As the name implies, Bates Nut Farm started with mostly walnut trees filling its 100-acre stretch of land in Valley Center. The Bates' homegrown walnuts—a popular baking necessity in the 1920s and '30s—were sold to local bakeries, clubs and even secretaries who'd take orders from coworkers.
"The business has changed a lot," says Sherrie Bates-Ness, whose great grandfather opened the ranch in 1921 (she runs it now with her husband, Tom Ness, and is the fourth generation in her family to keep it humming). "A decade ago, Time magazine came out and called what we do agri-entertainment.' People just like to come to the farm and experience it. We had to change the way we do things . Obviously, we couldn't just keep selling walnuts."
They do, in fact, still sell walnuts in the farm's old-timey general store, alongside other nuts they roast in-house, plus candy, dried fruit, house-made fudge, knickknacks and other cutesy goods. But, these days, everything aside from pumpkins and squashes are grown elsewhere and shipped in.
The charming general store is just one of the many draws bringing visitors out to Bates Nut Farm (15954 Woods Valley Road). There's also the handsome turtle named Dash, plenty of goats, donkeys, geese, pigs and other farm animals that folks can feed and pet. And every October, the farm becomes an outdoor, fall-themed amusement park, complete with hayride wagons, a hay-bail maze, a baby-animal petting zoo, live music, a pumpkin patch, bounce houses and other fun things that Bates-Ness continues adding to the mix.
"For a lot of people, coming out here to the farm is a family tradition," she says. "And we're on the third, almost fourth generation with a lot of these families now. I just love what I get to do here."