California Avocado-Coffee Estate Merges Progress With Tradition

Food & Drink

One Tree Hill Farms— located in the agricultural community of Somis in Southern California— is a coffee and avocado estate basking in the symbiotic marriage between progress and tradition. What began as owner, Edvin Ovasapyan’s “agricultural experiment” would soon blossom into a journey growing healthy, nutrient-rich and flavorful avocados and coffee, and in doing so, Ovasapyan would join a movement of less than 100 coffee growers on the US mainland.

It is mid-week and Edvin Ovasapyan is peacefully meandering through lines of coffee plants and avocado trees. Glancing over his ready-to-harvest crops, the former fast-paced business maven describes how “the world just stops” when he is farming.

In 2016, Ovasapyan acquired what was then a 16-acre avocado estate, after the closure of a former venture and during a time in which he had become disenchanted with the “grueling background of constant business travel and the soundbite madness of city life.”

The rich soil of One Tree Hill Farms would soon make way for the continued harvest of avocados on the mature Hass avocado farm, and “the perfect exploration” of branching into coffee.

Anyone who knows anything about avocados knows that the Hass avocado— the most popular avocado in the United States— is indigenous to the state of California. Of the estimated 15 million Hass avocado trees growing around the world, an estimated 5 million can be found in California alone. In fact, the descendants of the very first Hass avocado can be found in a grove in La Habra Heights on the border of Orange and Los Angeles counties.

When one thinks about coffee however, the United States mainland is not the first place that comes to mind— far from. Given that California exists outside the “Bean Belt”— the climactic zone between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn— intention and innovation are required to achieve successful production so far from the equator.

Coffee production on the US mainland is barely more than two decades old. Layered or “alley cropping” agro-forestry methods, which consist of planting coffee shrubs in between rows of avocado trees, created the industry. Given that the California climate and seasonal conditions are so different from popular coffee farming countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Costa Rica, Colombia and Yemen, methods of growing California coffee— and its taste— are unique.

Distinctive seasonal and climactic conditions make the fruit born in California sweeter than in “bean belt” coffee growing regions and the fertile and rich Hass avocado tree soil adds to the unique flavor profile of beans grown using the layered approach.

“The coffee beans and Hass avocado crops are stronger, bolder, and richer in flavor due to the fertile nature of the land they share together,” says Ovasapyan, whose small plot of farmland yields an average of 100,000 pounds of avocados and 5,000 pounds of coffee annually.

Relying on a perfect combination of innovation and “heart,” Ovasapyan says that, as a farmer, he looks to best practices that he acquired as a successful businessman with an extensive background in startups. Whether selling medicine, cars, watches, real estate, or in this case, avocados and coffee, he describes his ongoing mission as “industry disruption through technology and passion.”

It is an ideal time for the burgeoning industry using environmentally friendly agro-forestry methods on the mainland of the largest importer of coffee in the world. Climate change has disproportionately impacted countries in the coffee belt, causing supply shortages and price volatility, while making it possible to grow coffee in places it couldn’t before.

The integrated method of growing coffee at One Tree Hill Farms is symbiotic and environmentally friendly. It allows the crops to share water and nutrients and has unlocked synergistic inter-specific relationships making it more resilient to pests, while providing ecosystem services.

With the easy addition of coffee to a mature avocado farm, the productivity of harvest-able farmland has also been maximized. The avocado trees provide ample shade and protection for the coffee crops which grow underneath, allowing both species thrive together. The result is higher yields for both crops which has led to significantly higher sales.

Ovasapyan is currently selling his produce to wholesalers and distributors and his beans are being used in California’s famous Frinj Coffee, known as “the coffee that invented California coffee,” and Blue Bottle Coffee, a coffee roaster and retailer acquired by Nestlé in 2017.

Ovasapyan says that his plan is to continue to grow and expand the current avocado and coffee crops while seeking more farmland to pursue “new and exciting agricultural ventures where we can integrate agro-forestry techniques and transform production utilizing our methods for avocado and coffee.”

Much in the way that the symbiotic richness in the soil has served as the perfect canvas for merging the growth and cultivation of coffee beans and avocados, the merger of progress and tradition has served a safe escape of solitude for Ovasapyan.

“I am passionate about helping people, technology and tradition,” says Ovasapyan. “Farming is predicated on traditional values, and I was drawn to it not just as a business but to honor these. I collect and sell horological instruments— watches— which to me also represent tradition, history, artisanship. My marketing platform, just like my farming methods, is driven by cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned integrity. It is the fusion of these that drives my passion to grow as a person. I want my farming business to one day inspire my children the way it has inspired me.”

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