in the Garden
of Knoll Farms
Farmers Become Biodynamic Farmers:
Until 1979, Rick and Kristie Knoll had been
"alternative suburbanites" in Santa Ana, where their
small back yard was a garden, replete with chickens, compost
trenches and hay mulch. Eager to escape to a more rural life,
they came across a weedy 10-acre alfalfa field for sale about
60 miles east of San Francisco and saw it as a chance to do
some serious organic gardening. Today they have a
teeming10 acre agro-ecosystem that thrives on the microbial
power of "biodynamics".
Biodynamics is a
complex process of propagating microbial compost which is
applied to an acre of soil in a ratio of a handful of compost
to 3 gallons of water. These treatments stimulate a soil
ecosystem that enhances the ability of plants to absorb
nutrients and to retard the spread of plant diseases. Rick
stresses that healthy soil results in healthy plants, which
naturally produce high quality fruits and vegetables. He
recommends Secrets of the Soil by Peter Tompkins and
Christopher Bird for those who want to learn about biodynamics.
Chemistry and Music with Biodynamics
It's not surprising that Rick has a strong interest in
biodynamic farming.He holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from
UC Irvine. Much of what he studied in the early 1970's laid
the foundation for his interest in growing food without
chemicals. After working for 6 years as an aerospace-industry
chemist, Rick began to turn full time to organic farming,
first by studying agroecology at UC Santa Cruz for 3 years,
then becoming a full-time farmer.
Kristie comes to
farming with a background in music. She has always been
involved in music as a form of relaxation and expression.
After moving to their 10-acre farm in Brentwood, Kristie
continued her musical interests by participating in local
community theater and taking voice lessons. In 1979 she earned
her B.A. in vocal performance from Holy Names College in
Oakland. She now farms full time with Rick and tries to
squeeze in a little singing on the side.
The Knoll's farm is in an area where the weather allows a
12-month growing season, so they keep their farm in production
year-round. Most of what they grow is sold to wholesalers and
can be found in the Bay Area's natural food stores. Their
diverse product line includes varietal artichokes (sorry, no
globe artichokes), green garlic and bulb garlic, herbs
(Rosemary, four kinds of mint, sage, tarragon, thyme, oregano,
chives), figs (adriatic, black mission, brown turkey, kadota),
apricots (perfection, blenheim, moorpark, patterson, tilton),
plums (santa rosa, eldorado), nectarines (snow queen, white
rose), flowers (varieties change with the seasons), salad
greens (cooler months only), and firewood.
Ditty's Market homepage
A Farm Story
Presented to the Brentwood City Council meeting of
November 14, 2000.
It seems to me that the question of the hour is whether
farming remains a viable occupation here in East County.
I'd like to relate a story that, I hope, will answer that
Once upon a time way back in 1979, when Brentwood's
population was only 3662, a freshly-graduated Ph.D.
chemist took a job in West Pittsburg. As he and his legal
secretary partner scouted Far East County for housing,
they were shown a 10-acre, weedy alfalfa field on which
was situated a house of dubious character. This property
was almost at the corner of Marsh Creek and Hiway 4 and
the pair agonized that perhaps the property was too far
out in the boonies; but being escapees of the LA/Orange
County area, they were looking for a place to settle that
was more rural in nature than the Santa Ana neighborhood
from which they moved. They were diligent backyard
gardners and were seeking a piece of property which would
offer them room to grow more of their own organic food and
enough distance between them and the next house that the
neighbors wouldn't complain about the chickens like they
did in Santa Ana. They were also practical, upwardly
mobile types who saw the 10 acres as a stepping stone to
something better 10 or 20 years down the road. So, they
signed their lives away and bought the farm.
After the ink dried and the dust settled, they went to
Diablo Farm Equipment, bought a rototiller, planted a
small kitchen garden and "farmed" alfalfa til
the next spring. Then, for some unknown reason, they got a
wild notion to plant a large block of crenshaw melons on
the back part of the property. When they began harvesting
them some months later, they thought they were about the
best melons they had ever eaten. But there was no way they
could eat them all. So they started taking the melons to a
San Francisco farmers market and to an organic food
distributor close to the market.
A number of years passed while they worked their jobs,
gardened and dabbled in what their tax lady called
"hobby" farming, but it was becoming more and
more difficult to work their day jobs AND
"hobby" farm. It seemed, from the demand for
their products, that some unknown force was pulling them
toward farming full time. The pair had no farming
background, no parents or relatives to mentor their
transition into farming, had not bought the property OR
planted it with the INTENTION of farming, but Fate
intervened. Somewhere between 1979 and 1986, they got
bitten by the farming bug and were now certifiably
infected. So they quit their day jobs and became full-time
Now it's almost the year 200l and they still find
themselves farming. They are, unlike most of the farmers
in the area, farming on a small scale and farming
organically. But they ARE farming. Their postage stamp of
a farm employs an average of 8 to 10 full-time field hands
year round, as well as a driver to deliver their products.
The 10-acre farm that they bought in 1979-and for which
they are STILL paying-has been sufficiently fruitful to
allow them to purchase a small cabin at The Sea Ranch on
the coast in Sonoma County for weekend getaways. Trouble
is, they can never get away, but they'll gladly rent you
the cabin if YOU want to get away. They're happy farmers.
They're successful farmers. They're hard pressed to
imagine life as NOT-farmers.
Well, all stories have a moral, so you are probably
wondering, "What's the moral of THIS story?" The
moral is this: if two goofballs from suburbia can BUY-not
lease-ten over-priced acres and end up ACCIDENTALLY making
their living farming, that should be all the proof anyone
needs to believe that farming is alive and well and living
in Far East County. We as a community should do all we can
to support preserve and defend it.
Thank you for listening.