KETTLEMAN CITY — On Highway 41 south of Lemoore, the signs of drought are hard to miss: bare dirt fields, dry canals, scrub brush and sage, alkali flats.
Then you reach Kettleman City, and the first thing your eye is drawn to — possibly the highest building in the town — is a tower on the left and the words “Bravo Farms” below it.
It’s also the newest building in town: It opened to the public on April 14.
Bravo Farms is more than a football field in length and 50,000 square feet in size, making it probably the biggest attraction to hit Kettleman since In-N-Out Burger opened its doors near the sun-baked intersection of Highway 41 and Interstate 5.
The huge, two-story facility defies description. It’s like a cross between a Wild West theme park, a museum and a mini-mall, complete with antiques, fruit, nuts, milk and a lot of other stuff for sale.
Mike Jackson, a farmer outside Kettleman City, built the more than $4 million development in part to diversify his business. He also had in mind doing something positive in Kettleman, which has been the subject of one negative story after another thanks to the town’s water issues, the hazardous waste landfill three-and-a-half miles to the west and a rash of birth defects that hit a few years ago.
“We’ve been very well pleased with the response of the travelers as well as the people of Kettleman City,” said Bob Lewis, who oversaw construction of the project on behalf of Jackson, his son-in-law.
The facility employs about 55 people year-round, many of them from Kettleman’s residential area just a half mile away. Workers also hail from Avenal and Lemoore.
The intent is to draw motorists heading to and from the coast and drivers zipping along I-5 between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but the sheer size of Bravo Farms means that it’s designed to be far more than a way station. Lewis and company want it to be a destination, a place people seek out as a a quick getaway from Hanford, Lemoore or other nearby cities.
The original Bravo Farms was in Traver. The one in Kettleman City is the fourth addition to the Bravo Farms family that includes sites in Visalia and Tulare.
The original concept of a roadside fruit stand/rest stop has expanded considerably. The Kettleman version of Bravo Farms has a kid’s outdoor play land, a restaurant, a produce section, an ice cream shop, a wine/beer tasting room, a shooting gallery, a dog run and plenty more.
Among other curiosities, it includes the cross-section of a giant Sequoia, complete with markings indicating how old the tree was at key dates that start more than 200 years before the birth of Jesus.
The wine tasting room features an all-California lineup with a focus on vintners from the Paso Robles area.
Lewis figures it takes about two hours to take it all in. Visitors were walking around Monday craning their necks to do just that.
“I think it’s darling,” said Lea Blumenschein, an Arizona resident on her way to Cayucos. “It’s quite a little adventure.”
“It’s well, well done,” said Exeter resident Brooke Mack.
Lewis and Jackson aren’t finished yet. They have plans to build a motel and maybe a pharmacy to link up with Bravo Farms and get people to stay overnight. Lewis said he’s already got one wedding booked for Bravo, and he’s hoping there will be more.
“We’re hoping that we can develop a weekend destination,” Lewis said. “Bravo Farms is all about fun.”
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 and at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethN_HS.