Blue Meadow Farm
Connecting With Local Food #5
by Pam Laird
Blue Meadow Farm gets its name from the blue-eyed grass that cast a lovely blue sheen over the meadow which became our farm field. Sunflowers and zinnias grow there now, among an acre of organic vegetables, most of them cherished heirloom varieties.
The farm is a collaboration between Roy and myself. I’m the farmer. He maintains and repairs small engine equipment, which, he likes to say, helps support my farming habit. He was also instrumental in moving me from gardening to farming.
When I came to Anderson Valley in 1988, I had the rather romantic idea I could support myself by living simply, teaching an occasional course at the college and market gardening. I did live simply and taught an anthropology class at Mendocino College (I’d been a teacher on the East Coast before coming to California) and had a beautiful organic garden from which I sold produce at the Fort Bragg and Boonville Farmers’ Markets. The problem was I was doing everything by hand and hardly making any money.
John Jeavons was my original inspiration. In the late 1970s my former husband and I had restored an old bungalow in Chevy Chase, MD, just across the border from Washington, D.C. and for the first time had a big enough lot to plant vegetables in the backyard. We discovered How To Grow More Vegetables (first edition), read it cover to cover, picked up some of Jeavon’s French intensive/biodynamic philosophy and religiously followed his advice on double digging, plant spacing, compost, etc. The garden was spectacular! Not only beautiful, it produced an amazing bounty. I was hooked.
The warm, humid D.C. climate was terrific for growing vegetables, but Washington was not healthy for our marriage. We separated and several years later I moved to Berkeley with my son who was still in high school. At this point I was thinking about tending my own garden (literally and metaphorically) and the day he left for college I moved to Anderson Valley.
Steve and Janet Anderson, from whom I bought this place, left a wonderful, big garden right outside the kitchen door. I had to learn about gophers and adjust to arid summers, but was soon happily following my wish of growing vegetables year round. I originally intended to grow only open pollinated, heirloom varieties and save nearly all my own seed, but succumbed to Sungold and Early Girl tomatoes, Harris’ Elite zucchini, and other special hybrids. After a couple of years I turned the garden into a circle, inspired by Sara McCamant’s garden at Shenoa, and spent as much time in it as I could.
When Roy and I got together in 1991, he was Field Manager for Anderson Creek Farm, Alan York’s biodynamic operation on Anderson Valley Way. He (wisely) didn’t disparage my beloved circle garden, but did point out that I could grow a lot more with straight rows and a tractor making and turning the beds. We began to plan the farm field.
It took ten years for our farm field to become a reality. Over this time Roy brought in tons of grape pommace, which we composted in long field rows. We built a multi-acre deer fence and acquired a greenhouse, tractor, and rotovator. I use a high grade leaky hose as the principal means of watering beds and Roy designed an irrigation system around them using valves for each bed that allow me to irrigate the entire field (several beds at a time) with water emanating from a single garden hose.
In the fall of 2002 I sowed a cover crop. The following spring Roy spread the compost, added other organic amendments, and turned it all in. I planted 28 beds, 65’ long by 4’ wide. Any lingering doubts about tractor tilling were dispelled that year. Everything came up exuberantly. There were almost no weeds, the gophers stayed away and the bugs all seemed beneficial. The tomatoes were 6’ high. I clipped them to fences and you could walk through the paths between them in a greenish light drenched with aroma. Basil and lettuce formed lush avenues of green and purple. Sunflowers and pole beans towered overhead.
Tom Jones built a gazebo that serves as our on-site stand. For the first few years it was open almost year round, but I’ve settled into opening sometime in April and closing after the first major frost in the fall.
Of course the gophers did return – this year they’re out in force – other pests and weeds as well. The field has 90 beds now, and though they’re not all planted in crops at the same time, things do get beyond me. If it weren’t for wonderful people who volunteer several hours a week in return for vegetables and my stellar high school interns from the AV Education Foundation I’d be seriously overwhelmed.
However, since 2005 I’ve been able to work here without an outside job. In 2006 Roy left his job as maintenance mechanic at Navarro Vineyards to work here full time as well. Since then his well-equipped shop has repaired and serviced equipment, from weed trimmers to ATVs, for an increasing number of people and businesses in Anderson Valley, Comptche, and the Coast.
I don’t fully understand the passion that keeps me working such long hours day after day and gets me up and out in my bathrobe at 4:30 AM, trailing 50’ of reemay to cover tender plants because I heard the wind machine across the highway come on.
The appreciation people show matters. I like seeing my produce at Lemon’s and Boont Berry. I couldn’t do without the support of local restaurants and caterers – a particular shout out to Lauren, my best long term customer, who appreciates Rosa Bianca eggplants as much as I do, and Christina Jones, the newest one, who clears the stand of zucchini and padron peppers every weekend for Aquarelle.
But underneath it all is beauty and wonder. Wading among 4’ beds crowded with zinnias looking for blooms that are just at peak. Discovering a perfect Black Krim tomato hidden in the foliage, or even surprise at picking up what looks like a perfect tomato on the ground to find it hollowed out from below by a bloody gopher. One morning migrating butterflies settled in a line 30 feet long beside the hose that was misting a newly seeded bed. And I still remember a cold January morning in 2008. I was in field as the sun broke through the fog softening a thin layer of ice that had settled on the plants overnight. It was very still. All at once rainbows shot out from bell beans and vetch, broccoli, chard and kale all across the field. An explosion of haloes! That’s why I do it.
Blue Meadow Farm is located at the corner of Holmes Ranch Rd. and Highway 128 at the 17.45 mile marker. The Farm is open daily from about 9:30 AM until dusk. Roy’s Shop is open from 9:30 – 5:30 Monday-Friday. You can reach us at email@example.com or 895-2071. If you would like to receive a (more or less) weekly listing of available produce, let us know.
David Ballantine’s interview in the Connecting With Local Food series with Lemon’s Market will follow in two weeks.