- Oasis Camel Dairy
- Atlas Alpacas
- San Diego Alpacas
- Vineyard Grant James
- San Diego farms
- Summers Past Farms
- Armstrong Garden Centers
- Oma's Pumpkin Patch
- Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs
- Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures
- La Dolce Vita Alpacas
- Bates Nut Farm
- Julian Mining Company
- Julian Farm
- Evergreen Nursery
- Three Sons Farms
- Son-Rise Ranch
- Julian Cider Mill
- Rancho San Diego Emus
- Keys Creek Lavender Farm
By Miriam Raftery
Updated May 14, 2020
April 26, 2020 (San Diego’s East County) – “Zoom our Zoo is an online, real-time animal show tailored for your audience,” a message at the Oasis Camel Dairy website reads. Owners of the Ramona-based family ranch, like many local ventures that rely on agritourism, face high costs to feed and care for their camels, exotic performing birds, racing turkeys and other animals without public events during the COVID-19 pandemic. So now they are offering interactive programs online to liven up corporate events or entertain kids with virtual birthday parties featuring “camel capers and parrot pranks” through Zoom – for a fee.
The owners,Gil and Nancy Riegler, have given employees time off and are taking care of all animals themselves. Nancy Riegler, in a message on the camel dairy’s answering machine, says the Zoom Our Zoo parties are “really fun. People ask questions…It’s a great breakup from quarantine.”
You can also buy camel milk soaps, lotions and other products – including some scented with frankincense and myrrh, online at https://www.CamelDairy.com.
The Rieglers, like many agricultural businesses in San Diego County, normally rely heavily on agritourism with open houses, onsite product sales and special events such as Pomegranate Days and Watermelon Days. But with a mandatory shut-down order in place for non-essential businesses and the public ordered by health officials to stay home for weeks and maybe months, local farmers, ranchers and nurseries are experimenting with new ways to remain viable.
Some found opportunity amid the chaos.
When grocery stores ran out of staples such as eggs and consumers flocked to avoid crowded markets, Frank Hilliker, owner of Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside, touted drive-up service to buy his farm-fresh white or brown eggs, local honey, and jam in flavors ranging from “tripleberry” and strawberry rhubarb to passion fruit, pineapple and guava. He also sells baking items including flour, sugar, butter and yeast. flour, sugar, butter and yeast.
“We’re so EGGCITED that now we’re all JAMMING,” Hilliker posted on Facebook.
He’s seen a steady stream of vehicles (photo, right) lining up to pickup his products.. Sales are cash only, “no Venmo, PayPal, debit, credit, Monopoly Money, checks, Smackaros, Clams, CHICKEN SCRATCH or cash substitute,” the site makes clear. The San Diego Union-Tribune interviewed customers, including one who vowed not to buy store-bought eggs again after discovering the better taste of farm-fresh eggs.
Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs is located at 11329 El Nopal in Lakeside. You can view items available on his Facebook page, order by calling (619)448-3683 and pickup from 8 a.m.to 5 p.m. daily.
Despite a brisk drive-up business, Hilliker told ECM his business is struggling due to loss of wholesale business to restaurants. “No food service business is killing us,” he says.
Fort Cross Old Timey Adventures relies heavily on special events during normal times but is still selling agricultural items for pickup. “It’s lilac season right now!” The farms Facebook page states. Lilac bouquets can be purchased online at https://www.fortcross.com/julian-lilacs to assure availability. ATM/credit cards only, no cash.
Armstrong Garden Centers, including the El Cajon location at https://www.armstronggarden.com/armstrong-garden-centers-el-cajon, now has call-in and curbside pickup for social distance. They’ve shifted classes online including virtual instruction in container gardening, growing herbs and vegetables, as well as beneficial bugs and pest control.
Not every local farm has found a way to sustain sales during the pandemic, however.
Oma’s Pumpkin Patch in Lakeside, since closing of the Van Ommering Dairy two years ago, relied entirely on tourism-related sales. “Our only income is through visitors who come to our farm. We will lose our entire spring tour season this year,” Brenda Van Ommering wrote to a customer after the stay-home order by county health officials. “Please think of us again come pumpkin patch season and Christmas tree time.”
Miriam Raftery, editor and founder of East County Magazine, has over 35 years of journalism experience. She has won more than 350 journalism awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego Press Club, and the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Her honors include the Sol Price Award for responsible journalism and three James Julian awards for public interest reporting from SPJ’s San Diego chapter. She has received top honors for investigative journalism, multicultural reporting, coverage of immigrant and refugee issues, politics, breaking news and more. Thousands of her articles have appeared in national and regional publications.
East County Magazine gratefully thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help make this reporting possible. #FacebookJournalismProject. You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.