Nan Koehler of Rainbow's End Farm has been a familiar presence at the Sebastopol Farmers Market since the market was founded 17 years ago. Before it opened, she attended the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market, beginning in 1987. She bought the 48-acre property, located between Sebastopol and Occidental, in 1977, after living in San Francisco and Marin County for a decade.
Eggs are Koehler's best sellers; she can't keep up with demand and plans to expand the flock sometime soon. Regular customers appreciate that the eggs are not washed and so retain their natural coating, which preserves the eggs without refrigeration. Currently, she also has figs; Granny Smith apples; dried apples; dried pears; herb spreads; fruit spreads and jams; herbal tea blends and her popular vegetarian egg rolls. Pineapple guava, persimmons -- fresh and dried -- and lemons will be starting soon.
There are often surprises, too, bouquets, garlands, fresh flower leis, turkey and goose eggs, salves, lotions, soap, lavender products and, well, you just never know, which is, after all, the nature of surprise.
Koehler also keeps Alpine dairy goats, selling the milk directly from the farm for use as pet food and making unfermented cheese, similar to India's paneer, for her own use. She's planted hundreds of fruit trees, along with currants and two acres of raspberries, which do particularly well on this land.
Nine herding dogs guard the farm and protect the chickens and goats from predators, especially bobcats and raccoons.
"I practice edible landscaping," she explains, adding that her farm doesn't really look like a farm. There are no row crops and water is limited; she saves what she can in an agricultural pond she built while working on her permaculture certification.
The farm expresses Koehler'slively curiosity and passion for diversity. A few minutes of conversation reveals that she not only has vast knowledge on a broad array of subjects but also that she is interested in almost everything. She can talk as readily about the long storied history of her farm -- complete with names and dates extending back decades -- and permaculture farming as she can about, say, the medicinal and spiritual properties of the more than 1000 plants she cares for on her land. She is a certified hypnotherapist and teaches the interns who live in worker cabins built in the 1950s her method of homestead-style farming.
Although Koehler received her masters degree in botany from the University of Chicago in the mid 1960s, she was taught nothing about the properties of plants. It wasn't until she moved west and met several individuals, including Rosemary Gladstar, founder of Rosemary's Garden in Sebastopol, that she began to understand the healing powers of plants. Now she is an expert.
At the time of Gladstar's involvement, the property had become a northern hub of the human potential movement. One owner, Helen Stephens, hoped to make it Esalen North, an affiliate of the Esalen Institute of Big Sur. Gladstar hosted some of the first herb workshops of the time here, attracting individuals from throughout the country who have since gone on to become some of the best-known practitioners in the world. Ram Dass stayed on the farm and for a time, individuals from the Findhorn Ecovillage , a spiritual community in Scotland, lived here. Sonoma County's first Health and Harmony Festival was held on this land.
Decades earlier, Italian immigrants planted chestnuts and olives -- olive trees remain today -- and during Prohibition there was a speakeasy and grapes, used to make grappa until the sheriff intervened. After the vines were plowed under, a new owner planted a cherry orchard, the largest in the county at the time. Two large redwood barns, as sturdy as rocks, Nan says, were built sometime in the 1920s and today are at the center of the farm's bustling activity.