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US (CA): Oxnard-area farmer's produce has international roots

Tim Dyer, an El Rio farmer and the owner of Uncle Tim’s Pickled Pleasures, displays tomatoes he grows from seeds sourced all over the world and sells them locally. He also pickles cucumbers grown from seeds sourced as far away as England.

While Ventura County has no shortage of tomato and cucumber farmers, few can claim to source their wares from the four corners of the globe.

That’s the idea behind Uncle Tim’s Pickled Pleasure Tomato and Cucumber Patch, a small Oxnard-area farm that is gearing up for the fall harvest season. The business is run by Santa Paula resident Tim Dyer, a lifelong farmer who opened his latest venture on East Vineyard Avenue in the El Rio area in February.

Dyer sources his seeds from countries ranging from England to China and India, finding sellers online or in catalogs. He noted that it’s easy to buy seeds entirely unlike anything being grown in the area but mused that many farmers are simply hesitant to deviate from standard crops, such as the heirloom tomatoes commonly grown in Ventura County.

Early life hobby

While farming has been Dyer’s primary hobby since he began growing his own cucumbers when he was 5 years old, it was only recently that he began sourcing seeds from around the world. Dyer, who works full-time as a house painter, was inspired to grow crops that weren’t traditionally found in local fields or supermarkets and decided to try growing exotic strains of cucumbers and tomatoes to share his love for diverse fruits.

“People say they don’t like tomatoes, and you give them a slice of a mine, which are indigo tomatoes, and they love it,” Dyer said. “It’s like candy because all the tomatoes I’m growing have no acid. People don’t think other types of food taste good until they actually taste them.”

Dyer described his strains of tomato as being easier on the stomach, while he characterized his cucumbers as being particularly sweet.

It’s not all talk, either, according to Gary Foley, a produce manager at the Westridge Market in Ojai. He said Dyer’s crops are unlike anything else being grown in Ventura County, which often makes them an easy sell.

Foley, who usually orders Dyer’s tomatoes twice a week, noted that the crop is popular with customers and added he appreciated Dyer’s enthusiasm to work with small neighborhood stores.

“It’s more of a specialty product that he’s bringing in that not a lot of other companies or stores sell,” Foley said. “People like his product, and it’s a pretty good seller here. I like how he’s a local farmer who deals with local markets and isn’t as big-scale as some of the other farms out there.”

Word of mouth was essential for growing the business, Dyer said. He said he spent a considerable amount of time going out to restaurants and businesses to hand out samples and business cards. Although he made no money doing so, people eventually started to call him back.

Although Dyer said his farm is not especially profitable, he considers it a labor of love and aims to transition from painting to farming full-time soon. He recently acquired his agriculture certificate and plans to sell his crops at local farmers’ market in the near future.

Finding a niche
Dyer and other small-scale farmers who carve their own niches can thrive even in agriculturally dense regions such as Ventura County, according to Ed Williams, the county’s agricultural commissioner. Although he did not personally know Dyer, Williams said farmers who grow exotic crops such as Dyer’s eclectic strains of cucumbers and tomatoes often stand out and help the area’s farming community flourish.

“It’s a great thing for unique products grown here to be offered to consumers,” Williams said. “It gives a niche market for smaller producers, who can fill a real need that consumers here might be looking for.”

For Dyer, farming is more than just a new business venture. It’s his personal salvation. Dyer attributed his happiness and livelihood to Alcoholics Anonymous and noted that although he always loved farming, the practice became an integral part of his life after he achieved sobriety. Dyer said farming keeps him occupied with positive and productive work, which helps keep his mind off of addictive substances.

While he receives some assistance from a friend he met through a recovery home, Uncle Tim’s Pickled Pleasure Tomato and Cucumber Patch is largely run by the man himself. Maintaining a primarily one-man farming operation is no small feat. The temperature in Dyer’s small greenhouse is often sweltering. But for Dyer, it’s a passion project that is more than worth the effort.

“Farming here gives me life, energy, peace and completely takes my depression away,” Dyer said. “When you’re in a greenhouse you can’t do anything but smile. If you have depression, start gardening.”

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