"In the Beck home, cookbooks from almost every culture imaginable line the walls of the study. “I have merged a long-time interest in multi-cultural cuisine with a passion for nutrition and a lifetime of gourmet cooking into La Vigne products,” she said. That, coupled with a commitment to ecology, has contributed to the development of La Vigne Organic’s distinctive line of gourmet foods made entirely from fruits certified organic by CCOF. - quote from the La Vigne website.
Helene has also published a new book that we personally read and reviewed, and it's a TRUE work of art. "Jewels From My Grove, is the culmination of more than 30 years she and her husband, Robert, lovingly spent restoring an ailing tract of farmland in Fallbrook, California. Their vision and passion bore fruit - a wonderfully healthy sustainable organic citrus grove - and this cookbook is Helene's love letter to her three favorite orange-hued jewels - persimmons, kumquats and blood oranges. In addition to beautiful grove and food photography, you'll find recipes for some of Helene's most cherished citrus-centric dishes that are both easy and challenging, savory and sweet, all wrapped in a story that is compelling and heart-warming." Check out the book on Amazon here.
TPM's small business spotlight pioneer Leesa King asked Helene some questions for our feature this month. Here's what she found out!
1. Tell us a little bit about the time when you decided to transition your home orchard into an organic, bio-dynamic business. What were the necessary steps, challenges, and personal accomplishments that led La Vigne fruits to be the gem that it is now.
"Within 5 years of buying the grove where La Vigne is established, we began the organic transition process. This was in 1986, and to become organic, you had to use all natural amendments (non-synthetic inputs) on the land. A resting period was part of the where the soil has to correct itself from previous chemicals used. This was a 3 year waiting period.
With the application of biodynamic methods, in which we build compost that becomes humus, it really awakened me and connected me to this system. It was seeing the difference in the appearance of the trees. The leaves were the most indicative of change - when the trees are taken care of, the leaves are more upright, and they have a richer look to them. The ground didn't change as quickly; later we had to give our full attention to the soil to see change. It doesn't happen overnight, it's not like a flower that might wilt, (feed it the water it needs and overnight it will revive); its a slow, progressive change. If the plant is strong to start with, it'll respond nicely."
2. How do you use sustainability in your produce and longevity in your business plan?
"Your business is always foremost in your mind. You're competing with other people who have great fruit too! The fruit has to be good, our attitude has to be good, and our relationship with the distributor and with the land has to be good. If all of these things are in check, your business begins to grow! Fresh fruit has value, however making a value-added product out of something left behind is also very important; there's always some fruit lingering.
You've got a longer and harder way to get rid of your fruit when your company is new. Just like with any other business. If you're going to sell wallets, for example, you are going to compete with a lot of people. Something about your wallet has to be imaginative, and the product has to be attractive to a consumer, whether that's price or quality, it has to stand out. That's what we've done. We've taken our wonderful fruit, and invented new condiments that are unique. This is how we keep the business and the fruit alive."
3. How do you incorporate the public and/or consumers into the orchard?
"We occasionally have groups visit the grounds. Small groups are better, they get a more intimate representation of the land. They can hear, smell, ask questions, and get a better experience overall. I'm not opposed to the idea of having these small groups, as long as they're serious! It has to be when fruit is on the trees so there's something to see.
We also post lots of photos on our Facebook page to help communicate what we're all about."
4. How do you share your message of conservation activism? Do you use farmers markets, co-ops, or food shares like CSA?
"To make some of the exotic fruits better known and on the tables just as comfortably as a pear or banana, we try to set an example of what we are practicing. We have classes at times on bees and making compost, and we buy local and sell local...and yes we do sell to the CSA.
Despite the fact that we compete, we all come together at the farm meetings, certification events, and we're all friendly with one another. We all worry about the same things...if there's something that plagues citrus, it will probably affect everyone growing citrus, we compare notes. If you understand the stress signals that trees put out, a signal that they're not doing well, then all sorts of detrimental insects that can take them down, may be avoided.
It's all of these things that you mentioned! It's everything. People marching, articles in magazines, mothers talking to each other, wanting better food for their children in schools, and sometimes you'll see people taking action. But more often now we see things posted on the internet. The results of what has happened to our soil is everywhere...Facebook, Twitter, all of us are noticing that most Americans (not the whole population, just a good many of them) are generally eating food with preservatives, chemicals, and our bodies are trying to find ways to fight it, and so we see disruptions in health. Spreading the message of organic, local, healthy whole foods may encourage people to eat foods that promote health instead of disrupting it.
By presenting the best fruit possible, supporting other organizations that promote these same concepts and thoughts, this way to support the cause and is the greater message."
A big thanks to Helene Beck of La Vigne Organics. We encourage you to visit them out online at www.lavignefruits.com and check out all the different products.
And if you have an interest in this grove, see if you can tour the property. You will be amazed by the endless secret gardens, rows of beautiful exotic citrus trees, and no doubt you will feel the land sort of buzzing with vibrant life as you walk on the organic earth. We always feel something magical when we are there, and we hope you can experience it too. - By Tracy & Leesa