This month we are delighted to introduce you to Mary Hillebrecht of Escondido, California. Mary and I have been dear friends since our college days at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. We were roommates for 2 years, and have remained friends ever since.
Mary granted me an interview a couple of weekends ago, when I was visiting her at her beautiful farm. When I asked her of her interests, she said “Farming, farming, farming!” She also loves to read – a lot. When she was in high school, she had read every book in her school library by the end of her Junior year… and then she ran out of books!
Because of her great love of reading, Mary is very well read in many subjects, but especially about her great passion in farming and agriculture. Additionally, she loves to talk about agriculture, is very well spoken, and it is an enjoyable education to listen to her speak on this subject.
Mary’s grandfather, George Hillebrecht, along with his brother and sister, came to the Escondido area of San Diego County approximately 100 years ago. Each sibling bought land and began to farm. The family worked hard to make sure that they were able to pass down the land to the current generation. Much of the original land which was purchased then is still in the Hillebrecht family today.
As a young man, Mary’s father, Ben, went to ag school, to learn mechanics, and then married her mother, Fran, who was an accountant. Between the two of them, they had the skills to nurture the farm and run it in an efficient and careful way. Over the years, it became a strong, self-sufficient and viable operation. The fact that the family has managed to hang onto the land all these years proves that it is sustainable – the land is healthy, and produces excellent crops, all while using minimal water.
Mary’s parents taught their children that farmers are important, and that farming is a higher calling. They were taught that farming is a way of life, and not just a job. Mary and her three siblings carry on this teaching – all four of them graduated from college in the field of agriculture. All four are employed in farming. Mike, Mary and Laura each operate a portion of the family farm. Additionally, Mary manages several farmers’ markets in San Diego County, and Laura operates a produce stand. Sally is married to Martin, and the two of them operate Martin’s family sheep and cattle ranch in Marin County, California.
Mary herself farms approximately 50 acres, and her siblings farm another 50 acres of family land. All of the land is irrigated, some of it is organic. Mary grows the world’s best avocados, oranges, lemons, limes and speciality potatoes. Some of her produce is sold wholesale, but the bulk of it is sold directly to consumers, through Laura’s Farm Stand, as well as the farmers’ markets that Mary manages.
The family has been involved in direct marketing since Mary was a young girl. In fact, back in the 1980’s, she sat on a state board, and wrote the state regulations for direct marketing!
The Hillebrechts, while they are not straight organic farmers, do not bring in any foreign or outside material onto the property. This means that the farm is completely sustainable, in that they don’t depend on outside materials to amend the soil. All soil amendments come from their livestock (manure), and also crop and plant matter, which is right on their property. They do, however, use some commercial fertilizers if needed, but they decide very carefully each season whether to use fertilizers on a specific field.
The family’s most recent, cutting edge purchase was just this year. They bought a 1900 single-row-corn-binder to bind their corn! They are pleased and excited with this purchase. Although it is an old implement, it works beautifully, and makes their job go much more smoothly.
When asked what are their biggest challenges, Mary replied that her worst problems all have to do with the government – first the state and then federal regulations. She said, “if they would just leave us (farmers) alone, we would get along just fine.” Additionally, Mary says that living right on the Mexican border, they have quarantine issues to deal with on a regular basis. Another big challenge is living so close to the large population of San Diego. While this population offers an excellent and constant market for her produce, it also causes great restraint on her operation.
Her biggest rewards are easy… she can do what she wants, when she wants to do it. Managing her family land, watching the next generation come up, to be prepared to take over, is very rewarding for her, as she knows it was for her parents and her grandparents.
Interestingly, Mary noted that the City of Escondido recently decided to preserve agriculture (!) so they are now recycling irrigation water. Although the family farm is in the county, their water is controlled by the city.
Mary deals a lot with people who have fears about the food they eat. These fears are driven by the 24 hour media. She wishes people wouldn’t listen to that. She wishes that they would ask a farmer their questions.
Mary wishes to pass along this message to the readers of Kiss My Tractor. “I know my ground. I want it to last for my nieces and nephews. Every decision we make, we make with knowledge, past experience and great deliberation. I don’t want to harm this land or the people who eat the food I grow. In the U.S., with our food system, we have so many food choices that other countries don’t have. We are so fortunate to have such an abundant, safe food supply here in the U.S.”
Mary graduated from Cal Poly Pomona, with a degree in Agricultural Business. In 1985, she was a McCloy Fellow. This is a fellowship administered by the American Council on Germany, and it’s efforts are to create better understanding, and to foster better relationship between the U.S. and Germany. Additionally, Mary is a lifelong Farm Bureau member, and is a graduate of the California Ag. Leadership Program (CALP), 1985, Class 16.
We are grateful to Mary and her family, for their long devotion to safe, sustainable farming and farm products. Thank you, Hillebrecht Family!
You are invited to ask a question of Mary, and of all our farmers. Just enter your question or comment into the comment box, and we will reply.