Tom and Karen Avinelis grow table grapes, blueberries and citrus for Homegrown.
Tom and Karen met in college while they were both studying agriculture at Cal Poly SLO. They married and started a family and Tom began his career in agriculture as a pest control advisor. However, he and Karen’s true passion was farming and a few years in, though the stakes were high, they made the decision to pursue their dreams and go into farming full time.
It was hard in those early years, and they joke that they left a good job to starve to death growing food, but they persevered and are still farming now, nearly three decades later.
“I am thankful that I grew up in farming, because it’s given me an understanding of the lifelong commitment this takes and the hours per week, per year commitment it takes,” Karen said, “Farming just becomes a part of who you are and who your family is.”
Over the last decade, Tom and Karen have been in the process of transitioning their fields to organic production, using farming techniques that bring out the naturally occurring soil fertility and soil nutrition for the plants. Tom believes a focus on the soil produces a better flavor in the fruit.
“I tell people there is no greater thrill than growing that beautiful handful of blueberries, or that perfect bunch of grapes, or the clementines and the different high-quality citrus that we grow. That’s what this is all about and I’m just blessed to have an opportunity to be a part of it and be able to do it,” Tom said.
Tom and Karen view sustainability in organic farming as stewarding the land and resources, but also about investing in people and passing on knowledge to the next generation.
As a way to invest into the future of the industry and the community, Tom and Karen bring their experience to the table in numerous organizations including the California Citrus Mutual, the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, and the California Blueberry Commission. Both the Avinelis’s adult children are now working in agriculture and raising families of their own.
In the end, it’s all about developing the knowledge and skills necessary to grow fruit “so that we can delight the customer with it. It’s about growing healthy food and that’s what the thrill and the passion is all about,” Tom said.