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Baby vegetables grow up

Santa Barbara County farm proves that good things do come in small packages.



Big seems like it would be better when it comes to food--bigger plates, bigger portions and a bigger appetite for anything new and exciting. In a world where bigger is almost always better, one Santa Barbara County farm proves good things really do come in small packages. That's where Babe Farms comes in.

Located in the fertile valley of Santa Maria, Babe Farms is a year round grower, packer and shipper of some of the finest specialty produce around. What makes them special? Well, how about their size for starters. You might have guessed it from their name, but almost everything grown here is a baby version of their full-sized counterparts.

"We started in a conventional farming operation, growing broccoli and lettuce. One of the owners had done some extensive traveling in Europe, and seemed to be able to predict specialty produce was the thing of tomorrow," said Babe Farms president Judy Lundberg. "In 1981, we incorporated Babe Farms and started growing baby carrots and a few things like that. And we just grew from there."

But no matter how large the farm has grown, the farmers always find themselves answering the same question about these mini-marvels.

"First question: 'How do you grow baby vegetables or what do you do that' different?'" said Jeff Lundberg. "Some are from a small, coarse seed or a special breed but mostly it's farming practices--we crowd things together. We harvest them young and we make sure we take care of them and cultivate them."

The farm has grown to produce nearly 100 different small, colorful varieties of produce---including baby carrots, radishes and cauliflower, not to mention 30 different varieties of lettuce. In fact, they were one of the first to pioneer the blending of baby lettuces into gourmet salad mixes that are so popular at restaurants across the country these days.

Those restaurants include the Wine Cottage Bistro in nearby Orcutt.

"Almost instantly, the minute I started serving it in the restaurant, every guest started asking what it was and they were really intrigued," said Chef Ty Tolbert. "And I thought, wow, it's really a way to connect people with the local area, and the customers really like that part."

Uniqueness and incredible diversity of colors are just two of the many reasons chefs and consumers have become attracted to baby vegetables.And one thing is for sure: The phrase, "you must have been a beautiful baby" never fit so well in the produce section

For more information about Babe Farms, visit www.babefarms.com.

For more information about wine cottage bistro, visit www.winecottagebistro.com.


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