“Providing high quality, organic produce that’s affordable is really important to us.”
A fringe benefit of living in San Francisco is having so many farmers markets to choose from. The Alemany Market is the oldest in California. Daniel Kim, who works with Blue House Farm in Pescadero, is a regular vendor at the Saturday market. He gave us an overview about Blue House Farm and how they fit into the Alemany Market community.
Tell us a little about the history of the farm and where it’s located.
Ryan Casey and Ned Cornwell, two childhood friends, started the farm back in 2005. It’s in it’s eleventh season, it’s always been organic and in Pescadero. In the beginning, it was a fifteen member CSA on two to three acres of land. Now we’re cultivating about fifty acres and growing every year. Both Ned and Ryan are from Southern California and loved the Pescadero area. When they found an opportunity to lease some land, they started one of the first small, diversified and certified organic farms in the area. Now Ryan owns and runs the farm.
What does a “diversified farm” mean?
It means growing lots of different crops instead of one or two, like most industrial farms. We grow about eighty different crops and one hundred and fifty different varieties. It’s also a different business model than monoculture farming, where you only grow one thing. Part of that diversity can include having farm animals. We don’t have farm animals but they can be an important part of cultivating the land.
Do you grow fruit as well as vegetables?
Yes, we have a two to three acre orchard up the road. We grow apples, pears, persimmons, melons and strawberries.
What’s the mission of the farm?
It’s about producing affordable, organic food. We grow standard organic crops instead of speciality crops. Things like, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, carrots, beets, melons and tomatoes. That’s because with speciality crops there’s a smaller margin. Seeds are more expensive as well as the labor it takes. So high quality, organic produce that’s affordable is important to us.
How many people live on the farm?
Five people live there, most of the full time staff live in Pescadero, Some live in Santa Cruz and commute but all the managers live on the farm. There are plans to build more housing so more people can live there and don’t have to commute.
What’s an average market day like for you?
On Saturdays I get up at 4am to try to get to the market by 6am. We usually sell out around 12:30-1pm and I have another two hour drive home. It’s a long day working from 5am to 3pm. It depends on the time of year too. Right now, we don’t have as much to sell, so the days are a little bit shorter. In the summer I end up staying a little longer. On average it’s a ten plus hour day and that’s pretty standard for farm life. I actually love working the farmers market, it’s kind of my social day. I get to meet strangers and talk to lots of people. Pescadero is a bit isolated and sleepy. I love it, but you know everyone because it’s such a small town.
How many other farmers markets do you do in the Bay Area?
We’ve been at the Alemany Famers Market for about seven years and we do about five to eight markets all year round. We’re at five in the winter. In the summer we pick up another three that include Clement Street, Stonestown, Saturdays in Santa Cruz and the College of San Mateo. Once the Mission Community Market on Bartlett Street opens up after the winter break, we’ll be there on Thursday nights. Our CSA has about three hundred members and we wholesale to grocery stores in the city like Bi-Rite as well as restaurants. The vast majority of our business is through direct sales at farmers markets or the CSA.
How long have some of the other farmers been at the Alemany Market?
Alemany is the oldest farmers market in California and some of the vendors are third generation. It started in the 1940’s as a direct market outlet for small family farms in Fresno, Madera, Stockton and the Central Valley. Most of the farmers have been coming for two or three generations. We’ve come on the scene in the last ten years so we’re relatively new. We’re also much closer than most. Our neighbors in the next stall, drive from Madera which is a 4-5 hour drive. They stay in Redwood City the night before. Most farmers are coming from quite a bit further and that allows for a diverse selection of produce. In the summer you can buy huge, beautiful, watermelons, peppers, eggplants, and lots of hot weather crops. We have a more consistent temperatures on the coast. This means we can grow lettuce and kale all year round, but we can’t do some of the specialty peppers and big watermelons.
What are farm plans in the next 5-10 years?
We recently leased a second main property in San Gregorio which more than doubled our land. Right now we’re focusing on building more farm worker housing and growing the business.
This will give us a lot more options for rotation. One of the most important things about organic production is that we don’t use heavy herbicides or pesticides. Our main pest control is diversity and rotation. You don’t want to plant tomatoes in the same place two or three years in a row and you don’t want your strawberries in the same place because the soil needs time to rest. You never want to build up any concentration of one particular kind of disease or pest population. By having more land it lets us rotate more effectively.
If people want to sign up for the CSA box delivery program what do they do and where do they go?
You can go to our website Blue House Farm, and click on CSA Box Program, it’ll tell you what’s in a box, pickup locations and how to sign up. We also offer fresh flowers through our CSA program and for special events. There a section on our website to find out more about that.
Follow Blue House Farm on Social Media:
Instagram – @BlueHouseFarm
Clement Street Farmers Market
Stonestown Farmers Market
College of San Mateo Farmers Market
Jen Baxter is a writer, photographer and San Francisco native. She tells stories encouraging people to be more independent, aware and creative. You can find some of her inspiring stuff at JenBaxter.com or follow along on Instagram @JenBaxterSF