Sonoma Valley farmer puts the 'pro' in produce

When you bite into a carrot grown by Paul Wirtz, it is almost impossible not to smile. His carrots have snap, a pristine clarity on the palate, along with an earthy sweetness that is not as easy to find as it should be. These are carrots I can easily munch for breakfast.

That pristine quality threads through much of Wirtz's harvest. His foods are bright, with true flavor and perfect texture. He is a fine farmer, with a bit of magic in his blood.

Paul's Produce has been a fixture in Sonoma Valley since 1987. Currently, he sells to local restaurants and attends a couple of farmers markets. From 2001 to 2010, he managed the growing of produce for Oak Hill Farm, growing not just on that property but also on the land he has farmed for 20 years.

Wirtz farms 10 acres on Arnold Drive in Sonoma; he's just added four acres to his lease, though it is not yet in production. He's also set up a farmstand, currently open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. It's been enormously popular, he says, and he plans to explore the possibility of building a permanent structure; for now, he simply re-creates his farm market booth. The stand is not yet year-round -- it will conclude sometime in late fall -- but that could change next year.

The farm's fall harvest includes tomatoes, peppers, kale, chard, collard greens, head lettuce, beans, fennel, celery, onions, eight varieties of winter squash and several types of melons, including Ananas, a muskmelon, and Piel de Sapo, which is similar to casaba. There's salad mix now, too, and will be through spring. The farm produces carrots and beets year-round, and root crops like par-snips and celery root are just coming on.

Surprisingly, there are also artichokes, an early fall crop that Wirtz hopes won't exhaust the plants before spring. Earlier this year, Paul's Produce had outstanding artichokes, some of the best grown in Sonoma County.

The farm is also widely praised for its delicious shallots, which should be available starting around Thanksgiving.

In November, the farm will start its CSA season, which will continue through April. Instead of offering a CSA at the height of harvest, as so many programs do, Paul's Produce CSA focuses on the slower season, which works perfectly for both customers and staff. A weekly box is $25, with a discount if you pay for the entire season in advance. As of press time, Candi Edmondson, Wirtz's wife, was revising information on a website about the subscription program and will be signing up members throughout October. Members pick up their boxes at the farm on Wednesdays.

Edmondson, with her generous smile and halo of beautiful silvery hair, is also the face of Paul's Produce at farmers markets.

Although Paul's Produce is not certified organic, Wirtz's practices will qualify the farm for certification should he ever decide to go that route. His farming practices include crop rotation, cover cropping when necessary and heavy organic input, especially compost and compost tea.

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