John Alexander and The Abalone Farm



If you are an old-timer along the Pacific Coast and can remember back in the 1950's and earlier, the term“abalone farm” would sound pretty strange to you. And it would be strange to think of such a thing because abalone were relatively plentiful then. The favorite spot for abalone gathering locally was just north of Cayucos.

However, shortly after those years, abalone became very scarce and many laws were passed to try to preserve the species. Eventually gathering became illegal and they were very hard to find. This was due to man and otter. If you happen to find an abalone shell sometime, you may find a hole in the middle of the shell and that was due to otters who only dined on the guts and left the “foot” to others. The delicacy of abalone was always known to mankind and so they were sought after. In very early days, I think the Indians hunted the otter and the abalone and kept a balance that allowed each of them to survive.

John Alexander graduated from Berkeley with a degree in structural engineering just before world war two. The Navy wanted him desperately and he became a commissioned officer practically overnight. His first duty was on the Aleutian Island of Kodiak. He had a crew of about sixty Seabees, mostly Texas farm boys, built a harbor and an all important radio tower for pilots. He and his crew later transferred to Guam.

John, having a B.S. degree in engineering and later a PhD in environmental science, designed a revolutionary type of concrete building that eventually was used all over the world in commercial applications. This was right after the war and during the next fifteen years or so this became a very successful business. While all this was happening, he kept remembering his earlier days in Southern California as a member of the first diving club on the coast. They had ventured off of Laguna Beach and the channel islands to search for abalone. He also knew that abalone would become extinct and that eventually no one would have the pleasure of eating this wonderful seafood.

In about 1964 John and a couple of friends decided to try to grow abalone and yes, it would be an abalone farm. He acquired acreage north of Cayucos and started the project. At the time the county folks were very encouraging and luckily for all of us there was no COASTAL COMMISSION to thwart this progress. It's hard to believe but several of today's members are still whining about this business. Growing abalone proved no easy task. It was heart breaking to have the first three crops fail. Since this had never been done before except in controlled laboratory conditions, it was a learning experience. The partners left and John stayed with it until today. There had to be many lean years but it is a profitable operation today.

John was widowed and in 1993 met and married the former Carol Olmsted. Carol, a nurse, was originally from Norfolk, Nebraska and John from Cleveland, Ohio. John moved to Downey, California at an early age. They live happily in a beautiful ocean facing home on the farm property.

John and Carol

John and Carol today

Farm Photos


Vic Hansen April 24, 2013

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