Connor McClelland is not your typical farmer.
At just 26 years old, he represents a new wave of first-generation land stewards. From helping Haitians recover fertile soil to overseeing a 15-acre orchard of his own in Southern California, Connor is exploring modern growing methods and employing alternative irrigation systems, transforming our understanding of how food is grown and sold.
There is no straight line when it comes to figuring things out.
Connor was born in Kansas, and moved with his family to a San Diego suburb when he was just 6 years old. Back then, he hiked in the hills that surround the farm he now tends. He didn’t know he wanted to be a farmer, and studied mathematics as UCSB. “It wasn’t my passion,” he said, so he dropped out and went to work on a goat ranch and vegetable farm in New Mexico.
“I fell in love with the agrarian lifestyle,” he says. “All I knew is that I loved the outdoors, I loved food, cooking. Agriculture seemed like a natural fit.”
Following that experience, Connor decided to enroll in 2014 at Kansas State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science. While his degree was still warm, he took off for Haiti to work on an agricultural development project that included bringing tools to farmers to help with crop production. In so doing, Connor helped equip farmers to feed Haiti as opposed to importing food.
While in Haiti, Connor met Patrice Smith. She was on a weeklong volunteer program for a mobile medical clinic and had recently purchased a farmhouse outside San Diego in Ramona, Calif, on what had once been an avocado and citrus orchard. Patrice told Connor she wanted the property, but needed a farmer: She had no idea out to tend to the land.
Being responsible land stewards is of the utmost importance.
Connor returned to Southern California in 2016 after a year in Haiti. He contacted Patrice and leased her land so he could take over the 30-acre farm called Mount Woodson Acres. Today, Connor lives on the land in a well-kept trailer with his dog, Diggie.
He’s been working since then on reviving the soil and crops while diversifying agricultural production with a variety of vegetables and other produce that is sold at two farmers markets in San Diego.
“Learning about agriculture is primarily through doing,” Connor says. “I’ve had a lot of good people that have been put on my path. But, you have to learn through your own successes and failures. You learn a lot from people, but you have to learn from the land. It’s important we don’t use chemicals that are going to harm the creatures just so the agricultural production can be augmented. We must protect the land. The bees, the rabbits… This environment has some many other creatures living in it. There are coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, squirrels, rabbits, dear, gophers and a big variety of birds. This is their habitat, as well.”
Connor says the agricultural community has been good to him—and seems to embrace young people in general making the leap. “The knowledge is so critical to us maintaining a sustaining food source,” he says. “People in the agricultural community are very willing to share their knowledge and expertise.”