George Hillebrecht bought his first parcel of the ranch in Escondido in 1924, and continued to buy adjoining parcels as he could afford them, until he had 150 acres. His parents were citrus farmers from Orange County, and he chose this area because the land was affordable and they had a promising source of local water.
George planted valencia oranges and lemons from his own nursery, and later planted fuerte avocados. He retired in the mid 50’s and his son Ben, Laura’s father, continued planting more avocados, Hass this time. Ben also planted about ten acres of muscat grapes when the last “old Escondido” vineyard was plowed under in the mid 1970’s. When the muscat grapes matured, he found that the only market outlet for the imperfect-looking muscat-of-Alexandra grapes was roadside selling to the public. Thus, our farm stand operation was born of necessity in the late 1970’s. My brother and sisters were of college age at that time, and we all helped with the growing and selling at the stand. We converted some of the very old citrus plantings into crops which would widen our variety of offerings at the farm stand. We planted five acres of deciduous fruit trees, six acres of raspberries, two acres of asparagus, four acres of strawberries, two acres of tomatoes, and other small crops.
For a time we attended up to five farmer’s markets per week, plus opening a second farm stand. Not much of that proved to be profitable enough to continue, so we cut back on our plantings to the point that we could sell the entire crops through our two farm stands and some outside wholesale business.
We also have a ranch seven miles east of here (contiguous to the Wild Animal Park in San Pasqual Valley). We farm about 80 acres there, mostly valencia oranges and 15 acres of white sweet corn and five acres of various melons and potatoes. We are planning to develop some hillside Hass avocado plantings, since we have improved our water well capacity.
The reason for our current enthusiasm for agriculture here is that my brother and I are still working full time in agriculture. Mike is the resident licensed pest control operator, the strawberry expert, and he is responsible for the home ranch. I, Laura Hillebrecht-Kapusnik, have taken over the responsibility of running the farm stand, as well as growing some of our retail vegetables.
As a whole, the agricultural picture in San Diego County has changed remarkably from 1924 when George Hillebrecht came here to plant virgin land to an orchard. The crops then were citrus, flowers, vegetables, grapes, and grain and feed crops for the livestock. There were many poultry ranches, dairies, and cattle ranches in those days. Today, the San Diego County billion dollar agricultural production has shifted to flower, and ornamental plants…. not food crops…. for over half of the total agricultural income. Behind that number one category are avocados, citrus, row crops, strawberries, a few dairies, many acres but not much income from cattle ranching, egg ranches, mushrooms, and herbs. People do not think of agriculture when you mention San Diego County, but we still bring a great many jobs here and also many dollars. These are our own estimates and our own views!
A 4th Generation Farmer
Hi, I’m Laura Hillebrecht-Kapusnik. Our farming experience started way back in the late 60s with our farm family garden. Farmers have farms and often times they have a family garden. We were one of those families. It was training grounds for the future of our family farm. We learned to plant, irrigate, weed, trap varmints, and harvest at age 5 and on. My earliest recollection of harvest, was picking wild blackberries at the crack of dawn with the entire family…dogs included, until we discovered they were stealing the berries from our pans! My parents suggested that we whistle while we were harvesting so that we wouldn’t eat all the berries we were picking.
I remember lots of mosquitoes and stickers from the briar patch. It took some talking to get us down there sometimes. The promise of my Mom’s delicious berry cobbler usually did the trick.As soon as we were old enough to join 4-H we did, and it was through that organization that we got our livestock education. We raised beef, horses, hogs, and dogs and enjoyed a variety of other social activities such as public speaking, political education, community service, and marketing strategies.
My parents started selling Muscat grapes in their front yard in the late 70’s. Then they came up with the idea of marketing our citrus through our own fresh market and that is when they leased the corner of Idaho and San Pasqual Valley Road for our first season with the Farm Stand.
My Dad designed and built the Farm Stand structure with the help of his lifelong friend Rolf Steeve. They built it on an axle, so that it could be picked up and moved fairly easily, at whatever time we found a suitable property to buy and set up shop. A year later, they traded a property for the land on the corner of Summit Drive and San Pasqual Valley Road.
I have three siblings. One brother, Mike, and two sisters, Mary and Sally, all older. My brother works for my Dad and helps us out where he can. My sister Mary lives locally, manages three farmer’s markets, and is a huge help with harvest and marketing of our Farm Stand products. Sister Sally farms in northern California, and helps me with computer accounting issues as well as encourages me with new and improved ideas for marketing. When she and her children, Steven and Regina and Husband Martin are here they help with harvest. At one time, we all worked in the Farm Stand business.