The Reimagined Farm at Seven Sycamores in Ivanhoe
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Farm Fresh to Wedded BlissFebruary 2015
By Jordan Venema
Bob McKellar is not a man of many words, but when he does speak, he’s direct, to the point. Perhaps age brought with it wisdom, an ability to listen sooner than speak. Or perhaps McKellar, like other farmers, is a man of the soil made taciturn and stoic by nature’s apparent ambivalence. Words cannot coax a seed out of the ground or cause the rain to fall. Men like McKellar have spent their lives communicating with their hands, through hard work, the planting and the harvest. Maybe silence is natural to a man like McKellar, the farmers and growers, men who are more deeply in tune with the world, to the earth under their feet – a thing with which words simply cannot communicate, a thing with which so many have lost touch.
McKellar was fortunate to be born with a connection to the soil, and never, really, to leave it. He grew up in a small country home that his father had moved to Seven Sycamores Ranch, a property he purchased in 1927. For McKellar, every corner of Seven Sycamores is ripe with history: memories of playing in the fields, hunting doves, accidentally burning down a Monkey Puzzle tree in the front yard, watching a group of orange pickers butcher a pig above the loading platform. And when he grew older, there was the work, a new intimacy with the land.
In the 80-plus years since the McKellar family purchased Seven Sycamores, much has changed about the farm. In 1927, the property was nothing more than 10 acres of seedless Thompson grapes. The grapes gave way to orchards of navel and mandarin oranges, which still grow around the farm. They quickly bought a large loading platform, a barn that McKellar says is at least as old as he. They grew olive trees only yards from their back door, until McKellar’s mother replaced the trees with 4,000 camellias. The land has changed, but the farm has had its constants: the seven sycamore trees that give the property its name, the large 150-year old oak at its center, and the McKellars themselves.
It must diversify to thrive, however, so McKellar has reimagined uses for the contemporary farm. He began Family Farm Fresh, which delivers weekly to its members a box of local, fresh produce from cooperating farms. Prices range from $30 to $50, depending on the size of the box. Also, McKellar began offering farm tours to reconnect people with agriculture. “Last week we had 300 kids on our farm ... and German farmers who were here on vacation,” he says. “We show them that we’re the original environmentalists.”
“A very small percentage of the people living in the United States live on farms or have family that live on farms,” says McKellar. Some children don’t even know where their produce comes from. There is a need, then, McKellar believes, to help people experience agriculture firsthand – but not only for their sake. “Right now, the life of a farmer is dictated by the voters in the city, so it’s important that we get folks to understand who farmers are and that there’s a benefit to farms.”
This two-way need has led to the biggest transformation to come to Seven Sycamores Ranch. In 2007, McKellar married his wife Anne in his mother’s garden, the inaugural ceremony of the Seven Sycamores wedding venue.
Since then, Seven Sycamores has been in high demand. “We just had three weddings over Thanksgiving weekend,” McKellar says, adding that they saw a 10 percent increase between 2013 and 2014.
Why does McKellar believe farm weddings have become popular when so few people have ever experienced them? “Because they want to do something different,” he says simply. Is he surprised by the success? “No,” he adds quickly, “but I’m an optimistic person.”
McKellar sells short the attraction of a venue like Seven Sycamores: its pristine orchards, the rustic atmosphere, and manicured garden under an oak canopy. McKellar has converted many of the old buildings to make it a first-rate wedding venue. His old family house became a bed and breakfast, the Hummingbird Cottage, named for his mother’s love of the bird. The Glass Barn, one of the two possible sites for a ceremony, is the original loading platform. Once “littered with everything known to man,” McKellar renovated the barn by 2013, when it held its first ceremony. They converted “the old equipment shop” into a catering space, and “the old equipment parking shed” was retrofitted as bathrooms. “Typical farmer stuff, you try to use what you have,” says McKellar. There’s also the more traditional Garden, with its pergolas and trellised walkways.
Ultimately, McKellar hopes to offer people a fresh experience of a way of life that used to be common. “My passion,” he says, “is to bring as many people as possible onto the farm so they can at least know a little bit about what’s going on.” Perhaps, McKellar is also introducing people to what should be a common experience: a nourishing connection with the soil, the earth, something that really can’t quite be put into words.
32988 Road 164, Ivanhoe • (559) 798-0557