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Meet the Farms: Severson Farms

Go behind the scenes on BBC’s Green Planet, airing on PBS August 3, 2022.

6/30/2022

Kiku Severson

“The Green Planet” is a five-part, critically acclaimed documentary and part of the BBC Earth series. It looks at what narrator Sir David Attenborough calls the strange and wonderful world of plants. The production took the BBC Studios Natural History Unit three years to complete and was filmed in 27 countries. It airs weekly on PBS starting Wednesday, July 6.

As part of that ambitious project, a three-person crew – two photographers and a producer/director – spent three weeks in California almond country in 2020. They visited the orchards and homes of Christine Gemperle, Brian Wahlbrink, Danielle Veenstra and Kiku Severson to film the wonder of bloom and pollination and to capture the character of almond orchards. These farms feature in the final episode of the series, airing on Wednesday, August 3.

Meet Severson Farms

Kiku Severson’s nephew Liam was almost two years old when he met the Green Plant crew. When he did, the little guy was taken aback.

“He’d never heard someone with an accent before,” said Kiku, a fourth-generation farmer and communications specialist for the Almond Board of California. “He walked up all excited and smiling to meet someone new, then he heard their British accents and just stood back and stared.”

But Liam was adaptable. He bought in quickly watching the rest of Kiku’s family connect with the crew. “He followed them around with big smiles,” she said. “It was the cutest thing.”

Kiku’s parents, Kimber and Scott, live on the farm. Her brother, Jeffrey, and sister-in-law, Liz, live just down the road.

“They were shooting in February during a beautiful, mild bloom. Spring starts early here,” Kiku said. “They saw that my brother and sister walked over almost every evening and we would sit outside on the porch. The crew loved seeing that, and they loved the idea that our family was just down the road.”

All three of the Green Planet crew members are parents. They said that is a lifestyle they’d want for their kids. “We told them it wasn’t anything special,” Kiku said. “When you live in the country, your neighbors are your actual family, so we get to hang out together all the time.”

Working with the Green Planet crew

“I was expecting this massive crew,” Kiku said. “They were just three very chill individuals. It was one of most high caliber and rewarding experiences for me. I’m a fan of BBC and I have a degree in plant science, so talking with them about everything they’ve seen was so outstanding.”

The crew shot at Kiku’s family’s orchard over five days and wanted to learn everything they could about the farm and the almond industry. “They asked tons of farming questions, some really complicated ones and some really simple ones, like, ‘How do you grow all the almonds?’ ‘Then what?’ “How do you sell them?’ We all learned a lot from each other.”

The Green Planet team timed the shoot about as well as possible. “It was perfect bloom weather every day. My dad says it was a once-in-a-lifetime bloom,” Kiku said. “The bees were out every day. The crew was getting great close-up shots of the bees at our orchards. We were worried because they almost got stung a few times, but even that worked out perfectly.”

About the farm

Kiku’s family owns 68 acres of farmland in Ballico just east of Turlock. Her family has worked that farm for four generations, since her great, great grandparents immigrated from Japan in the early 1900s.

Her great grandparents lost the farm and all their possessions when they were moved into Japanese American internment camps during World War II. The manager of the local growers association maintained the land, and her grandparents eventually moved back to work it after the war and resumed leasing the land as they had before the war. (The 1913 Alien Land Law said that aliens who were ineligible for citizenship — including all Asians — could not own land in California. It was stuck down in 1952 by the California Supreme Court.) Years later, Kiku’s father lived on a farm nearby and fell in love with her mother. After her parents married in 1987, they bought the land plot by plot.

 

Lasting impressions

Kiku has a BS in Agriculture and Environmental Plant Science from Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo. She lives in SLO, as they call it there, and says she loves the energy of living in a small coastal city. But she comes back to the farm often.

“The Green Planet people asked me why I wanted to be back at the farm so much,” Kiku said. “I would be missing a part of myself if I didn’t have a piece of earth to come back to. Generations of my family have touched this farm and been part of it. Liam gets to grow up in the place my great grandpa farmed. This place is part of our family.”

To follow along with Severson farms you can follow @seversonfarms on Instagram.

Topics: Growing Good