Vital Zuman: 50 Years of Organic Culture in MalibuWatch Video
50 years of hands-on, open-to-the-public, organic agriculture in Malibu: Vital Zuman
Sitting along a scenic hillside in Malibu, California just off of Pacific Coast Highway is Vital Zuman Organic Farm. This working ranch, with its on-premises market, is known to locals and specialty restaurants for their amazing array of organic, certified naturally grown produce.
Vital Zuman plants, cultivates, harvests, and markets over 20 kinds of fruit, a full spectrum of both summer and winter vegetables, raw honey, and specialty items that can all be found in their folksy, trading post like store. They also offer organic specialties from neighborhood farms, keeping the shelves stocked with 100% locally grown delights. Likely the oldest continuously running organic farm market in California, Vital Zuman Farm Market dates all the way back to the ’50s. It started as a small stand at the front of the house and has since grown into a modest but thriving business where local growers can take their produce and either donate it, trade it, or sell it.
“Food has been the primary way that people have fundamentally connected with each other over the millennia,” explains Vital Zuman owner Alan Cunningham. “Having something that you grow and offering it to someone who might want or need it, and vice versa. That’s how communities have been formed. In our day we have CSAs or community supported agricultural programs, but I look at it as agriculture supporting community.” In addition to sales at their own store, the busiest of Vital Zuman’s marketing endeavors, the farm sustains itself through volunteers who help work the operation, and through a farm box program - a produce box filled with fresh local fruit and vegetables delivered weekly to specific locations. Besides helping to support local growers, a portion of the proceeds from the farm box program is donated to the other small farm operations. Local farmers markets also benefit from the crops grown nearby, as do many Malibu restaurants like Savory, Sunset and Moonshadows. Vital Zuman also supplies a lot of its rare fresh harvest produce to the raw food community at large. Cunningham explains that it all started when his family purchased the land nearly 60 years earlier. Both of his parents came from heavy agricultural backgrounds- His mother from a 300-acre farm in Minnesota. Cunningham states, “My parents had a music business in Santa Monica for over 40 years, but they never abandoned their agricultural roots, expressing them newly in Malibu.”
As a child, Cunningham remembers his family planting a lot of trees on the very hilly property to hold the slopes during heavy rainfall - And since they were planting trees, they might as well be fruit trees. By the time he was 8-9 years of age, they had done so much work as a family and things had really taken off for them growing food. He knew this needed to be and always would be a farm.
Known for many years as Fig Tree Ranch, Cunningham re-named the operation in honor of his now-late father. He explains the unique moniker as a blending of the ranch’s location so near Zuma Beach and the fact that his father was such a vital human being. He did so much for the land and the community, creating new topsoil every year with organic mulch and rototiller. So Vital Zuman seemed so very fitting. “There’s a certain fundamental that goes back to the beginning and it’s simply this: If you can’t have property, grow food and have people come to get it, what are we talking about anyway? It’s so simple and so basic that it’s confusing for some people. I think it’s because they try to see it through a manufactured business point of view, and that’s not what it is. It’s a lifestyle, a farm expression that has come out over a period of many, many years. It’s interesting that more people don’t do this yet, but I think a lot more people will,” Cunningham said.
He adds, “People always ask me if I really know how much this Malibu property is worth. Naturally I do know, yet it’s a farm and we grow food here. I know that it’s worth as much food as it can grow and the overall agricultural service-ability to the community at large. It’s worth how much it can benefit people by allowing a real farm environment for them to come to, buy organic food, volunteer, and enjoy a real organic farm expression.”
Malibu Grange is a local community highlighting the people, places and things that feed and inspire us. Defined as an association of farmers who share ideas and swap knowledge in their communities, a grange is a valuable asset to the local community. Journalist and winemaker, Sonja Magdevski, actor, Emilio Estevez, and Vital Zuman’s own Alan Cunningham, among others, founded Malibu Grange in June of 2012. Visit vitalzumanfarm.com for the complete list. If you are in the mood for some fresh organic produce, or are interested to see how the operation runs, stop by!
Vital Zuman Organic Farm
29127 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
Open daily from 10am to 7pm