Zea Sonnabend’s organic farming bona fides cannot be overstated. With an MS in Plant Breeding from Cornell University and 35 years of experience as a farmer, gardener, inspector, educator, policy specialist, and organizer, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified. Yet running her own farming operation still came with its challenges.
Zea’s first forays into farm owning began in 1982 when she grew organic figs and peaches in Tehama County. Later she became involved in advocacy and policy related to organic farming, working with organizations such as the Ecological Farming Association and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). She helped write the first certification handbook and materials list for organic farming in California, is a founder of the Organic Materials Review Institute, and has worked for the USDA and the National Organic Standards Board as a contractor to develop the National List.
But farming was always her true passion, so in 2011 she decided to give it another go. She teamed up with Terence Welch, a fruit advisor who was eager to try a wide variety of organic techniques, and they began growing organic fruits at two farm locations under the name Fruitilicious Farm. Then the drought hit, and she found that two irrigation wells needed to be upgraded. That’s where California FarmLink came in.
California FarmLink provided Zea with two infrastructure loans, the most recent with a five-year term. These loans have made it possible for her to sustain the farm. Today, Fruitilicious Farm is fully under Zea’s ownership while Terence helps oversee production. The farm produces high-quality fruit using many organic practices, including cover crops, compost, and careful pest and crop monitoring. They grow more than 70 varieties of apples, including heirlooms unique to California and antique varieties from Europe. Zea also grows figs, pears, quince, peaches, citrus, and avocados.