Beautiful stepping stone: Young farmers living the dream at FogDog Farm
Special to The Union
Walking between rows of flowers and vegetable plants buzzing with pollinators, young farmers Kristen Draz and William Holland repeatedly talk of serendipity and luck.
Several years in the making, their fortuitous path has led them to where they are now, in the heart of their first year as owners of FogDog Farm.
Since January, Draz and Holland have leased land on the San Juan Ridge from organic farming guru Amigo Bob Cantisano after responding to a notice he posted on California FarmLink.
“There’s a real need to get the next generation on the land,” Cantisano, 65, said. “Any opportunity to help them succeed is primary.”
Cantisano is a founder of the Eco Farm Conference whose own local food career spans more than four decades thanks to an elder farmer who offered him an affordable lease. Cantisano started Heaven and Earth Farm on his land 15 years ago. It’s where he continues to operate his heirloom fruit nursery, Felix Gilet Institute.
The right fit
Draz grew up living a suburban lifestyle in Texas. After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in English, and working stints in bars and restaurants, she paid attention to her intuition.
“I had this feeling I really wanted to be a farmer,” she said.
At age 22, she came to California to work as an intern on 120 acres in Petaluma known as Green String Farm. The farm provides produce for Alice Waters’s famed Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley.
“I just packed up a truck with all my earthly possessions,” she said. Originally she had planned to return to Texas after three months. Instead, she stayed on as a “grad” for a three-month extension before being hired on as a full time employee. Soon, she was working on a 12-acre extension farm in Sonoma known as Sober Vista.
Holland’s farming background began at 13, when his dad started a market garden in Elk Grove. At the time, he wasn’t interested in the lifestyle, but the influence of those days working the land, selling at the Davis Farmers Market, stuck with him.
At 19, with a head full of self-sufficient notions and rugged idealism, Holland realized he needed a job. He applied to Soil Born Farm in Rancho Cordova after seeing an ad on CraigsList. The 45-acre property near the trailer park where he grew up is considered the oldest agricultural land in the state. In 2008, he became an apprentice at the farm when the operation grew to encompass a nonprofit education farm at American River Ranch.
In April 2015, Holland was farming three miles down the road from Draz, at Paul’s Produce in Sonoma when the couple met. By the fall, they were ready to start their own farm together. They started looking on FarmLink and found Cantisano’s listing.
“It was an incredible opportunity. Amigo had been looking for people in our position for a number of seasons but hadn’t found right fit,” Draz said.
For decades Cantisano’s farms have served as incubators where young apprentices learn the trade.
The couple with ambition and skills but limited resources has access to everything on the property — fertile soil, irrigation system, tools, equipment, even Cantisano’s mind, he jokes.
“It’s a dream come true. They are really wonderful people,” said Cantisano.
In November, Draz and Holland planted their first garlic crop. It was cold and wet. The tiller “busted.”
In January, they moved to the land in a used 1993 Dodge Dakota with a manual transmission. The garlic crop was washed out and all the cloves had to be popped back into place. It survived.
After lots of greenhouse work and tidying up the farm, the couple planted peas, radishes and lettuces. They made connections with potential buyers — Nevada City Farmers Market and the Tahoe Food Hub.
“We learned quickly that the farm could support a lot of growth and that was pretty exciting to us. That’s the beauty of this place, many hands have invested in it,” Draz said.
While the couple is experienced with fieldwork, as business owners they are learning to wear many hats to manage and market their “small-scale intensive hand-powered farm.” Each Saturday sell salad mixes, alliums, green beans, frying peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, basil and other culinary and tea herbs at Nevada City Farmers Market.
They strike up conversations with new and repeat customers, getting to know and gauging what people want to buy. They feel lucky to have landed in a community with so much support for local farmers.
“People are telling us to keep the change and keep doing it,” Holland said.
Sitting in their outdoor kitchen, reflecting on her Suburban roots, working on a farm is not a place Draz imagined ending up.
She is learning to embrace failure and roll with humility. Nature is teaching them humbleness. They see the lease as a three-year endeavor.
“We’re caretaking this land and that takes time. The dream is to eventually buy our own piece of land. This is a beautiful stepping stone,” said Draz.
Learn more: https://www.facebook.com/fogdogfarm.
Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-913-3067.
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