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Dragon fruit – An exotic organic bounty in Bonsall

Steven Schindler

Special to the Village News

Nestled in the Bonsall hills above the San Luis Rey Training Center and horse ranches, sits 15 magnificent acres of exotic beauty. From the road, it’s hard to tell what might be growing in perfectly symmetrical rows along the rolling hillsides. But up close it becomes clear you are looking at something unusual for our local landscape, usually teeming with avocado trees, orange groves, or vineyards.

Wallace Ranch Dragon Fruit Farm is the oldest and largest certified organic dragon fruit farm in the United States. The fruit itself is strange at first glance, being oval or elliptical in shape with a spiky outer layer, but it peels quite easily. It ranges from semi-sweet to very sweet, with tiny black seeds, which are edible.

Neva Day, and her partner Dicky Augustus, have owned this farm since 2018. But cultivating an organic dragon fruit farm was not something that was on their bucket list. “Dicky is a Vietnam vet, and we decided to take a trip there to see how the country had changed over the decades. Well at every meal we had there, breakfast, lunch and dinner, a garnish of this beautiful fruit that varied from white, to pink, to a deep red was on a plate. I had never seen it or tasted it before. It was dragon fruit.”

For Neva, it was love at first bite. But the thought of having a working dragon fruit farm was never given a thought. That is, until a lucky happenstance.

“After returning from our Asian vacation to our home in Hermosa Beach, we both decided we had it with high density living,” Neva said. “So we began a search for a new home in the Fallbrook area in 2017. Actually, we had never heard of Fallbrook, and once we started exploring it was like, where are we? Is this Northern California?”

As luck would have it, the 15-acre Wallace Ranch Organic Dragon Fruit Farm in Bonsall was for sale just as they began serious house hunting. “When I discovered the farm was for sale, I called Dicky and said, “It’s absolutely beautiful, and guess what they grow there? He said, ‘Let me guess. Avocados or citrus.’ And he couldn’t believe it when I told him dragon fruit.”

Dragon fruit, or as it’s known in Mexico and Asia as pitaya or pitahaya, is a fruit that grows on a sub-tropical cactus. It’s not exactly a cactus because it still needs a significant amount of water, but only about a third of what avocados need. It’s actually a vine and can’t take extreme heat or cold. It’s also a drought-resistant crop, making it well suited to the Fallbrook and Bonsall micro-climates.

As in any agricultural endeavor, the economic sustainability of a farm is dependent on many factors, not only climate, rainfall, and pest infestations. “Vietnam was exporting tons of dragon fruit into the U.S. But in order to keep the skin of the fruit looking clean and fresh on the long trip here, they began spraying their fruit with a chemical. That process was eventually banned. Plus imports from Mexico and South America were undercutting dragon fruit prices here. I saw this as an opportunity to go totally organic, which is a lot more labor-intensive, but does provide us with a premium price.”

Being “certified organic” in California is a complex process that requires adherence to many strict guidelines and regulations. Organic standards address many factors: soil quality, animal raising, pest and weed control, and use of input materials. Inspectors routinely show up in-person to make sure all regulations are met.

With one full time worker, Julio Robles, several seasonal workers, and many daily hires during picking seasons, Neva and Dicky do much of the work themselves. “Dicky does all the driving, deliveries, and pickups. And I’m out in the farm every day working and managing every stage of the process.”

Part of that process is hand-pollinating up to 30,000 plants. And placing netting on the fruit while still on the vine to protect it from birds and other pests.

The entire 15 acres of the farm isn’t just for dragon fruit. There are avocado trees, all kinds of exotic citrus, passion fruit, herbs, teas, and almost anything else that can be eaten by humans, or attract the bees, butterflies, and friendly critters that keep the balance of nature cycling throughout the year.

The gated section of the farm where their residence sits is a veritable garden of paradise with exquisitely manicured trees and plants that all have a purpose. Those purposes can include providing an organic balance to the soil, experimenting with hybrid cross-pollination, or attracting essential friendly insects such as bees, butterflies and praying mantis. Several owl boxes house the majestic birds which can keep thousands of rodents in check over the course of a year

“Sometimes I visit botanical gardens in various cities and states and I say to myself, ‘Hmmm. My yard looks better than this,’” Neva said, beaming with pride.

Dragon fruit here is harvested as a “field pack” crop, which means it is picked and placed in boxes for shipment right in the field. Some fruit is actually on shelves in local markets the same day it was picked.

Neva gets her hands dirty in the organic soil every day as well as operating farming tools and equipment, large and small. Her previous career set her up nicely for her current job description. “I spent my life in retail as a buyer for major companies, like Sears, in their tools divisions. My partner, Dicky, was in building construction so we were the perfect pair to take on this new challenge.”

As many surveys have shown, food retailers and consumers today are very interested in food quality, which goes way beyond mere appearance, as Neva explained. “They want to know who the farmer is. They want to know where the food comes from. They want to know that they are helping local communities. What I’ve learned from other farmers is; A) you need to have a really great work ethic; B) you need to have really thick skin; C) you have to love what you do; and D) you need to always be looking forward and expanding yourself.”

Being relatively new to the farming community in Southern California, Neva has gotten involved with local farmers in the Fallbrook/Bonsall area as well as being part of larger farming associations and trade groups.

“I am personally very grateful I got into farming because I did not understand how hard it is to grow food. And how we undervalue that aspect of something that is in our daily lives. And I’ve made it my personal mission to tell people to respect where your food comes from. When you look at an apple or a dragon fruit, just know how much work went into that piece of fruit sitting on a shelf in the market. There’s a lot of love and passion and hard work that goes into every piece of fruit.”

Look for the Wallace Ranch bright yellow stickers on individual dragon fruit in local markets. You can also learn more about dragon fruit and order directly from the Wallace Ranch Organic Dragon Fruit Farm on their website:


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