Diggin’ Deeper: Learning from the Legends and Bringing it Home

At the Eco-Farm Conference

Farmers don’t get much time to relax from their hard work and reflect on the fruits of their labor.  Once the New Year kicks in, seed catalogs start piling up and planning begins for another long growing season.  However, every year in the beginning of February, farmers and other folks in the organic farming world get together to share and celebrate at the Eco-farm Conference in Pacific Grove, CA.

As Bi-Rite’s produce buyers, Matt and I spent a few days at the conference, which takes place at Asilomar, a gorgeous conference center on the edge of Monterey Bay. The sessions offer young farmers a chance to learn new farming techniques from successful farmers who have been making it happen  for over 30 years.  This is also a great place to network with all of the dedicated farmers and distribution companies who keep this organic movement alive.  We’re lucky to be part of this movement that’s led by some of the legendary growers that put it on the map in the late 70’s and continue share their love, passion, and integrity.

Throughout the year, Matt and I are so busy keeping all of the fresh produce coming into Bi-Rite that we don’t get many opportunities to have longer conversations with the farmers we partner with.  There’s nothing I love more than running into Andrew from Full Belly, picking his brain about all the crops they’re growing, and hearing about the farming techniques that make their farm one of the most successful in the  Bay Area!

Down On the Farm

At Tomatero with Chris and Adriana (Matt & I learned so much walking around with them!)

Matt and I took the opportunity to break away from the conference, heading over to Watsonville for a farm tour with one of our favorite organic farms in the Bay Area.  Tomatero Organic Farm started on 4 acres in 2004, which has grown to over 100 acres from Watsonville to Hollister.  Throughout the year, Tomatero grows amazing tomatoes, basil, chard, kale, lettuce, strawberries and a lot more.  Farmers Chris and Adriana have done a wonderful job growing high quality produce and maintaining awesome quality as the farm expands. They currently sell their produce at farmers markets throughout the Bay Area, and will start delivering to Bi-Rite in early spring.  In March they’ll be delivering their first CSA boxes to San Francisco. Their dry-farm Early Girl tomatoes and Seascape strawberries are so tasty!

One of the keys to becoming a successful farmer is being able to extend the growing season.  Tomatero has seventeen acres of farm land covered by a large hoop house, which will allow them to get their summer crops into the soil a lot earlier.

The farm shed and hoop house Riley's built on our Sonoma Farm

Up in Sonoma

So now that we’ve learned from conversations at the conference and visits to other farms, how do we apply that to our own work? We’re very excited to start our 5th season of growing food in Sonoma.   The fields are really wet right now, so we can’t work the soil; this is the perfect time of to take care of projects that will help us take the farm to the next level.  Farmer Riley has just finished work on a nice farm shed and greenhouse–now it’s time to plant some flats of onions and get this growing season started!

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