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From avocados to coffee beans: One California farmer makes the shift

Ambitious growers from San Diego to Santa Barbara are putting in coffee plants — and some think beans might be the next big thing for the region.

Jay Ruskey, owner of Good Land Organics, is credited as one of the first California farmers to try his hand at coffee. 

Why hasn't coffee been a key crop in California?

"Well, in California, we can grow a lot of different crops. Hundreds in fact. The difference is that today people are willing to pay more for a cup of coffee and so the farmers are making a lot more money on it. 

Traditional coffee in the ‘70s and ‘80s were just $1 or $2 dollars a pound for commodity trade coffee but now people are paying $40 or $50 dollars a pound and that makes it a higher profit crop and potential crop for California."

The coffee switch wasn't overnight ... it took 15 years to get it just right. Why?

"I definitely killed a lot of plants tryings to do it. It's only in the last five years I've really focused in on it. Realizing that there is a trend to higher quality coffee and higher prices and we've really nailed down on systems. But, introducing new crops in any type of region is a long process. 

It rarely happens just overnight. Things like the avocados were introduced in California in 1890 but really didn't take off until the '40s or '50s. So, it takes a while for new crops to get a foothold in a region."

The secret? Growing coffee in the shade of his avocado trees

"I found that the avocado groves do several things for me and coffee. First, I say wherever avocados can grow, coffee can grow and that's because they come from similar ecologies. They both like frost-free environments, they both have similar water chemistry, they have like soil chemistry. On top of that, we find that the avocados help provide some wind protection, some organic matter into the ground and it's a good companion crop and indicator crop for coffee."

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