//The Accidental Farmer

The Accidental Farmer

By Dave Fountinelle | dave@fresnoflyer.com

After years of drought, the recent heavy rains across the state have been a blessing for Valley farmers. For Liset Garcia, owner of the Sweet Girl Farms roadside farmstand in Reedley, the rain is yet another lesson that life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. Two years ago, Garcia’s father and brother had to haul water from a nearby agricultural well to fill a tank on the property after their well ran dry. They filled buckets for bathing and household use, and the rest was used to water Garcia’s flower and vegetable farm. At the time, the drilling company told them it could be up to six months before a new well could be dug, and they might not even find water. While Garcia worried about what that would mean for her family and her new business, her parents, who grew up in Oaxaca, assured her they would be fine without running water.

“I was freaked out. I didn’t know what we were going to do,” Garcia said. “But my parents just laughed at me. They’re very strong. They live every day grateful.”

The drought has severely impacted farms all over the Central Valley. None more so than small family farms that typically lacked the resources to stay afloat during underperforming harvests or adapt by switching to more drought-friendly crops. This was particularly true for Garcia’s Sweet Girl Farms, which she started in 2019, a year before the COVID lockdowns and two years before the most recent extreme drought began. However, while the lockdowns devastated many businesses, they proved to be an unexpected boon for Garcia’s farmstand.

“A lot of grocery stores were closed, or their suppliers were held up by the lockdown,” Garcia explained. “A lot of people were looking for fresh, organic produce and couldn’t find what they wanted at their local grocers, so they started coming to me and they’ve been customers ever since.”

Garcia never imagined she would be a farmer, let alone run her own roadside farmstand on her family’s farm – she grew up in Los Angeles. “The REAL LA, not the OC, not LA County, the CITY!” Garcia specifies with a laugh. As a child, Garcia’s parents picked fruits and vegetables in the Central Valley and sold them at swap meets and on street corners. She went with them everywhere.

“I was a kid holding out bags of oranges for the cars as they drove by,” she says.

Garcia wasn’t a fan of the farm worker lifestyle. She didn’t like waking up so early or standing out in the rain or the heat all day. She knew her parents wanted more for her as well. College was going to be in her future, no arguments or discussions. After high school, Garcia studied Biology at UC Merced before moving to Los Angeles to earn her Master’s Degree from USC. While she was in college, Garcia’s parents bought a small farm on the outskirts of Reedley. After completing graduate school, Garcia stayed in Los Angeles and worked in community outreach, helping expecting mothers find healthcare.

Life took a tragic and unexpected turn for Garcia in 2019 when she suffered a serious accident that she still doesn’t talk about, even with her parents. Both of her arms and hands were severely injured, and she returned to her parent’s house to heal and recover. Garcia began helping her parents out on their farm and found that it provided her with physical and mental rehabilitation.

“I was going through a lot,” Garcia explains. “Working on the farm was good rehab for my hands, and it also took my mind off of the things that were stressing me out.”

When Garcia started helping out on the farm, there was no farmstand set up yet. Garcia was interested in growing flowers, and it was from there that the idea of setting up a roadside stand and selling them to passing motorists blossomed. For Garcia, tending to the flower garden and running the farmstand was therapeutic. Still, she only planned on working there until she healed and was ready to return to LA. Once again, another unexpected development changed those plans.

Garcia shared her story and promoted her flower stand on Instagram and her YouTube channel. The accounts steadily gained more and more followers, and the number of customers began to grow. Then COVID hit, and a spike in demand for fresh, organic produce inspired her to add fresh fruits and vegetables to her garden, and Sweet Girl Farms was born.

Now, as she approaches the 4th anniversary of her accidental business, Garcia says she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“If you would have asked me when I was in college if I thought I’d be here on my parent’s farm running my own business, I would have said you’re crazy!” Garcia says with a laugh. “But here I am and it’s really been amazing. I feel like this is where I belong.”

Sweet Girl Farms offers a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables, plus assorted aguas frescas and homemade salsas. Garcia has also partnered with a local beekeeper who uses her orange grove to produce fresh honey that she also sells. Currently, Sweet Girl Farms sells winter fruits, mostly citrus, including oranges and mandarosas – a hybrid of blood oranges and clementines with a sweet/tart flavor perfect for salads, desserts, juices/cocktails, or eating right out of the peel. As summer approaches, watermelons and grapes will make their way onto the produce list, along with Garcia’s beautiful flowers, which are her top sellers. They are very popular with customers who buy them for Mother’s Day, graduations, and other springtime events. 

Garcia credits her success to listening to her customers and expanding her business to provide them with the produce and services they want. As part of that commitment, Garcia will begin offering a nationwide shipping option, in addition to local pick-up, just in time for spring. She keeps both the website and Instagram updated with all of their available produce and floral selections, and soon customers from all over the country will be able to order directly from the Sweet Girl Farms website and have it delivered right to their door. 

As for what her plans are for the future, Garcia isn’t making any. 

“What we’ve been doing has been working great for us,” she says. “Farming in general isn’t a business that you can really plan too far ahead on, because nature makes her own plans. And if life has taught me anything, it’s that there is no telling what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Sweet Girl Farms is located at 8358 S. Alta Ave. in Reedley. Online ordering with nationwide shipping will be rolling out by the end of March through the website: sweetgirlfarms.com. Follow Sweet Girl Farms on Instagram @sweetgirlfarms for the latest updates and produce lists. And to see Liset’s farming stories and instructional videos, follow the Sweet Girl Farms YouTube channel.