I emailed Evie of Tierra Vegetables a few weeks ago to ask if I could write a feature article on their Farm Stand. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me–because I’d met her through a friend. But of course she remembers and sure I can write an article. She tells me a good time to catch her (or anybody at Tierra Vegetables) is on Tuesdays or Thursday mornings–when they’re packing up the CSA boxes. “It’s pretty hectic and you’d have to be patient but you could get some good pictures and info.” I wonder what the CSA boxes are, but believe I’ll find out soon enough.
I find the Farm Stand off Highway 101 at the Fulton/Airport Boulevard exit and arrive on Tuesday morning around 9h30. Evie’s not there yet so I introduce myself and have a look around to get myself oriented. I offer to help get things ready for the CSA boxes.
Lee sets me up with a few bushels of garlic. She’s very efficient: “I need one hundred bulbs that weigh 3.2 ounces each.” Roxie shows me how to clean them and weigh them.
I start preparing the bulbs of garlic. Roxie is preparing chard and lettuce for the boxes. We start to chat. We talk about what Tierra Vegetables is doing with the Farm Stand and the CSA boxes. She says: “Well, for example, we grow everything that we sell. Or almost everything. If we don’t grow it, we know who does.”
She points to the field behind the Farm Stand: “Those are the strawberries that we’re selling today. We pick what’s ready and sell them as soon as they come in from the field.” Then she motions to the tractor that’s appeared behind me. “Those are the carrots that are going in the CSA boxes.” I grab my camera and take an action shot.
As I’m trying to finish prepping the garlic, a van rolls up and somebody shouts, “It’s the group from Santa Rosa.” Then, there’s hustle and bustle everywhere because the arrival signals the start of everybody else arriving to pick up their boxes.
Tierra Vegetables grows, harvests, and preps the produce. But you actually have to assemble your own box when you come to pick it up. Also, you provide your own “box”. It can be a paper bag, a cloth bag, a basket–whatever you want it to be. As long as you reuse it every week. Two guys get out of the van and start their assembly line.
I wait until it gets organized before I ask a fellow: “Where are you from?”
“Winzler and Kelly,” he replies.
“An engineering firm in Santa Rosa.”
“How come you have so many bags?” There seems to be about twenty different bags they need to fill.
“Well,” he explains. “There’s a group of us at work. Every Tuesday, somebody different has pick-up duty. We come out and fill up everybody’s bag and bring it back to the office.”
They’re on a timeline and by now, more and more people are arriving to pick up their CSA boxes. I wander out to the front of the Farm Stand to get out of the way and see what’s going on there. Evie’s chatting to everybody as she rings them up–she knows everybody’s names.
It finally occurs to me to ask: “What does CSA stand for?” As it comes out of my mouth, I remember reading about it on their website: “Community Supported Agriculture”.
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE
Evie explains that the idea of CSA is to connect the local community with local farmers. It’s about creating a relationship between the consumers of the food and the farmers growing the food and about knowing about how the food is grown.
I ask Evie, “How long have you been selling these boxes?
She thinks for a minute. “I think our CSA program started in 1992. We started with about 10 families. We’ve grown some every year and last year we topped around 200.”
A customer comes round front from assembly line out behind the Farm Stand. Evie introduces us, “Denise, meet Jennifer. She’s writing an article for a Healdsburg Magazine. Jennifer, why don’t you talk to Denise?”
I start talking to her. She’s been part of the Tierra Vegetables CSA program for over three years. “What do you like about it?” I ask.
“Well,” she ponders. “I really like that it’s fresh. I like that it’s fixed. I mean. I just arrive and my vegetables are already chosen for me.” She pauses, “I guess I like that I don’t really have to think about what I’m going to be eating this week. They’ve done it already.”
What do you mean? “, I prompt her to explain more.
“Not only is the produce grown and picked for me, Evie also emails recipes for what’s in the box that week. It just makes my life easier. And,” she perks up, “I never would have some of the vegetables if they hadn’t been in the box–like cactus!”
I nod my head. I know what she means. Having somebody else think about planning my meals every week would definitely make my life easier.
I ask Evie how to sign up for their CSA program? She tells me there is a waiting list of about 25 or so right now. But all the information is on their website: TierraVegetables.com. Or just email, call, or stop by the Farm Stand. She repeats with a laugh, “You can always just stop by the Farm Stand.”
I talk to Wayne as he finishes preparing the bushels of garlic. He’s set himself up in the shade and he stands with one leg up resting on the bench. I notice he doesn’t wear shoes. And I remember somebody telling me once that he never wears shoes. He’s always barefoot in the fields. I make a mental note to ask him about it.
Now, I ask about his history with farming and with farmer’s markets.
“We’ve been farming most of our lives. In the 70s, I was running a produce farm up in Potter Valley. Farming has been our way of life for over 25 years. CSA is only part of it.”
“Part of what?” I ask.
“Sustainability.” He states the obvious. “Everything we do here is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. It has to be all three.”
I email him later to ask him to elaborate on this explanation. He sends me his own words:
Sustainability is economically, socially, and environmentally friendly practices. To make it work, you have to have all three parts and all three parts must be as equal as possible.
- Economically means that the farm can support not only the farmers and the farmers families but also all the farm workers and their families.
- Socially means that it needs to support the local community and be part of the local community by supporting the local businesses, supporting the local residents (don’t spray, don’t disrupt the farm’s neighbors, etc, paying our workers living wages, and supporting them how we can).
- Environmentally means that we use practices that least impact the environment, from not using plastic for coverings in the beds, to not using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.
This is the balance we strive to achieve and it means keeping our money in the community. It’s very complex, and we have a long way to go. But every day, we are working towards this definition of sustainability.
FARMER’S MARKET vs FARM STAND
I ask Wayne about selling the produce. Do they only have this Farm Stand? Or do they sell at other Farmer’s Markets?
He sort of sighs and says, “We used to do Farmer’s Markets everyday around the Bay Area. At one point, we were travelling to Farmer’s Markets as far away as Danville.”
“But really, with the cost of everything–time and transport–it was soon not becoming worth it. When this land became available, I knew it was where we needed to set up and start the Farm Stand. “
“Now, our transportation costs consist of bringing the food from the field (he waves his hand behind him)—to the Farm Stand. And, we use those (he motions to the huge wheelbarrows) as transportation.”
Tierra Vegetables leases 17 acres of farmland from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. And a few more acres out by their own home. Everything they sell they grow on the land they farm.
If they don’t sell it, it goes back to their licensed kitchen to become part of their prepared food offerings. If it doesn’t sell or get prepared in the kitchen, it’ll go back into the land or fed to the animals. They have chickens, sheep, and sometimes pigs at home on their farm.
I ask him if he knows how many people buy from Tierra Vegetables and he works out the figures right there.
“We have about 500 families who buy from the Farm Stand in peak season.
“We have about 200 families subscribing to the CSA program.”
“And Lee sells to about 100 different customers on Saturdays in San Fran (because they continue to sell at the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays). So—I guess roughly, that’s about 800 families who we supply from our land.” He looks satisfied as he realizes the numbers.
I say to Wayne: “Roxie said that you built everything here at the Farm Stand from recycled materials.” And I ask him to explain.
He laughs and says: “How do you want me to explain? What do you want me to explain?”
I think. “For example, where did you get the materials to build the stand?”
He shrugs and points to the wood framed boxes that display the produce. “That wood came from the old Frizelle-Enos feed store out in Sebastopol when they tore down the old building.”
He points his shears at the structure where he’s shucking garlic. “This wood is from when the fence out there (and he motions to the field) blew down and we had to replace it.”
“Those pipes (that hold the shade tarp over the actual stand itself), those pipes are from our old well out on the farm.”
“The shade tarp is actually an old billboard that you see out on the highway.” He smiles, “One of my friends got it for me.”
“And that’s an old shipping container.”
I get the idea. Everything. Everything to do with Tierra Vegetables –quite literally from soup to nuts—is either grown from seed, recycled, or re-used. They support their family, their worker’s families, and (in peak season) up to 800 other families.
And how can you not support that?
Before you go somewhere else on the internet, have a look at the photo album of this day on Flickr.
Visit the Tierra Vegetables Farm Stand (directions)
Open 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (Wednesday when tomato season starts)
Tierra Vegetables CSA program
Tierra Vegetables website
Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District
More on CSA in general