Picture this: Baskets full of purple, chocolate, red and golden sweet peppers, tiny yellow onions, pert red shallots, leeks, garlic, chard, tomatoes and purple and white eggplant. There's a small basket holding an array of hot peppers, Padrons are piled high in little bucket and herbs snuggle together in a bowl. Tucked here and there are pretty bouquets of flowers, and a long flat basket holds packages of Sonoma Coast seaweeds and gomasio, a condiment made of toasted nori seaweed and sesame seeds.
This is Strong Arm Farm's booth at the Sebastopol farmers market in late October. In a few weeks, the farm's 2012 season will come to an end, but in the meantime, you'll find its fall harvest at the Healdsburg and Sebastopol farmers markets.
Strong Arm Farm was founded in Sebastopol four years ago by Heidi Herrmann, then an instructor in the sustainable agriculture program at Santa Rosa Junior College, a position she held for six years and to which she will likely return in the future. The farm relocated to Healdsburg two years ago; today, she and her partner, Scott Knippelmeir, have about 1? acres in production on Limerick Lane.
Locally harvested seaweeds make up about about one-third of Strong Arm Farm's business. Herrmann gathers the seaweed in May and June, when tides are low, plants are at their peak and temperatures for drying are good. The seaweeds are rinsed three times in fresh water and then dried in the sun, which takes just a few hours. They are then packaged, sold at farmers markets, distributed to about 18 markets and restaurants in San Francisco and sold locally at Shelton's Market in Healdsburg, the Seed Bank in Petaluma and the Laguna Farm CSA Store in Sebastopol.
Herrmann has a license for edible kelp harvesting in California and teaches classes on gathering in May, through the Daily Acts nonprofit, dedicated to promoting sustainability.
The farmers are currently going through the long process of gaining official organic certification, which should be in place when the 2013 season gets underway next May. As you would expect, their farming practices are sustainable, with seaweed, compost and cover crops keeping the farm's already excellent soil at optimum health. They've planted hedgerows, which help attract beneficial creatures to the farm, and recently received a grant to build a greenhouse.
Strong Arm Farm also has had, in the past, value-added products, including pears in honey, jams, pickles and hot sauce. The Cottage Food Bill, recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, will allow the farm to continue offering these products in 2013.
Herrmann and Knippelmeir are excellent farmers. Their shallots, for example, are perfectly sized and delicious. Sweet peppers, for which they may be best known, are among the best you'll find anywhere and tomatoes are sweet, juicy and not at all mealy. They are also extremely knowledgeable and will share that knowledge if you ask.
Herrmann and Knippelmeir also do a bit of landscaping and provide flowers for weddings and other events, activities that help out during the down season, when the land is enjoying its winter rest.
Strong Arm Farm was founded in 2008. You'll find the farm's harvest at the Healdsburg farmers market on Saturday morning from May through November and at the Sebastopol farmers market from September through Thanksgiving. For more information and to contact Herrmann and Knippelmeir, visit strongarmfarm.com.