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Farming thrives in lush landscape just south of Sonoma County

  • At Clark Summit Farm, pastured pigs, grassfed cattle and free-range chickens (both broilers and laying hens) roam the 160-acre Tomales farm under the eye of Liz Cunninghame and Dan Bagley.

Not far from the congested Highway 101 corridor, beyond a maze of overpasses, underpasses and freeway ramps, is the real Marin County.

An agricultural tapestry of lush, verdant, fertile land that makes up 40 percent of the county?s acreage, the land has more in common with Sonoma County than the San Francisco suburbs. And that makes it a compatible neighbor.

Here, you are never far from a farm, ranch, orchard or vineyard. From McEvoy Ranch with its 18,000 olive trees just minutes south of Petaluma to the historic Slide Ranch perched high above the Pacific in Muir Beach, the county?s farmland thrives, as it has for more than a century and a half.

Livestock is the biggest agricultural endeavor, with milk from Marin County accounting for 20 percent of the Bay Area?s production. Yet for both the home cook and the professional chef, Marin County is an embarrassment of riches, a diverse harvest of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, oysters, grass-fed meats and some of the best eggs you?ve ever tasted. Outstanding wines are produced here, too, such as Stubbs Vineyard 2006 Marin County Pinot Noir.

You don?t need to get out into the countryside to indulge in Marin?s harvest. Much of it is readily available at the Civic Center Farmers Market. This year-round market is one of the largest in the state, with vendors from as far as San Diego and Mendocino counties drawn by the thousands of customers who shop here regularly. Sonoma County is well represented, too; several Sonoma County farmers attend only this market.

On a recent Thursday morning, chef Daniel Patterson ? formerly of Babette?s in Sonoma and now of the widely acclaimed Coi (373 Broadway, San Francisco) ? strolled the market with his wife, Alexandra, and their 3-month-old son, Julian, chatting with vendors, gathering ingredients for the evening?s menu and tucking flats of microgreens into his car before heading back to San Francisco.

On Highway 1 just north of Tomales is Clark Summit Farm, named after the narrow gauge railroad that once passed through here. The 160-acre farm has been in the Cunningham family since 1916, when Liz Cunningham?s grandfather bought the property after a particularly lucrative potato harvest.

Today, Liz and her husband, Dan Bagley, work the farm, selling eggs, chicken, pork and beef to devoted customers. Initially, Dan attended farmers markets and Liz drove around the Bay Area delivering the 10,000 eggs their flock produces each week at peak season, but last year they shifted to subscriptions. Nearly instantly, they had 60 subscriptions and a waiting list of 200 potential subscribers.

Clark Summit chickens live in large open-air compounds encircled by moveable fences. At the center of each is a wooden house the chickens enter and leave at will. Each house is attached to a trailer hitch so Dan can move them, heading uphill in the drier months and closer in during the rainy season.

Chickens lay their eggs in nests that line the inside walls of the houses; Liz gathers the eggs by hand. At night, the chickens sleep inside, though they are free to wander in the moonlight if they choose.

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