When Ken Lee was earning his degree in engineering, he realized that his “heart just wasn’t in it.” His real passion was outdoors on a farm –– no coincidence since he grew up on a vegetable farm in California’s Central Valley. So Ken followed his heart and went back to the farm, where he learned all about the business of farming, from operations to picking produce.
Before long, Ken’s assiduousness paid off. He purchased his own 20 acres of land in Reedley, CA, and over the next 25 years, expanded Ken’s Top Notch farm into a 250-acre certified organic orchard.
As any farmer will tell you, growing organic is hard –– it involves more maintenance and more costs. Common issues, such as weeds, cannot be resolved through convenient solutions like herbicides and pesticides. Organic farming requires natural methods. Additionally, produce must be picked within a narrower window. And, because minimizing waste is a high priority for Ken, he composts tree fall by gathering it up and taking it to a nearby zoo…hippos love fruit!
For Ken, the extra labor and costs involved in organic farming is well worth it. “I have a conscience…so that’s why I want to do it, number one, the safest way, and number two, the environmentally-friendly way.”
Ken’s high standards extend to the quality and variety of his farm’s products. He finds it especially gratifying to hear directly from customers. “When people stop by the farm to purchase my fruit or vegetables and then come back the next week to tell me how much they enjoyed it…you know, it’s a great feeling.” And when it comes to variety, Ken is constantly expanding his offerings, rowing everything from nectarines to oranges to grapes. Every year, he tries new things every year and “learns something new every day” on the farm.
Ken lives on the farm with his wife and three kids. Multiple times a week, he makes the four-hour drive to LA to deliver his fruit, while his brother delivers to San Francisco. The work is laborious but for Ken, it’s a labor of love: “Having that passion in what I do, and producing the best fruit that I can…the rest will take care of itself.”
Munchery sources from local farms, including Ken’s Top Notch Farms. Big thanks to GrubMarket for introducing us to Ken’s farm!