The couple, who embody the young, idealistic farmers market growers, met when they were both working at farmers market stands while attending UC Santa Barbara -- he was an environmental studies major and she studied ceramics. Finding their student jobs more interesting than their undergraduate training, four years ago they started to farm a 1-acre plot they rented north of Goleta.
Because farmers markets were already full of growers selling the same mix of tomatoes, peppers and herbs that they had, the Finleys had to chop up their produce and bottle it as salsa to secure a spot selling at even the smaller Santa Barbara area markets.
"It was a lot of work but we liked it," says Johanna, who is 29. Christopher just turned 30. "We could see the potential but we didn't want to do salsa anymore."
They decided to expand to grow a wider range of crops. They moved to a 1 1/2 -acre plot in the Santa Ynez Valley and bought their first tractor. The next year they started leasing more land from a neighbor, adding another 4 acres. The third year they added a little more leased land to bring them to a total of 10 acres.
Now, the Finleys grow kale, chard and mustard in the winter. There are peas in the fall and spring along with lettuce, arugula and spinach. Summer is sweet corn, melons and tomatoes.
"Anything we could grow in season, I think we've tried it," she says. "We're still in that phase of wanting to grow everything to see what sells and find out what our particular niche is. Everything we grow, we try to specialize in varieties that not everyone is doing."
It's a long and sometimes bumpy road. Some problems are mundane: Finding the cheapest top-quality seeds was one hurdle. Finding out where to buy produce-shipping boxes was another.
But sometimes they're more serious. A couple of weeks ago, a sudden frost killed all their zucchini plants. "We woke up and they were gone," Johanna says. "There's not anything we can do about it. We'll just have to get more seed and start again.
"With farming, there are always mistakes but there is always another season to get it right. And having a variety of products, if one fails, you're not wiped out because you've put everything into one product.
"It's a struggle, but we're lucky enough to be able to make ends meet," says Johanna, "We don't own our own land or any of those other things, but it's just a great way of life. I don't think I could be working for someone else right now."
For Juan Garcia and his son Armando, farmers markets allowed them to create a business of their own rather than just work for other people. Juan immigrated to north San Diego County from Michoacan in 1975 and went to work for Durling Nursery, a first-rate grower of fruit trees. Today, he's a foreman there supervising 50 workers.
But at the same time he was learning that job, with the help of his son he was striking out as an entrepreneur. Starting with just 9 acres purchased in 1990, he and Armando have gradually put together a farm near Fallbrook that now totals 27 acres of citrus, avocado, tropical fruit and mulberry trees.
"We basically just started putting some money aside," Juan Garcia says. "It was a lot of hard work, I'll tell you. But because I was working at the nursery I was able to get informed on everything coming out that was new. We've really concentrated on getting our hands on the good stuff."
Armando Garcia is a 29-year-old spark plug who practically chases customers down to get them to taste his Page tangerines. "You've got to try this, man, it's the bomb!" he says. And he's right. The fruit has the kind of flavor that only comes with great land, the best varieties and careful farming.
But even with all of that going for them, it might have been a different story had Armando not gotten a part-time job working for another farmers market grower while he and his father were establishing their orchards.
When the trees matured and produced fruit, Armando sold it at his friend's stands. Eventually, he took them over, and today Garcia Organic has coveted spots at Santa Monica's Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday markets.