Farm Tour in El Centro

Yuma, AZ

One of the “must do” activities Pam had on her list of things to do during our visit to southern California was a farm tour in El Centro.  El Centro is the county seat of Imperial County, CA, one of the most important agricultural areas in the country.  Since it is only about seventy-five miles from where we were in Borrego Springs, we decided to stop in El Centro on our way east to check out the tour.  We made reservations for the Tuesday tour (tours don’t run every day) and drove down to El Centro on Sunday.

For the two nights we would be in El Centro we decided to dry camp in an area known as Plaster City, about fifteen miles west of town.  Plaster City is an OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) area near a gypsum plant.  We understand it is quite busy on the weekends, but it was virtually empty during our stay.

All alone in Plaster City

We came here Sunday afternoon, a day earlier than planned as the weather prediction was calling for a good chance of rain on Monday.  It doesn’t rain much around here but the weather prediction was right on the mark, as it rained hard Monday afternoon.  In fact, it rained enough that the Tuesday tour was cancelled as the fields would be too wet.  Fortunately we were able to get reservations for the next day, Wednesday.  Since that would leave us with another day sitting out in Plaster City (after being there all day on Monday),  we decided to pull up the jacks on Tuesday and head sixty miles to the east to Yuma, AZ, our next scheduled stop, and just drive the Jeep back to El Centro for the Wednesday tour.  There appears to be about a thousand RV parks in Yuma, so finding a park on short notice is not a problem.  We’re now sitting comfortably in Westwind RV Resort for a four night stay.

Wednesday morning we were up and on the road early for the drive back west on I-8 to finally take the farm tour.  The tour is put on by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources at their experimental farm east of El Centro as part of their FARM SMART educational program.  The FARM SMART tour features a research field tour, “u-pick” fresh vegetables, lunch, a program about Yuma/Imperial Valley agriculture, entertainment, prizes, and ice cream.  All this for $20 (cash only)!

The tour began with a cooking demonstration on a recipe for Carrot Ginger Soup.  One of the tour guides conducted the demo with the help of two volunteers.  John quickly climbed out from under the table once the volunteers were chosen!

The “demo”

The sample was very tasty

Following the demonstration, tour participants were divided into two groups.  One group went to a presentation room to hear about agriculture in the Imperial Valley, while the other group boarded two wagons for a tour of the fields.  After lunch the groups would switch activities.  We were in the group touring the fields.

A young participant anxiously awaits her tour

At various spots the wagon would stop so the tour guide could talk about what we were seeing.  This is an experimental farm so all the fields are planted with crops as part of some sort of test activity.

Burrowing Owls along the tour

All experiments in one field had been completed, so tour participants were allowed to harvest the heads of romaine.

A local farm worker smiles for the camera

When we arrived, each participant was given a large bag they could use to carry their harvest.  Our final stop on the tour was The Farm Smart field which contained broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, swiss chard, head lettuce, cilantro, and celery for the participants to harvest.

A Field of Dreams

As we drove through the farm we passed a field filled with olive trees.  Olive trees are not currently grown in the Imperial Valley, but the experimental farm is testing to see if it would be economically feasible to grow them in this area.

Lunch is included in the price of the tour.  We’re on a vegetable farm in the southwest so we should not have been surprised when the meal was a Southwest salad!  It was delicious.

As we finished lunch one of the volunteers entertained the group with a concert playing Native American flutes.  He was pretty good but went on a bit long for our taste.  We were unsure just how flute music fit into the “farm” atmosphere.

When Sam, the tour leader, introduced the flutist, he also said that after that he would sing a song following the flute music.  We didn’t think much about it as we thought that he must be kidding, but we were wrong.  After the flute concert Sam came to the microphone and sang the theme song from Phantom of the Opera.  He had a nice voice and did a great job, but now we were really confused as to how the song fit in with the broccoli and cauliflower!

After lunch we went to the presentation room to listen to Sam tell us about various aspects of farming in the Imperial Valley.

Returning back to the motorhome in Yuma after the tour, Pam spent more than a few minutes cleaning the harvest and storing it in the refrigerator.

A portion of the harvest

We enjoyed the tour a great deal (OK, Pam more than John).  If you’re in this part of the country it is definitely worth the time to check it out!

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29 Responses to Farm Tour in El Centro

  1. Jim and Barb says:

    What an interesting tour…. educational, informative, you got free produce and serenaded! What more could you ask for? Westwind is nice, we stayed there for a few days a couple of weeks ago, a lot of amenities but we stayed in the pet section and there were a lot of yippers.

  2. pmbweaver says:

    Talk about isolated…. Plaster City is the place to be!

    What, John doesn’t know how to make Carrot Ginger Soup? I am in shock.

    The Owls are so cute.

    My dad was a farmer. Not sure he would think that was a REAL farmer picking lettuce with shorts and hiking boots on…hehe

    The music and singing is very strange. At least they didn’t charge you extra for it.

    What a great bounty! Yummmmmmy!!

  3. Jodee Gravel says:

    Plaster City is close to Centinela State Prison, a place I’m very familiar with (reality is not as interesting as anything you might be thinking). I’m impressed with the number of people taking the tour, but now that I know about it I can see the draw! The cute owls and the fresh-as-you-can-get produce would be worth the hay sticking you in the bum and the eclectic entertainment. Thanks so much for sharing yet another great adventure I have driven past a bajillion times!

  4. Janna says:

    I would love that tour and the harvest!!

  5. Sue says:

    Nice post from a fairly unwilling author. That is a tour that Dave and I would really enjoy, its on my list when we’re in the area. I think we’d have to leave before the singing however. We’d have trouble containing ourselves, we get the giggles easily. I’m familiar with the nasty feeling of straw shards poking everywhere – don’t ask – but the lure of fresh veggies would make me brave the itchies. Sue

  6. That tour is so right up my alley! And what a bountiful harvest! You won’t be buying produce for a while! Your comments on the flute and singing remind me of a similar evenings entertainment when we stayed at Jim & Mary’s in Missoula…fine for a little while, but when it goes on and on and on you just want to flee!

  7. cathy says:

    All the produce….I’m so jealous! You can make delicious low carb mashed “potatoes” with the cauliflower. Enjoy!

  8. I will be with Pam. John and Steve can do something else. Yes I would love that tour not the singing. Fresh vegetables can’t be beat!

  9. Lenore says:

    Wow! What a deal!

  10. LuAnn says:

    I really must do this tour! That produce looks wonderful. Are those crops raised without pesticides, I hope?

    • placestheygo says:

      LuAnn, they do have 35 acres that are certified organic. However, Sam, our presenter, said that people misunderstand organic. They still use pesticides on organic produce but the pesticide is plant based. He also said that some of them are more harmful than the synthetic pesticides. Interesting! The produce we picked was not organic.

  11. debbiemc14 says:

    Sound like a fun time! What is the experimental part? Having lived in No. California most of my life I’m familiar with all the farms/ranches in Central CA where so much of the countries food is grown. The owls were adorable.

    • placestheygo says:

      Debbie, various companies and teams come there to plant a product to do various experiments with it. The Romaine we picked was left after the scientist finished his study. They are testing 14 different varieties of broccoli, working with various types of alfalfa, and experimenting with rainbow carrots, for some. An insurance company just finished doing a damage study on a cotton crop. This is a research based farm with the University.

  12. Gay says:

    Those are some mighty fine looking veggies you picked. That would have definitely been the favorite part of the day for me too…with lunch being a very close second! Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

  13. Joan and Steve says:

    Just read some one else’s blog about the farm tour. Very interesting. Check out the bar at the park either today or tomorrow. Our friends Henry and Terry work Thursday and Friday bartending.

  14. Holly Ritger says:

    Pam, I love the owls… I haven’t seen Burrowing Owls myself. And, taking a tour through the fields and crops sounds like a good idea. I often wonder what crops are growing on the farms we pass. I recognize corn and wheat but other crops, not so much.

    • placestheygo says:

      Holly, that was my main reason for wanting to take this tour to try and identify some of what we see on farms as we travel. I really enjoyed learning how they plant and harvest the various lettuces.

      Right along one of the dikes, there were at least ten little burrows. Each burrow had two owls standing right outside so we got a great view. I was disappointed they didn’t stop the wagons so we could get better photos. The little guys were so cute. They didn’t seem to mind us driving right next to them.

  15. Sherry says:

    Glad to see the one who enjoyed it the most was in all the pictures. Love that burrowing owls live in the fields. Too cute. That’s a mighty fine harvest. I would have had bags full of broccoli and kale. This is on my must do list too now. Thanks for letting me know. These fields don’t happen to be organic do they?

  16. Laurel says:

    This looks like just the kind of thing we would love to do. The produce is gorgeous—how fun to tour the farm and then to harvest what you want. Like Sherry and LuAnn said, I hope the farming practices are organic/sustainable. The Burrowing owls are adorable!

    • placestheygo says:

      The produce that we picked wasn’t organic, Laurel. They do have 35 acres that are certified organic but not the area we picked. Since this is a research facility I am sure they try and use all types of things.

  17. And oh I just realized you are in Yuma and there is a hiking trail, Telegraph Pass that takes you to the top of the hill with a great view of the valley…. It will be an easy climb/hike but still will give you a good work out.

    • placestheygo says:

      I saw that you suggested this to someone else. Thanks for the suggestion. It is suppose to rain tomorrow and then we are moving into Kofa NWP. We just stopped here for a couple days to check out a boondocking spot in Kofa and see Paul and Marsha.

  18. Wheelingit says:

    Very cool. All the years we’ve travelled around Yuma area I never knew this existed!

    • placestheygo says:

      From what we understand, Nina, there are several farm tour that leave from right here in Yuma. I just happened to read about this one in another blog and I liked the idea that it was on a research facility.

  19. Hans Kohls says:

    Update! We signed up for the Feb, 7, 2017 tour. Hope it doesn’t rain, as we will go to the Westwind in Yuma after El Centro. Thanks for the tip! See you in Tucson in 2017.

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