Saturday, October 10, 2009

Untangling A Knot

 County Line Harvest at the Dolcini Family Farm

If modern day food production is a giant knot, tying us down tight to a dysfunctional system, last Wednesday we met individuals who are tugging away to loosen and undo strands.  These farmers are hard-workers and daring activists who are leading the way to bring us good food, grown in a healthy way.   

David Retsky, County Line Harvest Farmer

Here is how Steve Quirt introduced David Retsky,  County Line Harvest farmer:  "He's a young guy who is doing everything right."  Retsky rents 33 acres of rich bottomland below a reservoir on the Dolcini family ranch.   The Dolcinis are a family with deep roots in Marin County and Retsky's work on their land has reinvigorated the property.  Kittty Dolcini has been growing "incredible" strawberries and opened a farm stand at the corner of Petaluma-Pt. Reyes Road and Hicks Valley Road.  Before touring County Line Harvest, we gathered round to listen as Kitty shared memories of a ranch childhood, a world where a kid might grab a cup and run-off to gather her own cool milk, half cream, fresh from the cow.

Kitty Dolcini shares stories, the joys and trials of ranch life

David Retsky and Steve Quirt talks about what it takes to successfully grow organic food

If you've got farming in your bloodstream and in your dreams, David Retsky recommends finding a piece of property to rent as there are a number of parcels for rent in the Northbay (California Farmlinks has listings).  He is not cavalier about the work that goes into turning a profit on a small farm, but has a clear-headed way of talking about things that makes it sound so do-able.  In his case, he fits together the puzzle pieces of Greenleaf Produce, five farmer's markets and a lot of direct marketing to restaurants and local grocery stores. He tells us of how he came to be farming this land, providing the Bay Area with exquisite produce - some American kitchen staples, some exotic specialties.  As he speaks, a story of adventure and lessons learned unfolds.  From a childhood in LA county to work on farms all over the world to borrowing money and searching for the perfect swath of land in a region that loves food,... Retsky has journeyed, made mistakes, and discovered something with each bend in the road.  It is no coincidence that he is "doing everything right."

Some of the best Arugula you'll taste

We had an opportunity to sample Retsky's greens and, as an Arugula connoiseur, I will attest that his harvest is about as tasty as it gets (This stuff bites back!)  His lettuce is tender, his kale smooth and buttery.  Again, the Order Form posted on Retsky's office wall reveals a narrative.  In this case, we're looking at hundereds of conversations with local chefs - what produce are they looking for?  What is delicious and difficult to come by? - and travel to Europe to find the seeds that will add layers of subtle and not-so-subtle tastes to our meals.  Gretsky points out the difference between the U.S. and Italy.  Americans are easily confused by the strong taste of Raddiccio, he says, while Italians pick it up along with a pack of smokes at the corner market.  

Retsky gives a lot of credit to his hands, farmers from Oaxaca

Although he makes organic farming look easy, the shift in Retsky's voice when he talks about the appearance of Purslane in his fields reveals the intensity of the constant dance with nature that is cultivation.  You can hear the wheels turning in his head even as he takes us on a tour of his crops.  Farming is a full-time mental and physical engagement with the natural world, a constant search for solutions and improvements.  Retsky is a modern day food production pioneer, forging a better future on an historic piece of land.


Contact Info for County Line Harvest:
David Retsky
PO Box 2742
Petaluma, CA 94953


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