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Some couples make it a rule not to talk about their jobs once they get home at night. But that's not easy when the two partners work together.

On the other hand, it's good to really know and trust the person one must rely on to get the job done every day.

We talked to three couples — Emily Mendell and Ian Healy of Handlebar Farm in Sebastopol, Graton artists Tony Speirs and Lisa Beerntsen and Francesca and John Vrattos, owners of Yanni's Sausage in Penngrove — who each have made their partnerships both personal and professional.

Here's a closer look at just how they make it work:

Now that they have a spring and fall season behind them, Emily Mendell and Ian Healy of Handlebar Farm in Sebastopol have a better idea of what their customers want them to grow.

Along the way, the couple has also picked up a few important lessons about how to manage a relationship when you're together around the clock.

"The biggest thing that I have learned... is that it's best to not micro-manage each other," said Healy, 29.

"We allow each other to work independently more than we used to, and we trust that the other person is perfectly capable of doing a good job."

Although they both plant, weed and harvest the 2-acre vegetable farm, they have each developed their own areas of expertise.

A researcher and planner by nature, the 30-year-old Mendell is in charge of the planting schedule, including what varieties of seeds to plant when, ensuring that the farm has enough ripe produce to sell each week.

Whether it's a local restaurant account or Santa Rosa's West End Farmers Market, Healy serves as the face of the farm. Gregarious and outgoing, he delivers and sells the goods and keeps track of the farm's finances.

Although both were born and raised in the Midwest, the pair met while working together at Denali National Park in Alaska. Later, they moved to Bellingham, Wash., where they both got master's degrees in education.

They married in Twisp, Wash., on July 3, 2011. But when the dreary weather of the Northwest started to take its toll, they looked for jobs in a sunnier climate.

Healy ended up teaching high school in San Rafael for a year but missed being outdoors. Entrepreneurial by nature, Mendell started researching farming, then volunteered at College of Marin's Indian Valley Organic Farm in Novato.

"Farming wasn't something we considered before, because all the Midwestern farms are giant, fourth-generation corn farms," Mendell said. "Indian Valley is a two-acre, diverse farm."

With the help of FarmLink, a nonprofit that provides young farmers with help leasing or purchasing land, they found a manageable plot of land to lease behind a home in southwest Sebastopol. It had a deep well, but they put in their own 6-foot fence, irrigation lines and greenhouse.

To feed the needs of their customers, the farmers are currently planting about 200 heads of lettuce a week, looking ahead to the salad days of summer.

Despite the constant demands of the land — and a never-ending war with gophers — they never forget to nurture their own relationship.

"We always take a day off, no matter what," Mendell said. "That was the advice given to us."

— Diane Peterson

Artists Tony Speirs and Lisa Beerntsen aren't married, but they have been together for 18 years, and they're definitely a couple.

That's obvious for two reasons: First, they can work on the same painting together without fighting about it, and second, they finish each other's sentences.

Chatting comfortably in their shared studio behind their home in Graton, Speirs, 55, and Beerntsen, 53, pass thoughts back and forth like a baton in a relay race.

Describing their working routine, Speirs started by saying, "It's not like we punch in at 9 and clock out at 5..."

Then Beerntsen broke in: "..at all. Tony likes to paint late into the night a lot of times..."

And Speirs wrapped up the thought for her: "...whereas Lisa can get up first thing in the morning, which is often an hour or two before me, and come out here and start working on something."

Their shared studio space is divided into parts. One is for Speirs' paintings, adorned with superheroes, advertising icons and other pop images.

The other half is for their shared work, currently a series of paintings based on their winter visits to Mexico.

"We each take a turn..." Speirs began.

"...But recently we've been standing there together painting, because we both feel like working at the same time," Beerntsen interjected.

"Right. There's room for me to do a part and her to do a part," Speirs concluded.

Even though they collaborate on some paintings, the two artists' styles are dramatically different.

"I have my interests with pop culture references. And I like words. I used to be a sign painter a long time ago," Speirs said. "Lisa really likes the flora and fauna."

Alternating between abstract images and realistic pictures from nature, Beerntsen works on her own paintings in a separate studio two blocks away, at the Atelier One art studio complex in downtown Graton.

Speirs and Beerntsen attended the same school — Foothill High School in Pleasanton — but got to know each other later.

"The short version is we flirted for 15 years or more," Speirs quipped.

Beerntsen received a bachelor's degree from California College of Arts in Oakland and a master's degree in fine art from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She teaches art at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Speirs studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, originally aiming for a career in commercial art.

"I'm not super great with deadlines," he confessed. "I like to work on a bunch of things at once. I always like to say SOMETHING will be finished next week. But in the commercial world, all of them have to be finished."

Speirs and Beerntsen first began to work together on the same paintings when they formed the Art Farm Motel artists' group to create large works for the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, which they did in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

After that, they started collaborating with Oakland artist Bob Stang as BLT (for Bob, Lisa and Tony) before working as a duo.

The couple has no children, but they do have a large, fluffy, black and white cat who roams their studio freely. And even though Speirs and Beerntsen work together on some of their paintings, the domestic chores are clearly divided.

"He does the dishes," Beerntsen said. "I do the laundry."

— Dan Taylor

Francesca and John Vrattos do not fight over who's boss. They both have the lofty title.

The husband and wife team of Yanni's Sausage in Penngrove have separate duties entirely, which makes each the head poobah of their domain.

"John (Yanni is Greek for John) knows the business side and I know the creative food, recipe part so both of us get to be the boss," Francesca joked. "When you divide it up, you both actually get the recognition."

Yanni's Sausage opened its doors in July of 2010 as Plan B. John, now 61, got laid off in 2009 from his position as sales manager with the now defunct Parisian Bakery in San Francisco. Francesca also got laid off in 2010 from Huffman Engineering and Surveying in Santa Rosa.

"We had been married for 35 years at the time and we sort of plunged in to this business," Francesca, 62, said. "We continue to play off each other's qualities and it works."

—Peg Melnik

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