The legacy of Carpinteria farmer Bill Coleman

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Local farmer Bill Coleman was one of seven original farmers who started the Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Market. He started farming in Carpinteria back in the 1960s and now, Coleman Family Farms is a major fixture at the farmers markets and restaurants around Southern California.

He died on December 29, 2016 at his home in Carpinteria at age 75 from cancer.

KCRW market host Katie Hershfelt met up with Coleman’s wife, Fidela “Delia” Calip, and his son, Romeo Coleman, to learn about his legacy.

Bill Coleman has six children and 14 grandchildren. Here is Bill Coleman’s wife, Delia, along with two of their sons, Rizal and Romeo, and three of their grandchildren, Lukasz, Isabella and Leila. (Kathryn Barnes/KCRW)
Coleman with his son, Romeo.

Romeo Coleman remembers being a kid when the farmers market first began in the parking lot of the Santa Barbara Mission.

“There were maybe 10 or 15 growers,” he said. “Back in those days, we were happy to make enough money to get back home and buy some pizza.”

His father liked to experiment with different plants from various ethnic groups. He was one of the first farmers in the region to grow produce like Italian arugula, Japanese eggplant, Lebanese squash and bitter melon. At first, they didn’t sell well.

“I had a hard time giving out [arugula] samples,” said his wife, Delia. “I would tell people ‘it will spike your salad! It’s a salad spiker from Italy!'”

Treviso radicchio from Coleman Family Farms.

Romeo continues to grow unusual produce, like treviso and tardivo radicchio, heirloom varieties with long, slender burgundy leaves and white ribs.

“[My dad] taught me to keep my eyes open as I walk around the field and anywhere I go; see the variety, bring it back home, try to cultivate it and bring it to other people,” he said. “That’s what my dad did with us.”


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