Feature article on the “Vendor of the Month” January 2011, Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Market
Young Farmers Digging it in Santa Cruz
Young, intelligent, and passionate about organic farming, Adriana Silva and Chris Tuohig, owners of Tomatero Farm, are shining examples of the new generation of farmers. Ages 28 and 33 respectively, this charismatic couple are first generation farmers. They met in 2003 and threw their lot in together to farm four acres in Corralitos. After they saw that farming could be a viable livelihood, they dug right in, diversifying their crops, and leasing additional acres. They currently lease have 25 acres in production at four ranches in Watsonville and Corralitos.
Like many of their generation, Adriana and Chris have followed their hearts when it comes choosing their life’s work. Adriana, who grew up in the Bay area, was drawn to plants. After working at two Santa Cruz flower shops, she took a job at a local farm hoping to get involved with small scale food production. Driving the delivery truck didn’t cut it, so she starting selling produce at area farmers markets for another farm. It was then she became reacquainted with Chris, who was also selling at farmers markets and working on a farm.
Chris, a Santa Cruz native who spent many years of his youth in Aptos, never considered farming until 2002. He was working in construction when a sign by the side of the road advertising a farm tour caught his eye and drew him in. He was very impressed by what he saw and the idea of having your own business and providing healthy food for people strongly appealed to him. He found four available acres in Corralitos, worked out a lease arrangement, and starting planting tomatoes, a crop he knew could do well. He invited Adriana to get involved. Their common interest in organic agriculture sparked a business relationship that blossomed into much more.
“When we started out, we didn’t think too much about the risk we were taking. We just jumped into it,” said the vibrant, raven-haired Adriana. “For the first several years we worked like crazy planting, harvesting and selling to keep up with increasing demand for our products. Now we are in a phase that is about becoming more efficient,” she said. “When I was younger, I wanted to do something that I loved that had value. Running a farm means I need no excuse for what I do. I am proud that we are providing our community with fresh, nutritious, organic food.”
Operating a diversified farm that produces several types of berries, a variety of greens, as well as free-range organic eggs, has been a challenge. “Each crop is its own business; we have learned a tremendous amount which makes life interesting,” said Chris. Both Adriana and Chris are outgoing and enjoy interacting with customers, but what Chris enjoys most is nurturing the crops and seeing what is growing. Despite the cold, wet weather in January, he will be planting broccoli and cauliflower. There is always something for Chris, Adriana and their 20 to 25 year-round employees to do on the farm, and you can bet that whatever the task, they are digging it.
Article about Astone Protea, one of the 2010 Vendors of the Month:
A Life of Discovery through Protea Plants
Words that come to mind after meeting with Mike and Tina Astone are: curious, life-long learners; thoughtful stewards of the land; lovers of the great outdoors, and risk-takers. They live and work on their property overlooking a beautiful valley. It wasn’t always that way—when they arrived, the property was like a desert after being denuded by ground squirrels. They transformed it into a lush environment filled with birds, honey bees and all matter of other insects and animals. The beauty of this valley is one of their greatest joys, and their biggest source of pride.
Mike and Tina met in the Santa Barbara area in the late 1970′s. Tina was attending college taking general education and business classes, and Mike was working at a winery helping with everything from planting to wine-making. In his spare time, Mike enjoyed pouring over the winery owner’s books on botany, and became fascinated by the protea plant. He had been looking to start a business of his own and the idea of a protea nursery took root. Tina agreed to join Mike in the venture.
In 1980, the pair moved to Santa Cruz where Mike planted 15,000 protea seeds in a huge field belonging to a friend on the Westside. Soon, they were able to pull together funds to purchase the property in Aptos, bringing with them some 5,000 protea sprouts. Their education began immediately with a rude lesson by voracious gophers and deer. Once gopher baskets and deer fences were in place, their plants began to flourish as a result of what Tina calls, “benign neglect.”
In the early days of the business, Tina focused on raising their two boys, while Mike ran the nursery. As the boys became more self-reliant, Tina became actively involved in the operation. They work efficiently as a team; Tina takes care of the financial and accounting side of the business, and uses her creative talents to make wreaths. Mike tends to the agricultural side of the business, and sells at the farmers market.
Tina and Mike have never stopped learning; every day at work, they reflect on what they see. They have compiled a rich body of knowledge. “The opportunity to discover new things is what makes life exciting,” said Tina. After 20 years of trial and error, Mike finally got a certain protea to root, and he is excited about it!
The Astones enjoy making people happy, and that magic happens at the farmers market. “It makes me smile to see customers’ faces light up with amazement at these unusual flowers,” said Mike. “We bring different varieties to the market each week, and we invite folks to come by and enjoy the display. For those who want to grow a protea at home, we have lots of lessons to share.”
Article on the November, 2010 ” Vendor of the Month”
The Jones of Bar-D Ranch — Pioneers of the Central Coast
The steep, sandy hillsides of Bar-D Ranch make the use of a tractor impossible, but the arugula loves it, according to Patti Morgan Jones. Patti and her life partner, Steve Jones, own the farm that is tucked away off Hidden Valley Road in Royal Oaks above Elkhorn Slough. The couple purchased the land along with Steve’s mother, Nell, in 1983, and started planting greens, Meyer lemons, strawberries, and other produce that are still cultivated there today.
The day I visited the ranch, Steve was out in the field searching for an elusive leak in the irrigation system. So I met with Patti and her daughter-in-law, Karen. Karen has been selling the farm’s produce at the farmers markets for the many years, and is now shadowing Steve in the field to learn the fine art and science of farming. The plan is for her to eventually assume responsibility for running the farm and allow her in-laws some deserved rest. Patti has had some health issues and Steve is a disabled Vietnam veteran. Karen’s husband, Kevin, a general contractor, may pitch in soon too, depending on how and when the construction industry recovers.
Unlike many farms, the planting, weeding, harvesting, and packing at Bar-D Ranch is all done by hand using hand tools. Sustainable methods have always been used and chemicals have never been applied. The family does the farm work themselves with the help of one employee so that it is done to Steve’s very high standards for quality. All foods are handled with gloves to avoid bruising or damaging the fresh produce. Potatoes are carefully dug to protect them from cuts. And the produce is always kept clean, from field to farmers market. Steve has perfected techniques for producing wonderfully flavorful, high quality produce that loyal customers keep coming back for. The broccoli and zucchini are very popular with children.
Steve and Patti’s pioneering, independent spirit is rooted in the 25 years they spent living in the Big Sur wilderness before they started the ranch. Patti taught rock climbing and was one of the first women certified by the Mountain Rescue Association. She was what you might call a predecessor to today’s paramedic. “This experience gave me the confidence and skills to be able to live a self sufficient lifestyle in the wild in Big Sur and then on the ranch,” says Patti. The Jones built the farm up from bare land over several years while they lived in both places, constructed a home on the property, and established some wholesale accounts to sell to local restaurants and stores. Bar-D was one of the original participants in the first farmers market in downtown Santa Cruz after the earthquake in 1991. They joined the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets in 1994.
Karen, a mother of four sons ages 3, 7, 10, and 13, is excited about her expanding role at Bar-D. Her kids love to help at the market. “The kids absolutely beam with pride when customers tell them how much they like their grandfather’s produce! They can answer questions about the food we sell, and can also make change. It’s a great education!” Karen says. Steve rarely sells at the farmers markets today, but when he does, his fans gather around. “I think Steve should start a church,” says Patti, jokingly. She added: “He is a good listener and he knows what to say to people to make them feel good. That’s quite a gift for all of us.”