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Old 12-07-2009, 02:27 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Article about Exotica Nursery (Vista, CA)

FARMING: Fruit tree expert running out of time to keep nursery

Quote:
By JEFF ROWE - jrowe@nctimes.com | Posted: Sunday, December 6, 2009 12:00 am | No Comments Posted

Exotica Rare Fruit Nursery

At the intersection of the building industry collapse and the push for healthier foods and California-climate-friendly landscaping, a nursery owner near Vista wonders what hit him.

Steven Spangler raises some 1,200 varieties of plants at his 5-acre Exotica Rare Fruit Nursery. Where else can you find Ecuadorean black walnuts and Makepeace apples on the same lot?

On his botanic garden-like plot, Spangler also raises:

-- Seven varieties of cherries;

-- 16 varieties of guavas;

-- 17 varieties of palm;

-- 100 varieties of pomegranates;

-- 12 varieties of bananas.

In all, an estimated 60,000 potted plants grow here, awaiting new homes that came quickly during the building boom.

But when construction stopped, so did landscaping. And a surge in consumer interest in organic foods and converting green lawns to climate-friendly gardens hasn't been enough to keep the business going. "If you have soil, you should use it," Spangler said.

Spangler reckons he owes $130,000 in back rent and legal fees. He has an option to buy the land for $345,000, but business loans are tough to come by, even for thriving concerns.

At Exotica, sales are half what they were in boom years.

Spangler acquired his array of plants in travels around the world, seeking out different fruit trees that would grow in California. Most tourists come home with souvenirs and pictures; Spangler came home with seeds. Selling seeds morphed into a business selling plants germinated from some of those seeds.

"He's an expert on exotic fruits (and) his place is amazing," says Gary Bender, a San Marcos-based farm adviser with the University of California Cooperative Extension Service. Bender also teaches a class in subtropical horticulture and always takes his class on a field trip to Spangler's nursery.

On rare-fruit blogs, comments on Spangler's nursery range from enthusiastic to giddy. "This is one of the best nurseries in the nation." said one. "It's a bit eccentric ... but they really know their stuff," said another.

Some customers are trying to help Spangler buy the land.

"He has things you cannot find anywhere else," said Gina Sanchez, a longtime customer from Santa Monica. "If we lose him, it's a blow to the health-food movement."

Spangler seems calmly confident that somehow, he will keep the business going.

This year, sales will total $100,000, he figures. In 2002, the business grossed about $250,000.

Spangler clearly would fall into the "minimalist" lifestyle category ---- he figures he can get by on $6,000 a year. He can recite psalms that reference a stewardship of the earth, and he's thin bordering on gaunt. He lacks health insurance, and the replacement panels and doors on his pickup truck are different colors. "It works," he said. A paint job isn't in the budget.

He and his mother, Jeannette, live in a nearby rental unit, and he acknowledges he sometimes spends seven days a week at the nursery.

He said he's merely one of the Earth's caretakers, a job that allows him to meet "wonderful people."

Jeannette Spangler said her son seemed oriented for his work almost from birth. He would bring home stones, plants and animals he had found, she said, earning the nickname of "Nature Boy."

Jeanette is 83 and works at the nursery every day, setting up a sampler table of fruits in the morning and then helping her son with the business.

"I've got so much to do here, it's mind-boggling," she said.

Several part-timers also help keep the place open seven days a week.

Spangler has been served with eviction papers; time is running out. He muses about someone stepping in to convert the property into a park, an arboretum, a botanic garden or a nature preserve. Some of the trees are worth several thousand dollars each, he figures.

A Chilean wine palm in a 5-foot container will fetch $8,000, he said. It would be a fine centerpiece to a landscaping project, if anyone were building.

In all, he calculated the inventory is worth $2.5 million.

And although Spangler could move the potted trees, the 1,700 mature trees in the ground would cost thousands of dollars each to move. They are arranged in mini-groves connected by a network of trails.

It's difficult, though, to imagine Spangler doing anything else in any other place. "I love the plant world," he said.

And if Spangler is outwardly calm about his financial situation, his mother is not.

"I can't sleep," she said.

Call staff writer Jeff Rowe at 760-740-5417.

Exotica Rare Fruit Nursery is at 2508-B East Vista Way, a half-mile south of Gopher Canyon Road. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Call 760-724-9093.
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Old 12-07-2009, 03:27 PM   #2 (permalink)
Love those bananas
 
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Default Re: Article about Exotica Nursery (Vista, CA)

I hope he is able to keep it.
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Old 12-07-2009, 03:41 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Article about Exotica Nursery (Vista, CA)

I go to Exotica about once per week. I buy plants at wholesale prices and after detoxifying them and getting them back to good health, sell them either to the general public or at distributors prices to local nurseries.

The real problem at Exotica is mis-management and pure laziness on the part of the owner. He has no list of inventory. He puts his propagation efforts into plants with no idea of demand. Most local nurseries don't know he exists. If he simply would have supplied local nurseries with an availability list he would not be in the current situation.

The main worker there is Leo, who is the only reason they didn't go into chapter 12 sooner. He and his brother have single-handedly cleaned-up and re-organized the property, turning it into more of what you would expect from a nursery and less of random collection of plants with roots breaking out of the pots and into the ground. If you buy anything there, you need to ask Leo if it is really a graft of the true cultivar or just some random seedling cross-pollinated by all the closely-packed plants. More often than not it is the latter.

The owner's mother is nearly deaf and won't wear a hearing aid. Consequently, you always need to bring pencil and paper to communicate with her. Why she is on the premise in the first place escapes me. She constantly moves unmarked plants from propagation areas into the front ("so people can buy them") and now the identity of the plant is lost.

There is also another woman or two who works there on occasion and knows where the main sections of plants are but not too much about the plants themselves. Fortunately she trusts me enough to let me go about my business when Leo is not there knowing that I'll work out any discrepancies with Leo later.
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Old 12-07-2009, 05:06 PM   #4 (permalink)
Been nuts, gone bananas
 
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Default Re: Article about Exotica Nursery (Vista, CA)

Yeah, Leo has been very helpful the few times I've been there. What's odd is that Steve's mom can't hear my loud voice but heard Jack (who you met, Richard) just fine. I was bewildered!
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Old 12-07-2009, 05:29 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Article about Exotica Nursery (Vista, CA)

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Originally Posted by harveyc View Post
Yeah, Leo has been very helpful the few times I've been there. What's odd is that Steve's mom can't hear my loud voice but heard Jack (who you met, Richard) just fine. I was bewildered!
She can read lips when she wants to.
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Old 07-15-2015, 12:39 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Article about Exotica Nursery (Vista, CA)

BUMP...
any new?
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