Meet a Farmer: Molly Chester of Apricot Lane Farms
When a chef and a filmmaker start a farm – the result is incredible food with an amazing story.
We caught up with the delightful farmer and chef Molly Chester, half of a farming duo that created Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark, California. Along with her husband, John Chester, Molly runs what appears to be, from a third-party observer, a farming utopia of fruit trees, vegetables, wildlife, livestock and insects, all working together to the benefit of the soil, and ultimately, the food. When John is not fretting over a newborn calf or managing the farm, he makes documentary films, like the Emmy Award winning, “Worry for Maggie,” (see below) which we highly recommend.
CA GROWN: What are you doing today?
MOLLY: This morning I met with Nate, our sales coordinator. We went over planning for the expansion of our farmers’ market program , we discussed an unsuccessful nectarine crop and whether to compost it, and reviewed how each of the varieties we grow here did this year, which helps us plan for next year. We did a ride around on the farm to taste each variety coming on. Now I have this call (with CA GROWN), and then I have a meeting with the woman who runs our admin department. I also planned out a culinary project today, with extra grapefruit left from last season. We will be fermenting the juice for an apprentice program we run Monday through Thursday.
We are also participating in farm day in Ventura County and I have a promotion meeting in the afternoon pertaining to that event. Most of my activities have to do with overseeing sales, culinary or farm administration, my husband does all the labor and ag operations and works with the livestock. I also oversee our garden team. I decide what we are growing, and what we are going to do with it.
CA GROWN: What is your favorite thing about farming?
MOLLY: I come from a culinary background, so the most fun part of farming for me is the variety of what we grow. We grow at least 10 different varieties of avocados, over 75 varieties of fruit trees and who knows how many types of vegetables. We also raise a variety of animals. Farming was kind of a very long means to an end for me, I wanted nutrient-dense food to work with in the kitchen, which ultimately meant farming our own. The flavor components of the food we grow are different. We focus our energy on amazing soil, which creates the depth, nutrition and subtleties in flavor that you just can’t find without that effort.
CA GROWN: How do you give back to the community?
MOLLY: We are expanding our farmers market operations even further in order to connect with our community. When we have an excess of fruit, we make food bank donations. We also support our local community groups by donating for raffle items like food baskets and private tours of the farm. We feel like it’s important to be really rooted in our space and create community.
We also have an apprentice program through the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on the Organic Farm) program. It’s an exchange program, where we share our knowledge of organic farming, and the participant receive food, shelter and knowledge, afterwards they can then extend into our Apprentice program. We’ve hired many people through that program. It keeps our team alive.
CA GROWN: What drew you to the farming profession?
MOLLY: The type of cooking I like to do is all about utilizing certain techniques in the kitchen to maximize health. As I got deeper into cooking, I was looking for food that was grown a certain way – with healthy soil. As we started to seek farmers out, we had a hard time finding food that was grown the way we wanted. John and I started out envisioning a truly pastured egg operation. It became much, much bigger when we met our financial partners. Eggs are our flagship item that people have come to know us by, and it’s just grown from there.
The inspiration behind the farm was ultimately the desire to create the type of food that we want to eat. And, we are simply nature people – sort of environmentalists at heart. So, the lifestyle is a real fit for us.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or pastimes when you’re not farming?
MOLLY: Dancing, ballet, jazz, tap, salsa classes… I also like to read. I enjoy reading about alternative things like essential oils, I also like to cook a lot.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a farmer?
MOLLY: To do it. Start wherever you can. If you want to grow food, just grow food. I started with a porch garden, and it just grew from there. Learn from other farmers, talk to other farmers, farmers like to help. You’ve just got to start growing things.
CA GROWN: We know that you have a long list of activities you undertake on your farm to care for the land and its resources. Can you tell us about one of those things that you are most proud of or that is unique to the industry?
MOLLY: We have a fertility center with a forty-foot worm bin, we take the extremely fertile worm castings and make compost tea, which is then injected into our irrigation system. As a biodynamic farm, we focus on microbial health. We have compost pads all over the farm filled with local horse manure. We compost a lot of horse manure from the surrounding community, which is another way we enjoy staying connected in with our community. It finishes the waste cycle without relying on a landfill.