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Farming on the go

  • Kendra Kolling, left and Paul Kolling, right, own Nana Mae's Organics, a company that produces apple juices and apple sauces.

    (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

It's late afternoon on a sizzling Indian summer Saturday on the Sonoma Plaza and Kendra Kolling has already made 175 gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches at the Vintage Festival.

Her day began at 6:30 a.m. in Larkspur, where she helped staff set up booths for her sandwiches and her Nana Mae's line of organic apple juices, sauces and vinegar.

Then she dashed back to Sonoma for more sandwich making until after sundown. On Sunday she will do it again, down to the Marin Civic Center Farmer's Market and up to the Sonoma Plaza for more grilling.

Somehow the Kenwood mother of three finds time in her busy weekend to hit the soccer field in time to see son Liam, 14, score a winning goal.

"It's a wild ride for sure. It never ever ends. It's the rhythm of the season," said the unstoppable Kolling, a familiar face on the event circuit as the caterer called The Farmer's Wife.

Meanwhile her husband Paul is up before 5 a.m. daily bringing in the apples, a bruising schedule that will continue until the last Rome Beauties are plucked in November. When he's not doing that he's taking daughter Elizabeth, 12, to a soccer game in Vacaville and zipping down to a farmers market in Marin to help pack and unpack Kendra's food cart — all in a Sunday's work.

The Kollings are the face of contemporary family food farming, hedging against the vicissitudes of agriculture with multiple products and ventures, and patching together 300 harvestable acres spread among 100 different orchard owners throughout western Sonoma County.

"We are nomadic apple farmers. We go from landowner to landowner, harvesting apples in an age-old way. We just do it with modern tractors and trucks rather than a pack on our backs," said Paul, who shares 25 acres in Sebastopol with his brother and has contracts, some formal, some just a handshake, with 100 different landowners in Western Sonoma County. He once tended 500 acres, but with the rapid loss of old apple orchards to grapes and development, he's down to 300.

However weary, the Kollings are committed to a life neither were born into.

"This life has chosen me and taken on a life of its own. I'm jut along for the ride," says Kendra. A fresh-faced woman of 44 who grew up on Cape Cod and studied communications and marketing, she fled west in pursuit of a more "interesting life story."


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