The city of Oceanside in North San Diego County is primarily known for—you guessed it—proximity to the Pacific Ocean. But points of interest extend far inland, and we’re not just referring to Camp Pendleton. Cross the 5 Freeway and climb Fire Mountain, and you’ll find a wonderful surprise amid wending residential roads: Cyclops Farms (1448 Avocado Rd.; cyclopsfarms.com).
In 2015, Oceanside native Luke Girling leased a 2.5-acre fenced lot from an amenable local. Ever since, he’s been growing produce, both mainstream and esoteric, including horn melon, passion fruit, fava beans, and a large variety of tomatoes, all certified organic through CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers).
Girling graduated from the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems farming program at the University of Santa Cruz in 2013, but returned home to Oceanside with his wife, Frances, to raise their kids. After spending two years managing West Farm in Carlsbad and fueling Bistro West and West Steak and Seafood with seasonal “farm-to-table” fruits and vegetables, he left to start his own farm.
Early Girl, traditionally a dry-farmed tomato, was among the first plants Girling grew, thanks to a memorable tomato he sampled up north years ago. He’s since moved on to include some heirloom tomato varieties, but his organically grown hybrids—like Green Zebra, Moskvich, Brandywine-Rose, Indigo Red, and Cherry Bomb—are his rock stars.
“Oceanside has a long tradition of tomato farming, so before I ever showed up, there were plenty of success stories here,” Girling says. “We’ve gone from doing okay, to a little better, to pretty good, and I’m hoping this year goes past good and into awesome!” To get there, Girling has recently stepped up composting in his beds and is already seeing a difference in growth and health. “With increased rainfall and continued lessons learned, Cyclops Farms had tomatoes flourishing well into January,” he says with pride.
Girling operates a Saturday morning farmstand at the Cyclops Farms field along Avocado Road. (Naturally, he chose a farm on a street named after a fruit.) He also supplies some of North County’s best restaurants, including Privateer Coal Fire Pizza, 608, Local Tap House, and Petite Madeline Bakery.
When pressed to name a favorite recent preparation that uses Cyclops Farms tomatoes, Girling points to the Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub, an inventive Japanese restaurant from chef Davin Waite and his wife, Jessica, in Oceanside: “Chef Davin at Wrench puts a nice white fish on a Green Zebra tomato, puts a little magic on it, and it’s the bomb!” Waite frequently uses Girling’s black tomatoes as part of a stellar scallop sashimi co-starring jalapeño, lemon oil, and apple.
In addition to supplying and lovingly tending his plants, Girling hosts intimate monthly “Water Bill Dinners” on the farm. He invites local chefs to use his produce to create beautiful dinners, which typically cover the sizeable Cyclops Farms water bill. He describes these meals, served on picnic tables overlooking the field, as “locals supporting locals. Very simple, very clean, very special. We are all friends, and we all push each other to be better, not compete for who’s best.” Recent guest chefs have come from all the top local restaurants. And when they’re in season, tomatoes always make an appearance on these special menus.
Girling suggests making his “house favorite” caprese salad salsa at home. “It’s chopped up like a salsa, but made with the same ingredients as a traditional caprese salad. I go heavy on the olive oil, put a twist on it with well-roasted garlic chunks, and make sure the mozzarella and basil are chopped up small enough to match the tomatoes. Salt, pepper, and maybe a jalapeño.” The result: heaven.
Visit the Cyclops Farms stand on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or check the website for Water Bill Dinner dates—and heed Girling’s salsa advice immediately!