Karell Reader - Luz Del Valle Farm

Karell Reader of Luz Del Valle Farm has spent the last nine years converting a barren, conventionally managed orchard into a wildlife oasis where beneficial insects can prosper and support her apple crops.

Karell Reader on her farm in Corralitos, California

Karell Reader grew up exploring her uncle’s farm. Her early memories were of riding with him on his tractor and listening to farm stories. These experiences sparked a passion in Karell for stewarding the land. Due to her Portuguese ancestry and the cultural norms around gender roles, owning her family’s farm seemed unlikely. So when a portion of her family's land was passed down to her, an extraordinary dream had come true. But Karell and her husband, Phil Reader, knew that they had a lot of work ahead of them.

When they inherited the land, it was primarily an apple orchard that had been farmed conventionally for about 50 years. “The soil was kind of dead and there wasn't much wildlife left,” says Karell. “It was kind of barren.” The trees were aging out and dying, so they got to work replanting trees and starting to develop wildlife habitat and places where beneficial insects could prosper. Nine years later, they are farming organically with over 25 different apple varieties and have five hedgerows that provide cover, food sources and habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife.

“There's a total ecosystem on this farm and we have been fostering it."

“There's a total ecosystem on this farm and we have been fostering it,” says Karell. They are also a no-till operation. This means they leave vegetation growing between the rows of apple trees, which provides additional habitat for beneficial insects. Karell and Phil are pleased with the impact they are seeing from their efforts to support the natural enemy insects. “Those little predatory insects are just really invaluable,” says Karell. “We don’t always see the specific results of what they do,” she notes. “But we sense it, because the trees are so much more healthy. Last year we didn’t even have codling moth.”

For Karell and Phil, an important aspect of the farm’s revitalization is also sharing their process with the community. Karell says they really found their niche when they decided to do the U-Pick operation. She loves the interaction with their customers, who really want to know about farming and appreciate that the Readers are doing things in a more natural way.

Learn more about Karell's farm in the video below: