Editor's note: This post was originally published at KQED's Bay Area Bites in October 2005. I was reminded of it today when I bought some early girl tomatoes from Ella Bella. It's worth a read - their farm has such an amazing story.
Here's the amazing thing about farmers' markets: most of the farmers have such an intriguing story when you get to talk to them. Small farms are a rare thing in this country, and making a living farming involves such deliberate decisions that there are not many people who farm without a lot of soul-searching along the way. It can be an addiction ... finding out these stories.
And do I have one for you today.
I'm embarrassed to say that I first became truly aware of Ella Bella's produce this year. I have been shopping at the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market for about five years, and I have picked up an item or two at Ella Bella from time to time, but this is the first year that they have become a regular stop for me -- one of the reasons I come to the market. The item that made me stop in my tracks was Ella Bella's summer squash. They were full of sweetness and moisture, I did nothing to these beauties except for eat them lightly steamed and unadorned.
The next week I returned for more squash and some dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes and talked to one of the two elderly people at the booth. I started talking about quality of the produce, and he beamed. It was the beam of a proud parent -- one who is unabashedly sure that his son walks on water.
I later found out that the parents of the farmer -- Brandon Ross -- work at the booth every week, and it was confirmed that it was Brandon's proud dad who I had been talking to all these weeks. But that's not the end of the story.
You see, Brandon's paternal grandfather was a mentor to Cesar Chavez. He helped to lead the grape boycotts of the sixties, and was a founding member of the United Farm Workers union. And his maternal grandfather was a grape farmer. He was one of the farmers who was boycotted by the UFW movement. In other words, sworn enemies.
Brandon's parents -- the ones who are at the booth each week -- met in college and fell in love. Like a modern day Romeo and Juliet, they were members of warring factions who could never be in the same room together.
In this version, however, Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after and spend their Saturdays working at the booth of their organic-farmer son.
Brandon Ross, after working at organic farms such as Swanton Berry Farm and Cache Creek Organics, decided to start his own farm and enlisted the help of (now wife) Michelle O'Hearn. Michelle is a chef and prior to farming, owned her own restaurant on Kauai.
You know that these farmers are dedicated to the social spirit of small farms when you talk to Michelle: "We want to extend our growing season as long as possible to support our workers through as much of the year as we can," she said on Saturday in a "Meet the Farmer" event hosted by CUESA.
After moving to a new property last year, Brandon and Michelle are farming on a 19 acres near Watsonville. They farm tomatoes (heirloom, romas and dry-farmed early girls), berries, garlic, squash, broccoli, and many other products at their diverse farm. They are also selling some delicious canned products and sauces. Michelle says that we can expect a return of the summer squash in the next couple weeks, as there are some blooming in the fields this week.
To read more about Ella Bella: