By Gail Dana
Debuting at the end of October, Stehly Farms Market on Adams Avenue makes the small-town feel seem complete in the area surrounding the iconic Kensington sign. The upscale organic grocery and deli-restaurant adds to the area’s leisurely dog-walking, latte-sipping pace. Toddlers tumble in the park playground by the library, independent movies play at the Ken Cinema, and restaurants, wine bistros and an ice cream parlor provide more charm and amenities.
Stehly Farms Market is the latest business to open in the three-story Kensington Commons mixed-use development, which was built despite efforts by some people in the Kensington community to stop the project. The building on the northeast corner of Adams Avenue and Marlborough Drive features 34 apartments, gated residential parking spaces under the second floor, and visitor parking spaces behind the building. Other ground-floor retail spaces include a UPS Store and Pacific Dental Services.
As small groceries go, Stehly Farms Market is about as close to local as residents can get. Stehly Farms itself — where much of the fresh, organic produce is grown — is located in the North County community of Valley Center.
The brothers Jerome and Noel Stehly, who own Stehly Farms, are third-generation farmers. Their grandfather Noel J. Stehly founded the original family farm in the 1920s in Orange County. Eventually their father Jerome Stehly Sr. took over that operation and in 1964, with Orange County housing developments carpeting the county, Jerome Sr. moved the farm to 278 acres in Valley Center. Here, the farm focus transitioned from chickens to citrus groves. Under the charge of Noel and Jerome Jr., the focus changed to organic fruits and vegetables, and has now expanded to neighborhood organic markets.
“We love carrying out the family tradition of farming and providing direct to customers,” Jerome Stehly told San Diego Uptown News.
The brothers are both graduates of the University of San Diego. Noel’s degree is in international relations while Jerome’s is in business. Their footsteps follow proudly in their grandfather’s and father’s farming traditions, including change.
“Noel and I are always looking for new ways to expand,” Jerome said, “and opening our own markets seemed a natural to us.
At first glance, considering the city’s restrictions on signage, it may be hard for some to even see Stehly Farms Market. The entry is through an inset double doorway on Adams Avenue over which is a modest, green Stehly Farms Market sign.
The store entry is elevated, immediately providing a vivid view of the fresh produce display. The market is clean, light and bright. The curved cases of the deli showcase fresh, chef-prepared vegetable dishes of the day, wrapped organic meats, and the chef’s special main dishes and sides for lunch and dinner.
The fresh juice bar at the end of the deli offers everything from fresh juice drinks to carefully designed mixtures. Patrick Meyer — a visitor from Hawaii who was on his way to explore Mexico with friends — is a self-proclaimed fresh juice purist. He took one sip of a Berry Powerful Smoothie, smiled, and proclaimed it “wonderful.”
The grocery aisles are full of organic products, cheeses and more. All are carefully displayed. According to the Stehly Market cheese connoisseur and specialty basket designer Robert Baker, the company philosophy is “you first taste with your eyes.”
Linda McCollom, Stehly Farms Market general manager, laughs and agrees. “I just bought an order of chocolate and I bought it because of the way it looked! Our Stehly philosophy is value, healthy, great tasting, and great looking,” she said.
The deli offers made-to-order salads, sandwiches and dinners. With the addition of the new awning on the south side of the market, their indoor and outdoor seating areas offer comfortable areas for customers to enjoy food and visit with neighbors.
According to posts in the Talmadge and Kensington community Nextdoor website, local residents love being able to walk to the market. Those used to the upscale prices at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s write that they think the Stehly prices are fair.
“Some items are higher priced. Some items are lower. And some are equal,” writes Rachel Bankovich from Kensington. “I appreciate it for the convenience and awesome addition to the neighborhood that it is. I am happy to have them here. The convenience alone is worth it.”
Todd Cardiff, also from Kensington, is impressed by the attractiveness of the displays and the freshness of the products. “I am overjoyed by what I saw in my very short shopping trip. The heirloom tomatoes were only $3.99 per pound (same or less than Vons) and the bok choy, leeks, beats, carrots etc. were soooooooo beautiful and fresh,” he wrote. Later, Cardiff posted that “the price for heirloom tomatoes at Stehly have dropped to $2.99 per pound.”
Stehly Farms market is located at 4142 Adams Ave. Normal store hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. with adjustable hours on holidays. Call 619-280-7400 for more information.
—Gail Dana is a freelance writer from San Diego and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.