Fueled by enthusiasm and a love for nature, a Newport Beach mother of three decided to become a farmer.
Joan Smith, 49, is the founder and farmer of Rancho Meladuco date farm.
The business started in fall 2015 when Smith decided she could move forward since her three children were older, which allotted some flexibility in how she could spend her time.
“I said, ‘I am done talking about it, I am just going to do it,’ ” Smith said. “At first I didn’t know what I was doing, but I would figure it out.”
Smith had toyed with the idea for years after receiving compliments from friends about the dates, which are grown on a Coachella Valley ranch co-owned by Smith and her husband, Craig.
But summoning a farm to life is no easy task.
The Coachella ranch had four fruit-bearing date trees that had been there for decades, but to start a farm, more needed to be planted.
Smith went to work gathering offshoots and purchasing them from other farmers. Offshoots grow into trees and propagate fruit when matured.
The formerly humble collection of trees has grown to about 150, covering roughly three acres. The farm primarily produces medjool dates, though most of the trees cannot produce fruit until matured.
While cultivating her farm, Smith became an autodidact, conforming to a strict regimen of Internet and textbook consumption to learn the tenets of farming dates. She also received direction from local farmers.
That small community has formed a helpful knowledge base for Smith.
“Farmers are tremendously helpful,” Smith said. “Every time I have a need, it’s like ‘poof,’ and then there’s this person. It’s a small industry so everybody knows everybody. They all know who I am now. I am the date farmer from Newport Beach.”
But Smith has learned the best teacher is experience.
“Like anything in life, experiential knowledge is important,” Smith said. “You try something and if it doesn’t work, then you find some other way. It’s trial and error.”
Despite the novelty of being a Newport Beach farmer, for Smith becoming a farmer is in many ways a return to her roots.
Smith’s father, William Anderson, owned a 640-acre ranch in Bakersfield while she was growing up there. Anderson was an attorney and what Smith calls a “gentleman’s rancher.”
The family ran cattle on the land and spent their weekends there. Amid caring for the land, repairing fences and watering systems and doing other ranch maintenance, Smith and her siblings spent their weekends roaming the terrain, climbing trees and probing for snakes, lizards and frogs.
This free-range childhood birthed a love for wild things in Smith.
“I love working with the dirt,” Smith said.
Smith has sought to re-create that idyllic childhood for her kids.
Her two girls, Regan, 12, and Dagny, 10, and her son, Cole, 6, also spend their weekends on a ranch.
“My childhood was really fun,” Smith said. “It was natural for me to want to raise my kids like that. We have four ponds and all kinds of wildlife. The kids run wild.”
The children also are interested in the farm, Smith said.
A few years ago when the farm idea was in its infancy, Smith and her children vision-boarded hopes for the project. It included pictures related to sustainable farming and images of goats to help deal with pesky weeds, among others. Smith was a novice in farming at the time.
Now Smith’s dates are being sold on her website, in various local markets and in her shop at 2700 West Coast Hwy., Suite 222, Newport Beach.
Smith has made about $10,000 in sales since beginning in September and she’s planning to add another two acres in trees over the next year.
“You can always think of a million reasons why you can’t do something,” Smith said. “But, all you have to do is take a step forward and start learning.”