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Tonopah Rob's Vegetable Farm

Tonopah Rob's Vegetable Farm

By: Donna Hancock

Hello and welcome to Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm website (TonopahRob.Com). Thirty-eight years ago, I picked up gardening as a hobby, a pastime that eventually led me to the challenge of farming the desert. I have lived in Tonopah, Arizona, the home of my all-natural fruit and vegetable farm for the past fourteen years.

My property is a small five-acre farm. Originally, the intent was to farm using purely organic methods. Unfortunately, though, as large corporations and the federal government became involved with organic certification, small farmers such as me were being priced out of getting the “certified organic” label. A small farm must now pay between $400 and $1,400 per crop for certification, annual fees, plus the cost of the inspection which includes travel expenses for the inspector.

Growing everything myself, the produce sold at my farm stand is chemical-free and better than organic. I use NO pesticides of any kind, NO insecticides, ZERO antibiotics, NO chemical fertilizers, and absolutely NO genetically modified organisms. Certain sprays and soaps are allowed in organic farming, but at Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm I practice an all-natural method using beneficial bug warfare, green compost, natural fertilizers, and companion planting as my strategy and line of defense.

I employ thousands, possibly millions of beneficial insects on my farm. Over two-million lady bugs have been released here, as well as thousands of praying mantis, over twenty-thousand green lace wings, and countless wasps. Bees, spiders of all kinds, and even scorpions make up part of the troops. Other reinforcements such as lizards and whiptails, frogs, toads, snakes and iguanas patrol day and night, gobbling up bad bug intruders. Hawks and roadrunners help keep sparrows, quail and larger insects away from my lush mustard and turnip greens

Some pests slip through my best efforts, this is part of the price of trying to do business while avoiding harmful substances that I believe should not come in to contact with your or my food. I try to rid my farm of gophers, squirrels, and rabbits with humane traps and natural methods while avoiding more convenient poisons. Squash bugs are a fact of life here and have a devastating effect on my winter squash; I hope that crop rotation and smart companion planting will keep infestations of future crops at bay. While some destructive pests are a fact of life on an all-natural farm and beneficial insects are preferred, all I can do is plant the trees, shrubs, bushes, and flowers to attract the good guys in abundance and wreck havoc for the bad guys.

Amazing to most guests of my free farm tour is that my farm is home to such a wide variety of life, both plant and animal. Of course this starts with the very soil that is supporting it all. Over the years I have turned tens of thousands of pounds of green composting fertilizer back in to the earth. I plant using the crop rotation method to ensure that soil builders such as beans and peas will enrich a plot for brassicas such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower. Tomatoes thrive when planted where a crop of carrots once grew.  Onions, beets, garlic, and potatoes do well when grown after the brassicas.

My water is pumped from an underground source that has been tested by an independent facility in California who informed me that my water is free of contaminants but does have a slightly elevated salt level (which is normal for these parts).

By now you might be asking, what precisely do I grow at Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm? I’ll start by letting you know that my growing season begins in late September and ends in mid to late July. The height of summer is actually my winter, since it is too hot here in the desert to sustain vegetable farming. During the rest of the year you will find more than 60 species of fruits and vegetables with more than 200 varieties under cultivation. Naturally, the harvest of those plantings varies on a weekly basis but on any given Saturday visitors will find a large bounty of fresh produce. During the winter months I am well stocked with spinach, turnips, lots of lettuce, radishes, citrus, broccoli, carrots, and cabbage. Over late spring into early summer you will find tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, eggplant, cucumbers, potatoes, beans, squash and a lot more. An example of the abundance you can find here at Tonopah Rob’s Vegetable Farm stand, for the weekend of June 14th, 2008 I had more than 400 pounds of tomatoes for sale. I also had 81 pounds of beans, 249 pounds of squash, 190 pounds of onions, 39 pounds of eggplant, 51 pounds of cucumbers, 3 pounds of basil in addition to carrots, beets, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, garlic, chard, and potatoes. All told, I brought more than 1,300 pounds (589kg) of produce to market that weekend alone.

Most visitors to the farm, even after touring the premises, cannot believe that I have peach, apple, fig, orange, lemon, date palm, pomegranate, blood orange, tangerine, nectarine, and almond trees dotted across the farm. Vegetables include: artichokes, arugula, asparagus, Asian greens, basil, beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, chard, cilantro, collard greens, cucumbers, dill, eggplant, fennel, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, melons, mustard, okra, onions, parsley, peas, peppers, potatoes, radish, rosemary, rutabagas, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, and watermelon.

But I’m not content to grow just any old plain Jane varieties of produce. You will find red iceberg lettuce, purple, red, and white carrots, lilac and orange bell peppers, white eggplant, orange and purple cauliflower, golden and candy-striped beets, and dozens of varieties of summer and winter squash. Nowhere else in Arizona will you find dragon tongue, cranberry, burgundy queen, and green Italian flat pod beans all at the same market.

Some of my vegetable seeds come from around the world such as the sweet melon-like flavored turnips from England, golden yellow radishes from France, the Chinese mantanghong radish, beets from Italy, white carrots from Germany, Italian garlic, and tomato seeds from Mexico and Europe. Other seeds I use are grown right here on my farm where I harvest beet, radish, onion, and carrot seed. The seed I don’t harvest often is redistributed across the farm and plants its self, which nearly always catches the eye of visitors who wonder out loud why lettuce is growing in the middle of the pepper plot, or why carrots are intermingled with cabbage and are springing up in the peach orchard. The wind, insects, and probably those of us working the farm help spread these seeds so plants take hold where the seeds fall.

This brings me to other stuff that grows here " weeds. As you visit other farms keep in mind that weeds are a natural phenomenon and will grow where water flows. If you do not find weeds on a farm, you can bet poisons are being used to control them. Same goes for insects. My produce is loved by people, insects, and small furry animals alike. I try to present the best from my farm’s harvest, but from time to time a tiny bug hole will get past our eyes. Rest assured that if a bug can live on your produce then you should know for certain that it did not find a pesticide that you surely do not want to eat yourself.

Everything I sell is produced, picked, hand washed, and nurtured right here on my farm. Knowing that your food is locally produced is environmentally and socially the most responsible of consumption habits one can now make. I invite my customers to take the free farm tour. Seeing is believing!

I also offer a CSA program. CSA is shorthand for community supported agriculture. This service is a boon for me and my customers. Based upon a subscription model, consumers buy a share in my farm. For that share, they come to the farm or any market location and shop from the tables picking exactly what they want.  If you don’t like turnips, leave them for someone else. Eggs, fresh cut flowers, honey and vegetables and fruit are available on this program. This is not a weekly box program.  This a come when you can and take what you want program. For me, based upon the subscription interest I can better plan what I need to produce to fill orders and stock the farm stand,  how much seed stock I need to order, and how much  income I can count on to help operate the farm " small scale high quality all-natural farming is not a get rich quick venture.

For the last several years I sold my produce at markets such as the Phoenix Public Market, Whole Foods Stores and have anchored farmers markets throughout Arizona including the Goodyear Estrella Market, Cave Creek, and the Prescott Farmers Market. I now operate from my farm stand on Saturdays and at several other locations on the weekends. Click onto directions to the markets for a location nearest you. My summer hours are 7:00 am to 11:00. The farm is located on 35838 W. Buckeye Road, west of 355th Avenue, in Tonopah, Arizona. Follow the signs and look for the cars on the side of the road. Please click “Directions To The Farm” on the menu above for exact directions as the Google mapping system does not supply correct directions to my farm.

Send an e mail to if you want to be added to his weekly e-mail letter listing all the fruits and vegetables for the weekend markets. Also, you can call me at 623-386-3033 for directions and questions.


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