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Dining: Green Days

Marcia Smart

John Hunt’s day begins at dawn. There are hundreds of avocado trees to plant and 10 tons of fresh-picked citrus to pack. As a farmer, he always has a fence to mend, a leaking hydration pipe to fix, seeds to order, or staff to hire. But Hunt’s duties—which also include leading VIP tours of his ranch for visiting celebrities and dining with executive chefs to discuss produce wish lists—breach the boundaries of the average farm.
 

Hunt is the manager of the Ranch at Bacara Resort & Spa, a 1,000-acre avocado and citrus farm that, its overseer is quick to assert, is not just an amenity for guests of the hotel. “This is not a kitchen garden; it’s a farm,” says Hunt, who started working the Santa Barbara, Calif., land 21 years ago—long before the beachfront Bacara opened its doors. “As far as I know, there is no other resort in the country that has this.”

While the Ranch at Bacara supplies produce for the resort’s three restaurants, the bulk of its output is for Calavo, the world’s largest avocado distributor. Hunt’s workers harvest the fruit by hand (an enormous task considering that through summer and fall they pick approximately 50,000 pounds per week) and plant as many as 2,000 new avocado trees each year.

In September, Bacara celebrates its favorite crop with the annual Avocado Festival, a weekend of activities at the ranch and resort ranging from farm tours to cooking demonstrations. The festival, which runs September 17 through 19 this year, kicks off with a morning hike through the ranch’s hillside groves of fruits, vegetables, and aromatic herbs.

In addition to avocados, Hunt’s nearly 100 planted varieties include oranges, lemons, persimmons, clementines, pomelos, and pineapple sage. The late-summer stroll reveals ripe heirloom tomatoes giving way to nascent sugar pumpkins and squash, while the season’s characteristically clear skies accentuate the ranch’s views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and Pacific Ocean.

Back at the resort, festival attendees sample the best of the ranch’s bounty at Bacara’s restaurants. The Spa Café pairs Hunt’s tender organic mizuna with frisée, while the Bistro might finish dinner with a chocolate tart topped with his sweet, miniature alpine strawberries. Miro, Bacara’s fine dining restaurant, creates an avocado tasting menu for the festival, which may include seared foie gras layered with rich avocado on toasted brioche or beef carpaccio drizzled with spicy avocado vinaigrette. The meal ends with a sweet rendition of the fruit, perhaps a creamy pistachio-avocado ice cream with handmade chocolate truffles.

Bacara’s avocado offerings extend beyond the edible. At the spa, the citrus-avocado scrub, a glorious hour of massage and exfoliation, sets the skin aglow with the rich emollients in the fruits. The refreshing treatment is what any vicarious field hand needs after tackling the hills at the ranch, and even a true farmer will admit to sneaking into the spa for a scrub or two. “Hey, it’s a nice experience,” concedes Hunt. Just another day on the farm.

Bacara Resort & Spa
877.422.4245
www.bacararesort.com

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