Rooted in History: Malibu’s Thorne Family Farm

The first thing visitors might feel after stepping onto the idyllic 25-acre Thorne Family Farm in Malibu is that generations of memories are forever rooted in the soil here. The array of antique gardening tools, children’s toys, and free-roaming Australian shepherds are all proof that this is no industrial, mass-producing agriculture operation, but rather a small, sleepy, family-run farm tucked away on Bonsall Drive, just beyond some of the world’s most famous beaches and sprawling mansions. 

Larry Thorne is the current owner and farmer, along with his wife, Laurel, and their children. Thorne’s parents purchased the Malibu property in 1938 - nearly 80 years ago -  and his father farmed the land until the early 1960s. Thorne took over operating the small family farm with the goal of instilling in his children the values and rewards of hard work. In the 1970s, Thorne attempted to expand the farm and sell his produce, but the timing just wasn’t right and the business never took off. Over the next three decades, he never shook the feeling that he desperately wanted to spend his years doing something he truly loved. In 2011, after much contemplation, he decided on one last attempt to make his life's passion his profession. Thorne started out by setting up a little picnic table on the street, where his children would look forward to selling fresh fruit to their neighbors on weekends - their own version of a lemonade stand. This time around, the local community couldn’t resist Thorne's amazingly delicious strawberries, blueberries, and olallieberries, which put Thorne Family Farm on the map! 

Thorne jokes that his competitors initially despised him because his “tomatoes didn’t taste like tomatoes” and his “strawberries didn’t taste like strawberries.” His tomatoes were rich, concentrated, and bursting with flavor, while many of his competitors' fruit lacked any character or flavor whatsoever. Unfortunately for all consumers, finding flavorful tomatoes - especially in mainstream markets - can really be such a rarity these days. According to Thorne, it’s simple, “big farming grows for tonnage and I grow for flavor," he says. Every decision Thorne makes is with that goal in mind - from the varieties of tomatoes he's chosen and the type fertilizer he uses to the time of harvest and the watering patterns. “Fruit produced on big farms is bred for shipping,” he says. Big companies must be certain that by the time their produce travels hundreds or even thousands of miles and spends days or weeks on trucks that the fruit will still be in sellable condition upon arrival, which may not be exactly what nature intended. 

Now with over thirty products coming from the farm, Thorne's business has grown steadily year after year, with many local restaurants seeking out Thorne Family Farm's berries, vegetables, stone fruit, citrus fruit, fresh herbs, and his top-notch tomatoes. Thorne meets with chefs twice per year to discuss their needs for the upcoming seasons and he plants accordingly. Restaurants such as Rose Café in Venice, Farmshop in Brentwood, The Cannibal in Culver City, and Soho House's Little Beach House in Malibu all swear by Thorne's produce. Reyes Medina, who purchases for Rose Café, says, “over the past 5 years I have loyally sourced from Larry Thorne because his care and passion for what he does comes through in his produce season after season.”

Thorne Family Farm is not only recognized locally here in Los Angeles, but was also chosen as a host farm for a recent Outstanding in the Field event, co-hosted by chef Jason Neroni of Rose Café. Tickets for this event sold out at lightning speed and diners traveled from all over the region to attend, tour the farm, and enjoy a delicous meal using much of what Thorne grows. 


Thorne begins planting tomatoes in mid-April, continuing to plant through July, and they pick through November. Although they grow eight varieties of tomatoes on the farm, he suggests Big Beef tomatoes as the go-to option for the at-home, backyard grower. “Big Beef tomatoes produce some of the biggest, best-flavored tomatoes and perform really well in our [Southern California] climate,” he says. 

His insider tips for producing a delicious crop are to “plant in full sun, don’t over fertilize, and don’t overwater”. These are the three mistakes that many first-time home gardeners often make. Tomatoes need to struggle a bit to gain complexity and overwatering will cause a loss of that flavor concentration that makes homegrown tomatoes so special. 

During years when there just isn't enough rainfall, Thorne will dry-farm his tomatoes (similar to how many wineries grow their grapes), meaning he will not manually water the tomato plants at all. Using only what Mother Nature provides, the tomatoes harvested in these years are exceptionally exquisite.

As he strolls down the rows and rows of towering tomato plants, Thorne can’t help but lean down to pull a few weeds that have popped up since his last walkthrough. The way he gently touches the plants as he walks by, it's almost as if he's letting them know that he's there, just saying hello. 


  • Spiced yellow tomato chutney

  • Tomato basil sorbet

  • Tomato bacon jam 

  • Homemade ketchup

  • Dehydrate to make tomato chips

  • Slow roast and preserve in olive oil               

  • Bread and fry thickly-sliced tomatoes with chickpea flour as a gluten-free bed for Eggs Benedict

  • Pickle heirloom tomatoes to use in sandwiches

  • Make-ahead savory tomato tarte tatine to serve with a simple green salad - an easy, light meal for brunch, lunch, or dinner

  • Homemade Bloody Mary mix


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's stay in touch

Subscribe to the Edible LA e-newsletter for updates on local food issues, events, seasonal recipes, and special issue sneak peeks.

We respect your privacy