Anderson Valley Community Farm
Six years ago Tim Ward moved to Boonville to fulfill a pair of dreams he’d cherished for over a decade: to farm for a living and to move to Anderson Valley. A close friend had relocated to the valley in 1998, and in 2011 this same friend made the necessary introductions that allowed Tim to lease land on the original Boont Berry Farm property, two blocks from downtown Boonville. He jumped at the chance to fulfill his two aspirations, and Anderson Valley Community Farm, with his vision of “Values-Driven Ecological Farming,” was born.
Landowner Burt Cohen had first farmed the land with his partner in 1980, then certified it organic in 1983. By the early 1990’s the farm was producing a bounty of tree fruit, berries, and hothouse tomatoes. The ambitious young farmers had to deliver the produce themselves to the wholesale produce market in San Francisco at 2 AM, twice a week. Their focus shifted in 1993 when they opened the iconic Boont Berry Farm health food store. The farm slowly went out of production by the mid 1990’s as the store took precedence. While the property had been farmed off and on since then, Tim brought much-needed drive and experience to get the farm seriously producing again.
“Burt is the best kind of landowner to lease from because he knows the hard work of farming well,” says Tim. “Both he and his partner had to work full-time off the farm and full-time on the farm in order to stay afloat. He tells me that he is glad to see the land stay in the production of healthy food, not just weed and wine like all around us.”
Then 31 years old, Tim’s launch of this independent farming endeavor was both a personal and professional change. He’d studied farming at Santa Rosa Junior College in 1998 and worked seasonal, full-time farm jobs through early adulthood, but drifted away from the field (ha ha) when he entered the Environmental Studies/Economics program at UC Santa Cruz. After graduating he became an educator and camp administrator in environmental science/outdoor leadership programs in the Santa Cruz and San Mateo areas. “Maybe it was because my work became dominated by stressful administrative and fundraising work, but after 9 years I just reached a breaking point and needed to get back to my hands in the soil and the sun on my face,” Tim says.
But full time farming is a tough way to make a living, and in his seven years in Boonville, Tim has worked many side jobs to make ends meet, including landscaping/gardening, construction, and even picking grapes. His favorite “side gig” was two years as co-director of the start-up Grange Farm School, now the School of Adaptive Agriculture, an adult ag-education program in Willits. Acknowledging that he got spread too thin for too little money during his time at that job, he laughs “That’s classic for me: bleeding-heart, mission-driven, self-destructive work.”
Tim settled right into the small town community in the Anderson Valley and brought with him an idealistic vision of supportive, neighborly, community-oriented business. He began as Boont Berry Community Farm in 2011, launching the farm’s first membership (aka CSA) programs. “I was hoping for local interest in an extreme form of membership, where community members would heavily invest in a serious stake in the meat, eggs, vegetables … it didn’t pan out exactly that way. I have had to create a very flexible membership program to work with the actual consumer demand. All of the membership programs aim to create deeper relationships with the farm than just retail transactions. By pre-paying a sum and then getting the benefit over time, members have more expectation and connection. It’s win/win for everybody.”
To bring this vision into reality, Tim has needed a lot of help. “I came in the daunting and awkward wake of another tenant who had made a really serious mess of the farmland and infrastructure. From the first moment I started the clean-up project, friends and loved ones came and pitched in. Local community members provided loan money to move things forward. Many dozens of live/work volunteers have been hosted by the farm and have made so many contributions. My ex-wife of three years deserves major credit as an important partner during our start-up. I really can’t name everyone that I owe thanks to.”
In 2012 the farm business name was changed to Anderson Valley Community Farm, since the farm was consistently confused with Boont Berry Farm health food store and deli down the road. In 2013 the farm began to sell at local Farmer’s Markets, including different stints at the Boonville, Ukiah, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, and Gualala markets. Products include a variety of vegetables, tree-fruit, frozen meat (Lamb, goat, pork, and beef, processed and packaged at USDA certified facilities in Sonoma County), eggs, and herbal tea blends. In 2014 Tim partnered with Ron Rice’s Yorkville Olive Ranch and has since been producing and selling extra-virgin olive oil. “It really is a high-quality product, a real superfood,” he comments. This year the farm is adding a soap and beauty products line, utilizing the olive oil and animal lard produced on the farm.
Looking to the future, Tim is pragmatic. “I don’t know if we will succeed, and by that I mean stay afloat as a business. Food farming is a really challenging business in the best of circumstances. I’m committed to try and stick it out.”
Tim’s motivations are rooted in what’s happening in the wider food system. “I’m concerned that our county has to import 98% of its food, and I hope to be a part of local food security development.” As such, he’s part of the advisory council for the Mendo/Lake Food Hub, the regional sales/distribution system, connecting farmers with buyers.
In the coming year, in addition to enjoying time with his wife and his nearly two year old son, Tim plans to operate a member’s only produce stand at the farm, to sell and deliver weekly produce boxes, and to sell at the Boonville, Gualala, and Fort Bragg farmer’s markets. Keep an eye out for him there—you can’t miss him. He’s the one with the sparkle in his eye, living a life pursuing his dreams.
Find out more about Anderson Valley Community Farm at www.andersonvalleycommunityfarm.com and on Facebook: Anderson Valley Community Farm