Patti Bess: Scientist, ecologist, businessman, farmer
June 26, 2018
Walking through the Grass Valley Farmers Market, I sometimes ask myself, "Are there farmers in Nevada County making a decent living, or mostly folks that try their hand at it for a few years and move on?"
The answer is an enthusiastic, yes! We have a growing farm economy that benefits our county in many ways.
Debbie Gibbs, past-president of Nevada County Grown, sent me these statistics from the Agricultural Commissioner's website. In 2007 the annual production of fruits and vegetables within the county (not including wine grapes) was $553,000. By 2016 that figure had grown to $1,964,300 — that is a huge percentage increase (266 percent) especially in our region which is not particularly known for rich soils.
Protecting our farm lands is a high priority. Farms (and ranches) provide more open spaces, create fire breaks, and improve the air quality not to mention the obvious benefit of fresh, local produce that's not shipped long distances.
And if I were to choose one farmer that exemplifies that success, it would be Greg Weber aka "the tomato man" (but there are many others). He started Greg's Organics in 2009 from scratch — bare land that hadn't been used in years and zero agricultural experience.
The first year was a mountain climb of a learning curve, and Weber barely paid the mortgage on his house. What he brought to the endeavor was good business sense, an insatiable curiosity, and a willingness to work insanely hard. He also brought to his new endeavor 25 years of experience in various phases of marketing.
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The start of the farm
Weber traveled extensively as a sales representative for various clothing and accessory companies until in 2008 he wanted to stay home more with his new daughter, Amelia. That's when he took the leap to change careers and do what he really loved — growing tomatoes.
"Part of my motivation, besides wanting to do something useful, was to be able to have control over the quality of what I was marketing," said Weber.
The White family lives on the land and lease seven acres to Weber. The land has been in their family since 1864. Weber's farmland runs behind the houses on Alta Street and down to Main Street, East of the Lutheran Church. He only farms 2 plus acres.
Despite Weber's offer to purchase the land, the Whites went ahead and sold it to a developer who plans to build 85 homes on it.
Neighbors are deeply concerned about the additional traffic and noise on Main Street as well as the loss of the open space.
"This is some of the finest farm land in the county," said Weber. "It was originally a dairy, and the soil strata goes quite deep. Peabody Creek runs along the border and water migrates underneath the little swale where tomatoes are planted. I can use much less water than other farmers because there is such good water retention."
High quality produce
John Weatherson, chef/owner of Restaurant Trokay in Truckee, buys produce from Weber every summer. At his restaurant he runs a 10-course tasting menu that highlights ingredients so good they need little preparation.
Weber's tomatoes are featured in one of the dishes that gets constant rave reviews.
"One of his heirlooms has subtle overtones of truffles," said one reviewer. "It's amazing! We can't figure it out! Without a doubt, I would stand by my statement that Greg's tomatoes are the highest quality available in any commercial market. It would be a great loss to us without them."
Weber has always specialized in tomatoes and recently began adding zucchinis and heirloom peppers.
"Good farming is an exact science," he said. "It's constantly stimulating because I'm always learning — balancing the soil, adjusting for the changing climate, perfecting the spacing of plants, saving my own seeds, and managing water needs.
"It seems to me that people have limited perceptions of farmers and what is possible organically. Last year I harvested 35 tons of produce on these two plus acres. People don't realize that organic is here to stay and is growing phenomenally."
Growing his business
Weber has wholesale customers from Reno to Roseville and a network of more than 150 clients ranging from high end chefs to the Tahoe Food Hub, and the Grass Valley School District as well as Briarpatch, SPD, and other local stores and restaurants.
He works harder than imaginable for a six month season, but in 2017 he earned a comfortable living with equivalent pay of a professional county employee or school administrator.
There remains much uncertainty about where Weber will be able to continue his business and farm. He recently created his own YouTube channel — Greg's Organics and a gopher trapping video that is beginning to get a lot of hits.
For more information, call 530-205-5282 or visit http://www.gregsorganics.com.
Patti Bess is a freelance writer and cookbook author from Grass Valley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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