Words by Louie Hayward
Photos by Jason Mraz & Tricia Huffman

Local Is The New Organic: Farming with Jason Mraz EXTENDED

Christina and Jason at their farm in OceansideOn any given day, no matter where you’re at, if there’s music in the background, chances are you’ll hear one of Jason’s many tunes. His catchy lines and hypnotic beats are happy and full of positive and inspiring vibes. He’s a singer/songwriter and amassed a huge following yet cementing his name in the world of music.

After touring for almost a year, Jason’s back home and started his next gig— and it’s a far cry from clean studios, stages and late nights. This one entails dirt, mud, early mornings, and hard labor. Having the honor and privilege to interview and labor next to him, I got a firsthand peek into his world outside of music. It was clear to me I was witnessing something awesome and I couldn’t be happier to help bring it out.

With his beautiful partner and fiancée Christina by his side, their quaint little Oceanside home is about to get bigger. He’s known around the world as Jason Mraz, the Musician. However, soon enough, you’ll know him as Jason Mraz, the Farmer.

Word is you’re taking some time off from touring. Being on the road for nearly a year can be taxing and deserving of some much needed R&R. Can you open up about what it is you’re doing now and why you’re drawn to organic farming and growing?

Jason: Well, that’s a long story. In short, I just enjoy it. It makes me feel my best. Playing in the dirt literally grounds me. My music gig is very “Air and Fire. “It’s a lot of singing and a lot of flying. My Oside farm gig on the other hand, is rooted in “Earth and Water”—growing food and jumping in the ocean.

Can you share when and why you made the decision to eat organic, and how this has benefited you on a personal level?

Jason: I made the decision to start healthy eating back in 2007, largely to improve my strength in the water and overall health on the road. And each year, I just felt better and better like I was aging backwards. I’ve been diving deep ever since. I love the energy and the clarity that healthy eating provides, but I’m equally fascinated with the science and social justice of organics. How we treat food is how we treat ourselves. Eating and buying organic means we’re committed to a healthier world overall. It’s good karma.

Jason, working the farm.For example, when you buy non-organic produce you’re saying it’s okay for farm workers to get sprayed with chemicals, and that those chemicals are just fine in food, and that you’re cool with the soil being depleted, and so on. The soil is actually the greatest technology we have for adapting to climate change. And I feel it’s our generation’s duty to build it back up.

“The soil is actually the greatest technology we have for adapting to climate change.”

By building up the soil through organic and regenerative farming techniques, we increase the nutrients in our food and store more water. Healthy soil literally pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it back into the earth, reversing the carbon imbalance we know as “global warming.” Therefore, locally grown, organically raised food is THE best choice for our health, the health of our farm workers, and the health of Oceanside. Plus, the food tastes better.

I’ve noticed you have a special someone in your life now. Seeing the both of you together is something beautiful. The love and energy in the air is so contagious and you can’t help but feel alive when around the both of you. Who is this special person and how did you two meet?

Jason: I met Christina back in 2007. I felt an instant connection to her and have admired her integrity and practices since day one. Back then, we were dating other people and were both super busy with our careers. But I did always say to myself, “I hope I meet a girl like her someday.” In 2011, we both found ourselves single and decided to collaborate. She is whole-hearted in every action, is extremely generous, completely drama-free, and has the most intuitive-genius-mind in the kitchen. Not to mention her smile absolutely melts me.

Christina: The first time I met Jason was at my coffee shop in Hermosa Beach—our mutual friend, Tricia, introduced us. The first few years of getting to know him, I was mostly an observer of his life. I’d get invited to his concerts and small gatherings at his house here in Oceanside where I’d think, “Of all the places he could be, he chose to live in nature amongst the avocado trees.” I also loved that he didn’t have a TV or microwave and that he was passionate about taking care of his health and our planet and how he chooses to live a life of service on and off the stage.

“Some might think there’s no future in farming. But without farming, there’s no future.”

I knew a miracle would have to happen for us to be together. I was a barista who got up at 4:30am to open my shop, and he was a traveling musician who was always on the road and not going to bed until 4:30am. But after several years of crushing on him, the stars finally aligned—and now he’s my stud. We’ve created a really awesome life together and we make a great team. We’ve chosen to live a unique lifestyle that we hope can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of our families and community. He’s the most loving, generous, and most hardworking man I know. These are the most attractive qualities I could ever ask for in a partner. He inspires me and empowers me everyday to live my best life and he cares so deeply about the things that really matter. We’re truly blessed in so many ways—like living in Oceanside together on a farm, where he grows our food and I cook it.

Farming is not as easy as one would think. With constant upkeep, daily chores, and fluctuating overhead—what would you say are the biggest challenges personally, and for most farmers in general?

Jason: I’d say the upkeep and the chores are the easy part. Although, sometimes my chores require so much attention that I miss opportunities to surf with my friends. Off the top of my head, I’d say the three biggest challenges are operating costs, drought, and a general lack of interest in farming altogether.

Christina, gazing through the trees.It’s very difficult to make money growing organic avocados, especially here in the Fallbrook-bordering monoculture of Hass avocados. Non-organic growers are lucky if they break even. The price we pay for water is about the same as what we earn at sale. Add in the organic maintenance costs, fertilization, beneficial insects, and labor, and I’m out by a few thousand dollars a year.

And it’s a worse case for citrus growers. There’s just too much of the same product everywhere, which lessens the value overall. Large purchasers can buy fruit cheaper from Mexico. (Thank goodness, I have a second job to support my farming habit.) But these challenges are what peak my interest. The small farms that succeed are those that foster diversity. We’re experimenting with new crops in the region and inter-planting new trees in-between the existing trees to maximize the space. More bang for the buck, so to speak. And we’re experimenting with new techniques to save water.

The U.N recently published a study that said the future of mankind would have to be fed locally by small organic farms. Our social and eco-systems can’t afford to farm industrially forever. That being said, the future of Oceanside may very well rely on the health and abundance of its interior farmland.

Christina: Farms are the new universities. Without farms and farmers, our society will be forced to eat genetically modified food created in labs—void of nutrients, and nature’s good intention. Some might think there’s no future in farming. But without farming there’s no future.

With rising water costs as well as restrictions implemented for the use of this precious resource, many farmers (as well as home-owners) are left with very little options. How have you been dealing with this dilemma and can you share what you’ve learned in turning this negative into a positive?

Jason: The drought sucks, however; it lights a fire in us to rethink and re-strategize our practices. That’s what challenges do, they make us become more inventive and more innovative. We are beginning to practice “rainfall irrigation” as the new water restrictions kick in. This is to mimic watering schedules in the tropics, where the avocado originates.

Short showers a few times a week versus one long rain once a week (which is how avos are commonly treated now). Our goal is to be able to reduce more than the new mandate requires and bank more water savings overall. Growers big and small can tap into what little rain we get by installing rain barrels. A 50-gallon barrel fills up quick and lasts for a while. You can also keep a watering can in your shower to catch the first few wasted gallons of cold water at the start of your shower.

Composting is great for every grower or gardener. If you can’t compost at home, join Oceanside’s green waste program. They’ll do the composting for you and give the mulch back to residents for re-application.

“To sustain life, we have to rethink our system, invest in our farmers, inspire and encourage families to cook, and make good food accessible to everyone.”

Plant an edible landscape to increase the access to fresh food. LOCAL is the new ORGANIC, and it doesn’t get any more local than your backyard, balcony, or windowsill. Plant more succulents. They thrive here and use very little water. And they’re way trippier than any ride at Disneyland.

Christina, you went from owning a café in Hermosa Beach to working on a farm. Were there any challenges you saw in the food industry that inspire your work on the farm now?

Christina: I think the biggest crisis we face is the lack of connection to our food. For years, we’ve relied on cheap and convenient eats and forgot to ask where our food comes from. Last century, we traded our farms for factories, our ovens for microwaves, and natural healing for pills. We forgot what’s important—that food is medicine and you are what you eat.

Christina, working on an avocado tree.It’s my generation’s duty to bring back the home-cooked meal, to bring families together, and to slow down and say thank you—in gratitude for those who worked hard to put food on the table. If we heightened our awareness of food and demanded more transparency from the industry, we could seriously transform the health of the planet.

The Standard American Diet (SAD diet) brought us diabetes, heart disease, and many cancers that are directly food related and food curable. To sustain life, we have to rethink our system, invest in our farmers, inspire and encourage families to cook, and make good food accessible to everyone. My practice is to help people make that connection.

Jason: Fortunately, there’s a “good-food” movement happening worldwide that’s reconnecting us with nature. We’re seeing more community gardens and School Gardens popping up, more CSA programs, increased excitement for “farm-to-table” cuisine, and conscious minds like The Osider taking notice and asking questions. Because of all this, more people are interested in growing their own and getting back to the earth.

You sound pretty stoked on this whole “back to the earth” movement. Do you think you’ll go back to music?

Jason: I do. I like to take time between albums to have new experiences and pursue other interests. When I was on the road last year, I took an urban farming class online, so I’ve been anxious to get out in the field and apply my knowledge. I’ll always have music in my life—it’s made me who I am. It took me around the world and showed me the severity of food poverty, social inequalities, and environmental devastation. And so music is my way to shine back and express positive vibrations for a common healing. It’s similar to farming, or surfing, or yoga. Before world peace, we have to have inner peace and music helps us get there. So I’ll keep singing and song-farming as long as there’s a need. And there will always be a need. And with what I have growing on right now, I can’t afford to quit my day job.