Lloyd's Produce: For the art of the market

By Michelle Immel

Working as a farmer by trade and an artist by passion, every detail of Lloyd’s produce gleams with aesthetic appeal.
On the five-acre farm he leases in Winters, rows of fresh cabbage sprout in colorful varieties, and plump tomatoes grow wildly beside clusters of fresh smelling herbs. At the farmers market, his glowing smile and positive energy attracts crowds of returning customers who know exactly where to find fresh tarragon, sweet popcorn kernels, and lust-worthy varieties of tomatoes that no other farmer has to offer.

“What I’m looking for above everything else is flavor,” he says. “I want the best tasting eggplant, the best hot peppers, the sweetest peppers. And with all my vegetables, I’ll grow trials and taste them first to see if they’re good. Taste is really the key.”

Lloyd’s taste for farming began at a young age in Illinois, where he would explore and work on his aunt and uncle’s farm, and stuff his lunchbox full of fresh tomatoes, a vegetable that has always been his favorite, both to grow and to eat. As a kid, Lloyd would drive around in his uncle’s tractor. He spent much of his childhood learning about the crop varieties and technical equipment on the farm.

“I loved every bit of it,” he proclaims. “After high school, I spent the whole summer there, going around with my uncle and looking at the crops. He’d tell me everything about them, and I’d just soak it all up. From the get-go, I really knew that farming is what I wanted to do.”

In his early twenties, Lloyd found that studying agriculture in college didn’t strike his fancy quite like being out on the farm. After spending a year at Utah State, he decided to take time off school and work as a laborer and truck driver in the oil field business.  He returned to college to study English at the University of Wyoming, then spent a summer doing farm work on a sheep ranch in the Rockies. There, he met his future wife Sarah, an undergraduate Animal Science major at UC Davis, who was taking a quarter off school to do a lambing internship on the ranch.

“The place was beautiful. It looked like something out of an Old West movie,” Lloyd recalls. “I spent the whole summer there, and that’s where Sarah and I fell in love.”

Lloyd followed Sarah back to Davis, where the two put down roots and were married. He enrolled as an art student at UC Davis, juggling part-time jobs, fatherhood (son Ben arrived in 1987) plus school, and earned his degree in Art Studio in 1988.

Until his youngest son, William, began kindergarten, Lloyd worked as a full-time dad. Putting his painting and farming ambitions on the back burner, he spent half of a decade juggling two energetic little boys, while his wife worked for the Animal Science Department and the Primate Center at the university.

After his sons began school, Lloyd decided to rekindle his joy for farming and got a job working on a local organic farm. There, he learned many of the technical aspects of growing produce and creating a successful business, and for the first time, he discovered the art of selling at a farmers market.

“There is certainly an art to the farmers market—in marketing, and arranging your produce stand,” he explains. “I think it’s important to consider what colors are next to each other, to make sure the boxes displayed look nice and healthy, and to be aware of the overall composition of your display. That’s where my art background comes in. I’m constantly studying, and painting pictures in my mind of the world around me. I’m very interested in colors and how they interact with each other. It’s always been a fascination to me.”

Lloyd worked for a farm manager for several years, and then was offered the opportunity to be the sole caretaker of a five-acre plot of land, which he now leases and farms as his own. While his farming practice began small, Lloyd quickly learned what it takes to have a successful business, and found a careful balance between growing for aesthetics, and producing what’s conventional.

“The first year I had my own booth, I had this scheme to sell fall decorative items, not realizing that people don’t actually buy much of that stuff,” he says. “I tried to sell pumpkins, squash, dried corn, etc. But then I’d have a few vegetables and tomatoes, and that’s what people would buy. So I changed my strategy, and concentrated on heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs. Then slowly I started experimenting. I learned how to grow other things, and expanded my collection of spring crops, like carrots, onions, lettuce, and radishes.

Now, with one son in college and the other a recent UC Davis graduate, Lloyd spends most of his time on the farm and couldn’t be happier. Growing produce from spring to fall, he enjoys winter indoors at his home in Davis, where he paints images of the produce that he nurtures through the seasons.

“I just love what I do,” he said. “More than anything, that’s why I do it. It’s just so nice to have my own thing going. I’m working for myself, and I’m outside, working with my hands and nature. There’s a whole market for fresh, local produce, but that’s not why I do it. If you ask me, the real value is in creating a garden, watching it grow, and enjoying its beauty and bounty.”