Bill Coleman of Coleman Family Farms, a fixture at L.A. farmers markets, dies at 75
Bill Coleman of Coleman Family Farms, an innovative farmer who sold at the Santa Monica farmers market for more than 30 years, died on Dec. 29 at his home in Carpinteria. He was 75.
Coleman had been diagnosed with cancer just four months earlier, his son Abraham said.
Decades before wild arugula, broccoli spigarello, radicchio and Chioggia beets became familiar, Coleman was growing them, as well as dozens of other vegetables and fruits that have remained esoteric, such as Peruvian black mint, South African kei apples and “mouse watermelons” (also called Mexican sour gherkins). The diversity and exoticism of his farm’s produce matched his personality, a blend of passionate opinions, multicultural curiosity and deadpan humor. Always dressed in flamboyant batik shirts, he disdained computers, took pride in his prize-winning show birds, and terrorized market managers when they crossed him.
“He could be imposing and gruff one moment, and tender-hearted, practically crying, the next,” said Laura Avery, the longtime Santa Monica farmers market supervisor.
A sixth-generation Californian, William Robert Wood Coleman was born in Santa Barbara on July 15, 1941, to Warren Coleman and Shirley Hemphill. After graduating from high school, Bill worked at the family business, Coleman Building Materials. In 1963 he bought an avocado and lemon farm in Carpinteria, 30 miles southeast of Santa Barbara, removed most of the trees, and started growing snow peas; in the early 1970s he began growing lettuces, chard and kale, which became the farm’s signature crops.
“I started concentrating on greens because we have the climate to grow them year-round and grow them well,” Coleman said in an interview at his farm in 2001. “We grow what we like to eat personally, and what there’s demand for.”
He said he used no pesticides, but never bothered to have his farm certified organic, since his customers knew and trusted him. In 1979 he was one of the farmers who started a predecessor of the Santa Barbara farmers market, and a few years later he began selling at the Santa Monica Downtown farmers market. Coleman Family Farms continues to sell in Santa Monica, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Coleman is survived by his wife Fidela “Delia” Calip and their four children, Romeo, Rizal, Santiago and Ligaya Coleman Schulterer, as well as Coleman’s two sons from a previous relationship, Basilio and Abraham, and 14 grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Church in Carpinteria.
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