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.
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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 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!