As Bi-Rite’s produce buyer I spend a lot of time talking to farms and building relationships that in the end provide us with amazing produce to put on our shelves. One of the biggest challenges of working at such a busy market is finding the time to visit these farms and learn more about their operations. This summer we launched our first series of farm tours through our non-profit 18 Reasons, giving members of the community a chance to get out of the city, walk the fields and talk to the farmers that grow their food.
Olivia (our 18 Reasons event coordinator) and I recently took a group down to Watsonville to visit Yerena and Tomatero Farms. We are very lucky to have so many small farms in Northern California growing a wide range of crops. However, it’s still hard to find a consistent supply of certain crops from small farms; organic raspberries are a perfect example. Raspberries are a very delicate crop and labor intensive to harvest, so large farms like Driscoll have become the main growers throughout the country.
Poli Yerena, the head farmer/owner of Yerena, and his family are doing their best to change this. After perfecting his berry growing skills farming for Driscoll for 12 years, he started a small farm with his brother and his two sons. Ricardo, an agronomist, tends to the crops every day while Adrian takes care of the sales. Yerena Organic Farm is a beautiful 16-acre piece of land located in the rolling hills just off the coast of Monterey Bay. Yerena grows three different varieties of raspberries that ripen at different times in the season, giving them a steady supply of berries all summer long and into the fall. They do an amazing job picking the perfectly ripe berry before it gets too soft; there’s nothing like getting a delivery of fresh raspberries that were picked earlier that day!
Yerena Farm might be known for their strawberries and raspberries, but they are also experimenting with heirloom crops from their homeland of Mexico. It was pretty awesome seeing large stalks of red corn growing 6 ft. tall with an heirloom shelling bean growing up the stalk. The Yerena family was so generous, sharing baskets of berries with everyone and telling great stories about the family’s farming history and plans to expand the operation in the future. We’re so excited to support Yerena in years to come and can’t wait for their next berry delivery to Bi-Rite!
Next, we headed up the coast to check out Tomatero Farm’s cool weather plot of land, nestled right on the coastline. This 14-acre parcel gives Tomatero the opportunity to grow beautiful greens and brassicas during the middle of the summer when it’s too hot to grow them inland. Tomatero grows organically on over 100 acres, comprised of a few different pieces of land from the Watsonville coast through to Hollister, and their young farmers have not skipped a beat with the quality of their produce as the farm has expanded. Farmer Chris does a wonderful job growing staple crops like lettuce, carrots, basil and strawberries all summer long….but Tomatero’s most popular crop at Bi-Rite Market right now is their extra-flavorful dry farmed Early Girl tomatoes. Please come by and have a taste!