Abbott family nabs 2012 Avofest Grand Marshall honor

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The 2012 California Avocado Festival Grand Marshall is the Abbott family. Gathered at Abbott ranch are adult family members, from left, Whitney Abbott and husband Murray McTigue, Tessa Van der Werff, and husband Robert Abbott, and Meredith and Duncan Abbott; and children, from left, Gwen and Agatha McTigue, Edie and Bea Abbott. Not pictured are William Abbott and husband David Paige.
This year’s California Avocado Festival Grand Marshall is multiplying, and it’s getting older and younger by the year. Rather than one local avocado grower, the Grand Poobahs of Avofest nominated the entire Duncan and Meredith Abbott family as 2012 Grand Marshall, a recognition that honors one of Carpinteria Valley’s most deeply rooted avocado growing families.

Speaking on behalf of himself and Meredith and their children William, Robert and Whitney and spouses David, Tessa and Murray and grandchildren Gwen, Edie, Agatha and Bea, Duncan said, “It’s an honor, especially looking back at the (Grand Marshalls) before us. They’ve all been very much involved in helping out Carpinteria.”

As explained by 2012 Avofest President Gregg Carty, the Grand Marshall title is bestowed on a person who is “very involved in preserving agriculture in the valley.” He said the Abbotts fit the qualifications perfectly because they’re “respected throughout the ag industry.” Most of the job of a Grand Marshall is simply to represent for a year the important role of avocado growers in the Carpinteria community. “Grand Marshalls just enjoy the festival, and the community shows respect for what they’ve done for us and the local agricultural industry,” Carty said.

And the most important part of the duty of grand marshalling the festival is setting the festivities into motion by balancing an avocado on the nose of the seal fountain on Friday afternoon of festival weekend. Duncan informed this reporter that he may snag a chunk of silly putty from one of his granddaughters to help balance the fruit on the seal’s nose.

Before Duncan took over, Abbott Ranch on Casitas Pass Road was founded by Tirey Abbott, Duncan’s father, in 1922, when Tirey was 22. He had graduated from U.C. Davis and wanted out of city life in San Francisco where he’d grown up. According to Duncan, Tirey knew immediately that the fertile Carpinteria Valley would generate a nice crop of what was then planted in walnuts. The family ranch also was planted in lima beans before becoming one of the early converts to avocados in the early 1930s when the Hass variety emerged.

Now in addition to the big Abbott Ranch of 55 acres, which has avocados and lemons, Robert farms 12 acres and Whitney has 12 with husband Murray McTigue. Duncan credits his children with injecting new energy into the family business and to adapting to a changing market. Robert is a dedicated organic farmer and is converting more and more of the big ranch from conventional to organic practices. They use mulch to fertilize the soil and have installed owl boxes to ward off rodents. “We’re kind of innovative. We try new ideas, and that whets the appetite a little bit,” Duncan said of Robert’s influence on the ranch.

William, Robert’s twin, resides in New Hampshire and although he’s not farming, his focus is on the land as an executive director of a land trust and a trained botanist.

And in addition to being connected to the land through growing trees and fruit, the Abbott family is well represented in local art galleries. Meredith, Whitney and Robert are all accomplished painters who draw inspiration from local scenery. “Art’s in the family. It’s ingrained,” Duncan said.

In emphasizing the significance of the family honor, the Abbotts contributed some input on what living among an abundant supply of avocados has meant for rearing new generations. Robert and Whitney said that they went through periods in youth where they shunned the fruit, having grown sick of endless creamy green meals, but now their palates have regained a taste for avocados. “When we were growing up these guys fed us so many avocados that we developed an aversion,” Robert said.

Meredith calls avocados the “perfect baby food” and said her grandkids love the simple snack of “wagon wheels,” avocados on Ritz crackers.

Duncan described his more unusual quick fix avocado lunch. He slices the avocado in half, tops it with ketchup, lemon juice and salt and digs in. Robert agreed that the seed cavity is a perfect container for sauce, but gave no comment on Duncan’s choice of toppings.

Reflecting on this year’s festival, Duncan said he is grateful for the honor and for having the opportunity to grow avocados in an ideal location. “There’s not a better place in the world to grow avocados,” he said.

Story by Peter Dugré

Landfill Diversion Program

E.J. Harrison & Sons will be managing the trash and food waste program, ensuring Avofest recycles and diverts 100% this year!