Thursday, October 8, 2009

Andrea Davis: Suburban Farmer

Andrea Davis grew up in rural Maryland. Her family had a backyard garden, but no one could have predicted that by the time she was a second semester freshman in college, she would know her life’s path: she wanted to farm. And now, not all that many years later, it has come to be: she has her Quarter Acre Farm in Sonoma, California where she grows her vegetables and sells everything she produces both to us at the Friday morning Farmers Market and since the end of June, to Mondo, a pub on West Napa Street. At 26 she is a suburban farmer and a sustainable grower.

But let’s back up for a moment. How did this happen?

Her first big step was choosing to attend Hampshire College whose 200-acre working farm in Amherst, Massachusetts lured her in. Quickly she decided to major in Sustainable Agriculture, taking classes in ecology, anthropology, and rural studies and working on the farm. She apprenticed summers at a farm in Maine to test herself and her decision. The hard work only made her more certain.

She wrote her senior dissertation on a nutritional analysis of a seasonal diet in the Pioneer Valley (the three counties surrounding Amherst), with two weeks worth of meals for each season. She developed the recipes and tested their nutritional value. But she also organized them into a cookbook, Local Delectables: Seasonal Recipes for the Pioneer Valley which an Amherst printer published.

She got her degree in 2005 and moved to the Bay area. This area met her two criteria: no snow and plenty of people who “get” sustainable agriculture. After a short stint at the Oak Hill Farm flower shop in the Ferry Building, she found a job in Sonoma at the (now closed) General’s Daughter. When the chef saw that she had a degree in agriculture, he asked her to start an herb and tomato garden behind the kitchen in addition to her other tasks. She agreed and for the first time got her hands into the rich Sonoma soil.

The Quarter Acre Farm

She also started looking around for some land. Jesus Hernandez who sells flowers at the Farmers Market told her to call Leo McMillan who leases him land on East MacArthur on the outskirts of town. Leo and Andrea got together, walked the land and he agreed to lease her a quarter acre beginning in Spring 2009. She already knew what to do: order seeds, build a greenhouse, prepare the land, plant, transplant, stake, weed, water, harvest, wash, and sell. She set to work using all her sustainable growing skills.

To her “sustainable” means employing techniques and methods that can continually be used without adversely affecting the land. It means improving the soil with horse manure and sawdust shavings, putting in winter cover crops such as fava beans or red oats to replenish the soil, spraying the plants with fish emulsion and kelp, rather than chemical fertilizers, to give the plants a little bit of an extra boost, careful watering with drip tape from a pond on the land.

She is very pleased with her results from this first year. She understands that she’s still making friends with the land, learning what grows best in this particular micro-climate and eco-system. She already knows some changes she will make next year. Expanding is not one of them. For now she will continue working at the girl and the fig and farming her Quarter Acre. She dreams of being able to make all her income from farming and would love to have five acres of her own at some point. She also wants to try her hand at suburban homesteading. But that’s another story.


Unknown said...

You used to have to deal w/ snow? Yuck, how horrible. Looks like you're acclimating to the left coast quite well!

Unknown said...

I always enjoy your posts my dear and have great fun imagining you on your adventures. gardens are all planted in wheat for a cover crop this year. We will let some grow to harvest and if you wissh I'll save some for you so next year you'll know where your bread L.

Unknown said...

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