Larry Jacobs: Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo

Cultivating a Movement

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Read the full text transcript (PDF) of the oral history with Larry Jacobs.

300 Larry Jacobs. Photo by Tana Butler.

Larry Jacobs is the co-founder of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo with his wife, Sandra Belin. He was born in 1950 in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, California. As a young man, he owned and managed a tree nursery. When aphids infested some of his trees, a pesticide inspector sold him Metasystox to apply with a backpack sprayer. Jacobs temporarily became very ill from pesticide exposure. Vowing never to apply pesticides again, he searched for alternatives. Jacobs was lucky to find a mentor in Everett (“Deke”) Dietrick, a pioneer in the integrated pest management field, who taught him how to control the aphid infestation through IPM methods.

Shortly after that, Jacobs left the nursery business to study soil science at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. After graduation, he moved to Vermont to apprentice with Helen and Scott Nearing, world-famous grandparents of the back-to-the-land and simple-living movements in the United States. In Vermont, Jacobs met his future wife, Sandra Belin. After a stint in Guatemala helping bring appropriate technology to the Western Highlands region, he and Sandra moved to Pescadero, California, a small town nestled in the rounded hills above the Pacific Ocean in San Mateo County, where in 1980 they founded Jacobs Farm. Jacobs Farm is now the largest organic culinary herb producer in the United States, growing sixty varieties of fresh culinary herbs and culinary flowers at seven farming locations on the Central Coast of California.

In 1986, Larry and Sandra were inspired to work with a cooperative of family farmers in Baja California, Mexico, to start the Del Cabo organic growers association. Together they created an international market for organic vegetables grown in Baja California for shipment north, especially during the winter season. Jacobs Farm became Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo.

Now each of Del Cabo’s farmers earns between $24,000 and $100,000 a year and receives retirement benefits and health insurance for life. Del Cabo imports nineteen million pounds of cherry tomatoes and other vegetables into U.S. markets, and as far away as Iceland and Dubai. As of 2009, Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo farms a total of 3700 field acres, and 22 acres of greenhouses.

In 2008, Jacobs won a landmark pesticide drift case against pesticide application company Western Farm Service, Inc. The court found that the contamination of organic crops caused by pesticides drifting after application violated the rights of the organic crop grower. Jacobs’ narration of the events surrounding that case is a critical part of his oral history.

This oral history, conducted by Irene Reti on March 11 and June 10, 2008, at the Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo offices in Santa Cruz, was conducted over several evenings at the end of Jacobs’ busy days. He is a vivid and natural storyteller.

In 2009, Jacobs and Belin received the Ecological Farming Association’s (Eco-Farm) “Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture” or “Sustie” award for their lifetime achievements in sustainable agriculture.

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