Sonoma County has more than 1,000 agricultural producers, according to Sonoma County’s Agricultural Commissioner, the lion’s share of them wineries, large dairy and poultry producers.
But the average consumer is far more familiar with the produce growers who farm fewer than 3 acres of land.
They’re the men and women with cracked hands, worn boots and an exhausted look in their eyes at the local farm markets, selling the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.
A growing slice of these farmers are young greenhorns experimenting with sustainable land practices, unusual crops and a whole lot of trial and error. We’ve found a healthy handful of these upcoming farmers we think you ought to know. And though dozens more deserve a piece of the spotlight, these upstarts bring passion, hard work and dedication to a new kind of Sonoma County farm.
Worker Bee Farms, Will Scott
Now in his ninth year as a farmer, Will Scott is still officially considered a “greenhorn,” with fewer than 10 years under his belt, but he has spent much of his life admiring great food — from working in restaurants to studying horticulture in college.
“You’re not gonna get rich doing this,” he said, “but if I want to make the world a better place, I kinda got no choice but to do this.” Farmstand only, open Friday through Monday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. mid-July through October. 12983 Bodega Hwy., Freestone, facebook.com/worker-bee-farm.
Handlebar Farm, Ian Healy and Emily Mendell
This couple’s dedicated following is due largely to their commitment to doing everything themselves, from seed to market.
“We plant, harvest, sell at the market, and that gives us a real connection to our customers,” said Healy. Obsessive about stewardship of their 1.5-acre Sebastopol plot, Ian and Emily don’t till the land. That makes for more hand work but less erosion.
That care extends to carefully picking certain varieties of produce, like their Mara Des Bois strawberries, a rare French breed of berry that tastes exactly like a SweeTart but is less than half the size of typical California strawberries.
“People are taken aback when they taste them,” said Healy.
“And you’ll never find them at the grocery store.”
Saturday at Santa Rosa Community Farmers Market at the Vet’s Building and Sunday at Sebastopol Farm Market.
Blue Leg Farms, Will Holloway
It started with a few chickens that needed a chicken coop, which became two farms. Holloway, who wasn’t quite sure what to do after college, has found his calling in fowl.
The young farmer currently parses his time between his produce farm in southwest Santa Rosa, and his flocks of laying and meat chickens in Cazadero.
But it’s the chickens that have put him on the map, with rock star chefs such as Curtis de Fede of Napa’s Miminashi going so far as to serve the chicken raw to connoisseurs. Holloway said Sonoma County’s start-up farm scene is becoming pretty competitive, with scores of young, eager farmers giving ag life a shot.
“A lot of people try and fail,” he said. “But you have to be pretty damn stubborn to succeed.”
Available at the Healdsburg Saturday Market and Sunday at the Windsor Certified Farmers Market, as well as Duncans Mills General Store, (25200 Hwy. 116, Duncans Mills), bluelegfarms.com.