Few people in Carpinteria know its avocado history like Betty Brown, who was one of the first people in the valley to grow avocados on her ranch in the early ‘60s. This year, Brown will serve as the honorary chair of the California Avocado Festival.
Betty May Brown was born in Oklahoma and raised in Kansas. She moved to Carpinteria 68 years ago shortly after marrying Ralph Brown, who passed away in 2006. The couple had grown up not five miles apart in Kansas and married when Betty was 18. “I don’t remember when I didn’t know him,” said Betty. They had three children, and later, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, almost all of whom still live in the area.
The Browns moved to Carpinteria in 1951 to help Ralph’s family with the local business, The Pine Haven Motel and Café (formerly located in the parking lot across from the Alazar Theatre before it was torn down). Ralph had just finished a three-year tour with the Merchant Marines in the South Pacific. His extended family had been early settlers of the Carpinteria Valley and owned several businesses and properties. They called on him and his new wife to come out and help. Ralph’s grandfather, Henry Barrion Fish—of Henry Fish Seed Co.—had first stepped foot in Carpinteria in 1868 and was one of the leading packers of lima beans and other seeds by the time Betty moved to town.
In 1963, Betty and Ralph bought a five-acre ranch on Cravens Lane and started growing avocados alongside the home where they raised their children. “Back then, they were growing tomatoes, English walnuts and lemons,” said Betty, “Then came the avocados. We were probably not the first to grow avocados, but Ralph’s brothers probably had some of the first.” Today, the 50 acre Brown Ranch is found on Rincon Road. Betty’s son, Mac Brown, has 120 acres of avocados on his family’s Wiggie Ranch.
Before becoming an avocado rancher, Betty attended East Central University in Oklahoma for a short time. But when WWII broke out, she returned home to Kansas to help her family. “I didn’t get to go to college for very long,” she recalled. After moving to Carpinteria, she became a tireless advocate for children’s education and welfare. She volunteered and fundraised extensively for the Children’s Home Society, Rainbow Girls and Girls Inc. of Carpinteria. She’s credited, along with her husband, with spearheading the $2.46 million capital campaign for Girls Inc. to build the 16,000-square-foot farm-style campus on Foothill Road, which tripled Girls Inc.’s programming capacity.
Betty is also active in the Rotary Club, Carpinteria Women in Agriculture, Carpinteria Republican Women and the American Heart Association. In 1998, she was honored as Carpinterian of the Year in recognition of her service to the community.
Does Betty Brown like avocados? “I certainly do,” she said, “I eat one a day. Just a plain old avocado. I don’t have to have anything else with it… maybe salt and pepper.”
Avofest will be held Oct. 4, 5 and 6 on Linden Avenue in Carpinteria. For more information, email email@example.com, or call (805) 684-0038.