King and King Ranch: A Century of Agriculture in Ventura County

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King and King Ranch: A Century of Agriculture in Ventura County

July 3, 2024
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King and King Ranch: A Century of Agriculture in Ventura County

King and King Ranch: A Century of Agriculture in Ventura County

Nestled in the picturesque Ventura County, just south of Fillmore, California, lies the historic King and King Ranch. This family-operated farm has been a cornerstone of the local agricultural community for over a century, evolving through generations while maintaining a steadfast commitment to sustainable farming practices and community involvement. We learned more about the rich history, operations, and innovations of King and King Ranch, when we recently visited Cynthia and Lan King on their beautiful property.

Cynthia and Lan King of King and King Ranch in Fillmore CA

A Century-Old Agricultural Legacy

Cynthia and Alan King have been married for 54 years — but the story of King and King Ranch dates back to 1913 when the King family traveled from their home near Paso Robles to their current location near Fillmore in a horse-drawn wagon. The journey is a testament to their pioneering spirit. “Alan’s dad was five when they made that trip and came here,” Cynthia King recalls. “That was the grandparents’ generation, and the land has been in agriculture ever since.”

The ranch has seen significant transformations over the decades. Initially, the Kings were growing hay and maintaining a few dairy cows. By the 1960s, there was a shift at the ranch to focus on Valencia oranges, producing wonderful orange juice. However, market changes and economic pressures forced the Kings to make tough decisions. “It got to where we couldn’t afford to pay the pickers anymore,” Cynthia remembers. “So, we called all the food banks and said, ‘Come and get this fruit.’ That was one of the hardest decisions we ever made.”

In response to these challenges, Alan King and his brother began experimenting with avocados. This successful shift defines the ranch today, as King and King Ranch enjoys a fine reputation for its avocado orchards, alongside a diverse array of other crops.

Diverse Crops and Local Markets

avocado growing at King and King ranch in Fillmore CA

Today, King and King Ranch is a veritable Eden of agricultural diversity. Lan King is a 4th generation farmer who now handles much of the farm management. In addition to avocados, the ranch grows over 30 varieties of citrus, including mandarins, lemons, limes and kumquats. Cynthia explains that they also cultivate an assortment of fruits such as peaches, plums, cherries, pears, pomegranates, figs, and passion fruit. “Lan’s been on a mission to plant at least one tree of everything that could grow here,” Cynthia says with a smile, highlighting their commitment to biodiversity.

The ranch’s produce is at the Old Town Newhall Farmers Market every Saturday, rain or shine. They also supply fruits and vegetables through the pre-order system at Altadena Farmers Market, which proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lan notes that their bounty also features in the products of several local businesses and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, such as Harvest Cafe in Ventura, who Lan explains, “Uses our avocados and citrus in their menus.” Lan points to others stating, “Poseidon Brewing Company has a blood orange pale ale with our oranges, and Angel City Brewing Company in LA uses our avocados in their annual avocado ale.”

The Kings are also dedicated to supporting local schools by providing fresh produce to several districts and food hubs that distribute to schools. “We get feedback from the school districts that the little kids love our Gold Nugget Mandarins,” Lan says. “They’re easy to peel, a nice size snack, and seedless.”

King and King Ranch: Commitment to Sustainability

Sustainability is at the heart of King and King Ranch’s operations. The Kings strive to honor the land’s history and the contributions of Native Californians who originally cared for it. “We try to follow some of the sustainable practices of the native folks of California,” Lan explains. “When we put in windbreaks, we specifically chose native trees to support the native bird and insect populations.”

The ranch also employs various sustainable farming methods, such as no-till farming, which helps preserve soil health and reduce erosion. They also plant cover crops to enhance soil fertility and support biodiversity. However, these practices come at a cost. “Farming like this is really expensive,” Lan admits. “We’ve been able to do it because of grants from the CDFA and the Department of Conservation, and support from local organizations like the Ventura County Resource Conservation District and the UC Extension.”

solar powered water sensor at King and King Ranch

One significant advancement for the ranch is  implementation of a state-funded Sustainable Water Efficiency Program (SWEEP) grant. This grant enables the installation of a weather system with water sensors and a variable frequency device (VFD) for their irrigation pump. “Before we had that, the water was either all on or all off,” Cynthia explains. “Now, we can dial it to just the pressure we need, significantly reducing our water usage and costs.”

The Kings also emphasize the importance of community involvement as part of their sustainability efforts. They regularly donate produce to local food distribution programs to support those facing food insecurity. “It’s pretty special that the state is recognizing the need to get assistance into these communities,” Lan says. “We feel like that’s a really important part of giving back to our community.”

Embracing New Agricultural Technologies

King and King Ranch is continually evolving, embracing new technologies and methods to improve sustainability and efficiency. Investing in equipment such as raptor poles, owl boxes, and bat houses to encourage natural pest control, reduces the need for chemical interventions. “We’ve had a lot of support with grant writing and obtaining these resources,” Lan says, acknowledging the collaborative efforts that make these advancements possible.

The ranch also participates in research and education initiatives, partnering with universities and local organizations to study the interactions between wildlife and agriculture. “We had over a hundred people here for a workshop with the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF),” Lan recalls. “We did a bird walk, planted a demonstration hedgerow with California native plants, and had presentations from UC Extension and Cal Poly grad students doing research on our farm.”

These research collaborations are vital for advancing sustainable farming practices. “That kind of education and research is part of sustainability too,” Lan emphasizes. “It’s moving what we know about what works and what the alternatives are forward.”

A Tradition of Family Farming

Lan King picks tangerines at King and King Ranch

The King family’s dedication to agriculture spans four generations, with Lan now taking on significant roles in the ranch’s operations. Cynthia explains how incredibly lucky they feel that Lan chose to join them at the ranch, and for a moment imagining life without Lan, states, “ I’m not sure what we would have done. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.”

Despite the challenges, the Kings remain committed to maintaining the family’s legacy and the land’s health. “We respect that we’re on Chumash land, and we want to acknowledge what Native people have contributed,” Cynthia says. “That’s part of why we want the land to be as healthy as possible. We’re not just taking, taking. We’re giving back.”

Drone shot of citrus and avocado orchards at King and King Ranch

Looking Ahead

As King and King Ranch moves forward, the focus remains on sustainable growth and community engagement. They continue to explore new crops and markets, ensuring the ranch’s viability for future generations. The transition to organic farming is a significant part of this journey, reflecting their commitment to environmental stewardship and producing high-quality, healthy produce.

“Part of sustainability is sustaining us being here on this farm and being able to afford to do this,” Lan says. “We’ve developed a multi-year trajectory to get to where we are now, and we’re just starting the organic transition for the rest of the farm, which is a three-year period.”

Through their dedication to sustainable practices, innovative technologies, and community support, the Kings have created a thriving agricultural legacy that honors the past while looking towards the future. King and King Ranch is not just a farm; it recognizes the enduring spirit of family, community, and stewardship of the land. As Cynthia aptly puts it, “It’s a lot of work, but we’re committed to maintaining not just the family legacy, but also the native legacy. We’re aware of the history and tradition of this land, and we want to keep it healthy for generations to come.”

Article written by Alison Needham for California Grown. Images by James Collier.

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