Bonnie Swank writes an article each month for the Out & About magazine titled "Farmer in the Field". Writing about what is in season she shares interesting facts and recipes you may be enjoy. She got the idea for Farmer in the Field while watching a cooking show. When the host cut into a tomato that was obviously hard and tasteless she turned to the T.V. and said to the host "oh my, what you need on your show is a farmer in the field to talk about what is in season". You never know, it might happen.
June 2011 Article
Cherries CLICK TO READ ARTICLE
May 2011 Article
Raspberries CLICK TO READ ARTICLE
April 2011 Article
Hass Avocados, A True California Native CLICK TO READ ARTICLE
March 2011 Article
Romanesco Verdure Saporite! (Flavorful Vegetable) CLICK TO READ ARTICLE
February 2011 Article
Meyer Lemons are Winters Sunshine CLICK TO READ ARTICLE
MarJanuary 2011 Article
Smile, it's Strawberry Season CLICK TO READ ARTICLE
April 2010 Article
Let Us Enjoy Lettuce CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE
January 2010 Article
Chase Away the Winter Dulldrums, Try a Blood Orange CLICK HERE TO READ ARTICLE
Dick and Bonnie Swank
a Little about us...
Throughout the year we grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals. We sell these products in a number of different ways; at Farmers Markets, restaurants, direct to independent grocery stores, on the wholesale market, and from produces.
Today we sell most of our produce at farmers markets and directly to restaurants. This gives us the opportunity to provide some of the nearby communities with our delicious fresh produce and to communicate with our customers. If you would like to visit us at one of the many markets we attend click here for a schedule.
In the past we have had several fruit stands where we sold our produce. We know people miss it, so in 2008 we built a farm stand and country market at 2600 San Felipe Road next to the airport in Hollister. There we sold fresh local produce along with our fresh homemade fudge and other goodies. Unfortunately we didn't have enough business to stay open so a few years ago we closed our produce stand and are only open during our October corn maze.
For many years Swank Farms has grown and sold beautiful pumpkins, gourds and ornamental corn. The "Maze" has become a perfect place to sell these beauties locally. Since the year 2000 we have had a pumpkin patch along with our corn maze. Growing 21 varieties of pumpkins, our patches have been a great place to display our "Cinderella's", "Baby Boo's", "Sugar Pies" and "Jardales", just to name a few. Offering several varieties of gourds and Indian corn, we were able to provide our community with a choice of ornamentals that are not readily available. Make us your destination this fall season. Remember Swank Farms when shopping for produce, ornamentals and fun!
A Little Ranch History...
The home ranch that I farm today was purchase in 1928 by my Grandfather, Bill Maggini. The 60 acre ranch is located in the northern part of San Benito County off of Churchill Road. This little piece of heaven has seen many transformations since then. When my grandfather bought the ranch it was planted in 30 acres of prune trees and 30 acres of peach trees. It wasn't long before the peach trees were removed, making way for more profitable seed crops. A variety of vegetables such as celery, carrots, tomatoes and mustard along with colorful zinnias were planted in the rich soil for the sole purpose of harvesting the seeds. My mother recalls how beautiful it was to walk out the front door and gaze upon 30 acres of gorgeous flowers. To her, that was the perfect crop. My mother, Frances Swank, and my aunt, Eleanor Lanini, grew up on this ranch. They both ventured out to pursue their own lives but have returned to this magical place of their youths and live there today.
I was raised on a dairy farm in Calistoga along with my two brothers Bill and Allan. Growing up we worked helping my dad milk the cows. We raised and showed pigs and cows at county and state fairs. The Cow Palace and the Sacramento State Fair were just a couple of the many places we showed our livestock. There wasn't much free time (probably not a bad thing) but it was a good place to grow up.
In 1974 my family decided to pack up, including the cows, and move back to the home ranch. We rented a dairy off of San Felipe Road and I, along with my father, took up dairy farming in San Benito County. It was at this point that the home ranch was planted entirely in alfalfa.
My older brothers had gone off to pursue their own dreams. I attended Cal Poly as a Dairy Science major from 1974 to 1977. I would come home on the weekends to help my father with the dairy. One of the hardest things about having a dairy is that the cows never take a day off. They need to be milked seven days a week come rain or shine or Christmas! At some point my father and I became partners and continued in the dairy business until the government bought us out in the mid 80's. Imagine getting paid not to produce milk!
I raised my family in the house that my grandfather and my parents had lived in on the ranch. It was a very small house that has seen many changes and additions. As the families that lived there grew, so did the house. This house holds a lot of memories for me; my son Keith and daughter Casey playing basketball in the front yard, working at the fruit stands and going off to farmers markets. They are both gone now, leaving the ranch for a different type of life, taking with them the memories that only comes from growing up on a ranch.
It was 1988, the cows were gone and there was no need for the alfalfa that was growing on the home ranch. We had to make a living off this little piece of paradise so we entered into the biggest crap shoot of all, farming! What would we plant? We started with a variety of vegetables.
After tasting one of our "home grown" tomatoes I knew there had to be a market for what I considered to be the best tasting produce ever. Over the years we have grown a list of produce to numerous to mention. Tomatoes, green beans, sweet corn, English peas and melons have become some of our favorites. We started growing ornamentals, which consist of several varieties of Indian Corn, pumpkins and gourds. Soon our home ranch wasn't big enough to grow all we needed. Even though we no longer had the dairy, we had still rented land there where we grew alfalfa and oat hay. Although my father still grew hay on some of this land, the rest of the 210 acres were planted in ornamentals and Sweet Corn.
I also decided to plant a cherry orchard in the early 90's on the home ranch. It takes several years for a tree to produce fruit and Mother Nature plays a big part in whether or not we have a crop. I now have 12 acres of producing trees. For several years I tended a cherry orchard in the Santa Clara Valley, now days you can find a Kaiser Hospital where the orchard once was. That experience led me to plant my own cherries, once again altering the face of the home ranch. They may not be zinnias, but when the orchard is in bloom, it is certainly a beautiful sight.
For many years we have kept the ranch alive by selling our produce at farmers markets, our own produce stands and to the wholesale market. I love farming, but the struggle for the small farmer to stay in business seems to only get harder. After meeting Bonnie, who has become my partner in business and life, I decided to pursue an idea of mine. I knew if we were going to turn a profit we were going to have to diversify. I had visited a corn maze in Woodland after a friend of mine suggested I "check it out". A corn maze is a field of corn with pathways cut into it. These pathways have twists and turns and seem to go on forever. If you have ever been to a hedge maze in a park or English garden, try to imagine several acres of corn.
Bonnie, a designer in her own right, with a background in apparel design and interior design, took on the challenge of designing the maze. It's just a different medium, right? Once we had the design we had to figure out how to cut it.
There were no "Do It Yourself" handbooks on creating a corn maze. Using some of the rented land on San Felipe Road, the corn was planted. We had a design and now we had a plan. Would it work? Would people come? Would we have good weather?
People came and seemed to have a good time. The weather however was the worst we had seen in several years. We had a lot of mud, but people had fun. I still hear stories about the trip to the maze, the muddy shoes that are still in the garage and how much fun they had.
Despite the hard work we decided to try it again. We learned so much the first year we thought it could only get better. It did. We went from an 8 acre maze in 2000 to a 12 acre maze in 2001. The design was more fun and challenging. We went from having a few people at night haunting the maze to a real haunted ranch built right into the maze. The weather was better than we could have hoped for, no muddy shoes. Yes it did get better and more people came. We had created something fun for families to do together in our community and they seemed to appreciate it. Along with the maze we also had a pumpkin patch where we were able to sell our pumpkins and ornamentals. It seems to be a winning combination.
While planning our 2001 maze Bonnie contacted a friend of her nieces, to see if he might be interested in putting together a haunt for our October maze. It took some doing to convince his co-workers that Hollister wasn't really that far from the bay area, but he did. Once they saw the corn field their imaginations went wild. None of them had ever done an open-air haunt before. Using a lot of barn wood and props found around the home ranch (things that have been there for years) they created the Mystery Ranch. I don't think one of the group lived within 45 minute of Hollister. They ran the Ranch three nights a week, many of them not getting home until after three in the morning. By 2013 we had realized the Mystery Ranch had become predictable and needed a change so we cleaned house and hired Sally Hail a trained professional to run our haunted attraction. She runs the show like a theater production with a storyline. The first two years our now "Terror in the Corn" was the continuing story of "Alien Invasion". In 2015 we are introducing our new haunted show "Notorious New Orleans" and couldn't be more excited with the directions things are going.
We hadn't had a produce stand for several years and we know that there are some of you that miss that. For two years between 2002 and 2003 we offered a produce delivery service. It was very successful and we had many loyal customers. Unfortunately in 2004 we decided to drop the delivery service and concentrate on developing our home ranch sales.
At Farmers Markets we started selling our fresh "Swank Farms Heirloom Salsa" in 2000. We now make a Hot Salsa, Mild Salsa and a Roasted Corn Salsa all made with our own fresh ripe produce. It has become so popular we are hoping to put in our own certified kitchen at the ranch to accommodate its increasing demand.
We have also expanded our plant business. Starting the end of March we will be selling a variety of vegetable, herb and flower plants both at the Farmers Markets and off the ranch. If you are the type that would rather grow it yourself you will now be able to purchase your plants directly from us.
Bonnie, who had a successful interior design business for many years became a tremendous asset to our operation. While in college, she studied apparel design. She worked for a major department store as a display manager for several years. She decided to stay home when her first son Joey was born. After her second son Andrew came along and the decision to move to Hollister was made, she decided to use her knowledge of apparel design and display to start her own business. Working out of her home she could be with her children. Her love for design and sewing went from clothing to windows, creating and installing her designs. Needless to say her flair for design and creativity has brought a whole new element to Swank Farms.
Today Bonnie and I work together full time making Swank Farms Produce the best it can be. Each year we have been together we have made such great strides and are extremely proud of what we have accomplished over the past eleven years. Together we strive to bring you excellent produce and unique products along with the fun of our Great Corn Maze, Pumpkin Patch, Kiddy Corral, Haunted Ranch and more!