Enclave Farm in Bonsall aims to both grow and teach chef’s principles of ‘Food as Medicine’
Lan Thai got serious about food “source-ism” after her dying mom was given only two months to live
Lan Thai is a big believer in magical moments. The Cardiff chef and entrepreneur says she knows it was the spirit of her late mother who guided Thai to her newly purchased 19-acre property in Bonsall that she calls Enclave Farm.
The hilly acreage on Mt. Ararat Way will be a central building block for Thai’s long-term goal of both teaching and nourishing the world with a principle she calls Food as Medicine, or FAM. Thai said FAM represents family, which is the most important part of her life. Growing up on a family farm in Lakeside, Thai learned the value of working the soil with her hands and the healthful properties of eating a vegetable-rich diet. And then, during her quest to save her mother’s life, she learned how foods can heal.
Thai was born in a Southeast Asian refugee camp to parents who were South Vietnamese refugees. She was 5 years old when her family — she is one of six children — immigrated to San Diego in the 1970s. After going to college to study architecture and a brief career as a graphic designer with the Adobe software company, Thai become a farm-to-table chef. Nine years ago, the 35-year-old Thai was running a “farm to chopsticks” catering company on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, when she learned that her mother had terminal lung cancer and had just two months to live.
Thai quickly moved home to Lakeside to care for her mom and she began studying the science of healthful eating and the value of traditional Eastern healing techniques and herbs. To ease the side effects of chemotherapy, Thai fed her mom ginger, turkey tail mushroom probiotics and Asian herbs and spices. She was also able to ease her mom off debilitating prescription pain medicine by treating her with a cannabis tincture.
“One of the universal truths that I learned was that the culture I grew up in did know something about how to treat illness and disease. Eastern medicine used to be seen as quackery, but science needs to catch up,” she said. “Food as medicine was everything I already did, but I hadn’t put a name to it yet.”
Instead of two months, her mother lived another two years. After she passed, Thai put all she had learned into launching Enclave, a local chain of FAM cafés, a wellness apothecary and, now, a farm. The name Enclave represents the all-encompassing culture that she is building around her business and farm.
Thai said the regenerative farm will eventually grow up to 80 percent of the produce served in Enclave cafés. The farm will also become an education center and agro-tourism destination offering classes in permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food preservation, composting and cooking; overnight stays on the farm; coffee roasting; collaborations with other North County farms; and special food and wellness events.
Besides teaching visitors the principle of FAM, Thai said she wants people to practice what she calls “source-ism,” which means buying with intention from sustainable farmers, ranchers and artisans.
“FAM is about source-ism, diversity and learning from our ancestors,” Thai said. “Based on my life experiences and culture I really feel that I was made for this role and aim to fulfill it by further educating people on the importance of the source of food, celebrating ancestral knowledge, taking care of the planet and especially, appreciating the women from all walks of life and cultures who nourish their families with healthy and meaningful food.”
Thai said she began looking for farm properties last summer and had a special feeling when she first visited the Bonsall property, with a house that sits atop a hill overlooking a green valley. She was up against several other bidders for the land, but her mother’s spirit told her the seller would choose her offer. On the day the seller handed over the keys to Thai, she arrived with her goldendoodle puppy, Ziggy. The seller was shocked by the dog’s name, because his late wife went by the unusual nickname of Ziggy, as well.
“It was another one of those magical moments. I knew my Mom was watching over me then and he knew his wife’s memory would live on at the farm,” she said.
The farm already has avocado, olive, macadamia, lemon, grapefruit, kumquat, orange and tangerine trees. In the coming months, Thai said she will be bringing in greenhouses, farm equipment and tons of starter plants from her father’s land in Lakeside. She’ll soon plant passionfruit, dragon fruit, cherimoya and many Asian herbs with healthful properties. She is now looking to hire a resident farm manager to run the property and she plans to build a cottage for herself there, too.
The farm will temporarily take a backseat in her plans, though, because she’s now expanding her Enclave cafés. The first restaurant opened in August 2019 at Juneshine Ranch in Scripps Ranch. A second location will open Feb. 22 in the Torrey Hills/Del Mar Heights area and a third location, which will serve as a Enclave headquarters with a commissary kitchen, will open March 7 in UTC area near La Jolla.
The menu Thai created for the Enclave cafés is focused on nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory super foods. Many of the dishes are gluten-free, vegan and low in carbohydrates and processed sugar. The animal proteins she serves are all humanely raised. Her favorite menu item is the ginger turmeric bone broth.
Because the menu is so healthy, Thai said she hopes that one day Enclave’s meals will be served to hospital patients and covered by Medicare. Her other goal is to become one of the nation’s most successful vertically integrated farm-to-table restaurant operations.
Some of the most famous such enterprises are Michelin two-star Blue Hill Farm in New York and Michelin three-star SingleThread Farms in Sonoma County. Both of those are fine dining restaurants with expensive dinner prices to help cover the costs of their farm operations. Thai plans to do the same thing with Enclave farm and cafés, but with a menu with dishes that top out at $25.
High water and labor costs have made farming in California more expensive than ever, but Thai is confident that her business plan will be a success. She knows how to run a farm and she also knows that her mother’s spirit is in her corner.
“I know what it takes. It’s about operations, using every inch of land, managing labor efficiently and understanding that farming is a lifestyle, not a career,” she said. “I’m here to prove anything is possible.”
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