A Day on the Farm in Sonoma County
On May 21, Greenbelt Alliance and Sonoma County Farm Trails co-hosted the Sonoma Farm Tour. We plucked eggs still warm from laying with Adam Taggart at Tara Firma Farms, walked freshly planted veggie rows with Jesse Pizzitola at First Light Farm, and were inspired and impressed as always by Elizabeth Kaiser at the lush Singing Frogs Farm. Rain, wind, and sunshine added drama to the day’s visit with locally-grown food and farmers at their best.
The farm tour connected us directly with farmers who are successfully farming and producing food using earth-friendly practices. The excursion highlighted our Farms and Ranches Forever Initiative and the goals of our recent HomeGrown report. We want to help local farms and ranches thrive around the Bay Area through policies and programs that will protect our greenbelt and ensure supplies of local food for the long term.
Carmen Snyder, Executive Director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, shared copies of the brand new Map and Guide, which is a searchable online version to find organic growers, cheesemakers, purveyors of apple juice, family farms, and other agricultural and artisanal producers.
One way that we can directly support local farms is to subscribe to Community Supported Agriculture. All three farms on the tour offer fresh boxes of in-season edibles for pick-up or home delivery within their range.
Tara Firma Farms is a sustainable farm in Petaluma, which produces grass-fed beef, pastured pork, and pastured chicken. Located in a hidden valley not far from the highway, the 290-acre rustic farm with its barns and roaming chickens is open to the public every Saturday and Sunday with tours daily at noon. There, we cupped baby chickens in our hands and met the hogs while Adam Taggart explained the farm’s history and farming methods. A transplant from Silicon Valley, Adam operates the farm with methods inspired by the genius of alternative farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms and influenced by Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. Most of the farm is permanently protected from development by a conservation easement.
At First Light Farm, we met up with Jesse Pizzitola, who grows organic vegetables on two plots of land he leases in the long cool valley that stretches from Petaluma toward Bodega Bay. He uses the ancient practice of dry-farming at his Valley Ford acreage, carefully tending the soil to grow “the best potatoes and winter squash you will ever taste without a single drop of irrigated water.” I met Jesse this year in a leadership course and found my way to his farm during an open house earlier this year. He is soft-spoken and humble with an incredible work ethic and commitment to land. So of course I immediately signed up for his weekly veggie box and have been eating more greens that I have in years! He showed our group the still-tiny transplants sprouting from rows of dark soil and the winter’s last crop of kale and lettuce getting wild and overgrown in the fields.
When we arrived at Singing Frogs Farm sequestered in a Sebastopol neighborhood at the end of a short gravelly road, Elizabeth Kaiser welcomed us with her energetic smile. She and her husband, Paul, are in demand for their success with hands-in-the earth farming on an eight-acre piece of paradise. Visiting Singing Frogs Farm for the first time is transformative even if you don’t know a thing about growing.
Walking among the rows, you immediately notice birds singing and hawks hunting in the hedgerows and oaks that grow alongside the crops. We learned that beneficial birds and insects live in the bushes and branches that also block the wind. We also met their resident llama, Charlie, who came with the property and helps keep the weeds in check, along with a small herd of sheep that looked like goats to most of us!
The Kaisers go far beyond sustainable or organic methods as they grow lush year-round beds of lettuce, kale, cauliflower, and other vegetables without ever tilling or using mechanized tools of any kind. Their soil is rich and getting deeper and richer from their tending. And they are making money, too—they gross about $100,000 per farmed acre, far more per acre than even the prosperous vineyards next door.
About 20 people participated in this first-of-its-kind farm tour, including Greenbelt Alliance board member Lynne Deegan-McGraw. At the end of the farm-filled day, Lynne said, “Thanks for putting it together—it was a most enjoyable day.”