By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
EXETER – The phrase “I wouldn’t bet the farm on it” is often used to describe a risky proposition, requiring the buyer to liquidate all of their assets for one shot to make it big. But in the case of Darian and Summer Bourez, they bet their house for the farm.
In January the Bourezs sold their country home in Orange Cove in January and put all of their belongings into storage. The plan was to move to the East Coast and start a new life with their two sons and daughter; but instead they bought two unleveled lots along the railroad tracks in Exeter that were waist-high with weeds and ankle deep in soft dirt and ant hills.
“People kept telling us these are the worst lots in town and that we shouldn’t buy them,” said Summer. “But we knew we could make this into something.”
The lots on North F Street were on the market a long time before the Bourezs bought the property as a package deal just a few weeks after selling their home. The property was never zoned for agriculture but was zoned for light industrial, of which farming is an accepted use. Darian said they watched as the price on the property continued to drop over the course of a year before making the decision to buy. Even after they bought it, Summer said friends and family continued to doubt the decision.
“We wanted to be closer to family and we were both born and raised in Exeter,” Summer said. “We saw something in this place and I think other people are starting to see it now.”
Despite the naysayers in the beginning, the Bourezs say the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. During a soft opening or “sneak peak” on May 12, Summer said about 100 people stopped by during the Exeter Chamber of Commerce’s Full Bloom Garden Walk. She said people were so excited about the idea of farmers market/roadside stand/farm store in town that they offered to donate or sign up for monthly baskets to get Mustard Seed Acre growing.
“So many people stopped and wanted to be a part of this,” Summer said.
At one point, Summer said two young girls from homes down the street came running up to the entrance yelling, “It’s a farm! It’s a farm!” Summer said it was a whole new viewpoint to experience farming through the eyes of children who have never seen a farm despite growing up in one of the most agriculturally productive counties in the nation.
“There are kids who don’t know where their food comes from,” Summer said. “And to see how excited they are and teach them about farming is the most rewarding part of all of this.”
They decided to name their farm Mustard Seed Acre from the Biblical parable appearing in the Books of Mark, Matthew and Luke as an illustration that great things can come from small beginnings through faith. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches.” — Matthew 13:31–32.
“It took a lot of faith to do this,” Summer said. “We are renting a place after owning property for 20 years.
The acre in “Mustard Seed Acre” refers to the size of their property, which is comprised of two half-acre lots along the railroad tracks along F Street. The property is accented with vintage farm décor that Summer had collected at her former country home. Half of an old farm truck was taken from a Chevy’s restaurant in Chico before it closed. A rusty windmill spins over the property dotted with discarded milk cans and decaying wheelbarrows used as flower planters. The centerpiece are two large circular water troughs collected from Exeter Tire that have been converted into a two-tiered planter topped with their sign.
“I’ve been hoarding old farm stuff for years and turning it into something new,” Summer said. “I’ll keep anything that is old, rusty galvanized metal.”
Mustard Seed Acre is currently only open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. but the plan is to be open four or five days per week in the near future. As soon as the couple can complete a barn building to house its farm store, they will begin holding more regular hours. The farm store will not only sell produce grown on the property, but also crops direct from local farms.
“We want people in town to come here and experience a farm,” Summer said. “This is something that can reach every demographic in our community.”
This is not the Bourezs first foray into a home-based ag venture. Darian, who is medically retired from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office, has been farming since he was a child growing up in Exeter. He began working at the farm across from his parents house at the age of 8 and was driving tractor by the time he was 14. He started renting and farming his own acreage of corn while he was still in high school.
“Farming is his happy place,” Summer said of her husband. “Whenever he was working another job, his mind was always on farming.”
They operated a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm on their Orange Cove property from 2016-2017. Through their connections with local farmers, the Bourezs would sell locally-grown products, including their own crops, at a roadside stand. They also offered home delivery for those who signed up for monthly baskets. Both ventures were fraught with problems. The roadside stand lost more money than it made and the delivery service stretched resources too thin by trying to cover vast distances between Squaw Valley and Hanford.
“We’re always dabbling in agriculture,” Summer said.
Besides renting a home and living in town, life for the Bourezs hasn’t changed that much. Summer and Darian are still making plans, repurposing old farm equipment and décor and landscaping around agriculture. Their oldest son Chase, 17, is usually carrying buckets of water from the truck, cleaning out the duck pond and chicken coop. Oliver, 13, waters the flowers and herb gardens while his younger sister Autumn, 3, skips around the farm doing little tasks for peanuts.
“She actually works for peanuts,” Darian quipped. “That’s life as a farmer.”
Mustard Seed Acre is located at 444 N. F St. in Exeter. The farm sells tomoatoes, onions, peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, kale, arugula, and egg plant by the carton. Once the farm store barn is complete, they hope to also offer plants, seeds, pots and farm-style gifts and gift baskets. They also sell ducks and bantam chickens as pets.
“We’d love to have farmers come here and set up and sell their produce,” Darian said. “We want to offer some unique things like finger limes, so we are always looking for new things to do.”