Farming’s future (right here in Ukiah)


New breed of agri-curious entrepreneurs emphasizes ‘growing food responsibly’

As Mendocino County residents dash off to work during the morning rush hour, Paula Manolo and her boyfriend, Adam Gaska, are hard at work at an entirely different kind of office: A 4-acre plot on land near Ukiah.

The biodynamic farm, situated on Heart Arrow Ranch (which is owned by Golden Vineyards), is among the fields the couple leases and tends as part of their business, Mendocino Organics.

By September, the duo will be farming a total of 50 acres as their primary occupation.

Manolo, 28, and Gaska, 31, are not alone. At a time when farm revenues are declining along with the national economy, a number of young and “agri-curious” Sonoma and Mendocino county residents are turning to farming as a viable profession.

This influx of fresh blood comes just in time. The average age of Sonoma County farmers has risen steadily for the past 30 years, peaking at 56 in 2009. The new generation also has introduced a new way of thinking to the profession. Most have turned to farming to help improve the way food is grown and to make communities more self-sustaining.

“For us farming is about much more than production and consumption,” says Manolo. “It’s about growing food responsibly, using the Earth sustainably and giving back whenever possible. It truly is a way of life.”

Many members of this new breed refer to themselves as “Greenhorns,” an eco-conscious play on a compound word that has come to mean “novice.”

The group has spawned quite an organic community. A number of participants met up this spring at a lively mixer at the Baker Creek Seed Bank in Petaluma, while others frequently “meet” on online forums and message boards to share best practices and chat about challenges associated with the farming life.

There’s even a documentary film about this nationwide phenomenon titled, simply, “Greenhorns.”

Among all of the local Greenhorns, Manolo and Gaska are perhaps the most adventuresome. They are growing sweet corn, beans, winter squash and melons, and they raise sheep and chickens for meat, and cows for milk.

Their average day begins around 5:30 or 6 a.m., when the pair gets up to water plants in their greenhouse, feed animals and move chickens to a new part of the pasture. Later, they might tend to some of their 100sheep, or look after the nine cows that hang together on leased land in the Potter Valley. They also might head out to inspect some of the irrigated pasture land they run.

More here.