Pictured here: hundreds of tomato seedlings at Love Apple Farm.
I used to write about my girlfriend, "The Tomato Curator" (as I think of her), Cynthia Sandberg, and her beautiful Love Apple Farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That was before I introduced her to Manresa restaurant (matchmaker!), and she forged a partnership with the chef, David Kinch, turning her once-organic farm into a biodynamic enterprise. And then Cynthia entered the stratosphere of celebrity—if farmers can be celebrities, that is. (I wish more of them were, instead of the lot of anorexic, plastic headcases that are plastered all over the internet. I keep saying: "Farms Are the New Black." Maybe I should make a bumpersticker.)
Now the people writing about Cynthia's beautiful little Eden are big media and publicists, as the farm provides Manresa with the most exquisite vegetables that human care and love can produce. People all over the world are becoming aware of biodynamic farming, and it helps that Cynthia makes it look so darned pretty, and that Chef David Kinch is so respected. (Is there a stronger word than "respected," when it comes to talent and genius? I dunno.)
But outside of that lofty realm, mere mortals like myself can avail themselves of a touch of Cynthia's magic by attending the wildly popular tomato seedling sales at the farm.
Locals have known Cynthia for years as "The Tomato Lady" (and sometimes, "The Chicken Lady,"
but I don't know what they think she's afraid of). Her classes on
growing tomatoes are S.R.O., and I'm talking "standing in the cold,
cold rain for two hours" to hear Cynthia tutor about tomatoes. She gets
a little warble in her voice when she talks about "the little babies":
the tomato seedlings that need to be kept warm at night, and that like
their little feet like to be warm, just as ours do.
The classes are packed with more information that I'd ever thought possible, and we ourselves (and by "we," I mean "Bob and Logan"—I don't garden, I point) produced tomatoes of 22 varieties last year, most of which came from seedlings we got at the now-famous Love Apple Farm tomato seedling sales. People come from all over, leaving their homes in the central valley before dawn, to beat a path to the gate when it opens. Folks, it gets crowded.
Second, you read the Instructions on How to Grow Better Tomatoes. Note to the veterans: this is a newly updated version that improves upon the little booklet you paid $2 for years ago, and this version is free. Another note: some of the supplies she recommends are obtainable only through sources local to us here in the Santa Cruz area. You could contact those suppliers to see if the stuff's available in your area.
If you have been subscribed to the newsletter (which is always good reading even if you're thousands of miles away), then you were pointed to this page, with details about the seedling sales, as well as (most importantly, in my opinion) a direct link to download and print the document listing all the varieties of tomatoes Cynthia is selling.
"Colorful" doesn't begin to describe the list (see the photo above). But it goes beyond the mere names, and you'll want a highlighter pen in hand as you ogle recommendations like "Sweet gorgeous orbs o’tastiness" or "Great smoky flavor. Lots of fruit."
Attending the sales is educational, because Cynthia and her team patiently answer questions about the tomatoes, and guide and matchmake their customers. You can learn a lot just by eavesdropping, as chances are good that her loyal customers will share their own opinions and experiences. "Well, we only get a little sun in one corner of our property, and this little tomato performed beautifully for us. That's a first. We'll take five, please."
HOURS OF SALES:
You can buy tomato seedlings at Love Apple Farm*:
10AM through 3PM
Wednesdays (that's today!)
She currently has about 4000 seedlings and 120 varieties left, and the sale goes through May or until supplies are exhausted.
*That is the LocalHarvest.org listing, and I've linked for a good reason. Go to LocalHarvest.org and sign up for a free account. Once you've done that, go to the "Events" section and sign up for the "Keep Me Posted" weekly newsletter that comes out every Wednesday. Use the zip code "95005" zip code (for Love Apple Farm) as your base, and sign up for "Future Events within 10 miles". You'll soon be privy to details about Cynthia's other classes...like the "Gardening Class: Tending a Summer Vegetable Garden" on April 6, or the class about keeping chickens, scheduled for April 19. Yes, Cynthia sends out notifications in her newsletter, and I also like to turn people on to the other great things happening in the county, like the events sponsored by the UCSC Farm & Garden, or the fact that the sweet little Live Oak Farmers Market is opening a month early this Sunday.
BONUS: RARE CHANCES TO ACQUIRE OTHER VEGETABLE SEEDLINGS!
I am blessed to live with one of the most capable, competent, smart, strong men on earth. He also happens to have 30+ years experience in the building trades, and knows how to assess jobs and write estimates for insurance companies. So when two gigantic trees at Love Apple Farm blew over in the hurricane force winds in the mountains in January, well, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!
Cynthia asked Bob to help her with the reality (or surreality) of dealing with her insurance company, and he spent several hours helping her: surveying the damage and writing an estimate, and speaking "Bob the Builder" language with the agent.
As a reward for services rendered, Cynthia had me come up to the farm, where she hand-picked a flat of tomatoes, as well as several other varieties of vegetable seedlings that had me squeaking like a little girl, I was so excited.
I had already sent in a request list for tomatoes, based on the list linked above, but once I got there, I let Cynthia sway some of my choices. What, am I going to argue with the Tomato Goddess? Besides, we have similar tastebuds, so I surrendered, Dorothy.
Before I post a list of the varietals, let me say that OCCASIONALLY—with absolutely no warning or schedule—OCCASIONALLY Love Apple Farm will offer up other vegetable seedlings for sale. The reason is that she sows dozens of seedlings for Manresa, always extras in case of the unexpected things that befall growing things. But when she finds herself with an overabundance of seedlings after the kitchen garden is tootling along, full speed, then those extras land on the tables where seedlings sit, waiting to be adopted.
That's how we scored both of our padrón pepper plants last year.
ONE MORE NOTE: because these seedlings have been raised with the equivalent of a 24-hour on-call nanny, tag-teaming with the best mother in the world, they have practically be sung to sleep at night under eiderdown quilts. They are strong, robust, and gleaming with health. I compared the ones we got at last year's sale to East German ballerinas. Strong, like bull!
Maybe that will be an impetus to those of you who like to play the lottery.
And now: Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.
Here's what is in the photo above.
TOMATOES (an asterisk indicates something Cynthia gave me that wasn't on my list, "x" followed by a number indicates a quantity more than one):
*German Red Strawberry
Homer Fike's Oxheart: I just loved the name, plus it's one of her favorites, and had the longest growing season of all her tomatoes.
Coustralee x2: I call this the Sophia Loren of tomatoes. It's voluptuous. It's gorgeous. It was incredibly prolific on our vines.
Anana's Noir: looks very strange and bruise-y, but is so delicious. Also one of her faves.
Green Giant x2
*Greg's Mystery Green
*Black from Tula: "all the black tomatoes are smoky" says Cynthia.
*Paul Robeson: "Chef's favorite. Complex flavors."
*Southern Pride (for a Georgia girl)
*Northern Lights (to balance things out)
Pimientos de Padrón x6 (peppers)
Red bell pepper 'Red Knight"
Eggplant 'Black Beauty" x2
Pole bean 'Fortex' (a French filet bean) x6
Squash 'Costata Romanesco' x2
Summer squash '8-Ball'
Summer squash 'Pattypan'
Yellow bell pepper 'Sunray'*
Eggplant 'Long Purple'
White Borage (edible flower)
'Litchi Tomato' x2
The last on that list is something Cynthia especially wanted me to have. When she visited Alain Passard's gardens in France, his gardener gave Cynthia some seeds for 'Litchi Tomatoes' (known in France as "Morelle de Balbis"). They are very special and unusual. Said to taste somehwere between a cherry and a tomato, they grow like a tomatillo (in a husk until ripe), and have thorns. I am really looking forward to those...but not as much as having all the padróns we can eat!
Check out this wonderful link to a panoramic shot of two-acre garden in Georgia, which I found when Googling "Sunray squash." The gardener narrates his crops as the camera pans. What an inspiration!
I also made a request on behalf of the UCSC Farm & Garden apprentices: the new class arrives this month. Because there are 50+ of them, and they have their own kitchen garden, I thought a little tomato excitement would be inspiring. Especially because they cook for each other, and because historically, they only grow dry-farmed Early Girls. Cynthia thoughtfully selected the following for the variety of size, color, and ease of growing in a coastal environment.
White Tomesol: "The whitest of whites. Great flavor, too."
Anana's Noir (at my request: I love turning people onto the oddball tomato)
So you can tell I had a lovely day yesterday, and hope four thousand people buy one plant each. No, really. GO TO LOVE APPLE FARM. It's heavenly there, and your seedlings will be the healthiest that money can buy.
If you tell Cynthia that I sent you, she'll give you a packet of Love Apple Farm tomato seeds. Sweet!
A NOTE ABOUT COMMENTS ABOUT "POLITICS"
When I came out of hibernation a couple of weeks ago, it sparked a lot of very kind comments, among them this exception (not that it's unkind, but it's definitely not supportive, per se), by an anonymous person identified only as "foodnerd2": "Your political views are probably interesting to some, but I really don't want to see them in what I think is a food blog. Can you please separate your politics from your wonderful blog about foods etc?"
Well, what to say? Gee, I'm sorry, I can't do that.
I had a phrase come to mind, something Wendell Berry said about "eating being an agricultural act." But I also thought I'd read someone say that "eating is a political act." Who was it?
Oh, yeah: Alice Waters.
She ends her essay:
Wendell Berry has written that eating is an agricultural act. I would also say that eating is a political act, but in the way the ancient Greeks used the word "political" — not just to mean having to do with voting in an election, but to mean "of, or pertaining to, all our interactions with other people" — from the family to the school, to the neighborhood, the nation, and the world. Every single choice we make about food matters, at every level. The right choice saves the world. Paul Cézanne said: "The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution." So let us all make our food decisions in that spirit: let us observe that carrot afresh, and make our choice.
When I read the words "of, or pertaining to, all our interactions with other people," (emphasis mine) guess who comes to mind? That's right, Barack Obama. I am certain I am not alone, and in fact, I am certain I am in the majority of people who read blogs like mine. I know exactly two people (not online, but in person) who've told me they want Hillary Clinton for President, and none (discounting almost all of my family in the Deep South) who would want John McCain. I know a lot of people, and all my friends and family who have stated a preference, have stated (passionately, excitedly, enthusiastically, joyfully, happily, and with more interest in political hope for this country than I've seen since I was a little girl in 1968) that Barack Obama is OUR GUY.
I'm sorry if that offends you: I don't intend to offend you. I do intend to thumb my nose (and possibly moon) lobbyists, and to decry the politicians who affiliate with them, and who owe them favors for political contributions. I can't be plainer about that: it needs to change, and it can change, and I'm happy to be surfing the wave with all the other bright people who see what I see.
Having said that, I went to the Obama website, and sought his stance on farms and food. I was disappointed to see that it's not its own category. To that end, I suggested to the campaign that they make it one. I was going to share this idea with "up to ten friends" via the website, but thought instead that I can share it here:
I was in the middle of writing a post about (guess what) a farm, and had the occasion to address someone who anonymously commented in my weblog that I should leave the politics out. Myself, I cannot divorce food from politics, and find no inspiration at all from either Senator Clinton or Senator McCain. But when I came to Senator Obama's website to find his stance on, say, the Farm Bill, I don't even find a relevant category under his major headings.
So will you join me in requesting that they place Food/Farms at the forefront of the issues? Nothing is more critical or elemental than being fed well.
I also learned from viewing a slideshow of Obama eating in Philadelphia that he's a "health nut." (It kind of shows, I think.) But he willingly tossed down the food of the masses: a great thing, in my eyes. Shows he's not a snob and "everything in moderation including moderation." Show me the cheesesteak!
Anyway, I know how you all care about our farms, and that is the only reason I'm interrupting your busy schedules. Because I share your enthusiasm (a word meaning "filled with God"), I don't feel it too much of an imposition, and thank you for letting me reach out.
Share your idea with Barack Obama by clicking here:
P.S. I chose the issue "Energy and the Environment," but think "Food/Farms" is more fundamental, and it should be an appropriate addition to the list.
So. I'm sure there are people with different political views that this reading my words: welcome. I disagree with your views: welcome to America! I'm not kicking you out of my sandbox: that's not what this is about. Yes, it's my weblog, and I am famously unable to keep my mouth shut about things I see that aren't working.
I want my country back, please. Spare me the dynasties, spare me the entitlement, spare me the canned speeches and the "say what they want to hear, not what they need to know" fulsomeness of the creaking Establishment. Whoops, I did it again.
• • • • • • • • • • •
That's all for today. I got out to a farm yesterday, and that makes me happy. And I got my Obama '08 bumpersticker after only one week's wait, and I slapped it on top of the Wes Clark '04 sticker that I couldn't get off the car. (I hadn't tried to get it off: I don't regret supporting Wes Clark.)
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: "Could not be accused of shutting up." —The Rolling Stone, about Susie Bright
Coming up soon: an Easter visit to TLC Ranch, and a new trip up to the UCSC Farm. I am hoping to trail the apprentices some this year, and follow them through their journey to becoming farmers. Whee!
Thanks for visiting, and thanks to my sponsor for the $100 gas card so I can get out to some farms. (Seriously. Some nice lady did that for me because she missed my writing. Well, Nice Lady, this post's for you. Gee, I hope you're not the anonymous foodnerd who doesn't like Barack Obama!)
P.S. Those of you who read about my friend Simon visiting us at Thanksgiving will perhaps like to read his tribute to Santa Cruz. Cynthia thinks I am too shy to toot my own horn, but I'm really just too lazy, and just wanted to save mention of it for when I got in a good writing groove. Cheers.