Jason Mraz: The Accidental Avocado Farmer
Take alt-rocker Jason Mraz, drop him on an avocado ranch, and what happens? He gets healthy, happy...and makes guacamole, of course!
Take alt-rocker Jason Mraz, drop him on an avocado ranch, and what happens? He gets healthy, happy...and makes guacamole, of course! Watch Jason Mraz Whip Up Avocado Chocolate Pudding
Jason Mraz is crouched among his kale plants, with his trucker's cap a bit off center, fretting over the tiny insects poaching his prized greens. He uses a homemade concoction of soap and vinegar to battle the pests. "The lacinato kale, a sort of classic curly cat, is my favorite." It makes a great chip, he enthuses.
Mraz should probably be out promoting his new CD Yes!, which is about to be released, rather than here in his garden. But despite his huge success-he's sold over 7 million CDs and won two Grammy Awards-the ease with which he speaks about nurturing his kale suggests he's happier here.
On this sunny day at his 5-1/2-acre avocado ranch northeast of San Diego, the trees create a lush, rainforest-like canopy. The fruits have just been harvested and are on their way to, among other customers, nearby Chipotle restaurants. Slightly blemished ones are donated to soup kitchens and food banks.
Mraz, 37, a self-professed organic gardening "geek," tries to eat from his own zip code. He and his girlfriend, a vegetarian chef and baker, cook from the garden, belong to a local CSA and buy from neighboring farms. They make almond milk, munch sprouts they grow in trays on the countertop and try to eat "mostly" vegan. Mraz points to the nearby coop housing the chickens they keep to help fertilize the gardens. Without a hint of vegan remorse, he admits they still eat eggs occasionally, "especially from these gals."
After his initial success, Mraz bought the ranch in 2004. With no plans to be a farmer, he thought it would be "a place to be isolated when you have a crazy life." The densely packed plot of land is filled mostly with avocados, but is also home to Meyer lemons, pomegranates, guavas and mangoes. There are shady pockets where Mraz retreats to write music, as well as an Oriental-rug-filled recording studio. The outdoor kitchen and dining area, shaded by a pergola entwined with passion fruit and grapevines, is the hangout spot during breaks from recording.
Mraz's lifestyle hasn't always been so crunchy-happy-healthy. Playing San Diego coffeehouses at the start of his career, fast-food burgers, soda and cigarettes were a regular part of his diet. Then, around the time he moved to the ranch, Mraz performed on a concert bill with the Rolling Stones. He saw that the once notoriously hard-partying rockers really took care of themselves. Removing his cap and running a hand through his shock of seriously hat-headed hair, Mraz turns introspective. "I'd been surfing a lot, and I felt kind of ridiculous smoking a cigarette after. I said, ‘I'm gonna just cut these out.' And so then the energy picks up. I start running, I start doing more exercise."
Then, in 2008, as his mega hit "I'm Yours" was topping the charts, one of his band members was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. A doctor suggested the bandmate try an all-vegetarian diet. In solidarity, Mraz took the leap and went vegetarian as well.
"We decided to bring a chef out on tour with us for 30 days and go vegetarian and raw to see what would happen. And I mean, a dramatic transformation. Not just in weight loss, but in overall health and energy. And then no trace of diabetes."
From that point on, Mraz started traveling with a Vitamix blender to make avocado-and-kale-laced green smoothies. (He's bought a Vitamix for his parents, too, trying to get them on the health kick.) He always makes sure his band and crew are well fed and even treats them to an occasional batch of "Chocomole," a vegan chocolate pudding made with avocados for a silky texture.
These days, between recording and tours, his friend Scott Murray, an organic farming consultant, is helping Mraz work toward organic certification for his avocados. And the vegetable garden is always improving. He recently hung lights above the rows of plants. "It's a real problem," Mraz says with a cat-like smile, "because I'm out here sometimes until midnight just geeking out and loving it."
And there may be more geek-time for Mraz in the not-so-distant future. He's talked about taking a break after he finishes his current recording contract, to raise a family and spend more time with his parents. At the ranch, this hipster turned back-to-the-land hippie may just start a new life in his forties where he really is more farmer than famous.
Jim Romanoff is the EatingWell food editor. The last musician he interviewed was Jerry Garcia, in 1987.