Thursday, April 15, 2010

Historic Review-Rough Draft

I'm working to incorporate new content into the website and await final review from the farmer's on this draft, but will share it here now. Enjoy 30 years of evolution with Tierra with the biography found below:

The 30 year history of Tierra Vegetables

The Start-Up Years

Wayne James began his farming career in the mid to late 70s. While studying Viticulture at the Santa Rosa Junior College, he also picked up a practical farming position working alongside his mentor named Clarence of Potter Valley in Mendocino County. Clarence had once worked with Wayne's grandfather and at the time was operating a large market farm out of Potter Valley. Wayne spent approximately two seasons working with Clarence in 1976 and 1977, trucking their diverse summer produce to the very first Santa Rosa Farmer's Market (including opening day) and initiating markets in the Ukiah area. Clarence was of the opinion that there were far too many vineyards and drilled this perspective into Wayne as a young student of the wine grape growing business.

Following this experience, Wayne took some time to travel around the United States. During the same time his folks purchased and established themselves on their new property located on Chalk Hill Road in Healdsburg where Wayne and his older sister, Lee, reconvened in 1979. Lee had just acquired her Master's degree from Humboldt State and returned home to Sonoma County to pursue whatever the future had in store for her. Turns out, the home on Chalk Hill would eventually evolve into a small family farm base of operations.

Staying at their folks' place on Chalk Hill, Lee and Wayne discovered a swimming hole across the street and via a trail along the neighbor's property. This was the Lorry's property and became the site of their first market garden, conveniently located close to home. Upon initially asking to use the riverside space to grow vegetables, the Lorry's agreed to exchange the land for $100.00 per acre per year. Eventually, the Lorry's dropped the lease when realizing how much they appreciated the aesthetics that the farming offered and perceived it as a benefit to their property. By spring of 1980, Wayne and Lee had purchased the required rototiller and along with their dad's bulldozer and disk were able to work up the land. They started out seeding carrots and like items by hand and executed many of their tasks on their hands and knees. They sold the vegetables at the Healdsburg and Santa Rosa Farmer's Markets. They recall producing and selling bulk quantities of items like cucumbers and tomatoes that their customers then purchased for canning and storage. A 20 pound box of tomatoes may have gone for $4.00 back in those days!

A second property was added to the scene in the early 80s. The field along Franz Creek was utilized for a couple of seasons until the pest pressure became so fierce that the field was finally abandoned. Lee recalls the plot covered in beautiful winter squash vines one day only to return a few days later and the entire thing had disappeared. Deer had taken everything.

Off to Africa

Around the same time in the early summer of 1985, Wayne opted to join up with the Peace Corps. This decision left Lee farming on her own for a couple of years while Wayne worked in support of communal garden efforts in Lesotho, South Africa. To this day, Wayne often refers to this experience in fondness and expresses the value it had on his perspectives in life and farming. During his time there he grew just about everything in support of the local community and worked on smaller garden plots in addition to ten acres of farm field production.

Meanwhile, Lee continued to keep up the market farming in Healdsburg with the support of family and friends. It was during this time that committed customer Evie Truxaw appeared on the scene. Then an employee at Clo Du Bois, Evie would rush on over to Lee's Healdsburg market stand for her weekly share of vegetables (then located in the old prune sheds, not far from Clo Du Bois winery). As a strong supporter and customer, Evie eventually started helping with some of the markets along with her other work.

Getting Bigger

In 1988, Wayne returned with his renewed perspective and focused his energy back the riverside property of the Lorry family. This was the season that Tierra Vegetables hired on their first employee. Adolf, soon followed by Martin, got Lee and Wayne thinking about hiring on more help and boosting the production of their blossoming operation. By 1990, hired help became necessary to optimize the farm. Also around this time, Evie and Wayne had realized a common interested in one another, in addition to the farm.

In 1990, another property was added to the farm. There were more hands to expand the production and markets were now becoming established, not to mention these farmers had more than ten years of experience under their belts. Another neighboring Chalk Hill property by the name of Tosky was utilized for the next three years in addition to the field by the river at the Lorry's place. This land eventually succumbed to the monoculture of vineyards and now operates under the name of Lancaster Vineyards.

Land, land, the hunt for land resumed. A piece was discovered in Windsor off of Pleasant Avenue, owned by the Bertoli family (Tierra still grows a tomato named for this historic family). When the neighboring property went up for sale, Wayne and Evie had to buy it....that was where the well was that was watering his neighboring farm fields after all. Additionally, he and Evie were ready for a place to share and call home. The Windsor field is a part of the Tierra production to this day, but remains a remote site where crops that need less daily tending and harvesting usually end up (potatoes, dried beans, corn).

As time went on, Evie took on more and more roles with the farm. For years she taught in local schools and worked alongside Lee and Wayne in the marketing realm of the farm, eventually leaving teaching behind and going full time into the farm business. Her energy in marketing and as coordinator of the CSA brought enlightenment to the community and customers of Tierra Vegetables. The CSA program started as a group of Evie's friends, eventually evolving into the hundreds of farm shares spread all over the county today.

The land and employee chronology starts to get confusing here in the mid 90s. There was a field off of Wood Road in Fulton. This field was used and soils improved with Tierra farming techniques for a couple of years until it was snatched for vineyards...yet another small farm squeezed out by local monoculture. The Wood Road site is currently used for hydroponic tomato production that you may find in the off season markets in Santa Rosa.

Airport Boulevard and working with the county

Finally, around 2000, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space district purchased the 17 acre field at Airport Boulevard, ensuring it's "green" uses for years to come. There was an open bidding for use of the property and Tierra Vegetables jumped on the opportunity. They were subsequently selected to lease the land from the county, but endured two years of processing prior to being able to enter and begin farming their new acquisition.

In 2002 they experienced their first spring on the Airport Boulevard site. They had temporary permission to begin farming at this point, in part due to a lack of water. The well had not yet been added to the site, but with late rain that season a few dry farmed crops were brought to harvest. About 1/4 of the 17 acre parcel was planted in winter squash and other like items that produced with no irrigation except for the two times that Wayne hauled in and hand watered to get the seeds germinating.

In 2003 the well was completed, along with a pump and generator on site. The field was now fully equipped for use and it was just in time for another spring. This season half of the field was used as the infrastructure for irrigation of the entire place was still lacking.

In 2004 underground main lines, piping and irrigation were added.

In 2005 it was decided that an upgraded base of operations was needed not only for convenience to the Airport field, but also to bump up the capabilities of processed and value added products coming from the farm. Jams, dried chiles, and a plethora of unique and traditional kitchen experiments could now take place with the abundance of top notch ingredients coming from the farm. Lee is especially talented in the kitchen and has been the master-mind behind the majority of the unique Tierra products. Additionally, office and storage space was established, improving the convenience of trying to operate a business.

In 2007 the kitchen and office spaces completed construction and were ready to use and the farm was then incorporated. The incorporation of the business had become necessary for liabilities, the size of the operation and the use of the kitchen.

30 Years Later

As a team of three, Tierra Vegetables is made up of 1/2 Lee, and the other 1/2 shared by Wayne and Evie. In addition, the hired help now numbers near ten in the main season and continues in smaller numbers year round. Employees assist with anything and everything from office to kitchen and field work. Weeds, sales, harvesting, and processing. The projects on this farm could take a village to complete. A supportive community and consumer base has worked to broaden and diversify what Tierra has been able to accomplish. As a result, the community is infused the by the expert ability of experienced small scale farmers who are willing to take risks to feed and serve us all.

In summary, a brother and sister who learned and loved to grow and have earned the never-ending support of family and friends, joined by a friend and partner to them and the community at large, together have created a farming system celebrating 30 years of history that spreads itself across the Healdsburg/Windsor/Santa Rosa areas, into the city of San Francisco and as far away as Africa.

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