Murrieta couple strikes pay dirt farming in their backyard - Brattons sell produce at Fallbrook Farmers Market

 

Last updated 10/13/2006 at Noon



Every Saturday morning, Neal and Carol Bratton of Murrieta rise early so they can sell fresh peppers and other produce they’ve grown on their rural 2.6-acre farm at the Temecula Certified Farmers Market. On Fridays, Carol sells their produce by herself at the Fallbrook Farmers Market.

The Brattons, who are retired, call themselves the Backyard Dirt Farmers. They met through the Temecula farmers market in the mid-1990s and wed in 1999.

“I was a widow and he was a widower. Love and the chiles both blossomed,” Carol said with a laugh. “I’ve been making chile and fruit jelly ever since.” The couple also sells unique seasonings and preserves made from their fruits and vegetables.

The Brattons have about 60 orange trees, 15 stone fruit trees and three fig trees on their property. “Figs are a big crop for us,” Carol commented as she and Neal sat together at a patio table in their backyard.

This spring, they grew four different types of gourmet lettuce. What makes the Brattons’ lettuce gourmet, according to Carol, is that they grow it from seed, hand-water it, hand-harvest it and bring it market within 90 minutes of pulling it out of the ground. They sold each head of lettuce for $2.25. “And they were big heads, too,” Carol said.


During the summer, they grew squash, eggplant, lemon cucumbers, onions, shallots and tomatoes. However, their tomato crop didn’t fare well in the extremely hot weather. “They burned up in the 100-degree weather,” Carol said.

“It was a rough year for tomatoes,” Neal added.

The Brattons both grew up with a love for gardening. In fact, Carol used to work in the wholesale plant business. “I’ve always been interested in plants,” she said. “When I married Neal, I had to learn all about vegetables and I did.”

When Neal was a youngster in a small Illinois town, he used to harvest wild asparagus to sell to neighbors. “That was my first marketing endeavor of vegetables,” he said. “It seems like all my life, each time I moved, I got a place with a little more land and got interested in raising things.”

Neal said a friend suggested that he raise peppers. Since he loves salsa, he thought it would be a good idea. “As soon as I started raising peppers, man, I was hooked,” he said, smiling.

The Brattons now grow more than 30 kinds of hot and sweet peppers, including the Caribbean red habanero and the orange habanero. They make dried ground seasonings and jelly from the peppers. The habanero jelly is popular, Carol said. It can be used on grilled meats or spread over cream cheese and served with crackers and chips.


In July 2002, the Brattons’ habanero flakes were mentioned in Gourmet magazine and it caused their mail order business to dramatically increase. “It turned our dining room into a shipping department, Carol said.

The product they get the most mail order requests for is Neal’s Special Blend of chiles. It’s made from six to eight different kinds of red peppers and is good on soups, salad, stews, pizza and pasta. “I like clam chowder and I dust it heavily with this special blend. It gives it a nice taste,” Neal said.

Carol emphasized that Neal’s Special Blend doesn’t have seeds in it. “It’s pure chile, she said.

For more information on the Brattons’ produce and products, call (951) 677-1018 or visit them at the Temecula and Fallbrook farmers markets. The Fallbrook Farmers Market is on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Village Square on Main Avenue. The Temecula Certified Farmers Market is Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 6th and Front streets in Old Town.

 

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