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Some people look at the desert and see a hard, rocky landscape; others, like Bob McClendon, see farmland. A second generation Arizona native and founder of McClendon’s Select, he grows 100 different varieties of fruits and vegetables on 25 acres in Peoria and another 68 acres in Goodyear.
It’s not always easy, he admits, but he relishes the challenge.
“We’re always trying a new variety,” he says of McClendon’s Select, which he manages with the help of his wife, Marsha; their son, Sean; and his wife, Kate. “Arizona isn’t California where you can grow anything, but you can grow a lot of things here.”
McClendon, who has had success growing more than 20 varieties of citrus, several varieties of dates and countless greens, traces his passion for growing to his grandmother showing him how seeds could sprout between wet paper towels. However, he didn’t grow his own plants in a greenhouse until college when he conducted experiments for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
He was hooked. He planted a 1-acre garden, which expanded to two and featured citrus and dates. Over time, he added vegetables, other fruits and bees to produce honey. The garden more than doubled to five, then 10 and finally 25 acres with McClendon later adding a separate 68-acre plot.
Initially, the garden was for his personal use, but as he continued to expand, his wife suggested selling the surplus, and McClendon became a regular at the Town & Country Farmers Market. There, he met Chris Bianco, maker of arguably the best pizza in the country and owner of Pizzeria Bianco. When Bianco lost his produce supplier, he asked McClendon if he could step in.
Before long, McClendon was supplying produce to Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant and more than 80 restaurants throughout Arizona, partly because of the quality of his produce and partly because McClendon’s Select is one of the only USDA-certified organic farms of its size in the state.
McClendon believes converting the farm to USDA-certified organic was a natural extension of his career as a pharmacist and director of pharmacy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.
“I could see that all the chemicals—the herbicides and pesticides—were causing health problems,” he says. “People weren’t eating healthy foods.”
McClendon’s Select gives people the opportunity to do just. You can order the farm’s fresh, organic produce prepared in dishes at some of the Valley’s best restaurants, including Beckett’s Table, St. Francis, Brat Haus and Matt’s Big Breakfast. (It’s also available at restaurants in Tucson, Flagstaff, Winslow and Sedona.)
Or, you can bring McClendon’s Select produce home. The farm’s produce can be found at Uptown Farmers Market on Saturday mornings year round and on Wednesday mornings, October through June, as well as at Old Town Scottsdale Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, October through May.
McClendon says he’s eaten his produce at quite a few of the restaurants who serve it but doesn’t have a favorite dish. At home, he likes to keep it simple, especially when it comes to his favorites: McClendon’s Select blood oranges, Meyer lemons and baby spinach arugula.
“My favorite preparations are very straightforward and let you taste the produce,” he says.