Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rio Vista Endive farmer envisions agricultural complex on I-80

Endive farmer envisions agricultural complex on I-80

An Interstate 80 interchange to nowhere could next year begin taking motorists to Solano County's biggest roadside farmstand since the heyday of the Nut Tree. Richard Collins plans to open the initial phase of Bridgeway Farms in May 2008.

It would ultimately have orchards, crops, cows, pigs, hens and other farm staples. People could buy products grown and made at the farm, as well as produce from other local farms. Collins last summer bought 200 acres along I-80 near Highway 113, between Dixon and Davis. His in-laws bought an adjacent 250 acres. Both properties have conservation easements, which bars them from being developed with industry and homes.

The Nut Tree in its original incarnation was a roadside fruit stand that grew so big and famous that it put Vacaville on the map. Freeway travelers stopped there to buy fresh fruit and nuts grown in Solano County - just as Collins hopes they will do at Bridgeway Farms.. That interchange to nowhere makes it all possible. The state built the $2.3 million interchange in 1991 after a 20-year delay. It had promised the structure to farmers in the 1960s as part of the right-of-way agreements to turn Highway 40 into I-80. Once the freeway got built, farmers with land on both sides needed an overpass to move their equipment between the parcels.

So there sits the interchange at Collins' property, with off-ramps leading to dead-end Kidwell Road .. Bridgeway Farms could buy produce from farmers within a 50-mile radius and tell their stories to customers. The property would ultimately include farmworker housing..

Collins and Marc Darbonne started California Vegetable Specialties, located in Rio Vista. The company harvests chicory roots with the growing buds intact, puts them in cold storage for 10 months, then grows them again in a dark room. The result is endive, which looks like a budding flower. "As far as we know, there are no other commercial growers in the U.S.," Collins said..

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