thermal, CA (Coachella Valley)
What they grow: Over 18 varieties of dates including Medjool, Barhi, Dayri, Deglet Noor, Zahidi, Amber, Yellow Barhi, Khadrai, Cire, Honey Deglet, and Kastawi. The ranch also sells pink grapefruit, temple oranges (heirloom varietal), and aloe vera starting in February.
Where to buy: Farmers markets including Saturday in downtown Santa Barbara, as well as markets throughout Northern and Southern California. Check their website for details at HYPERLINK “http://www.flyingdiscranch.com/”flyingdiscranch.com.
In season now: In addition to a variety of dates, they also sell date paste, date walnut bars, and date pieces (rolled in organic oat flour). Each of these special treats is made from combining the sweeter Deglet Noor date with the meatier Medjool variety. Harvested in September, expect the most variety during the fall/winter markets.
Their story: Since 1979, Santa Barbara native Robert Lower has been farming dates, incorporating biodynamic practices and keen observation. Planting the ranch from scratch, Lower has pioneered the craft of growing dates.
“Lower was one of the first farmers to participate in the local farmers market,” said Barton. “For over 30 years, he has stayed true and dedicated to his farming practices.”
Certified in permaculture, the farm sees itself as a free-flowing ecosystem, utilizing beneficial insects to keep the soil alive with micronutrients (from black widows to wolf spiders). Covered in living mulch, the ranch offers a great habitat for these insects, which in addition to composting, creates very nutrient-dense soil.
“The farm is very conscious, planting and harvesting with the moon cycles,” said Baron. “All dates are fresh harvested and ripened on the palm.”
Phoenix palms are the largest species of grass and therefore dates are actually a cross between a grain and a fruit. Dates contain one of the highest nutritional food values of any food. In terms of nutrition, one large date (such as a Medjhool) is equivalent to six bananas. Not only high in potassium, dates are high in both iron and trace minerals.
“Dates are perfect for backpacking or hiking,” said Barton. “They are great for sustained energy, since they have protein and carbs.”
As the oldest cultivated fruit, each date has its own unique flavor and profile, from sweet and chewy to meaty and savory. With an incredible amount of genetic diversity, every seed planted furthers the diversity. For over 30 years, Flying Disc Ranch has expanded their seed varieties, making for a wide selection of this tasty snack.
“I’d say our most popular dates are either the Barhi or the Medjhool,” said Barton. “Both are great for making bread, smoothies, or anything with a touch of sweetness.”
Barton has enjoyed over 11 years working for the ranch, with its philosophy to farm authentically and with intention. A long time advocate of the famers markets, she enjoys seeing the dedication of her fellow workers.
“The markets are great; I get to work with all my friends!” said Barton. “I love knowing who grows my food and eating locally and organically.”