I can’t believe I texted the word “semantically” today

I’ve just started texting with my mobile. I’ve never done it much before, but now, I have a few people I exchange messages with. It’s a bit like twitter, but I know the person I’m talking to somewhat cares what I’m saying.

Today, I am on my way to the library (for the air conditioning and to get some work done), but I’m not there yet. I’ve been answering emails and updating websites while trying to eat some breakfast at Costeaux.

Regardless, my friend texted me about being on Yukon time. Frankly, because I’m in Healdsburg, I was a bit surprised he’d even know about Yukon time. Maybe he does. Maybe he was just making a joke, but I texted back:

How do you know about Yukon time??? Which is semantically defined as somewhere between late and never…

I must be on Yukon time if I take the time to text the word “semantically”.

Am missing the Yukon big time right now. I should have made the time and money to come home this summer.

Dan the Tomato Man: Soda Rock Farm

Dan Magnuson : Soda Rock Tomatoes: Healdsburg, CAAfter I interviewed Mateo Granados last June, I always stop by his tamale stand at the Farmer’s Market to say hello. He’s always happy and chatty and talking to someone or another. One day, I was just hanging out and Dan Magnuson of Soda Rock Farm comes over to drop off a few boxes of his tomatoes. Mateo immediately says to me: “Here’s one guy you have to talk to. His tomatoes, mmmmuah… ” He kisses his fingers and releases them into the air, in a typical chef-sort-of-way. And he introduces us.

I talk to Dan a bit, and talk to him a few times before we actually make a time to meet. But we meet one morning at the Costeaux Bakery Cafe. He sits down and says: “So. What do you want to talk about?”

I’m prepared: “Tomatoes”, I say.

He smiles: “Well. That’s a pretty big subject.”

I narrow it down: “Your tomatoes? Tell me about your tomatoes.”

That doesn’t do much good. I guess it’s just too big of topic. I ask him some more rhetorical questions.

“When did you start growing tomaotes?” and “Why tomaotes?”

He says he started growing tomatoes about 10 years ago out on his property in Alexander Valley. He’d taken a class at the Santa Rosa Junior college in agriculture. He just liked tomatoes. And I also find out he’s a tennis pro. During the winter months, he teaches tennis athletes at the Charlie Schultz indoor tennis courts.

Tennis and tomatoes. That’s our man. He’s an expert at both.

He started out with an acre out on Alexander Valley and about 3000 plants. He now farms both his property and four to five acres in Dry Creek Valley. Today’s stats are approximately 20,000 tomato plants, 15,000 basil plants, and 1000 lemon cucumber plants.

Soda Rock Tomatoes : Ready for market

I ask him how many tomatoes does 20,000 tomato plants produce (I was looking for tonnage or something–I don’t know how you measure tomatoes). He blinked and looked back at me: “A lot.”

He grows between 35 and 40 different varietals, but his mainstay is red beefsteak.

“Do you have any secrets to growing tomatoes.? His eyes are smiling as he tells me — “Trial and error.” He’s been doing it for 10 years, he just figured out what worked and what didn’t. He knows that’s not what I asked and follows up by saying: “Would you give your secrets away?” But he does explain a bit further.

“I grow in Dry Creek Valley. What’s good for the grapes is good for my tomatoes.” Which turns out to be sandy loam soil and sunlight. He also tells me it’s important to plant at the right time, and pick at the right time (which I guess isn’t really anything new.) He plants in April and May (depending on the weather) and the harvest is ready by mid-July through October.

He tells me about staking the plants so they grow up-not out. He tells me about watering them until they’re ripe, then stopping the water before the skins split. He tells me about figuring out how to do things right and making those things repeatable year after year.

He also says that he only grows the tomato varietals he likes. He tried others once, but the fruit could tell he didn’t really like that variety. His customers could tell he didn’t really like that variety–so he just decided he’d never do that again.

I ask him if there is such a thing as a tomato competition. He laughs and said certainly. One year he won awards in five categories from the Kendall Jackson Tomato Festival: aroma, all other colors, orange & yellow, red, and cherry.

He started by selling his tomatoes to high-end restaurants. Bistro Ralph here in Healdsburg was his first. Over the years, Underwood Bar and Bistro and Willow Wood Market Cafe in Gratton sell his tomaotes, Syrah and Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. His latest account is Cyrus Restaurant here in Healdsburg. He also does most Farmer’s Markets in the area. I’ll have to check specifically. His tomatoes are also in some produce markets. I noticed them in Big John’s the other day and out at the JimTown Store. And, he tells me later–the Pacific Market in Santa Rosa.

If you’d like to try his tomatoes in more of a social setting, Bovolo Restaurant featuring his tomatoes in one of their BIG NIGHT dinners on Sunday, 14 September 2008. Here’s the menu:

black pig bacon BLT PANZANELLA
rosemary rubbed PRIME RIB / tomatoes / white corn / fingerling potatoes / salsa verde,
TOMATO + WATERMELON SORBETTO / candied mint + basil / cornmeal shortbread

Let me know if you go. And let me know what you think about it. Minimally, let Dan know what you think of his tomatoes–leave a comment.

Tierra Vegetables Farm Stand

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.

Tierra Vegetables : Fresh Carrots!

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.

“What’s that?”

“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”.


Tierra Vegetables : CSA Boxes

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.”


Wayne James : Tierra Vegetables : Fresh : Sustainable : Produce

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.


Lee James, Wayne James, Evie Truxaw, Megan O' Laughlin, Jennifer Watson. Front: Brian with dog Gordon and Roxie Nall

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

How to have fun with a box

I haven’t been blogging. I have no excuse. I have been a bit busy though. I have a new housemate (or two). We have been getting acquainted. Krista and her son Conor moved in in October. I’m happy that they are here. Conor is five. And I find myself identifying with having a five-year-old in my house.

As soon as they moved in, I had to start unpacking some of my boxes. There wasn’t enough room for me, my boxes, and two new housemates. One evening–just after Halloween, I unpacked my collection of children lit books into the built-in shelf in the living room. I guess I figured I have a reason to unpack them now that there is a five-year-old in the house.

I finished and went into the kitchen to get something ready when Conor appeared in the doorway–with the box over his head.

“Look at me! I’m a box!”

How fun. How to have fun with a box. There’s all kinds of new thingamajigs that cost all kinds of money. Why spend the money though? You can just use a box!

We cut out some eyes, nose, and mouth in the box. Then–he wanted space for his arms. We cut out arm holes. He was very excited to be a box. And me? I was excited that he wanted to be a box.

Later that week, Conor and his mom went to a birthday party at the local Healdsburg Bar and Grill. He wanted wanted to wear the box. Apparently, he stood up on the table, with his box over his head, armed with his light saber and shouted to the entire restaurant:

“Look at me! I’m a box!”

Last summer, when Cindy was here. I had just bought a fabulous set of kitchen knives. They came in a box. Part of the packaging was a three-dimensional, triangle-shaped box. Basically, it looked (or could look) like a pirate’s hat–made out of cardboard. I immediately put it on my head–for the simple effect of putting a triangle-shaped piece of cardboard on my head.

It fit. Perfectly. And, it was just funny that when Cindy arrived home–I greeted her with a box on my head. And she looked at me a bit sideways–but maybe she just thought I was a crazy lady from Canada. And that’s what people from Canada do–they greet their foreign friends with boxes on their heads. And we just laughed at the thought of it all.

Hmm. Well–maybe, just maybe, this was one of those situations where you had to be here. I don’t know if I can explain why it was so funny.

So, when Conner appeared in the kitchen doorway with a box on his head saying: “Look at me! I’m a box.” And I immediately identified with my five-year-old housemate who thought it was funny to put a box on his head.