‘Clear message’: Early Bird Farm & Mill products found across North State
Drew Speroni first began farming in 2013, and he had a lot to learn.
After being laid off as a machinist because of his severe epilepsy, Speroni’s faith in God guided him to become a farmer.
“Every chance I got I was helping out at Sierra Harvest’s Food Love Farm, and I got a clear message that farming was what I needed to be doing,” he said.
Not knowing how or what exactly to do, he heeded the call and started planting seeds in his back yard.
Quickly things started lining up for Speroni — he found a partner in farming, a new place to live with access to farm land, and launched Early Bird Farm on Newtown Road, offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes and selling produce to local supermarkets.
Farming wasn’t easy, and he had a steep learning curve. To help make ends meet, he started working part time for Reed Hamilton at Grass Valley Grains, where he learned how to use a grain mill and the ropes of running the business. He eventually purchased the milling business from Reed and brought the mill to his home property.
“We needed a different avenue of revenue on the farm, and the mill business was it,” Speroni said.
Early Bird Farm & Mill was born.
Speroni is driven to provide healthy, nourishing food to consumers, but he is also dedicated to service and providing food to those in need. After he started the grain business, he said he received a clear message from God to make his produce farm into a gift to the community. He gathered like-minded friends, and together they worked on the farm twice a week to grow produce for Interfaith Food Ministry, Hospitality House, and provided CSAs to families in need last year during the first wave of the pandemic. He was creating community on the farm, providing food to those in need, and offering his own family as well as others the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of planting, harvesting, eating and sharing fresh, healthy food.
When COVID-19 hit last year and the food chain was disrupted, Speroni was approached by a major food distributor that serves Whole Food Markets — they wanted Early Bird Farm & Mill to supply the Northern California Whole Foods stores. Speroni eventually negotiated a deal that allowed him to purchase a new mill that increased his productivity by over 60%. From that point on Speroni has been busier than ever. However, the new mill required a new location, and after nearly a year of trying to find the right place in Nevada County, he has decided to move his family and business to Wilseyville, where his family can own their own home, install the new mill, and meet the growing demand for his grain products.
Early Bird Farm & Mill products will continue to be sold locally at BriarPatch Food Co-op, SPD Markets, and the Nevada City Farmers Market, and can also be ordered online for home delivery. His offerings include alpowa soft white wheat, pioneer white corn polenta, skillet cornbread mix, hard red spring wheat flour, rainbow popcorn, all purpose flour, and his famous Early Bird Farm pancake and waffle mix, just to name a few. Speroni has worked hard to expand his market among wholesalers and bakeries in Northern California, and his products can be found at Rainbow Co-op and Lunardi’s Market in San Francisco, and bakeries like Faria in Sacramento that rely almost entirely on Speroni’s grains.
Speroni has had a long relationship with Sierra Harvest, ever since those first days of volunteering at the Food Love Farm nearly 10 years ago when he was dreaming about becoming a farmer. He participated in the first Farm Biz course offered by Sierra Harvest in 2017. In 2020, as his focus turned to grain milling, Speroni enrolled his employees in Farm Biz to explore expanding Early Bird’s vegetable production.
“Sierra Harvest has always been there,” said Speroni. “If I didn’t have access to the network of farmers that Sierra Harvest has nurtured, it would definitely be more challenging to be as successful as I have become already.”
“We are so excited for Drew,” said Molly Nakahara, farm institute director at Sierra Harvest. “We have watched him grow and evolve his business over the years, and wish him and his family the best in this next stage.”
What does the future hold for Early Bird Farm? For Speroni, it’s all about relationships.
“The bottom line for Early Bird is the quality of relationships — with the soil, the seed, the customers, the farmers, the mill, the employees — the quality and attention to all these relationships is where the quality of our product comes from,” he said.
Early Bird Farm & Mill will continue to build these relationships to create a strong community, because “Networks of relationships hold us together as a community, and the continued success of our business depends on it.”
Rachel Berry is an associate director with Sierra Harvest
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