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Vineyards out, farm stand in

Yael Bernier has been farming in Dry Creek Valley since 1976 and expanded three years ago to Alexander Valley, where the Bernier Farm Stand has just opened.

The expansion is fascinating, in that it required the removal of vineyards, something you don't hear much about these days. But Judy Johnson, the fourth generation of the Warren family to live on this land, allowed 4 acres of an 8-acre vineyard to be removed. Three acres are now producing vegetables and a fourth acre is an orchard, not yet in production though it will be sometime soon.

Bernier has also started a small pomegranate nursery at the new location, with 20 varieties of pomegranates currently in pots.

The farm's current harvest includes three types of garlic -- Italian Red Rocambole, Northern Italian Red and Silverskin, the crop for which the farm is best known. They also have four varieties of winter squash, Amish Pie, Sibley, Butternut and Delicata as well as fennel, kale, chard, cabbage, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, shallots, leeks, fresh herbs and French breakfast radishes. They sometimes have cauliflower and broccoli, though not every week. There are two types of arugula, the familiar rocket variety and the smaller-leafed "wild" arugula, which is absolutely delicious. Their salad mix is excellent, too.

The farm also has walnuts and Hachiya persimmons, but it has not been a good year for pomegranates.

If you've shopped at Bernier Farm's farmers market stalls, you've likely seen their beautiful garlic braids, which continue to be available. They also sell sun-dried tomatoes.

Should you like to try your hand at growing garlic, Bernier Farms sells several varieties of garlic seed, which is available through the farm's website.

Although moving to Alexander Valley has allowed Bernier Farms to expand (they farm just 2 acres in Dry Creek Valley), it has also brought new challenges. In the three years they've been working the Alexander Valley land, they have added hundreds of tons of their own compost to the soil. There are a lot of gophers, too, Yael Bernier says, though she adds that combating them is easy. It's the hoards of ground squirrels in one section of row crops that are the big problem.

Bernier Farms is a family endeavor. Yael's son, Zureal Bernier, was born on the farm, lives there today with his wife and oversees row crop production. He often tends the farmers market booths as well. Ben Parry lives on the Alexander Valley property and is its foreman. At the height of the season, there are three full-time employees as well.

The farm stand is brand new. It is currently open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and, if there is enough demand, they will add weekend hours. For now, they are simply waiting to see if customers show up.


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