Member Spotlight: La Puma Farms

Santa Barbara, CA

This month, we’d like to introduce you to La Puma Farms. When we asked why he’s a CAFF member, John La Puma said “As a chef and physician, I’ve been privileged to be part of great organizations which push progressive agendas, have the concerns of others at heart (not just members) and are focused on meeting the needs of health conscious consumers and eaters. CAFF does that for farmers– it sees and describes trends in soil science and productivity, it helps farms find new sales outlets, it makes the importance of both food safety and food security prominent in its work, and it provides financial assistance to small family farms. I’m a big fan of CAFF’s work, and proud to be a member”. Thanks, John! We love members like you! Now let’s learn a bit about La Puma Farm in their own words!

Their Story

I have always loved growing plants and caring for animals. I had a rooftop tomato garden in Chicago in the 1990s in 15 gallon pots, and when I moved to Santa Barbara in 2001, I was so excited about the winemaking here that I planted chardonnay and sauvignon blanc vines around my condo parking lot downtown. Later, I found an abandoned nursery in Santa Barbara which had 40 heritage Hass and Rincon avocados, 5 citrus trees, greenhouses and lathe houses. While I saw potential for more avocados and citrus, I soon realized that with its infrastructure, layout and proximity to downtown, the site was perfectly situated for education, demonstration, and boutique, unusual production rather than monoculture.  
I began to think about the farm as a sort of “Lotusland for Food” and I invited other growers, laborers, gardeners, arborists, orchardists, irrigation specialists, mulch makers, composting experts, geologists and agronomists to help me understand the place, improve the soil and repair what was broken. I transitioned the farm from abandoned commercial to certified organic, now in its 7th year.

What can one find at the farm?

We grow avocados, 10+ types of rare citrus (from bergamot oranges and yuzus to caviar limes and meyer lemons). We also grow small amounts of stone fruit, cider apples, Asian persimmons and unusual bananas, as well as tropical berries and fruit, including coffee, allspice, passion fruit, mangos and red, yellow, white, pineapple and strawberry guavas. We have about 250 plumeria, some of which have 100 “hands”, and an almost equal number of cuttings, which we sell as time permits. We have about 200 gamay noir vines and 2 dozen figs, mostly panache and violette de bordeaux.  About 15% of the land is an insectary for beneficial insects and for the Chumash medicinal and culinary herb gardens. 

 We grow using regenerative, organic and permaculture techniques, and most of the fruit is certified organic. I post farm and garden tips and facts on and on our YouTube Green Rx playlist and most recently our Nature Therapy playlist at We use for sending availability lists to a few restaurant owners and chefs: my goal is to find two or three restaurants and chefs whom we can support as we grow for flavor not for quantity and with whom we can work to grow specialty items that do well here.

What is your favorite moment in a day of farming?

I have two: 

1) Stepping outside in the early morning to watch the finches play in the bird bath, fluttering and jumping and fluttering some more

2) Scraping away wood chips I put down as mulch a year or two ago, and finding good, rich tilth beneath.

What’s changed most about California agriculture since you got started?

More California farmers have started to take a seat at the educational table in a new way. Like physicians and chefs, farmers have begun to offer well-informed, boots-on-the-ground opinions about how to work with nature to optimize our co-existence, instead of simply extracting resources from nature.  Farmers now increasingly educate consumers about not just how food is grown, but also how important it is to reduce food waste, appreciate high quality products and think of food as joyful, life-sustaining, and better for you: as a health care tool too.  Farmers in California are also leading the way in helping consumers learn how to start to grow a little of their own food. After all, there were 22 million new gardeners in 2021: many of them were inspired by a farmer they’d met, read about or heard in the media.