Deborah Walton of Canvas Ranch prepares her CSA bounty on Wednesdays, when she harvests, washes and packs her pristine produce in canvas bags printed with the farm?s logo ? a whimsical black-and-white drawing of a goat, a sheep, a dog, a painter at an easel and a woman holding a basketful of produce beneath the words ?Canvas Ranch.? Each bag is tagged with the subscriber?s name and lined with a grocery bag, which makes it easy for members to pick up their produce and leave the bag behind for the next week?s harvest.
In early spring, bags overflow with spring onions, baby beets, carrots, bok choy, lettuces, mustard greens and a veritable bouquet of fragrant herbs including thyme, parsley, chives, lovage and the intriguing salad burnet, with its taste of fresh cucumber. Often there?s a mix of edible flowers, too ? borage, chamomile, Russian sage, snapdragons and calendula ? that are delightful in salads, along with staples like potatoes, onions, garlic and sometimes winter squash.
As the days grow longer and warmer, Walton begins to harvest strawberries and sugar snap peas and before long, as soon as early June, she picks the white, gold, red and black heirloom cherry tomatoes that she grows in a warm ?hoophouse?-style greenhouse in the middle of winter. Walton and her husband, artist Tim Schaible, purchased their 28-acre ranch in 2001. By 2002, Deborah had transformed the long-neglected property into a sweet little farm with a CSA program sustaining 60 subscribers on an acre and a half that she tends herself.
This spring, four and a half additional acres are in production, allowing Walton to take on new subscribers and expand her delivery area, which until this year has included Mill Valley, Novato and Petaluma. As spring unfolds, she hopes to add drop-off locations in Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Napa and possibly Sebastopol.
One of the secrets of sustainable farming is diversity, which at Canvas Ranch is reflected in both the choice of crops, the optional supplements subscribers are offered and the other activities on the farm. Organic produce is at the core of the farm?s work, but it is not the sole pursuit.
Canvas Ranch CSA members can select additions to the weekly mix of farm-fresh vegetables: delicious blue-green eggs from a happy flock of Araucana chickens; a selection of seasonal fruit, including strawberries, golden raspberries, apples, plums, peaches and pomegranates from the farm; Asian pears, apples and blueberries from Sebastopol; and peaches from Dry Creek Peach and Produce in Healdsburg; and flowers, all available weekly. Once a month, there?s a supplement of three or four cheeses from nearby dairies and a loaf of bread from Della Fattoria bakery in Petaluma.
It was a herd of cashmere goats that Walton came across in a small village somewhere in Chianti, Italy, that inspired Canvas Ranch and now a herd of the pretty creatures, tended by Sophie, a Maremma livestock guardian dog from Italy, provides wool for local spinners. Wool from Babydoll Southdown Sheep is used in the pillows and baby comforters that Walton and her sister make. These small, gentle sheep originally from Sussex County, England, are excellent weeders; Walton leases them to vineyards throughout Wine Country. In late spring or early summer, when her lavender is in full flower, she makes lavender hydrosol, a fragrant floral water that she sells in 4-ounce aluminum spray bottles through the farm?s Web site.