Local Farms


I do so love farms. And when I say “farms”, I’m not talking factory farms. I’m talking small farms. Windrose farm is just one of those farms.

Sunday was almost one of the best days ever. This particular event was a farm tour/luncheon, sponsored by the San Luis Obispo Symphony. In fact, I gathered that it was a silent auction item at a recent benefit. I felt a little guilty, since we hadn’t “paid” for it… it was a gift from my mother-in-law, as she was unable to attend. When others shucked or clucked their teeth upon being told that, I let them know that they needn’t feel badly for her as she was on a plane to Maui that afternoon. If asked whether I would trade places with her… well, I’d actually need to pause a minute on that one. THAT’S how much I love small farms, people.

Our afternoon began with local wines and cheeses under an incredible oak tree. After spending the morning and early afternoon working on our new house in the 90 degree heat which is characteristic of Paso Robles, Tay and I pulled up to the farm feeling somewhat wilted. Anything east of Paso Robles is usually pretty much an oven, so we were incredibly surprised (and pleasantly so) to step out into a lovely breezy afternoon in the Creston canyons. When we mentioned this in our conversation over beer and wine, Farmer Bill Spencer explained that they’d found quite the unique micro-climate when they purchased Windrose back in 1990. What’s left of the ocean breezes which wind through the canyons of Highways 46 and 41 West make their way out to Windrose.

After an hour or so of “getting to know you” time, Farmer Bill announced that he’d like to take us on a tour of the farm, which he claimed could take anywhere from “10 minutes to… oh… who knows.” The tour took us through the allium fields, out to the stone-fruit orchard, past the potato sprouts, and through the greenhouses until we finally returned to the shade of that grand Oak. All along the way, Bill educated and entertained, quoted a dozen or so books, fielded questions with ease, and became my new local hero.

We chatted at the tables as the food came out little by little… platters of lamb riblets, a salad of tepary beans tossed with their home smoke-dried tomatoes and snap peas, steamed asparagus, a gorgeous chard-ricotta tart, and a lovely tossed green salad. Lucky for Tay, dessert came out just as we had to leave, rueful… lovely meyer lemon custards in individual tea-cups.

I was disappointed to learn that they no longer frequent any of the San Luis Obispo county farmers’ markets, but they can be found at the Saturday Santa Barbara and the Wednesday Santa Monica markets. Their heirloom tomato selection is phenomenal, they grow over 100 different varieties, and sell nursery plants at the markets as well as seasonal offerings. For those lucky enough to live here on the Central Coast, this year they’re opening a farm stand on their property coming soon. Check their website for more details.

I’ve resolved to return to Windrose’s nursery once we move into the new house to purchase some starts of heirloom tomatoes and herbs, since I was unable to plant my own seeds this year.

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That's right. I spent Sunday at the home of my CSA, Huasna (pronounced Wah-zna) Valley Farm. The farm is tucked waaaaay back in the township of Huasna. Though it's little over 30 miles from my house, it takes about an hour to get there… the last 10 miles on Huasna Rd. is long and windy. The first part of the journey I cruised along on autopilot, as Huasna is right by my work, and I make the drive through the Edna Valley 5 days a week. My farm share buddy Al pointed out how pretty everything was… all the vineyards, the cows and horses, the rolling hills and poppies, and I realized that the effect had been lost on me through the daily rote drive. Time to open the eyes each morning and take it all in. Remind myself how lucky I am to commute to work each day through vineyards instead of hitting morning traffic on freeways and interestates.

We finally reached the farm, and realized we were severely unprepared for the afternoon ahead. First of all, it was 95 degrees out and we had left the sunscreen at home. We quickly found a friend and bummed some Coppertone off of him. Second, we had no food with us. I knew it was a BYOP(icnic), but I wasn't hungry when I left the house. Once at the farm, observing all of the fellow foodies and their fresh picnic fare, my stomach began grumbling and I felt a large stab of envy…. potato salad envy, that is. So rather than stand around with our tongues hanging out of our mouth, we helped ourselves to the fresh mint iced tea provided, and took a little walk out and about.

Allison with her Mint Tea

Here's Al with her mint tea. At her feet we found our future broccoli.

Broccoli

We got hot, and headed back to join the others for a tour of the farm.

Hi Ron (click to enlarge)
Farmer Ron Skinner gave us a little rundown on the history of the farm. He talked extensively about organics today and explained why they are not Certified Organic. Basically, since all of his produce is sold to individuals through a CSA, we are all the certification he needs, meaning that there's no need to jump through the hoops and pay the fees for Certification from the State. He describes their farming philsosphies and practices, and they fall into the category that I (and many others, like Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan for example) like to call "Beyond Organic."

He talked a bit about the effects of the late spring heavy rains, some good (they have had to irrigate only recently, where last year they began irrigating in early May. This saves not only money, but precious time during a busy season on the farm), some bad (poor fruit set in their orchards. There were high hopes that this year would be the first for apples, peaches, and apricots in our farm shares). But overall, they're optimistic for the coming summer.

We left the hot shade of the barn and walked out into the hotter sun of the afternoon to take a brief tour of the crops. We walked out past the asparagus fields. Asparagus growing in the ground is the strangest thing:

Asparagus (click photo to enlarge)

To Be Continued….

We went out to visit Huasna Valley Farm (our CSA) today for a special Spring Picnic Day.

Pictures and details to follow SOON, but this new wordpress file upload technology is not as zippy as MT, so the learning curve is a bit slow for this young grasshopper.

A few things I can say for certain: the people who grow my food genuinely care about the health and wellbeing of their soil, their crops, and their clients (us!). I'm extremely grateful to them for all their hard work. While they're not Certified Organic, they go Beyond Organic. Much more important in my opinion.