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This just in...

Rogue Chickens Sabotage Inspires Mystery Fruit Tree Sale.

Wanted: Food for Black Bacon, a Cazadero Hills Black Hog and her babies

Deal: Two Emus Available For Sale. $50.

Looking For Work: “Need some extra hands, er ... paws around the farm?”

Wanted: Three Leaves Foods CSK Wants your Uglies

The headlines at CropMobster.com offer a back fence view into the weird world of Sonoma County farms, where on an given day earnest farmers put out appeals for brewers mash and organic food waste, alerts for worm workshops and try to unload everything from surplus figs to emus.

A Craigslist for the ag set, CropMobster is where the farmer fed up with an obnoxious rooster can connect with the farmer who needs a rooster to service a flock of breeding hens. It’s a place where homely fruit unfit for the farmer’s market, can find someone to love it, or at least like it enough to can it, and where a perfectly good wheel of cheese too stinky for one woman’s kitchen can find a west county nonprofit very happy at its next meeting.

The sometimes urgent headlines telegraph the disappointments and the dreams and desperation of the farm life with a solid dose of humor.

“Hot Speed Dating Mixer for Local Farmers and Local Food Buyers” offers notification for a networking opportunity with panache.

“Hair Sheep Urgently needed to eat my fresh grass,” a Petaluma woman cries out, hedging her hopes for a free pair by saying she’d be open to goats or short-term rental.

For every sad alpaca and barn mouser in need of a home, there is a headline offering a happy ending, like the Terrace Community Garden that grows produce for The Healdsburg Food Bank. Day One: the alert goes out on CropMobster with their need for a tractor. Day Two: the appeal gets spread on “West Coast Live” radio at the SHED in Healdsburg. One hour later, a member of the radio audience calls in saying he won a new mower from a lottery at Garrett’s Ace Hardware and would donate the prize to the hunger relief garden.

“CropMobster works like “Doe-ray-me 1-2-3,” that poster declared in thanks.

Probe deeper and behind every headline is a story.

Here are a few.


It was disaster for Jeremy Watts when a flock of chickens laid waste to his first-year crop of young fruit trees in a single rampage.

Watts said he and his partners, hoping to start their own nursery, were allowed to use an old nursery space in the East Oakland hills in exchange for giving the owner some of their trees at the end of the year.

The fledgling nurserymen labeled every tree by type and variety with a stick label. They didn’t anticipate the owner’s chickens, who were living on the grounds, breaking free and causing trouble.

“They didn’t touch the trees, but they didn’t like our labeling system. They tore up every label except one or two,” Watts lamented.

That left them with 300 mystery trees, all bare root. They knew what kind of fruit tree it was, but not the variety, and buyers are picky about kind of pear or plum they want to plant.

Unbowed, Watts, left with 300 unidentified trees, listed a blowout sale on CropMobster and continued on with plans to move his nursery to Petaluma. He confesses that at first the chickens left him with an urge to “fire up the rotisserie” but at the end of the day he said, “ I have a forgiving heart.”


Sometimes a listing can lead to nothing, or it can result in an embarrassment of riches. So it went for Laura Hagar Rush, who makes wine-based aperitifs infused with fruit herbs and flowers. She recently put out the word that she was in search of guavas. She figured someone with a plant in their backyard would offer up a bag. But she was overwhelmed.

“One gentleman brought more pineapple guavas than i could ever use in a lifetime. Ten bulging bagfuls,” she said.

She owned up that she could only use at best, one bag, and asked if he minded if she offered the rest on CropMobster.

He gave her the OK to put out an alert. The response was immediate, that same day.

“I actually dropped some at someone’s house. They happened to live on my route home,” said Hager, who works out of a tasting room in Penngrove. One bag at a time, she managed to give them all away.

“It’s actually almost magical,” she said of the ag posting site. “I love the sharing economy.”


When Francesca Duval invested in a group of Guinea hens to protect her flock of chickens it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“We were trying to breed them ourselves as crop protectors. They’re also good for tick control and they have beautiful feathers they are constantly losing so you can have them for projects,” said Duval, who raises rainbow egg laying hens at her Alchemist Farm in Sebastopol.

But the Guineas, however fetching with their pearled or lavender coloring, didn’t prove to be a great investment.

“They’re just a little too loud,” she admits. “The females sound like a creaking chair and the males make a chittering sound that’s really loud.”

The obnoxious sounds just didn’t outweigh their value as guard birds. Duval said she already was feeling bad about the impact on her neighbors of a rooster that routinely greeted the day as early as 3 a.m.

So she listed them on CropMobster for $40 a pair. But not every item on the site is a winner. She dropped the price to $15. And finally she offered them for a unique trade with a hint for wine, cheese or meat.”

“When I finally listed them for free the phone rang off the hook,” Duval said. But the giveaway also prompted some suspicious queries and when Duval, in the spirit of full disclosure, described their sound, interest waned.

“We did eat a few of them. They were delicious,” she said.

She tried Craigslist, with no takers. Finally, a listing with a Yoga Mamas group yielded one caller who said he had 65 of them and was happy to take them off her hands.

Duval said the man had plans to breed them for sale, just as she did.

“He told me he thinks people are going to buy them.” She said. “I was polite and smiled and nodded my head.”


The two wheels of artisan cheese that a friend picked up for Diane Dillon to serve at a winery tasting event were beautiful. In fact, “darn amazing,” said Dillon, a fan of cheesemaker Lisa Gottreich’s Bohemian Creamery.

But the sheep/goat blend her friend selected proved too odoriferous for a small enclosed tasting room. So she took it home and put it in her own refrigerator.

“I put it in a biodegradable container and wrapped that in plastic wrap and put it in a zip lock bag. It’s still stinking.” Dillon said.

Not wanting that expensive cheese to go to waste — she paid $48 — Dillon placed a half price ad on CropMobster, or “Free to someone in need of a donation for an event — if you can manage the stink factor,” she wrote.

Even Gottreich is upfront in her description of The Bomb on her website: “A sheep-goat blend washed rind square of stink and ooze loosely fashioned after the French Epoisse.

This cheese is carefully washed in Consecration beer as it softens and fills the aging room with its signature odor.” Within an hour or two of the posting in January Dillon was blessed with a taker, a woman with a nonprofit in Cazadero who planned to serve it at a get together.

“I told her to come on by. ... And hurry,” Dillon said.

The cheese was gone within a couple of hours.


After taking a job in Berkeley for the California Olive Oil Council and an apartment in San Francisco, Audrey Burke found herself deeply missing the experience of getting her hands in the dirt and growing her own food. She recently spent two years in Italy, much of that time volunteering on farms.

“I missed spending time in nature and working with my hands. I felt disconnected from nature,” she said.

So the 30-year-old, who has a degree from Duke University in biomedical engineering, put out a CropMobster last year off a few hours of labor in a garden or farm in Sonoma County in exchange for “a place to pitch my tend, a meal and/or produce.”

She got three responses. One from a family with a backyard trailer and a few garden beds but they were in a residential neighborhood in Santa Rosa.

She wound up connecting with a farmer close to her age in Petaluma and driving up every other month to help out in her small farm.

“I would go every other month and I got to see the farm change. I would do some weeding and harvesting and planting. I loved it,” she said.

She loved it so much that Burke pulled up stakes and moved to house in Sebastopol with a big backyard working at a yoga studio and figuring out her next move.

Meanwhile, she’s begun planting with the hopes of someday have a homestead farm.

“Part of my motive in taking out the ad is that I was itching to live somewhere a bit more rural and wanted to experience the Sonoma region and meet some people before I took that leap. So I have no taken that leap.”


Ann Erickson loves her 1,000 chickens, who live the free range good life on her small Hands Full Farm near Valley Ford.

But when those spring chickens turn into old biddies at about 3, they just don’t lay as much and Erickson finds herself looking for retirement pastures for them. She recently put a flock of about 250 to 300 laying hens for sale on CropMobster.

“They would work great as weed and bug control in an orchard, or for someone wanting chickens but not too many eggs,” she wrote. “They also would be great for butchering.”

At $2 each, the old birds were snapped up quickly, not all through CropMobster. In fact, a guy who just heard she would be listing them snapped them up.

“I need to get rid of them. I wasn’t concerned about making a profit. I need to move my chickens along so I could make room for the next flow.”


Lauren Ohlsen had big plans when she purchased the two alpacas. She was going to sheer them and spin their wool into fiber.

“We also had 13 sheep at the time and a llama.”

But reality set in. As a mother with two growing kids and a business she shared with her husband, The Permaculture Skills Center in Sebastopol, she really had no time for spinning wool.

At the same time, the drought left their pastures dry and without a good supply of food for them to graze on and there was an opportunity to lease out their pasture to another farmer.

The alpacas, Andy and Miguel, went up on CropMobster, along with a llama dubbed Big Money.

Ohlsen said the animals are “bonded” and need a home where they can remain together.

The llama, she stressed, is “real sweet and beautiful” and has done a fine job as a guardian for their flock of sheep.


Ag classes are in a class all their own. Consider Hedda Brorstrom. She grows cut flowers on a compact, half-acre plot in Graton she calls Full Bloom Flower Farm.

The 30-year-old graduate of UC Berkeley, who also attended the Farm and Garden program at UC Santa Cruz, now grows flowers for a living. For fun she likes to teach people how to make flower crowns, an ancient folk craft that is now popular among young brides and at baby showers.

“I think it’s a really wonderful way to have flowers with you all day and not have to hold them,” she said.

“I had a bride last summer who said she didn’t feel like a bride until she put the crown on. They just make it a special occasion.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204. On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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