Ralph Foster is a third-generation avocado grower. His family came to San Diego in the late 1800’s from Colorado. Grandfather John Bartlett Blodgett grew avocados and oranges in El Cajon. Five-year-old Ralph and his parents, Gordon and Peggy Foster, moved to a 27 acre grove in Fallbrook in 1945.
Ralph remembers those early days when he would help his dad haul chicken manure, weld irrigation pipe and dig tree holes for all the groves being planted in Fallbrook at that time. When little Ralph was only 11 years old, he would take care of the family grove by himself while his parents travelled for the summer. In those days, he had to change the Calco irrigation pipe from one terrace of avocado trees to the next terrace. When there was a leak, he would call uncle Bob Ogden who would come by to weld the pipe.
Ralph’s family dug a well and the neighbors including the Ahrend’s, Layton’s, Crow’s, Metterling’s, Fullers and Paranichs came over to help frame and pour the cement for the reservoir in the front yard of their house. The reservoir doubled as a swimming pool and Ralph and his Grandpa Blodgett would climb up to the roof and jump down into the pool, hoping they would not get caught.
Early Fallbrook schoolboy memories included waiting for the bus on East Mission and always getting a ride from someone if he missed the bus, working in the cafeteria washing dishes, playing kick ball in the mud and rain, and taking dance lessons with the Country Kids youth group. Those lessons really paid off when Ralph went to High School. “The coach said that if I could play ball as well as I could dance I would be a star,” Ralph remembered. Fallbrook High School was on Ivy Street back then.
During wood shop, Ralph and his friends would sometimes cut class and go to Mel’s root beer stand at the corner of Ivy and Main. “I loved talking with everyone between classes when all 240 students would be in the hallway.” He bought a 1954 Ford convertible, and fixed it up with glass pack mufflers and fancy hubcaps and went to every dance as long as his grades were up. “One time the local CHP Officer Luellan gave me a ticket for speeding on Main Street. I had the top down, two girls in the car and the glass packs were singing their hearts out. Judge Wojick took my license away for one month and my dad took it away for a second month,” he recalled.
It was during his High School years that Ralph’s father began packing his own avocados. Their neighbor, Art Kimball was getting out of the packing business to start K Realty Mart, at the corner of East Mission and Stagecoach; so the Foster family acquired Art’s packing bin and scale and started packing their own fruit, along with Art’s fruit and that of several neighbors. Ralph would help his dad load boxes into the pickup and dad would haul the fruit to the LA market. That was the start of the Cal-Brook Avocado Company. By his Junior year, Ralph was driving the fruit alone in bigger trucks to the 7th and 9th Street LA markets.
After High School, Ralph attended Woodbury College, majoring in sales, merchandizing and advertising and worked nights in the LA produce market. He returned to Fallbrook in 1960 with a Bachelor’s degree and was ready to help his dad in the avocado packing business when a stroke of bad luck happened on his very first day. The packing house burned to the ground . Undaunted, Ralph rented an old tomato packing shed near Live Oak Park Rd. and began building the business in earnest. Over time he moved the company to successively larger facilities and eventually Foster’s Avocado Company became the first packing house to ship a railroad car of avocados to New York.
Always looking for innovative methods, Ralph researched and implemented the change from wooden boxes to bins and wooden packing boxes to corrugated boxes, He created a smaller bin for pickup trucks, tilt back trailers with rollers to road-side bins, controlling methane gas build-up in his coolers to store fruit longer and an early concept boom truck. He initiated a contract based picking system paying pickers by the pound and developed a team of avocado pickers that set new standards in the industry.
During those years, Ralph raised a family that included two daughters, Kelly and Julie. The girls were very active with the 4H in both sheep and dairy.
In his “spare” time, Ralph decided to get into Real Estate. It was a perfect fit. He began selling land, groves and estate homes. At Sunshine Properties Better Homes and Gardens on Main in Fallbrook, he put his extensive agricultural background to good use by addressing rural issues of zoning and septic concepts and he takes pride in having brought roads and utilities to outlying areas as a property developer. He knows that the residents and the rural areas are better served. “Every effort doesn’t have to bring in a sale,” he said. “Helping neighborhoods is a rewarding thing.” With Ralph’s long association with both local agriculture and his Real Estate experience, he can tell you the history and previous owners of most pieces of property in the Fallbrook, Bonsal and Rainbow areas.
In 1998, Ralph married his soul mate, Samee Brown, Broker of Sunshine Properties, servicing all of North San Diego and southern Riverside counties. Together they turned an inaccessible parcel of raw land into a dream, 20+ acre organic avocado grove that produces 10,000-18,000 pounds of fruit per acre, and a custom built western-style home that could be featured in any top architectural magazine.
To introduce people to the many varieties of avocados not commercially available to consumers, they have developed a website called avocadomonthly.com that ships hundreds of gift packs of specialty Heirloom varieties of avocados each month. “What better says Fallbrook and the Fosters than avocados?” asked Ralph.”I love to watch my four-year-old grandson walk under our avocado trees letting the leaves slide through his little fingers and watching the spirit of the ranch course through him. His first word was “abocabo.”
Ralph Foster has served his community and his industry by participating in the California Avocado Sales Association in the 1960’s, California Avocado Development Organization Board (a forerunner to the California Avocado Commission), Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce Board, Dairy Leader for Bonsal 4H, two- time President of the Fallbrook Board of Realtors, North San Diego County Board of Realtors representing Fallbrook, Vice Chair of the California Board of Realtors Rural Forum, and winner of the annual Realtors Chili Cook-Off three years in a row.